The DI: Station residency took place on the Sparrow Farm, in a barn that is haunted
by the ghosts of lobsters. The only way to appease them is to bake, and consume,
huge quantities of fresh bread every day. Charles was in charge of the baking, and
when on Tuesday he announced that he had to leave a couple days before the end of
the residency we all grew pale and nervous and begged him to stay. However, he
showed us how to bake bread on our own, which we did well enough, and also how
to tie some special bracelets made with knots that would keep the lobsters away.
In order to learn everyone’s name, we had a giant pillow fight after dinner on the first
night. It was wildly successful, and since there were 2 Peters we just called everyone
Peter after that, even though both Peters left the next day.
Bacon also seemed to work against the ghostly crustaceans, so we cooked and ate
about a ton of it (except for the vegetarians, but I think you only have to smell like
bacon, you don’t actually have to eat it, for it to be effective). A jar of bacon-infused
moonshine was left on the windowsill to further ward off bad luck. It seemed to do
the trick. It looked a lot like a pickled punk that had long since been retired.
One of the things we had for breakfast was a “Dutch Baby”, which is not really a
baby, but Sean didn’t know that and Matt didn’t tell him until a look of shock and
horror had registered on his face. We all had a good laugh over it. But because of
that and having been mistaken one for the other during the first night’s pillow fight,
they became fast friends. You could hardly start a conversation with either of them
before they would mention the infamous “Dutch Baby”, their eyes glazing over with
such a look of contented nostalgia and happiness that you would soon get
uncomfortable and just slowly wander away without them even seeming to notice.
One day we took a trip to the “Low Tide Gallery”, which is an abandoned shack you
can only safely get to when the tide is low, and which was discovered when a group
of people were searching for a place you could only safely get to when the tide is low.
We knew when the tide would be low because Rachele brought a bunch of crazy
drawings she had made that predicted not only the tides but also when there would
be nuclear explosions (the latter of which there were, thankfully, none). We had to
walk over snails and barnacles to get to this place, and when Dan found out the
snails were alive he nearly fainted and had to be carried the rest of the way. Once we
got there Emily announced that the tiny, decrepit shack was her dream house, and by
the time we had all had a look inside and pretended to agree that yes, it was our
dream house too, the tide had come in and we were stranded for the night. Naturally
we blamed this on Rachele. As it was Liz, Dan, and I in charge of dinner, we did our
best to scrounge what we thought were edible plants and bugs, and had everyone
imagine it was kale salad, couscous salad, and sausages (chicken as well as tofurkey),
with berries with cream for dessert. The kale salad was the best I ever imagined, and
Liz promised to give everyone the recipe.
Brooke had an amazing contraption called The Wonderbag, the workings of which
she refused to explain, saying only, “My mother is from Ontario”. A few people
came up with a theory that The Wonderbag drew its energy from some mysterious
occult force on the island, but as there was no way to test this we stopped speculating
and enjoyed the food it produced without comment or complaint. (ed. note: I have
recently managed to create a Wonderbag of my own. Though its workings remain a mystery to
me, I am looking forward to seeing what I can summon from it. However, I feel I must pass a
warning on to anyone who might be considering making one themselves – polystyrene beads are
as close a thing to pure evil as you will ever encounter in a craft supply.)
Grocery shopping was a daily event whereby two or three people would drive into
town and procure supplies, including the ingredients for that night’s dinner, anything
needed for the next day’s breakfast, various odds and ends, and a flat of beer and 6
boxes of wine. There were plenty of plastic grocery bags left lying around at the end
of the day, but by morning they would always have mysteriously been folded and
tucked into meticulous rectangles, like tiny inedible pastries, and left in a pile in the
kitchen. Now, I am as open-minded as the next person, but this was completely
unnatural, and whoever did it (we never did find out) is likely criminally insane. It
was probably the same nutcase who sorted all the dinner plates by size and by colour
that one night after dinner.
Many fine cocktails were had on Vinalhaven. Sean brought his entire bar from the
mainland- an immense, richly brown mahogany thing that was polished to a mirror
finish and stocked with countless tonics, salves, and preparations gotten from all over
the world. He was just like Tom Cruise from that movie about mixing drinksjumping
on the furniture and waving his arms around constantly. Matt preferred to
distill his own alcohol, and introduced us to a drink called the “shine ‘n’ brine”,
which is where you take a swig of moonshine and chase it with pickle juice. Some
people preferred the brine to the shine, and soon the pickle juice was gone. Then it
was just “shine ‘n’ shine”. Next Matt tried to teach a few of us to use the moonshine
to breathe fire, but we pretended to swallow it “by accident” when it came time to
light it. It happened so many times he must have thought there was something wrong
with us, but we were too drunk to care!
Cat, Amy, Garreth, Laura, and Matt took the canoe and the kayak out on Thursday
afternoon, and came back with several massive fronds of kelp and an incredible story
of adventure. Dan, Patricio, and I, however, suspected they had merely watched
“Paddle to the Sea” and described the story as their own. We Canadians are quite
familiar with the holdings of our National Film Board. Matt cut up and roasted some
of the kelp, and we tried it. It was salty as hell.
Kim and I shared a bedroom at the barn. It was fairly large, with 3 narrow bunk
beds. We pushed the beds together to make one really wide bed. I took the top and
she took the bottom, and we slept comfortably with our arms and legs stretched out,
like peaceful starfish, every night. During the first part of the week Kim had an odd
habit of commenting on the “set decoration” and “props” in the barn. She would
admire our clothing and ask who designed our “costumes” and who coached us on
our “regional accents”. Most people didn’t mind, however, and welcomed the
Margo taught us what a “compass” is, and how orienteers use it to find their way to
special boxes in the woods, and the difference between the 4 cardinal and the 4
venial points. She said, “Put Right Said Fred in the Shed,” and we all marched
around the yard singing “I’m Too Sexy,” which was entirely untrue about any of us
except for Anita, whose mere presence next to a compass would cause it to stop
The tallest people in the residency were Lincoln and Patricio. The shortest person
was Obi, who is not actually a person but is a dog.
Laura and I were a real couple of Mme Defarges that week- during our spare time I
was crocheting and she was knitting, and who could say whether we were working in
a secret cipher, using our crafts to record people’s names in a register in order for
them to get the guillotine! At the end of the week we proudly showed off the fruits of
our labour- Laura’s a soft wool hat of the loveliest shades of blue, and mine a series
of ambiguous, nearly shapeless masses of knotted kitchen twine.
At the barn and the farm houses there is no internet, so you can basically make stuff
up when you talk to people, and then hope that they have forgotten about the “facts”
you told them by the time they have access to Google again. But if they are taking
notes you could get into trouble. Also, Peter D. was making an audio recording on
the first and last days, so anything you said then will probably be “on the record”.
Despite having never made coffee before in our lives, Erin and I decided that it was
up to us to provide the group with coffee each morning. We made a terrible mess,
with coffee grounds floating in the pot and spread all over everything in the kitchen.
Our product was sometimes as black as death and other times as weak and
ineffectual as fog, but we were so proud of our achievement and so useless at doing
much of anything else that nobody wanted to hurt our feelings and as a result we
never changed our techniques or learned any better. The others would watch us go
off into the corner and practice our “dances” (Erin called hers “tap” and I referred to
mine as “hula”), and shake their heads and sigh sympathetically.
There are quarries on the island that are good for swimming, and a synchronized
swim team was soon formed. One of the quarries is apparently “clothing optional”, if
you know what I mean, and we all joked and laughed nervously and vowed never to
Though some of us slept at the Sparrow Farm, which is where the barn is, others
stayed at the Poor Farm, which is only a few minutes down the road and is also
haunted, but by people rather than lobsters. In trying to stir things up Denise dumped
a bucket of ping- pong balls down a stairwell, which everyone had great fun
recording on our Cellular Telephones and Digital Cameras. Emily and Rachele and
Lincoln and Liz and I made various attempts to contact spirits using a Ouija board.
We either succeeded fantastically or failed miserably, as the only thing that was
spelled out was “BS” and a lot of letters that didn’t seem to amount to anything.
However, Lincoln later whispered to me that the string of letters actually did have a
horrible significance that he didn’t feel comfortable revealing to us at the time of the
session, and which I promised to keep secret so as not to disturb the others. This
message from the spirits of the Ouija board I will take to the grave with me.
One thing about living with a group of people for an entire week, without the relief of
seeing another soul besides the twenty-some same people you are eating every darn
meal with, is that you start to develop a special language, like those twins who
babble back and forth with a secret code that no one else can understand. Amy was
the source one of these peculiar phrases, which at the time seemed so apt that it
slipped seamlessly into our lexicon and was used at every chance. I don’t know what
it means back in San Francisco, but if you heard someone in the Sparrow Farm
kitchen yell, “foam out!” you knew coffee was on, or it was your turn to do the
dishes, or Garreth had lost his shoes again. By the end it had almost become a sort of
“aloha” to us, and many a teary “foam out” was said on Saturday morning when we
finally parted company, marching down the muddy road to the solemn beat of
Denise’s snare drum. Another phrase no one tired of hearing, or saying, was “map
Many of us were enthralled by the fireflies, which came out at night in droves, but
none so much as Cat, who tried ceaselessly to video tape them despite the fact that
everyone knows “fireflies” are a hallucination caused by drinking moonshine. She
did capture some stunning video of seaweed, however, and showed it around
happily, inadvertently hypnotizing anyone who gazed at the tiny screen of her
camera for more than a few seconds.
On the final night a crate of lobsters, a shitload of devilled eggs, and several boxes of
whoopee pies were delivered, along with two additional DI board members and
other special guests. We had worked hard all day trying to make the barn look nice
for the soon-to-be ghost lobsters and also for the handful of visitors who joined us for
dinner, with candles everywhere and furniture cleared away to create space for a
dance floor and a Cooper Mini. Along the windows a line of fancy laptops stretched
as far as the eye could see, with their gears grinding away to display all manner of
digital videos and photos and photomontages and all that type of thing that designers
seem to be so good at. Before dinner was served, Sean jumped on a piece of furniture
and waved his arms around and served a cocktail he had invented for the occasion. It
was delicious. On the serving table were massive bowls of potato and green salad,
loaves of bread with strange symbols on them, the devilled eggs (which covered
every available surface) and some pine needle shortbread cookies that Emily had
made and which she assured us were perfectly safe to eat.
Eating lobster is a marvelous event, which begins with passing the animal to
someone who knows what to do with it and is not afraid of, or too weak to achieve,
splitting it open and tearing off its head, which is how pretty much everything was
eaten 700,000 years ago according to Brooke and Matt’s story about “The Kitchen”.
Then as you eat you try not to get covered in lobster juice or butter, or have Anita
spill red wine on the sweater you knit for yourself. Many of us had eaten lobster this
way before only once or twice, if at all, and the more experienced diners chuckled at
our attempts to discern which part of the lobster was food and which was not. Sean
then gave an impromptu lobster anatomy lesson, by which we learned which was the
inside of the animal (mostly edible) and which was the outside (mostly inedible).
After everyone had eaten, Liz and Cat held a break dancing seminar, and Erin taught
us the dance move which is called “digesting the lobster”. It came in very handy, and
without it who knows what might have happened! It seemed like everybody had a
special dance move to share, even if it was just standing in the kitchen doing the
dishes with Margo.
A Design Inquiry tradition is to save the lobster heads and boil them in order to
create a smell that will sicken anyone unfortunate enough to pass through the
kitchen the next morning with a hangover, and the antennae are set aside to later
become the most beautiful silver rings you ever saw.
Everyone was really smart, and nice, and interesting at DI: Station, and I hope I
have done well capturing all of their endearing foibles. Did I tell you about how Cat
kept calling everything “spectacular” and Patricio would ask, “So what?” no matter
what you said to him? He was so tall you wouldn’t dare answer back. Also, anytime
anybody mentioned the title of a movie or TV show Garreth would ask if you had
heard of the porn version of it, which I am pretty sure he was making up on the spot.
As for myself, my most animated conversations revolved around a scant 4 subjects:
the Banff Centre for the Arts, ukuleles, Blundstone boots, and bigfoot, and for that I
would like to apologize to anyone unfortunate enough to have gotten caught in a
conversation with me (Garreth).