Lost in the dunes with Zoe Lewis
by Don Wilding
October 02, 2009
From time to time, the Great Beach Blog takes a look at some of the fortunate folks who have had "Outermost" experiences in the dunes. Today, we catch up with musician ZoŽ Lewis:
ZoŽ Lewis has traveled all the world playing her blend of music, which is a combination of jazz, jump jive, latin grooves, swing, international folk, funk originals on anything from the piano to the spoons, usually performed with her group, the Rubber Band. It often means she spends weeks away from her adopted hometown of Provincetown, caught up in the wild spiral of the life of an entertainer.
So when she does come home, there's one thing she especially likes to do. Lewis likes to disappear in the mighty dunes of the Cape tip.
"It's great to live in a place where you can get lost," says Lewis, who will be playing at Eastham's First Encounter Coffeehouse next Saturday (Oct. 10). "You can get away from people so easily here."
A native of Rottingdean, England, the hometown of poet Rudyard Kipling, Lewis has been described as "Part Huck Finn, Part Julie Andrews." You may recognize her song, Small is Tremendous, from TV ads for T.J. Maxx and Mini-Pringles. Over the years, she's toured with such elite performers as Judy Collins and Nanci Griffith.
Lewis knew what the seaside life was like even before she crossed the Atlantic nearly 20 years ago. "In Cornwall, we have beautiful dunes, but I couldn't get over the magnitude of the dunes (in Provincetown)," she said in a telephone interview from one of her traveling gigs in Austin, Texas earlier this week. "I got lost out there and didn't bring a compass, but thank God for the (Pilgrim) monument," which serves as a geographic landmark on the Outer Cape.
Lewis doesn't get lost as much these days, especially since she's become especially fond of the path known as "Snail Road" through the dunes. The motorist knows Snail Road as a concrete-paved link between Route 6A and Route 6, but the path continues on the other side of Provincetown's major highway, rolling over two massive dunes before emerging on the shore known as the "back side" of Provincetown. Dotting the shoreline there are the famous dune shacks, where Lewis was able to stay in the C-Scape and Tasha shacks on a few occasions.
Those visits have been overnight stays through the courtesy of friends, and Lewis hopes to apply for a residency there in the future. But with so many visits out there, she was inspired to write the song Snail Road, which was on her 2001 CD, Fishbone, Wishbone, Funnybone.
Featuring only the voice and piano of Lewis, and the enchanting recorder of Roxanne Layton, the message of Snail Road is simple: "When I take a walk on Snail Road, time stands still. Take a walk down Snail Road, it'll always be there for you, just like I will." The time is left behind, as she "left my watch ticking fast on the table back home," and there's always the element of mystery in this solitary stretch: "Underneath who knows what I'll find, but there's a trail of silver behind."
Her dune jaunts often take her beyond Snail Road, and she still gets lost occassionally when she goes off in search of the Tasha Shack. During her first trip out there, she got lost as night was falling. Scary to some, but, like Henry Beston in the Night on the Great Beach chapter of The Outermost House, she found the darkness of the dunes beautiful. "It gets you in touch with your primal side and survival side," Lewis said. I've traveled a lot, and I've found that we crave that in modern day society."
Modern day society is tough on everyone, as Lewis has found out with her hectic schedule, but wandering through the solitary setting of the dunes has helped her to keep it all in focus; as Beston wrote, "the relation of nature to the human spirit."
"We get caught up in everything, but then I just go out to Snail Road," Lewis said. "I make myself do things like that every day."