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  • Writer's pictureAnne Hodges White

There's endless joy in September on the Outer Banks

The sea is quiet and, resting from its sun- and wind-stirred energy and rigor of July, it flattens. A fathomless lake. We begin the day with a walk: at first, we don’t name things or analyze them. Then we do.

Quiet settles along the Bank as cottages empty and folks move inland to jobs and schools and routines. The human buzz of summer has vacated the place, and natural energy of the beach arises clean and evident: the numbers of shore birds increase; ants rebuild their cities along the dune paths; ghost crabs excavate their front and back doors, undisturbed now by hundreds of bare feet; brown pelicans ride what swells there are; nail holes, air pockets, and little volcanos survive until the next high tide.

cool front sweeping Bogue Bank

The weather report says partly cloudy with afternoon thundershowers. The weather report here always says that. Old timers disregard and appear with their fishing gear in their 4×4 Ford pick-ups, allowed on the beach after Labor Day. Tire tracks gouge the beach in runnels that catch the incoming tide and send it rushing sideways. The fishermen’s smalltalk — when they speak at all — is reminiscent of the deep-in-the-throat nasal oi-oi-oi vowels of Harker’s Island and Ocracoke. They are friendly, warm, and genuine; like leather, easy in their weathered skins.

The day has anchored itself.

Shells, crushed in July’s surf, are fragments well on their way to becoming sand; there are few to collect now. We leave them be; we have enough anyway -- at the beach house, at home, stored in boxes, for who can resist a perfect Scotch Bonnet.

The latest September hurricane pushes toward Bermuda and sends twelve-foot

pipelines 700 miles onto our beach, their inner linings like quilted snakeskins of light sliding west. A pair of dolphin ride them, jump them, flip over the crests of them. We point seaward; everyone up and down the beach is looking, waiting for them to surface again.

Closer in, the mullet runs have begun, dark patches of moving schools, millions of bait fish making their way south. One of the largest migrations on the planet. Thwarted by their ravenous predators — blues, tarpon, jack, mackerel — they thrust their small bodies into the air to save themselves, a shivering reaction of escape that skitters whitewater ripples across a nervous sea-surface.

Yes, it is September on the Outer Banks. The air pressure and temperature drop quickly. We look up from our books. Rain in vertical gray sheets threatens from down the Bank, moving up from the south and giving us a ten-minute warning. Hurry! Fold the chairs and umbrella, and run. The front, a purple-black curtain, races down the beach — there’s nothing quite like it — and flattens the gray-green swells as if tamped down by a powerful hand. The chilled curtain sweeps over us. The hard rain begins. A dumping. A roar.

Back up at the cottage, we settle in and sit back with our books. The storm has anchored the day. We’re fine with rain at the beach: we’ll be here a while, and we accept any weather without complaint. A rainy day is a gift. We’re September folks.


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