THE EXPERIENCE OF FOOD here, like everything else, is elemental. I am singularly aware of everything I eat, as well as the effort of preparing and cleaning up after it.
There is a two-burner hotplate, and a gas refrigerator. The narrow kitchen is modestly, if well-equipped with an assortment of plates, silverware, and cooking utensils.
Meals are simple, and straightforward. A peanut butter sandwich or cereal and yogurt for breakfast, with cranberry juice and coffee. A sandwich at lunch (variations of cheddar cheese, hummus, tomato, pickle, onion, banana peppers, and mustard), with an apple or orange for dessert.
Pasta or rice for dinner, with sautéed vegetables, red sauce, and salad. Guacamole with chips one night, rice and beans with corn (“shack chili”) another. No butter or white flour, little sugar or salt.
There is no dishwasher, or even running water. We wash our dishes by hand in a plastic tub in the sink, and empty the gray water outdoors, away from the shack. As writing by hand compares to a word processor, my retro experience sustaining basic life functions here makes me think more about the consequences of my actions, about my consumption. I use less, and re-use whatever I can.
It feels like a healthier relationship to food (eat only good food, only when hungry) than the more casual diet I am used to, which is heavily influenced by having endless choices in my home kitchen or for eating out, and a certain ennui and fewer healthier options at work.
I know from experience that this simpler, healthier approach to food will be difficult to sustain when I return to the rigors of the workplace. But I resolve to start making and bringing healthier lunches there with me.
* * *
THE JUICE AND MILK last through our final morning’s pills and coffee. For breakfast, we finish off the yogurt and the last McIntosh and orange.
There are just a few garlic cloves left, and one onion. We will bring home several carrots, and half-filled jars of pickles, olive oil, and capers.
About one-third of the bar of cheddar remains, plus a little bleu and feta, and varying amounts of nuts, raisins, banana chips, and tea. There’s some leftover tomato sauce from last night’s dinner. A few cereal bars, a quarter can of coffee, half a liter of wine, a partial loaf of bread, and containers of turmeric and chili powder complete the list.
Somehow we overlooked two tins of smoked oysters and a box of crackers on a low shelf, and they will be repacked, unopened.
There’s not much else to bring home. Like every other part of my stay here, I enjoyed my food and savored my meals, but eating was not a main focus.
* * *
A HUGE THUNDERSTORM unfolds over the ocean at 8 a.m. on our final morning, darkening the sky. Rain pelts the shack’s roof, great peals of thunder roll over the blank sea and flashes of lightning streak the sky or form jagged lines connecting cloud and water.
Yet two hours later the heavens clear, and it becomes so warm and humid by noon that we strip down to shorts and T-shirts as we depart the dunes, huddled in the back of a pickup truck packed with our Thalassa neighbors’ and our things.
Our final day is stitched together by lightning: as we approach the Connecticut River on our way home to western Massachusetts around 8 p.m., another thunderstorm strikes, simultaneous with a blazing sunset. The image of a round, red sun in the distance through heavy rain blurring our windshield is strange, a fitting exclamation point to this week of weather extremes.
A happy reunion with our pets, a shave and shower, stories of the shacks with our house-sitter and friend over wine and a dinner of leftovers and seafood (my Spartan diet has already been breached with a milkshake while waiting for the latter to cook at a takeout in Dennisport), and the return to the life we left a week ago begins in earnest.
I know from prior visits that my experience of the dunes has just begun.