For three weeks last summer I lived alone in a dune shack on the outermost tip of Cape Cod as part of an artist-in-residency. I had no electricity or running water and no neighbors. The nearest inhabited area was a 45 minute walk, if you didn’t count the other two shacks which lay off in the distant hills. Water was hand carried after being drawn up by hand pump from the well less than fifty yards away. It was iron-rich, red and earthy tasting. Because of the fragile dunescape I had no mode of transportation; the closest paved road was a 30-minute trek, up and over soft sand. The Atlantic was a few hundred yards away with miles of deserted beaches. Most of the shacks are perched on a dune with the ocean stretching out in front of you. My shack was tucked down in the dunes, hidden from hikers and surrounded by fragrant salt spray roses, beach plums and stunted pitch pine and oak. There was no Internet. I used a solar charger to juice up my cell phone. Cell reception required climbing the tallest dune. All I could hear was the rumbling surf, occasional fog-horn and the wind. Talk about solitude. I was in my element.
It all started when I read Cynthia Huntington's, The Salt House, a poet’s account of dune shack living with her artist husband. Such a remote setting sounded ideal for luring the creative muse. I found a couple of organizations that offered artist-in-residency programs. Only a handful of applicants are admitted each year, but I was determined to be one. In a Cape Cod magazine there was an ad for Provincetown, Massachusetts with a woman standing next to a dune shack overlooking the sea. I taped that above my desk and visualized myself being there every day painting and taking photographs. Over the years, notable artists and writers have called these shacks home for weeks, months even years-- Mary Oliver, Eugene O’Neill, Jack Kerouac, e.e. cummings, Norman Mailer, Annie Dillard, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock-- not too shabby a group if you’re seeking inspiration. I longed to commune with the spirits of the artists and writers who had gone before me.
Suzanne Lewis is an artist, photographer and world traveler.
Dune Shack Summer Published May 04, 2009