This was my first stay at Euphoria, a 16x12 foot dune shack on the outer shore of the Cape Cod National Seashore. However, it was my seventh time to stay in a dune shack, an addiction that started August 2008 when I was awarded my first artist-in-residency at a roomier shack known as C-Scape.
It all began one afternoon while I was browsing the travel section of the Austin Public Library and ran across the poet Cynthia Huntington’s book, The Salt House. She had spent three summers in Euphoria with her then artist husband. I took the book home and devoured it. The shacks are now on the National Historic District Registry: one, because over the years artists and writers like Eugene O’Neill, e.e. Cummings, Norman Mailer, Tennessee Williams, Mary Oliver, Annie Dillard, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem deKooning all created in them, and two, because they’ve been there since the early 1900’s and have stories to tell. After reading The Salt House, I started googling the historic shacks and discovered a blog about an artist-in-resident who had spent time in one. I contacted Sue Foss, a talented NYC artist. She was so enthusiastic and generous with her time, explaining how to go about applying for a residency. I kept an ad for Provincetown, Massachusetts tacked to my writer’s desk of a woman in front of a shack admiring the Atlantic. I pretty much stared at this ad for months, manifesting my dream.
As luck would have it, I applied, submitting examples of my paintings and received a call that spring informing me that I had been accepted for a three-week residency. In August, 2008 I packed my SUV to the gills with art supplies, birch board to paint on, camping gear, 15 gallons of water, and set off for a stretched out week-long drive from Austin to Provincetown, MA. Coincidentally, Sue and I both ended up winning residencies for separate shacks and overlapped that summer. This was an added plus since she could show me the ropes and all the best places to eat between Wellfleet and Provincetown. If I hadn’t had to walk up and down through loose sand for 45 minutes to the Visitor Center to charge my camera and then another 45 minutes into town because I was lonely, I would’ve gained ten pounds that month from all the deliciousness we consumed.
Since then, I’ve been blessed to receive three more artist-in-residencies and have won a week here and there at what the non-profits call, “the lottery,” as well as getting to stay at friends’ shacks.
Cut to 2015.
Day One, Saturday 10 October
After spending four nights on Nantucket with my old childhood friend’s family I flew into Provincetown on Cape Air. This flight in a Cessna twin engine always takes me back to a childhood spent in our Piper Comanche, 99 Papa. My dad was a pilot during the Second World War and a fine one at that. He talked my mom into getting a single engine airplane when I was four and we spent just about every Sunday buzzing around Central Texas. I had no idea at the time how lucky I was to grow up in an airplane. Summer vacations were spent in Southern Californa, where my dad had been stationed. He loved CA because everything grew there and being a florist that was his Disneyland. It took about seven hours to fly from Austin to San Diego with one stop in Phoenix for a potty break. As an only child, I was often lonely on vacations and one year talked my parents into taking that old childhood friend with me. Fran and I hunkered down in the back-- she claims I took up most of the seat, but I maintain that’s because she grew up in a big family and had to fight for her real estate. Interestingly, I never got the bug to take flying lessons and even developed a fear of flying in my early twenties, but obviously that was conquered now that I'm able to tolerate the "mosquito fleet" of Cape Air.
A volunteer with the Peaked Hill Trust, which is the non-profit that awarded me the residency this summer, picked me up in a four-wheel drive truck and drove me over the dunes to Euphoria. The truck tires are deflated in order to negotiate the sandy jeep trail. She honked as we chugged up a dune that’s steep as San Francisco’s Hyde Street to warn any oncoming traffic. This road is locked and only open to shack dwellers and Art’s Dune Tours. Not just anyone can drive out there which is comforting. After about 20 minutes of slipping and sliding through the deserted Province Lands we arrived at a tiny shack perched on stilts overlooking the Atlantic.
I received an overview of the wood burning stove, the ancient two-burner cook stove, propane refrigerator, the old-fashioned wood yoke (if I chose to use it) for retrieving water and the Aqua Rain filter. I followed Jody down the hill for a water pump refresher course since I was a relatively seasoned shack dweller. She informed me that the water had been tested but that it contains a lot of iron so it’s the color of a football. I’ve brought about 7 gallons of drinking water, thank goodness. The hand pump usually needs priming but since they’ve had rain recently, it wasn’t necessary. Ice-cold water gurgled out as soon as she lifted the handle.
I had my choice of unfiltered burnt orange water, filtered water or drinking water. Back at the shack, about a dozen plastic water containers neatly line the shelf, all labeled, as to which is which. I used the “red” water for boiling pasta or dishwashing and the filtered for coffee and tea drinking. My store bought water I saved for just drinking since there’s a distinct iron-y flavor to the pumped water. There was a small shelf over the dry sink where two of these large 2.5-gallon containers fit, one unfiltered, one pure for drinking. It’s almost like having a real tap! One thing’s for sure, you become very adept at conserving water just to keep from having to make so many trudges down to the pump.
We also went over the privy procedures. It’s a compost toilet with a covered bucket of popcorn in one corner that’s used to help the real compost do its thing—you toss in one scoop per poop. Toilet paper was secured in a plastic coffee container with lid otherwise the mice would steal it and make nests. And of course, there was the 2015 Farmer’s Almanac hanging by a string for one’s viewing pleasure.
After my orientation Jody left me carless and I was stuck with myself in a shack with the nearest shack neighbor still visible but about a quarter mile off the horizon. Sunset on that first Saturday was at 6:04 pm. I still had plenty of daylight to unpack and explore the beach, which was 550 yards away.
I chose the top bunk since it offered a better view of the ocean. Pillows and blankets were included. My sleeping bag that kept me toasty 28 years ago on a Nepal trek, served as bedding on the comfortable enough, mattress. I hung my Coleman battery lantern from the rafter and headlamp on a nail. The shack was amazingly tight even though it's not insulated. It was much warmer than the last shack I stayed in that required sleeping with a hot water bottle, long johns, beanie and keeping the wood burning fire stoked. I brought bundles of wood just in case and way more than I could ever eat, even shipping boxes of Trader Joe’s nuts, almond milk, chicken stock, granola, rice, pasta, beer and extra batteries from California.
I wandered up and over the hill to a cleft in the fore dune to see if there was still a cliff to negotiate to the beach as there was last year. I’m pleasantly surprised to see that the drop off is not as severe so I shuffled down in my Crocs to the sea. There was not a soul to be found except a couple of curious gray seals looking at me looking at them.
Because the Cape is like a flexed arm that sticks 30 miles out to sea, the light reflected from all that water (and therefore the colors) are stunning-- one reason Provincetown is known as the oldest art colony in the country. Painters have been coming here for decades to capture this magic. I spent the rest of my daylight hours photographing and
Dinner was Portuguese kale soup that I brought from town and a glass of Cabernet. I lit the oil lamps and watched my reflection slowly materialize in the old paned window as darkness set in.
The wind whipping up around Euphoria caused her to tremble. For a moment I thought, “Earthquake,” but that’s the Californian in me. The rumbling ocean was so soothing. I slept better than I have in over two years.