James Nedresky

Built around placid Silver Lake Harbor, this Outer Banks village lures escapees from the mainland.

By Jennifer Chappell

Tonight, about 50 locals and tourists gather on a screenedporch-turned-stage to hear the foot-stomping music of the Ocracokeband Molasses Creek. "Folks move here for the community," says thegroup's "Fiddler Dave," a.k.a. David Tweedie. "The spirit of thevillage is wonderful."

You'll recognize people in the audience, even if you arrivedearlier today. They'll speak to you, too, because among about 700residents, newcomers are noticed. Pamlico Sound separates thisNorth Carolina barrier island from the mainland. For many,isolation is its best feature. Once on Ocracoke, however, hardlyanyone keeps to himself.

Longtime islander Al Scarborough says, "The best thing is thatyou essentially know everybody, and the worst thing is that youknow everybody." He laughs, divulging the unofficial Ocracokemotto: "We don't care what you do, but we want to know about it inintimate detail."

Small towns are known for gossip, but residents here aregenuinely interested in neighbors' ups and downs. "Everyone takescare of each other," says Lou Ann Homan, a storyteller who extendeda work trip here into a vacation. She's bicycled over for theconcert. Standing by the bike rack, where only tourists usepadlocks, she says, "When someone comes here, they do what they canto stay."

Interior designer Sally Newell and husband Guy are raising twosons to appreciate island life. "Kids have a lot of freedom here,"she says. They bike, fish, surf, explore the 1823 lighthouse, andwatch the island's Banker ponies in their protective pens.

But kids learn the local work ethic, too. Sally and Guy'steenage son has a hot dog stand that caters to tourists who drivein on the 13-mile road from the Hatteras ferry. He hopes theyarrive hungry. Working or playing, islanders are nurtured by theconstancy of this place.

Some things haven't altered in centuries--such as the way ahandful still speak the "Ocracoke brogue," a Cockney-like dialectdeveloped because of the island's isolation. Another constant:Ocracoke's sense of community. As she pedals away from the concert,Lou Ann pledges to carry it back to Indiana: "I can't move here,but I'm gonna take the community home with me."

(published 2003)

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