The patterns on these volute shells show the years when they were stressed. Photo by Ann Ehringhaus

By Ann Ehringhaus

The young girl showed me the shell she’d found out here at Cape Lookout.

“I love this smooth part,” she said, showing me how she could rub inside the whelk

shell.  “It helps me when I’m stressed,” she said.

She was in fourth grade and needed comfort dealing with stress. She longed for smoothness.

I nodded and began to share how shells show they’ve had a hard year: They forget how to make their pattern by skipping spots in their pattern, zigzagging, or leaving it blank altogether.

This pattern disruption can show that the hard year involved lack of regular food, changing water temperature in habitat, or too many predators. As these things improve, the shell resumes its pattern.

All living things periodically have hard years of physical habitat change or big emotional losses.

And what about human beings? How do we smooth our stressed parts? How do we calm our nervous systems so we can return to dealing with whatever life offers us? Hurricane Dorian happened in 2019 and is still mentioned constantly around Ocracoke.  

Many of us are still working with the trauma that stunned us so thoroughly. We are rubbing the rough places that still need to be smoothed, seen, felt, and heard.

We may continue to do this for years to come.

Surely, we cannot be resilient or strong ALL the time; some days we just need some quiet support to rest and rebuild our lives and community.

I remember moving to Ocracoke in 1971 and folks were still talking about the 1944 storm. It takes a long time to get over trauma. Our bodies need to feel safe and supported again. And we need kindness and tenderness from others, including visitors who weren’t here for the storm or recovery, but also love this island.

Let’s honor our own and others’ experiences by finding the support we need, respecting the quiet our neighbors might still need for extra rest, and seeking treatments from various healing practitioners on Ocracoke and Hatteras.

All of it will help…and many of us still know we need it.

Ann Ehringhaus

Ann Ehringhaus moved to Ocracoke in 1971 to be a schoolteacher. In 1984 she opened Oscar’s House B&B, which she owned and operated for 33 years and wrote Ten Thousand Breakfasts that chronicled her experiences. She has retired and now works here and there for state or national parks as a volunteer or photo artist in residence. She has worked all over Portsmouth Island (north and south Core Banks).  She wrote this article while recently working at Cape Lookout lighthouse during a five-day nor’easter.

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