JourneyAsheville: Earth Day but not a single tree planted

Just setting at my favorite table at Firestorm Café and Books contemplating what must be the shortest photojournalistic gig in history. My tenure with Mountain Xpress is probably coming to an end. I figure this week they’ll tell me they don’t need me or JourneyAsheville anymore. Why?

I blew an assignment. Every Friday at noon, I meet with news editor at the Xpress along with the staff photographer and whatever reporter gets hogtied into joining us. They all let me know what gigs are coming up each week and what they need shots of. I want to please them, so while my brain is thinking about that next cup of coffee, I try to pay attention so I can get the right shots.

Photos by Jerry Nelson

Earth Day was coming up, and I nodded and wrote it on my ever present little slip of paper so I wouldn’t forget. The editor wanted a shot of something that summed up the story of Earth Day – one image that would capture the meaning of the day.

I shrugged, nodded and headed out the door. Simple gig, I thought. Just find out where they’re planting the symbolic tree that will save the world from climate change and I can take the rest of Saturday off.

The morning of Earth Day was rainy, cold and windy, so I covered up the gear and headed out. Even with bad weather threatening, this shoot would be simple. About the time I got to Pack Square, the skies started clearing up. Taking this as an omen that it would be “walk in the park,” I started looking for the spot where the requisite tree planting would happen.

I ran into several vendors that were setting up their tents and asked where the Earth Day Tree Planting was to be held. They shrugged, said they had no idea and went back to putting their portable stores up.  After roaming around a spell and asking everyone from the cop assigned to maintain crowd control to the guy putting up the port-a-potties to the guy making balloon animals, I finally found the co-coordinator of the event – a guy named Nick.

Photos by Jerry Nelson

I introduced myself and told him my assignment was to get just one shot of Earth Day that would capture the purpose of the event and waited for him to tell me where the tree planting would take place. He looked at me like I had just told him Toubob Krewe couldn’t sing tonight and I was the replacement. Then he shrugged and said there wasn’t a tree planting or any such ceremony scheduled.

When I told him I didn’t see what face painting, music, beer and a martial-arts demonstration had to do with saving the planet, and what was Asheville doing to help protect the earth today, he pointed to three cardboard containers marked compost, landfill and recycle. I knew he was wrong … There had to be a tree planting somewhere, so like Santiago in The Alchemist, I set off on my quest.

Across the street there was a bike rodeo for kids. Up by Vance Monument there were two vendors selling trinkets. Halfway down Pack Square there were kids breaking boards with their feet. There was face painting, beer selling and beer spilling, free pedometers, couples on the ground talking….everything but a tree planting.

Finally realizing that Earth Day in Asheville was more about celebration than saving the earth — even in a token way such as a tree planting — I dialed in my camera and started to document the way that I saw the event happening.

Photos by Jerry Nelson

So that’s why I’m sitting here at my favorite table at Firestorm Café and Books reviewing the shots I got Saturday — jugglers, painters, funnel cakes, musicians — and contemplating what will probably be the shortest photojournalist gig in history. I couldn’t fulfill a simple request:

“Bring us back a photo that shows the purpose of Earth Day.”


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31 thoughts on “JourneyAsheville: Earth Day but not a single tree planted

  1. Jeff

    Excellent piece, Jerry.

    I had a great day celebrating there in the sun with my family, but you’re right.. I did nothing that day to improve the wellbeing of the place I call home. Other than recycing.

    By the way, that spot for a concert is just incredible. It became more apparent how beautiful it was as the sun set. The tilted amphitheater of the lawn, the cool lights around the stage, the beautiful buildings all around.. and the mountains behind them — 360 degrees. Simply awesome.

    Asheville’s front lawn is an amazing place to enjoy the sunset and a concert.

  2. Terina Plyler

    As someone who is close to the other co-coordinator of Earthday 2011 (my full-blooded sister). I find it insulting to just complain about a festival that was held as a celebration of Earth. So, someone forgot to plant a tree. I suppose the garden my sister planted a week ago doesn’t count?
    Here is my re-play of visiting my sister while bringing her plants for her garden:
    She comes home with a car load of kids. As she’s preparing healthy snacks for them all, she’s telling me how busy she has been co-planning Earth Day and how she has not had any down-time. During our visit, I watch her manage a houseful and wonder how she’s balancing her full-time job as YMCA family fitness coordinator and helping to plan an event that is the largest she’s ever had to do.
    So, something was going to be left out.
    But please, give a hand to the TWO (yes, only TWO) coordinators of Asheville’s Earth Day/ YMCA fun kid’s day. I think they did a great job. And from what I’ve heard, people enjoyed the festival. Try paying compliments instead of finding something to complain about? Try suggesting rather than beginning an all-out verbal onslaught of an event that made many people happy.
    I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy your Earthday celebration. Why don’t you go plant a tree somewhere? Then you can have your photo opportunity. And besides… Earth can always use another tree.

  3. Nora

    Earth Day is on April 22nd people! It is the same date every year. Is it really that difficult to celebrate it on the 22nd????

  4. Brandon

    Sounds like your loosing your position for good reason. Obviously YOU didn,t do your homework about the 30 trees given away to be planted, the riverlink volunteer group that did river cleanup that morning, or the group that cleaned up and planted seeds in a comunity garden. Sorry we couldn’t make it easier on you and plant trees in the city park. Also you failed to mention that this was a dual purpose event (probably because you failed to find out) It was also YMCA kids healthy day, a nationaly celebrated event, promoting good health and excersise for kids, hence the karate, clogging and dancing. Also 90% of the
    booths were there to promote awerness about the planet in some way and not just to peddle there wares. Sounds like to me you couldn’t get that easy shot of a tree being planted so you decide to downplay the event. And by the way, what did YOU do to help that day, I saw you walk around. Nothing is what you did, and P.S. I saw your online album, and taking pics of girls butts, including the Emcee is very unprofessional.

  5. Brandon

    It is difficult when you have to plan around other events, dates, permits and financing. Its the cause that matters not the one date that should be set aside, all days shold be a celebration of the Earth.

  6. boatrocker

    Umm, how about…

    Earth Day in Asheville is about white bands playing (pseudo) West African music and posing- really want to make a difference? Enact legislation and vote the right parties into power who value sustainability over making a quick buck and shucking and jiving Gen Y into dancing to the collaborators’ beat.

    Mr. Nelson, don’t worry about job security. As long as you take some pics of awkward hipster chicks, your job is safe with the Xpress.

  7. bill smith

    Nothing like saving the earth by buying and selling goods, using electricity provided by coal that is harvested by destroying ecosystems in Virginia, and painting faces!

  8. Asheville Dweller

    Asheville doesnt seem to hav an issue throwing some type of festival every weekend, so its not that difficult.

  9. Jason Ross Martin


    Just breathe. This is an important point Jerry is making about how on that day, it seemed to him that Asheville collectively had lost the point of its celebration. He wasn’t making a personal attack on the event’s planner.

    However, your defense of the planner’s oversight seemed to be based on how hard her domestic everyday life is. It’s like you are saying she was too busy to think of planting a tree. I suspect that the reason for a lack of an overt symbol of earth day had nothing to do with her being busy. All of us have 24 hours a day.

    The reason the focus was on vending, music, and another Asheville downtown party moment is BECAUSE that is what the planners of the event and the participant were focused on! Which is Jerry’s point, precisely.

    Well done, Jerry. I’m glad the Xpress has a voice now that can document the light-hearted joy of Asheville (i.e. technicolor birdhouses and free Afrobeat concerts) and at the same time, draw some darker, contrasting lines such as your comment on the lack of affordable housing and what sounds like a great party that was at least named for the Earth!

  10. BrandonSA

    Asheville dosn’t throw festivals, people do. And when WE do, we put all of our hearts into it. We care GREATLY about this planet and city so we put on events to enjoy AND become informed. If anyone really cares to know the facts, we organized a river cleanup, a comunity garden plantng, 30 trees to be given away and a chance to become more informed with dozens of non-profits and organizations. Sorry we put music food and beer in there for you to enjoy while all this goes on. If its sooooo important, what cause were you involved with. Did you sign up to clean the river or help plant the garden. Maybe volunteered with the YMCA to teach kids proper health and excersise habits or help make sure all the trash is picked up and properly sorted. How about instead of worrying about when the date is to this event and were your ideal pictures gonna come from you dig deeper and learn the facts.

  11. BrandonSA

    Is anybody listening, THERE WERE TREES PLANTED GARDENS SEEDED AND A RIVER CLEANED UP. These were all done through the event and anybody could of helped should they have cared to contact the event. And there were alot more people involved than two on both sides of the event. Not well done Jerry!!!! He failed to contact anybody ahead of time and the closest he got to an organizer was the stage manager. Had JERRY done his homework he could have photographed the garden planting the river clean up or something besides the stage area. I worked around him on and off all day and he didn’t seem to be to interested in anything but that area.

  12. ElizabethM

    So, some people are apparently REALLY defensive about the 30 trees that did get planted. We appreciate your efforts, but you seem to have missed the greater point of the story. As Jerry so brilliantly and satirically points out, planting a tree is symbolic, but does very little to change the course of our consumptive culture, which was fully on display at the Earth Day festivities in all the many booths asking us to “Save the Earth” by buying yet another thing or two to stuff onto our packed shelves.

    Was there a plethora of tables at the fair asking us to slow down and think about our lives? Tables to sit around and ask deep questions of new friends and build community ties? Or were most of the booths selling books about gardening, health foods, paid summer camp and classes, new shiny plastic boxes to hold your vermicomposting and Fair Trade clothes to fill your closet? I have a feeling from what I saw that it was mostly the latter, where we’re simply replacing one type of consumer culture with another consumer culture in friendlier packaging.

  13. Rick

    What a joke of an article!!!!!! You not only have demeaned the hard work of the YMCA and other volunteers but also of the numerous eco-conscious vendors,exhibitors,performers,police officers that braved the early weather to present the theme of the day. Where were you at during the day? Did you do any research prior? Cause the paper you work for did! Did you not read a single article on what was to take place on Saturday? It may help that you read the paper you work for! Bike coral, encouraging people to save gas and cut emissions, Sundance Power systems, teaching people about alternative(solar) energy, computer and electronic recycling, raffling of trees from the Biltmore gardens, vendors all required to have compostable plates,forks etc, corn cups for beverages including beer, the numerous earth friendly causes that were spoken about by the MC Michelle Smith, Riverlink, the healthy kids day activities ,the prepared statements that she spoke of in regards of the pollution and land grabbing that is killing our planet. Hell I was only there for 3 hours and I gathered all this information prior and during the show. And don’t we plant trees on Arbor day which in this state is on March 15th. So you missed planting your tree. So funny that your editors even let you print this article. So I suggest start writing a full apology to the these fine folks that put a lot of time and effort to put forth a fine event! Because unlike you they did their research and will probably be working other events you may be “not taking the right photos” or “searching for another tree”

  14. DoubleCreek

    Don’t worry Jerry. I planted 75 trees, so I covered for the event, and a few extra folks. P.S.-The event downtown was awesome. It would have been nice if you dropped at least one line giving some props!

  15. theangle

    One man’s opinion does not define or give any justice to anything that took place at Pack’s Square this past Saturday. I would like to congratulate all the people that were involved with putting on this event. Me and my family had a great time and hope the event stays at Pack’s Square. The parking and the overall vibe is much more pleasant as it is sat in the heart of the city with background of the beautiful city buildings. As for the Mt Express and Jerry Nelson you both should be quite ashamed of allowing such negativity to be published on such a great event!!

  16. thedifference

    This is a tragic day when an photographer’s weak reporting is posted on the home page of the Mt Express website. Giving him value to an opinion that seems unfounded as at the same time showing that your paper will publish anything. He has stepped far from within the boundaries of an actual fact filled review. Instead his own preferences are put on full display as though he was involved with Earthday. Mr Nelson was backstage the whole time. The person he spoke with was a busy stage manager not the co-promoter as he has stated. So thanks to you and your paper you have no doubt placed a black cloud over an otherwise,if Jerry would have paid attention, great event!!! Thanks again!!!!!!!! Yo Jerry I am sure the city would love if you dug up there property and planted a tree.

  17. twotense

    If it is true that there is always more than one way of construing a text, it is not true that all interpretations are equal.

    – Paul Ricoeur

    It is not for me to judge who is right or wrong. Thank you Jerry for the story, pictures and a greater awareness of mindfulness to our Earth. Thank you to the coordinators for Earth Day. What a beautiful job.

    Thank you to all the wonderful musicians, performers and vendors for their time.

    Thank you Jason for donating the beautiful painting to Asheville Homeless Network that will be hanging in Firestorm Cafe for four weeks capturing a special day at Pack Square that will never be replicated.

    Peace to all of you.

  18. twotense

    If it is true that there is always more than one way of construing a text, it is not true that all interpretations are equal.

    – Paul Ricoeur

    It is not for me to judge who is right or wrong. Thank you Jerry for the story, pictures and a greater awareness of mindfulness to our Earth. Thank you to the coordinators for Earth Day. What a beautiful job.

    Thank you to all the wonderful musicians, performers and vendors for their time.

    Thank you Jason for donating the beautiful painting to Asheville Homeless Network that will be hanging in Firestorm Cafe for four weeks capturing a special day at Pack Square that will never be replicated.

    Peace to all of you.

  19. Margaret Williams

    Nelson’s blog and photos have certainly elicited strong reactions, but it’s worth reminding folks that it’s our policy that commenters “criticize the ideas, not the people.” Nelson is as entitled to his opinion as you are to yours; there’s no reason to get nasty.

    Nelson is not a journalist and would never claim to be (we categorize his JourneyAsheville entries as OPINION and GUEST BLOG). He’s a guy-on-the-streets who has a camera and a point of view. We liked the shots from behind the stage — those images show the new park and the setting for the event (something I asked him to do) and go beyond the usual crowd shots and the usual band shots. I also liked his photos of a little girl tiptoeing through one of the fountains. You don’t get pictures like that if you’re really trying to disrespect people. If you knew Nelson as we do, you’d see that he’s being tongue-in-cheek and self-deprecating. His subtle criticism of Earth Day celebrations in general is matched by how he criticizes himself and how he handled the assignment.

    But that’s just my opinion. In short: Today is the more official Earth Day celebration. Be a bit more kind to a guy who’s making an honest attempt to document Asheville’s many elements.

  20. MrBreeze

    I planted a lilac bush and a white pine. That should make up for the massive number of weeds I’m about to kill with my Ortho-Weed Killer.

  21. ashevillain7

    “Nelson is not a journalist and would never claim to be…”

    The VERY FIRST SENTENCE of his post contradicts what you say!

    You can try to defend him all you want but I’m sorry to tell you there is no defense for the perverted butt shots. The shots I’m referring to are not of anyone tip-toeing through the fountain.

  22. Matt Mittan

    Margaret… I trust that you will be equally vigilant in your caution toward people who compliment XPress writers as well…? After all it’s about “the ideas, not the people”.

  23. BrandonSA

    Its true, the opinion is what the issue is here. I don’t feel that Jerrys a bad person, but the opion made it seem the event was out for excess, money making, and waste which was not the goal at all. It woud just be nice to acknowledge the event tried to bring awernes, help the comunity a bit and bring a little fun and try to do so with as little impact as possible to the new park. The shots were nice, but there was more going on than the opinon stated. Ultimately everyone out there cares for the planet and some learned something new and even got to give back by voluneering there time to do something good.

  24. Moonwillow322

    So, I imagine an Earth Day Celebration to be conducive to a reduction of waste. Seems like the “Festival at the drop of a Hat” nature here in Asheville is producing quite a bit of it. I also understand there was MORE waste/trash left on the ground for others clean up than any recent gathering. What could that mean? I wonder too, why would Jerry’s article offend anyONE??? It was a generalized observation while he was on assignment. He reported what he found. So, that being said…it just goes to show that perceptions are ALWAYS varied and Festival goers waste is abundant. I understand Mr. Nelson’s point of view. I surely don’t understand the amount of trash left from the Good time had by all and the need to sell to give thanks in observance of our gratitude of the Earth. Seems like a gathering of like-minded souls focusing on reducing, reusing and recycling would have been a fine meditation and/or message for the day. Teach your children well. Thanks to the tree planters and the volunteers at river link…that’s what Earth Day is most often recognized for.

  25. Margaret Williams

    @ashevillain7: You might have noticed that we didn’t put those “butt shots” on our website. YOU had to go search for them on Jerry’s personal (public) site. “Perverted” butt shots may be in the eye of the beholder, I suppose, as those were two or so photos out of almost 400 Jerry took (and the buttocks in question were clothed). But again, we didn’t publish those.

    And yes, Jerry referred to himself as a “photojournalist.” He did accurately record just about everything he saw at Asheville Earth Day in Pack Square. But there’s no construing his commentary as a news story, which is what I meant.

    @Matt Mittan, I reckon if there was an incredibly gushing over-the-top complement, we might hold the comment, but we haven’t put anything in our policy about NICE remarks.

  26. Terina Plyler

    @ Jason… Yeah, I could’ve probably written that differently. I was only trying to point out how focused she has been on the event (and excited). Also, I felt the need to defend my little sis. However, when I told her not to worry about what was going on, she laughed it away and said, “Oh, that guy? He smelled like Whiskey anyway.”
    I failed to make light of it, sure. So my writing skills aren’t up-to-par? Wait, this isn’t about me.
    Happy BELATED Earth Day everyone!

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