My favorite place on the planet

People often ask me how I come up with topics for my blog.

 

That’s actually not true. They used to ask occasionally. It never happens now.

 

As an ambitious blog reader (but lazy blog commenter), I’ve noticed something regarding the matter: many bloggers seem dying to be able to say, “People often ask me how I come up with topics for my blog.” It would be a tremendous compliment.

 

And since I never get it, I’ve investigated possible culprits. It didn’t take long. In fact, after precisely one sip of Diet Mountain Dew and exactly 43 seconds of reading my blog, I noticed seemingly all I write about these days is my daughter, Kalista. I may start an entry intending not to, but whatever message I’m trying to send is reinforced by my experience with her.

 

So I’m stealing an idea – one that’s been stolen so many times it’s practically public property anyway. On Mondays, I’m going to have something random, Wednesday will be a day for Kalista-related entries and Friday will be one for a stories about myself. I am also in the sporadic process of categorizing my past entries and promise to do so with those in the future. It’s possible I’ll coin these with terms like “Indiscriminate Monday” and “Feelings Friday.”

 

Today’s? My favorite place on the planet: Union Point Park in New Bern, N.C.

 

Here’s a map.

 

 

 

It’s more than slightly obvious why a park situated where Union Point is might be my favorite place on the planet. The Neuse River isn’t a stranger to folks living east of Raleigh; it flows from the capitol to New Bern before its waters meet the Trent River and find their way to the Atlantic Ocean. The Neuse has made Union Point park a peninsula complete with fish, crabs and a fancy gazebo. The sun has always shined when I’ve been in this park.

 

The Neuse is significant to me without the park. It was the Neuse I traded for when I moved from my college town of Wilmington and had the Cape Fear River. The Cape Fear seemed genuine and sincere while I was surrounded by ocean, its tourists and all the other crap it attracted when I lived in this city on the coast. I could not have survived on ocean alone; I looked for solitude only a pitch black river could provide, and the Cape Fear came through.

 

After I moved from New Bern (which came after I moved from Wilmington), I followed the Neuse toward Raleigh and saw similar dark waters in Kinston, where the water resembled the Allegany I fished, canoed and drank beer on when I was young.

 

But I got a year on the bright end of the Neuse before my move to Kinston. I saw it daily in New Bern at Union Point Park.

 

I remember the first time the park and my line of sight crossed paths, about a year before I graduated from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. I’d Googled “road trips eastern N.C.” and found a site touting New Bern – the birthplace of Pepsi and the state’s colonial capitol – a place to see. After 85 miles, I came to the park and thought how awesome it’d be to live in a town that offered the privilege to see it every day.

 

You drive through the historic district of the old town and know you’ve arrived once the horizon looks like water. The park – divided by a road between the swing sets and walking path along the water – is quiet even on its busiest of summer days. Seagulls gather near the ducks, for that’s where people are throwing bread.

 

I rented my first apartment in New Bern before Kalista lived with me full-time. It was a one-bedroom step up from the nearby housing projects – perfect for a guy just starting in the newspaper world. On the weekends, I’d shoot out of work early and drive to nearby Havelock or Jacksonville (wherever Kalista’s mom was staying at the time) and fetch my daughter. On the way back to New Bern, I’d tell my then 2-year-old about the park and how we were going to wake up early the next day to see it.

 

She came to know the Saturday rides on the bike as “feeding the ducks.” I enjoyed packing the pannier bags on my mountain bike, mounting the child seat over the rear wheel and covering her thin-haired head with a little bicycle helmet. She liked wearing her “dance” shoes – slipper-like contraptions usually covered with glitter.

 

(I swear this is more about me than Kalista.)

 

We’d turn right off of Pollock Street by Tryon Palace so we could see the water as soon as possible. We’d ride past the fish market, check out an antique shop with owners who didn’t like children and park in the bike rack in front of the farmer’s market downtown. We always bought at least $20 worth of food, crafts and uselessness before leaving for the park. Sometimes we’d mount the bike; sometimes we’d walk. It was only about 1/4 of a mile from the market.

 

In the winter, Kalista would wear a knit hat and heavy sweater. I wore a hoodie and shorts. We would sit in the sand along the water near the start of the walking path and throw bread crusts at the tree roots, hoping the beautiful mallards would come by for a snack. Swarms seagulls caw-cawing loudly would block the sun as they hovered over head, oftentimes snagging bread out of midair.

 

We’d engage in mere chatter as we strolled along the walkway. I’d ask about the ducks and what she liked about them and she’d describe the males’ colors before scurrying off toward the gazebo as I gave chase.

 

She’d proclaim each Saturday the spot in the center of the gazebo floor where the triangular slabs of concrete met was a star and the gazebo was her “castle.” She was my princess.

 

Other nights I would go to the water alone, waiting for Friday so she could be at my side. I’d look into the water until the sun went down, the wind began turning the water’s ripples into waves and the headlights of cars bound east and west on N.C. 70 would say it was time for me to go home – there’s nothing more to ponder. A two -hour walk around New Bern the night I decided to file for custody of my daughter began this way, at this spot.

 

We return to Union Point Park when we can and I think of afternoons with Kalista before she was 2, mornings when she was 3 and days I was 25. I think we’ll always be these ages, it will always be this time and she will always wear a knit hat and sweater when we are there. I believe despite whatever happens throughout the course of the rest of our lives, things will always be this way in Union Point Park.

 

That’s why it’s my favorite place on the planet.

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