There’s a reason we often think of both sights and sounds when we recall a place. And if you think about it, the Outer Banks provides not just wonderfully beautiful and colorful things to see, but also sounds that will bring you right back to this place whenever you are reminded of them.
There are the sounds of footsteps on porches and decks, as families walk to and from the beach with the footfalls of flip flops. There is the laughter and delighted screams of children as they encounter the edge of the ocean, and the murmurs of people deep in conversation – the meaningful conversations they just don’t have the time to have at home.
High above or at the shoreline, there are almost always birds to keep us entertained. It’s not hard to hear the laughing of the gulls, the cawing of the crows, or the very distinctive screech of the herons as they glide along. Their sounds surely do not match their grace in flight! In mid-summer, there’s also a constant chorus of cicadas.
Somewhere in the background are the sounds of business and commerce along N.C. Highway 12. Trucks of all makes and sizes carry an infinite number of goods to restaurants, shops, and grocery stores. Visitors travel from early morning to late at night, their tires whirring along the pavement. At times, the highway sounds are punctuated with the sirens of the vehicles of our first-responders. It’s a sound we don’t like to hear, but it also gives us a sense of comfort to know that incredible people are out there, doing those difficult jobs.
There are boat motors, and plane engines, helicopter blades beating, and the sonic booms of the fighter jets. You not only hear, but you can also feel the deep hum and vibrations of the ferries arriving and departing at the docks in Hatteras Village.
It would not be Hatteras Island without the sounds of the wind. A gentle breeze in summer rustles through the sea oats, and any nearby trees. In pop-up thunderstorms, you hear the rain pounding against windows and doors, first like a rapid-fire hammer, and then as the storm recedes, more like a slight tapping. And anyone who has heard the constant high-pitched whine of a tropical storm or hurricane knows it’s a sound that stays with you, and is a sound you don’t easily forget.
Perhaps the sound we think of most often on the Outer Banks is the sound of the waves. At times, lapping along the shore, sometimes rolling in rhythm, and at other times, crashing and drowning out any other sounds. But to listen to waves is to relax, and to give up your thoughts to their ebb and flow, and to feel peace.
And there is one other sound. Some days, when it is very, very calm, there is a second or two when the waves all meet the beach at the same time, and for a moment there is nothing. There’s a time at night when the laughter and conversations have ceased, and everyone’s quiet and asleep. This is the moment that you’ll step out and see the Milky Way and a million other stars. That sound, of course, is the blessed sound of silence.
Janet Morrow Dawson is the owner and operator of the Cape Hatteras Motel in Buxton, where her husband Dave is celebrating his 50th season there in 2021. She has lived full-time on Hatteras Island since 2015 and is celebrating her seventh season at the motel, however, she has been an Outer Banks fan since her family started coming to Hatteras Island for vacations in 1964.