Visiting the Phone of the Wind in Provincetown
A visit to Provincetown and the outer Cape is a trip home for me. Somewhere deeper in my archives than I can reach today, there is a picture of my father leaping off a Truro dune, in flight over the photographer's head. That photo was taken in 1965. My uncle was part of the community of artists who live year round on the Cape and we visited often, in and off season. Many of my own children's best family-time memories also have Cape Cod locations. And a portion of both my uncle's and my dad's ashes were lovingly offered to the outgoing tide at the mouth of the Pamet Harbor.
Early in March I got a message from my sister-in-law asking if I'd like to celebrate both our birthdays at the Cape, she'd take me for the weekend. After a year like 2020 with pandemic fear and isolation, economic challenges, toxic whiteness and systemic brutality, peaceful and not so peaceful protests, a stressful presidential transition, and finally the fraught days of the Chauvin trial, an interlude of sister-respite was in order. We took our fully vaccinated/mutually cautious selves away to a place where we could sit, talking or not talking, looking out at the water and feeling our equilibrium slowly restored. When we weren't enjoying the view from our beachside patio we ate oysters (take-out, in the car) and I showed her some of the hidden places I know, less travelled beaches and backroad burial grounds where we could search for interesting lichens.
Our very first adventure stop was to see the Phone of the Wind installed in the sculpture garden at The Commons, a collaborative workspace on Bradford St. https://www.provincetowncommons.org
People who know me, or have visited my blog, know that the Phone of the Wind is (what one friend calls) my passion project. Seeing new iterations of 'wind phone' pop up around the world causes me big joy. Traveling with the Phone of the Wind has become a part of my work and I am deeply encouraged by the connection and collaboration it has brought to my life. I've been looking forward to this visit with the Provincetown Phone for more than a year, a visit delayed by covid and having first to cross a sea of grieving. I have also been engaged in a collaborative design process for my first permanent wind phone installation (Spring 2021, at Life Forest conservation cemetery, Hillsborough NH). Between navigating this last year when my work in end-of-life has become so relevant and being immersed in wind phone design, I have been thinking deeply about both grieving and the unusual conversations, purpose, and sacred space an encounter with the Phone of the Wind offers.
This visit with my sister also provided an opportunity to witness the first-time wind phone encounter of someone I know well, and to have a chance to hear her curiosity and response to this experience that is so unlike anything else. She wondered if I had any advice about who to talk with when she picked up the handset or what to say. I told her that sometimes we think we know who we want to be with but end up speaking with someone entirely different. Some times we plan what to say and find ourselves, instead, listening to the great silence. Some times we plan to say one thing but instead blurt out our truth, or ask hard questions, or just weep. The first time I picked up the phone I had rehearsed a conversation with my dad but instead heard, yes heard, an unexpected hello from a different person and dropped the handset, reacting to the searing heat of surprise. My advice, I told her, as always, is not to hold too tightly to your plan and to see what unfolds once you step into the space and pick up the phone. She went in first while I waited on the bench nearby, not watching. I was so glad I was there to hug her when she was ready to emerge. Then it was my turn.
Like a photobooth, a wind phone booth has a way of feeling remarkably private even in a very public place. This iteration of the Phone of the Wind is set in a sculpture garden, only somewhat sheltered from a busy street but laid out in a way that offers some buffer between the booth and other garden features, with a bench not too close where a companion can wait without hearing. There is a stone path to the booth, causing a visitor to turn along the way, hinting at that same mystery a labyrinth conveys, a sense of journey into liminal time.
I stepped into the booth, closed the door, and found myself to be very much in two minds. One set of senses was busily evaluating the booth design while another was aware only of the quiet that comes when we are stepping into sacred space. I let myself take in the bones of the booth for a few moments, took a breath, sighed a gratitude, and picked up the handset of the Phone.
A wind phone booth is one of those magical places that, without fail, is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. I bring the phone to my ear and the silence washes over me with that unmistakable sensation of being deeply present in a Universe that is vast, and I am part of a web of connection that sustains me and includes the unseen. In the silence, whatever I had been planning fell away and a group presence attended me through the Phone. In my heart I called on a gathering of ancestors I hoped might be listening and found that after this terrible year I had no words at all, only salt across my face. I found my voice and asked for... help. Just that one word, repeated, help. Please, I added to close the encounter, gently returning the handset to it's cradle.
If you are in Provincetown, swing by The Commons to see if the booth is still there in the garden out front. If not, there will be more interesting sculpture to see and someone inside will be able to tell you where the wind phone has been moved to (and I'll update on my page linked below). Every encounter with the Phone of the Wind offers a possibility of connection, whether you are whispering or shouting, regaling or reassuring or scolding, laughing, weeping, or simply holding yourself still. If you go, wiggle your toes so you can feel the Earth holding you up. Take a breath so you can feel life filling your body. Let yourself dance a little to the rhythm of your own beating heart, savor the rise and fall of your chest, and listen. And after, if you have words, tell your story to a friend or to a stranger, or to the wind.
I try to keep track of the growing list of wind phone locations around the US and the world. Let me know if you hear of one! If you are looking for a Phone of the Wind to visit, I post updates on the page here: https://www.dinastander.com/phone-of-the-wind