My mother lives in a shack. She has no running water, no toilet, and the nearest road is a mile away. Her humble dwelling, fondly named “Euphoria,” has earned her bragging rights.
My mom enters a lottery each year with the grand prize being a weeklong summer stay in Euphoria or Zara or another of the whimsically-named shacks that sit along a 3-mile stretch of towering sand dunes. Punctuated by beach grass and scrub pines, the remote strand is affectionately known as the Province Lands, part of Cape Cod’s National Seashore. The lottery is run by Peaked Hill Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation and management of the no-frills abodes.
The shacks have had several lives: In the 19th century they were built as a shelter for seamen of the Life Saving Service (pre-Coast Guard); later they offered refuge for artists and writers to hunker down to commune with nature. They still do.
When other moms call to say that they won the lottery, dollar signs come to mind. When mine calls, I secretly pray that she’s talking dollars, but I know better. She has won another week in “paradise” — at one of the humble wooden structures, spots so special that lottery winners actually pay a modest fee to stay. Mom has won five times.
“You feel you are at the end of the earth,” says Mom. That’s because you are, I remind her. You are so far removed from civilization that you can’t charge your cellphone to use in the event of an emergency.
My mother doesn’t spend her week alone. She and a college friend, who is also a Peaked Trust member, share the 9-by-12-foot space. Euphoria has a little deck where they paint, sip wine, and soak in the million-dollar water views. Amenities include pots, pans, silverware, beds, blankets, pillows, as well as a two-burner hot plate and small refrigerator, both operated by a small propane tank located beneath the shack. There are lots of kerosene lanterns. To retrieve water, they must walk a short distance over a dune to a pump. An outhouse is a short distance away.
They bring in their food for the week, typically tuna fish, bread, pasta, sauce, cheese, peanut butter, and jelly. If they’re lucky, previous tenants have left a bottle of wine. They also bring entertainment: a cribbage board, journals, and painting supplies to capture those stirring sunsets and advancing rainstorm clouds.
But, Mom says, “You are really busy with the housekeeping, filling the kerosene and lighting the lanterns, pumping and carrying the water and doing the dishes.” There is a shower with a contraption that looks like an enema bag that you fill with water and warm in the sun.
“The sunrises are amazing,” says Mom, a night owl who can count the number of sunrises she has seen in her lifetime. “Reading by candlelight in the shack has its limitations so bedtime is early.”
Mom and her friend take lots of walks. And they spend time talking about their grandchildren, who cannot imagine a day, let alone a week, without Xboxes, iPhones, and Slurpees.
Each time Mom wins I promise to visit. But I never have. That isn’t to say I don’t visit the Cape. I do. I shack up at Chatham Bars Inn and Ocean Edge Resort, two of the Cape’s plushest resorts. I am a travel writer and have spent much of my life crisscrossing the globe with my son in tow. One day, a long time ago, upon returning from a stay at a lovely Cape inn, I overheard my son, then 4, say to his playmate: “OK, you go into the hall, and knock on my bedroom door, and when I say, ‘Who is it?’ you say, ‘Room service.’ ’’
That’s my boy!
To become a member of Peaked Hill Trust and to enter the
lottery for a dune shack stay, contact Peaked Hill Trust Inc., PO Box 1705, Provincetown, MA 02657.