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I love Provincetown in the winter. For a brief refuge from everyday life, it’s perfect for me – just far enough to feel away, but easy to get to.

During my short visit this week, I stayed in a little cottage that was serenely and beautifully appointed with books, artwork, a big work table, a cushy bed, and two vintage velvet armchairs just made for curling up and reading. It was a block off Commercial Street, and at this time of year even Commercial Street is very quiet.

Most of the stores were closed, so there was no temptation to shop. Also closed were most of the coffee shops and restaurants, but soup, sandwiches and other provisions could be found at Far Lands, Bradford Natural Market, or the two or three restaurants that remained open.

There were people about – not many, but enough that the town didn’t feel deserted, and few enough that we naturally greeted each other on the street. It’s nice to have both solitude and human contact in winter.

Mostly I read, wrote, and took short walks. At night, with the holiday lights and window decorations still sparking in the empty streets, the place felt magical. Friday morning, I woke up to find the town covered with snow. That afternoon I went to see Manchester by the Sea at the little movie theater. When I returned to my cottage I had a good cathartic, much needed cry.

It was perfect!

Dune shack

This being my last full day at the shack, I’m ready for some human contact. It will help with re-entry.

Coincidentally, this morning I exchanged greetings with the neighbor as we pumped water at our respective wells, and he invited me over to his shack to meet his wife. The two of them are part of the vanishing tribe of shack owners who have had their property taken by the National Seashore.

When I arrived at their shack, their first words were, “We’re in the middle of a situation here.” Turns out that their shack had just become infested with crabs (no, not the kind you make crab dip out of) and they were in the process of removing all bedding for laundering.

It was quite an icebreaker! I perched on a wooden chair on their porch, trying not to touch anything or scratch at psychosomatic itches, and we chatted about a wonderfully broad range of topics. I could not help but be aware, though, that the very situation that was breaking their hearts – their shack lease from the seashore expires next year and they don’t know what the establishment will do – was what made my blissful week in the dunes possible. All the shacks that are available to the public were once privately owned.

Later in the day my friend Carolyn came to call. She’d just arrived for a week at another shack not far away. The mung had receded so she coaxed me into the water. Cold!! Exhilarating!! My week now feels perfect.

If you want to learn more about opportunities to stay in a dune shack, contact The Provincetown Community Compact or the Peaked Hill Trust.

Dune 4

I could live happily here all week in just my crinkly pink tee shirt and tan shorts.

One of the benefits of solitude is being able to wear the same clothes day after day and be as be as unwashed and unkempt as you like. This week has been a good test of my “I don’t get BO” theory. (I believe this because I’ve been testing our new natural deodorant. First I tested it against my regular deodorant (right armpit natural, left Mitchum.) No discernible odor! Then I tested it against an untreated armpit. Still no difference, so the test was inconclusive.)

Staying in a shack with no running water or electricity necessitates some creative personal hygiene. I’ve worked out a routine with two stainless steel bowls and two washcloths. One set is for my face, the other for grubbier ablutions like dirty feet. It’s also good for laundering undies.

Today I took my first outdoor shower. There’s a tank on the shed roof that collects rainwater. It runs thought hoses that are exposed to the sun, so the water came out scalding hot at first. I partially filled one of the bowls with well water and topped it off with the hot stuff.  This made a nice temperature for dumping over my head. Suds, rinse, and repeat. Nice!

Toileting is done in an indoor composting toilet for #2 and outside for #1 because the toilet is nearly full. Not a problem, except for last night. As I squatted in the bushes in the dark, a large noisy insect dive-bombed me. I lurched out of the way, bopping my head on an overhead branch and peeing on my pants in the process. Tomorrow: laundry day.

While I have some flip flops with me, bare feet are the best way to get around on the dunes, unless it’s midday. Then, the sand is like a frying pan, and it’s best to wear some socks.

Here are the two bars of soap that have been my companions this week. One is Nantucket Sea Clay, a spearminty soap which was great in the outdoor shower. The other is a yet-to-be-named experiment created by Jules. It fascinates me. It really goes well with this shack – very smokey and woody with notes of vetiver, cedar and clary sage. I think it’s a keeper. Maybe I’ll call it Dune Shack. Or Sand Dune? Sand Bar?

soap

seals

I walk on the beach every day, but so far haven’t gone swimming. I’m intimidated by the cold rough surf that will probably knock me down, the undertow, and the sharks. They tell us not to swim where there are seals because there may be sharks nearby too. But there are seals all over the place.

Consequently I’m grateful for the mung – an invasion of smelly seaweed that has turned the waves into brown mud. Nobody would want to swim in there! I’m off the hook, and don’t have to pester myself to push past my fears.

When I come down to the shore, a dozen or more seal heads turn their black lab faces my way. A little farther down the beach, a sandbar emerges from the receding tide that becomes a gathering place for hundreds of seals. It’s like a party every six and a half hours. A mournful chorus of seal  talk fills the air – whoa! whoa! whoa! It must be nice to take a break from worrying about sharks.

While those who have grabbed a spot on the sandbar loll in the sun, dozens more circle in the water, waiting for a chance to climb aboard. In the green mung, it looks like seal soup. If I were a shark, I would be all over this place. But so far no sign of them.

Nature question: if seals are mammals, do they have breasts? Do the nurse while they swim?

Dune 5

I’m spending a week barefoot in a sand dunes of the Cape Cod National Seashore. I’m here alone in my little shack, though there’s another inhabited shack nearby. It’s been several days since I’ve talked to anyone except a couple of short conversations with John on my cellphone. The quiet and space are a balm to my psyche, which has worn thin from too much of everything this summer.

The dunes of the outer Cape are an amazing landscape. They have a grandeur and yet such a feeling of  intimacy. I feel like I’ve found my “happy place.” During the daytime I take long walks on the beach. In the evening, I climb to the top of a nearby dune for a 360 degree view the sun setting to the west, the sea to the north, the moon rising in the east, and the endless undulation of the dunes in every direction.

The week is shaping up to be sort of a retreat/vacation hybrid.  I’ve been practicing in the morning and evening (bowing, chanting, sitting, walking) but giving the afternoon over to reading, napping, trying to write, and exploring my new camera.

Every night I listen to a dharma talk. Last night it was Pascal Auclair. A word I liked was specificity. This breeze, this wave, this bow, with its cracking of cartilage, pinpoints of sand underfoot, and flavor of surf sound and smell.  Specificity…a useful little talisman to carry through the day.

(One thought worth recording: God is in the details. Details like sweeping sand off the floor, feeling the breeze, hearing crickets, watching sandpipers skittering along the waterline. All very specific.)

Details


Happiness can be found in odd places..one of them is the dump. People who have their trash picked up at the curb don’t know what they’re missing.

Going to the dump is a chore, yes, but one that many people find gratifying, especially on a nice day. Okay, the upfront part is no fun: bagging oily cans and plastic, corralling the paper, the cardboard, and the trash bags stinking of chicken bones and shrimp shells, and cramming them all into the car. The ride over can be aromatic.

But once inside the gates at the transfer station, things get interesting.

First there’s the satisfaction of lobbing your bags of garbage into the open dumpster and watching them get smushed into a solid bock of waste. The compactor is a menacing beast with the sort of rusty industrial steel plates and noisy grinding gears that we rarely get so close to. Looking into its maw offers a little frisson of excitement.

Next, it’s up the hill to the recycling area. People there are cheerful and considerate of each other as they segment their items, carry them to the appropriate containers and maneuver their cars in and out. There’s a pleasant feeling of communal virtue in the air. We’re recycling! We’re helping the environment together! Perhaps it allays any guilt we might be feeling over the stupendous amount of trash we’ve generated in just one week. Imagine if there were no trash removal…we’d be buried in our own waste in a month.

Finally, if you’re there at the right time, there’s one more happy stop to make – a quick swing by the Swap Shop.

I stopped at the Swap Shop yesterday, and was amazed to see how many other people were there, inspecting the objects spread out on the tarmac and arranged on the shelves inside. It was a pretty sorry assortment of stuff (though maybe the pickings would have been better had I gotten there earlier) – various plastic gizmos, ancient appliances, old magazines, chipped mugs, and a basket of 8-track tapes. Certainly nothing I wanted or needed, but it was fun to look anyway, because you never know.

I wondered about the allure of these trash-picking opportunities. Why, when household objects are so cheap these days, when we can go to the Christmas Tree Shop and get exactly what we want, new, for a couple of bucks, do we enjoy the pot-luck randomness of the swap shop and the yard sale so much?

But maybe the randomness is part of the appeal, speaking to our inner hunter-gather.

And if we do find something useful, some treasure plucked from another man’s trash, we feel adventurous, frugal, and resourceful. Hey! I replaced those missing plastic salad tongs. For FREE!

Soon after. I was on my way home in a wonderfully empty car, to a house that was few degrees clearer of clutter and debris. I felt cleansed and free, like some space had opened up in my life. And that was the happiest feeling of all.

MUSSELS
The other day my husband, John, was taking his daily walk to Millway Beach. A pickup truck pulled up alongside him containing two ruddy guys who looked like they had just come in from a day of fishing.

The driver rolled down his window and hailed John. “Excuse me sir…I have a question for you. Do you have a best friend?”

“Not counting my wife?” John asked.

 “Oh, absolutely not counting your wife!” the guy replied. Then he pointed to his buddy and said, “This guy is my best friend, but he’s an asshole!”

Perhaps there had been a few too many beers on the boat.

“Well, if he’s really an asshole, he can’t be your best friend,” John said. “Because a true asshole can’t be a best friend. However, a best friend can sometimes act like an asshole.”

 “Well said, sir!” exclaimed the fisherman. Then he rolled up the window and drove away.

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This has been the most beautiful June. We’ve had days and days of blue skies, hot sun, and cool breezes – a delicious combination. Thanks to the rain earlier this month, everything is fresh, lush, and blooming.

I’ve been reveling in the abundance of light, in the early sunrises and long leisurely evenings. When I woke up at 3:45 a.m. the other day, the sky was already beginning to lighten.

Of course that was June 21st, the summer solstice.

It seems unfair that, just as summer officially begins, the light starts to recede. I could get down about that…in fact I sort of have.

I can’t help remembering how forbidding it felt last December, walking out of the new shop at 4:30 or 5:00 into pitch darkness. Once we passed the winter solstice, I was acutely aware with each passing day of the return of the light. I inwardly celebrated the first time the western sky glowed pinkish as I was locking up, and the first time the sun was visible on the horizon.

But now we’re heading in the other direction.

A friend said to me about this, “so you’re a ‘the glass is half empty’ kind of person.” Yes, it seems ridiculous to spend even an instant feeling bad about losing something you love when the thing is fully here and wonderful now.

Still, I think it’s human to respond to these cycles. For our early ancestors, the shortening days could only be bad news. It’s also human to want to hang onto good things, even though it’s impossible.

????????????????????????????????????????I had a birthday recently, so it seems a good time to say something about aging:

It normally doesn’t bother me much.

It occurs to me that this sanguine attitude comes in part from living on Cape Cod. Thanks to the Cape’s older demographic, I am usually surrounded by people who are my age or older. Heck, I’m often the young whippersnapper in the room.

And of course, I’m a baby boomer. Most Boomers tend to feel that, whatever their current stage of life is, it’s the latest thing in the Zeitgeist.

All this is very comfortable. When friends get together, the conversation eventually turns to our memory lapses, our bum knees, and the far worse condition of our aging parents. There’s a sense that – even if we’re not crazy about what’s happening – we’re all in it together (even if “it” is a sinking lifeboat).

So I tend to live with the soothing, subliminal sense that my age is The Right Age, i.e. the appropriate age for whatever I’m trying to do and be.

I’m not even aware of this feeling till it’s disrupted, as happened last week. I dropped in for the first time on a monthly gathering of environmentally-minded local entrepreneurs. The moment I entered the room, I could see that a gulf of twenty or thirty years divided me from most of the people there.

Surrounded by vibrant, slim, accomplished young movers and shakers, I was ambushed by a painful sense that I was The Wrong Age. Not the wrong age to be at the gathering exactly – it’s not like I’d crashed a sorority party, and nobody was looking at me funny – just The Wrong Age. Even though the crowd was perfectly friendly, I felt dumpy and irrelevant.

So what did my mind do? I watched with rueful amusement as it began squirming this way and that to find an imaginary role that would restore my sense of well-being, an identity more palatable than Irrelevant Old Person.

Could I imagine myself a mentor to these people? Hardly. Most of the young people there were undoubtedly more savvy about the things that matter in business than I was. (After all, I can barely manage my smart phone). Could I recast myself as a Kindly Maternal Figure or Wise Woman Sage? Hmmm…

Ah, we baby boomers can be such clichés! Perhaps I’ll go for Denial, and buy some Spanx and a sporty red convertible! Or is it easier to just avoid all situations that make me feel old?

I think not. I try to cherish theses moments when my sense of Who I Am gets upended. They can be temporarily incomfortable, but offer such good teaching. Am I going to struggle mightily to be somebody special? Or can I let go of the whole identity thing, remembering the words of the Zen Master, “No I, then no problem?”

????????????????????????????????????????The other day I gave my old chicken paraphernalia to Betsy, who has a bunch of hens in a backyard coop. Goodbye to the feeder and the waterer and the chain link fencing. Goodbye to the idea that I will raise chickens again in this lifetime.

Let me be clear – this is not a sacrifice. I have no desire to care for chickens right now. I don’t have the time, and if I did, I can think of other things I would rather do. I’ve beem calling this the Post-Nurturance phase of life, but that’s not really accurate. I just have other things to nurture, like my business, my relationships, and yes, myself.

I kept chickens for years when the boys were young. It was a pleasure perusing the fancy breeds in the Murray McMurray catalogue and rushing to the post office when the cheeping box of chicks arrived. The chickens’ gentle clucking and feathery maternal warmth were quite soothing, and their distinct personalities and sorority squabbles were a constant source of entertainment.

It was a project the kids and I undertook together. I remember walking with Patrick to the coop to shut the chickens in on many a winter night, our feet crunching through the crusty snow and the sky above us spangled with stars. It taught the boys about caring for life, and also about death. None of us will forget the massacre, when a pack of dogs left eviscerated bodies strewn all over the yard, or the time our neighbor Pierre lead us calmly and skillfully through the execution and plucking of four renegade roosters.

By the time we moved to the Cape, though, I was ready for a break. When the last four chickens disappeared into the underbrush and didn’t come back, I was only briefly sorry.

Still, in letting go of the gear, I felt the momentary tightening that often occurs at such times. It happens when our impulse to let go of something meets the anxious thought, I might not need this thing NOW, but what if I need it in the future??? And there’s another part, which is letting go of the past, of who we used to be.

One of the benefits of getting older is that the future no longer seems infinite, so it’s easier to see through all that. We know there isn’t a whole lot of time left, so we stop trying to hang onto every possible future option and direct our energy towards the things that mean most to us now.

And if, in the future, that turns out to be chickens, I can always get some more stuff.

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