Behind the scenes: the Cal Poly arboretum

After a chaotic first story that involved a last-minute topic change and a narrow window to get video and pictures, our group Kelly Martinez, Christian Laubacher, Tabata Gordillo and me (Jay Serrano — hi, nice to meet you) decided to cover the Leaning Pine Arboretum on the Cal Poly campus because we could take our time on the project and we knew the plants would make for a great visual element.

We were not the first people to cover the arboretum, so to make our project stand out we wanted to make the multi-media aspects stand out as much as the writing, since no video stories had been done up there in a long time.

The story, like almost any story, started with a conversation between us, the reporters, and our editor, Rachel Marquardt, in an attempt to find what makes the story interesting or important now. During that meeting, Rachel mentioned that there were rumors that the arboretum might be moved to make way for a new building, so step one was to look at that angle.

But A couple quick emails to Cal Poly’s press office later, we learned that one early plan did have the arboretum being moved, but that plan had been abandoned several drafts ago. So, what do you do when you don’t have a news story anymore? Focus on the people while telling the story, and get great photos of the flora.

A landscape photo of some of the different trees in the Mediterranean section of the arboretum

“I loved being able to capture this story visually,” Christian said. “The Arboretum is such a beautiful gem on Cal Poly’s campus – which made my job a lot easier than it should’ve been.”

With the prep-work out of the way, we got to the best part of the project, taking the short hike up to the arboretum and hanging out in that secluded pocket of nature while talking to the people who work and hang out there.

Walking into the arboretum for the first time and feeling like you are on campus one second and miles off campus the next is a surreal experience. For Tabata, getting to experience that transition was one of the most memorable parts of the project.

“I was just amazed,” Tabata said. “I didn’t know we had that. It was almost like we weren’t on campus, so it was really nice and peaceful.”

Our go to guy for information about the arboretum was Arboretum Director Chris Wassenberg, a Cal Poly alum who spent a good amount of time in the arboretum when he was a student and still enjoys escaping up there because it reminds him of the time he spends in the Sierras.

A candid shot of Chris (left) talking with Tabata and I (on the right) about what makes the arboretum special

“When you sit on that deck with the breeze blowing, the wind blows through the pines and your brain will immediately take you to summer camp or whatever it was,” Chris said.

It was fun hearing Chris compare it to being in the Sierras (one of my favorite places in the world) because when I first walked into the arboretum, everything felt very familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. But the minute he made the comparison it clicked and I realized that I felt like I was back in the places I camp at in the Sierras.

Another interesting part of the arboretum Chris told us about was that the whole area is essentially one large senior project that keeps getting added to every year. During the video, Chris mentioned some of these sites, so Kelly got to hunt them down to put them into the video.

Sharon Cho, sophomore, art and design, and Phoebe Lam, junior, history, sit on a deck that was installed as part of a senior project in the ’90s

“I liked getting to explore the arboretum in depth and all the cool sites I got to shoot,” Kelly said. “But the most difficult part was figuring out the angles to shoot everything.”

With the interviews completed, the film and photos shot and copious notes about the plants taken, it was time to leave and assemble everything for the written and video stories. For me, having to force myself to leave was the most difficult part.