28 April 2013 Leaving Amherst for Provincetown, MA., just as my Weeping Cherry Tree’s blossoms opened this very morning, (a deep dark intense red-pink), and the apple blossoms and crab apples. The magnolia had already been in full bloom, and rows of my first plantings have come up. Clouds grabbed the sunrise, like peonies floating in the sky: I could smell them! By noon I was in P’Town, met by a seemingly gruff local dune taxi driver who drove me to my shack without a word, other than, “put your things in the truck while I let the air out of the tires.” He drove through the dunes as though he was driving a snow mobile through a mountain pass. We slipped and slid. At the shack, he told me one or two things about the wood stove, and where the water pump on the lower hill of sand was, how to get the water to come, (by pouring water into it while pumping), and he was gone. I unpacked a little, immediately carrying jugs of water and wood as instructed, and then I went for a walk up on the cliff, (that had once been sloped dunes to the ocean before Hurricane Sandy), sliding down on sand to the vast blue-green singing ocean. (Getting back up is another story). The salt air, rhythm of the waves, color of the ocean and way of life were mine for one week.
When I returned to my shack, it was getting dark and cold. I lit a fire in the stove and as many lanterns as I could find, and flashlights. The dunes rose up through the windows like ocean waves.
29 April A shock to my system: no cell phone or computer. I am going into town on foot through the dunes to charge batteries. I hope I don’t get lost in the dunes.
29th I set out retracing the tire marks in the sand from the inflated tires of the truck that drove me to the shack yesterday. I got terribly lost. I remember thinking, ‘this is a longer walk than what I had imagined.’ What a big surprise that suddenly when another beach showed up, which I later found was ‘un-named. ‘ Would I go right or left? My only solution was to walk back in perpendicular to it. I retraced my steps, each one sinking into sand 8″, walking up and down the dunes at high noon, (so I lost axis), and became exhausted, (especially after ‘chores’ this morning of lifting wood and water jugs). I had water. Moving a little more slowly as the hilly dunes became steeper, I had to pace myself. I stem chrystied up and then slid down, undulating like that upon many, many dunes. I saw huge animal prints in the sand, which could have been deer or fox or the kind of inbred cayote/fox they have there. The dunes swallowed me up to the very point, 4 ½ hours later, that I began to panic. At that point the sun was more towards the west, which gave me reference. What took over was instinct, headed south towards town, until I finally found my footprints!!! At the very point I was so lost, terribly frightened and frustrated, I ‘got found.’ (I had evidently made a huge circle). I followed them until I finally saw the water tower and then the monument, still far in the distance, but I saw them!!! both of which I lost seeing again as I walked down and then up and then down even more steeply and then up another mountain of sand, (towards them, I hoped). At long last, the monument was closer than before. This pattern I kept following until I heard cars and saw the highway. I got cell reception again so the artist Bob Henry who was to pick me up at noon knew not to wait for me; he visited his wife Selena, in rehab from a broken hip. He picked me up on the highway, but not before I struggled to walk through thick bush and avoid a small river. I did not know how long the river traversed, but I climbed back up another dune, to find the point the river did not flow between me and the highway. Another artist told me ‘the dunes embraced you.’ Bob was waiting for me on rte. 6 with a sandwich and water, that dear sweet man. (I last saw them was when Jim Gahagan sent me to their loft in NYC in the 70’s, but they remembered me. Selena looks so small now. Her painting was hanging next to her bed in rehab; she had broken a hip but there she was was drawing. Nothing stops an artist. The portraits are so strong. She paints with gold leaf. The poses are from memory, so specific of people in her life. I loved the drawings.
It was a long steep walk ‘home,’ me with a new respect for the dunes, and again, very complicated to even get back ‘home.’ I could get myself all over Paris, Rome, Tegucigalpa, Medellin, etc., but right here in my own country, in my own home state, I got lost.
30 April No way to keep the fire going through the night, so the 30 degree temperature awakened me, as I carried wood as fast as I could. The fingers of both hands were so stiff.I could not open them. Thinking about taking a hot shower was useless. The shack was freezing cold which took an hour or more to warm up. Shortly after I set my easel up on the windy cliff, and threw the ocean onto a piece of paper, working so fast! (as my fingers were so cold they were dropping crayons in the sand). Sand was hitting the side of my face and scratching it. It did not get above 45 degrees that day. I attached paper to 2 drawing boards which became like a kite, with me attached, until I gave up. The dunes are grey=beige, but the ocean and sky always have color. I saw water vertically spouting, then the whales!! (large like elephants), leaping ever so gracefully right up out of the water, arcing back down into it, the tail the last to disappear. Seals were curious, “who is this person with that contraption?” (my easel)?
I want to go to town to buy a bottle of red wine and a tomato, and to charge my cell phone, if only to renegotiate a new agreement with the dunes again.
1 May I went for a sunset walk in a nightgown and an old, ugly american down parker I grabbed at the last minute, (not very ‘parisianne appearing,’ knowing I would not run into anyone, while my shack was warming up. Almost to town, I found a couple who was lost and I was able to help them!!! (I could now get a job as a dune tour guide). I noticed that the man had a Hampshire College bag. Deep in the dunes like that I met the person who ran the Globe Bookstore which had been one of my favorite bookstores back then.
It was pure joy to set my easel up on the cliff again. My entire color pallet changed from lush Western MA. I had to mix the colors together to very specifically find what color this place is. The ocean constantly moves and changes.
2 May By now I have lost track of days… Yesterday I got lost in the dunes again. What should have taken me 1 ½ hrs. to return to my shack turned out to be many more hours. I again got disoriented and lost my sight lines, (as in Bruce Chatwin’s “Songlines),” as I descended deep into the crevices of the dunes; when I climbed back up in sand, my references were gone, so, I walked the wrong way. Alan, a friend from way far back who knows me so well, said, “Good. You are doing just what you are supposed to be doing: getting lost in the Dunes.” Jesse said , ‘Me and my wife never get lost. “He added, ‘you should have map quested the dunes.” (Impossible, in this case: I even had a National Park Service map which was of no help when disoriented). A P’Town artist told me that people get lost all the time, many having to sleep outside in the night, in the cold, because they can’t find their way out. It was my instinct that got me ‘found’ each time.
2 May Today was my happiest day, (not getting lost)! Last night before I went to sleep I lay flat under the mysterious sky full of brilliant stars, listening to ocean waves. The combination has put me in a good mood for a lifetime. I did another ocean drawing, paying attention only to the waves coming up onto the dunes.
Returning to my shack, there visiting me was a strawberry-blonde with dark markings ‘red’ fox/cayote; we stopped and looked at each other for a long time, until one of us moved forward, and it was I, and he disappeared. I had never seen a fox so close up; the only thing in me was how gorgeous he was.
3 May At home I am always accomplishing ‘things,’ (ah, those myriads of practical ‘things’ that have to get done), but here, it’s ‘carry water,’ ‘carry wood,’ and ‘draw.’ At night it is, “Read, write, chores.”
I climbed the cliff to set up my easel again, but the fierce cold, (40’s again today), and wind blew sand in my eyes, and I knew if I set the easel up, it would again throw me and my easel off the cliff, entertainment for the seals. Later I again I carried my easel up to the cliff overlooking the ocean, which had a more beautiful light than any time I had seen it, (because there were thick clouds casting shadows).
The wind was just too strong; I again gave up, went to town to charge my cell battery and then spend time with a local Kathy Shorr, who works with whales and who knew my mentor as well as Bob and Selena, then walked me back to my shack, a two-hour walk. She offered that it was complicated, as the dunes shift every time there is a storm, the cranberry bogs filled with water so we had to walk around them, losing our route. It is impossible to walk a straight line to town. Even Kathy, who lives here and knows the dunes well, admitted it is easy to get lost in the dunes, that many people have. She gave me reference points to follow so I think it will be easier for me next time I walk to town. Kathy loved my shack; she told me, when she looked out at the dunes from my shack, that the landscape made her fear not even death, that she was at home here and loved the shack life, especially my shack. I offered to take her up to the cliff to see the ocean, but no, she wanted to stay right inside by the wood stove and drink tea. (Kathy attended a panel discussion at the Provincetown Art Museum George Pearlman and I and a few others gave about Jim’s paintings, (www.jamesgahagan.com), when he had a show after he died. So we met there, but Kathy and Bob were often mentioned by Jim and Pat, and so we knew of each other). Kathy and I spoke of the Gahagans with so much love and warmth. We are all a family, all of us so moved by them having been in our lives with the impact that they had on so many of us who gravitated to be with them first in NYC and then in Vermont.
4 May After chores, (heat first, at 6am….’brrrrr!’ I brought my easel up to the cliff. The winds were strong but a little less than yesterday. I was only up there for 1 ½ hrs., working very fast, as the crayons were dropping from my frozen fingers, but I ‘grabbed’ ocean waves. When I could take the welded fingers no longer, I tried to close up my easel but the fingers could not turn the bolts. I hope I don’t get ‘finger’-arthrirtis like Renior suffered, (and, Selena).
First my sister and my niece arrived, in a first class ‘dune taxi,’ which had to leave them off below my shack, as one of the Dune Taxis almost rolled over onto the side of a soft shoulder. I was so happy to have them here! They loved my shack, and the ocean, the wood stove, the way of life here, so completely remote, deep in the dunes. The ocean is so powerful. I talk right out loud to ‘Yemaya.’ Shell asked me what it made me feel like, and I said, ‘humble, so that I can become brilliant.” I will draw it one more time in the morning, and then I pack up and leave. It is emotional to say good-by to the ocean. I tell it to wait for me.
Jeff and Marilyn from Amherst have a house in Wellfleet, and brought me red wine, French bread and Dutch cheese. I brought them to the cliff to see the ocean and we watched for whales that did not show up for them. Then we went back to the shack and sat by the fire to enjoy life. Finally I learned the most direct route to town, to meet them, so off we walked to my shack. Would’nt you know that the very day before I leave I learned the best route?! (though the winds would come and change it again).
5th May My last morning here, so times moves back into ‘practical time,’ getting the things done for the next tenant; carrying gallons of water up to the house and lining them up, sweeping the floor, bringing wood in, and packing. I will have time to get one more drawing done. I get to look out at this gorgeous view again.
May the next person here carry on the sweetness of the many souls who have resided here, salient from the first moment of my arrival. I have been so happy. Aside from dune-shack living, the power of this place is the complexity of the dunes coupled with the vast, infinite ocean.
6 May Driving back inland was like entering another country. I went from one paradise into another. Everything was in blossom. The air was and remains so sweet, and much warmer. The blue sky came through the red blossomed cherry tree with a yellow green tree behind it, already a painting. What gorgeous color, my familiar pallet came back to haunt me for my next drawing or painting yet to come.
I stopped to see my Mother on my way back; seeing her worsening condition, I told her, “I want you not to struggle. Do what you have to do to keep peaceful.’ She’s in real rough shape, hardly able to speak, but when I told her that I was moving my indoor studio out to the barn, she smiled and then said, ‘good!’ I had to call to her and touch her gently, “I am here,” until she turned her head, but her eyes remained closed. I continued to call to her, “Mom, I am here with you, can you open your eyes?” which she struggled to do, but immediately smiled when she saw me, and said, “you are here with me.” I was very afraid I would be called home when I was bush whacked in the dunes, but now I am completely available.