June 25, 1917 Difficult Trout

June 25, 1917

I was talking to Ed and Molly Colson this morning. They had a large number of guests coming in from Buffalo tomorrow and they wanted to serve them fresh caught trout. Unfortunately, they had little luck catching anything and Ed asked me if could try tonight. I said it would be my pleasure and they would have a dozen fresh trout by tomorrow.

Trout in Canoe Lake are difficult to catch at this time of year, either by angling or trawling. Catching by fly is a non-starter too. The only way to catch trout is with a night line.

The first thing  I had to do was to catch a couple of dozen minnows. This was easy enough to do with bread crumbs and a few tiny pieces of pork. Within the course of a quarter-hour I had a pail full of minnows and I was ready for the next stage of the venture.

I used my long trawling line – the copper wire. I unwound the wire and every five or six feet I put a line of three feet with a hook on the end. I put on fourteen lines in total. I knew of a good spot for trout. I took with me a half dozen short cedar logs, about eight-inches each. These would act as floats. I attached a line of about thirty feet to the end of the trawling line and secured this one with a stone. I unwound the line and  baited each hook-line with a minnow. Every five or six feet I attached a cedar log to act as a float. When I was finished unwinding the trawl line, I attached another 30 foot line to a stone. And there it was in the lake, the entire contraption – the night line.

I went back about 6 o’clock this morning, and sure enough the cedar logs were twirling and dancing like water striders. I pulled up the the trawling line and I had trout on twelve of the fourteen hooks. Two were lucky to have gotten away but the caught ones were a nice size. The largest almost two and half feet long. I put the dozen trout on a line and delivered to them Molly. She was most gracious and said she would arrange a credit for me at Annie Colson’s outfitting store.

June 24, 1917 Rules of the Ouija Board

June 24, 1917

It rained today.  I was still at my campsite and I could tell it was the type of rain that was going to last all day. The rain started lightly in the early morning but by the later morning it was steady and harder. The rain made bubbles on the surface of the lake. When you see bubbles on the water you know it’s going to rain steady for a long time. I’d have to spend the day holed up in my tent so I packed up my gear and set out for Mowat Lodge in my canoe. Most likely I’ll be staying here for the next couple of days, judging by the weather. I could stay in my camp, but to be truthful, no matter the resolve of an outdoorsman, if there’s a prospect of a roof and a reasonably soft bed nearby in weather like this, it is the better option to take.

I set out onto the water.  The surface on Canoe Lake was as smooth as could be, save for the millions of bubbles made by the millions of raindrops coming down. Everything was quiet, save for incessant tapping noise of the raindrops that permeated everything. My bailing tin (a Chum Tobacco tin) joined in the chorus but its performance was short-lived because I needed it to bail out the rainwater.

My destination was Mowat Lodge, but I decided to go to Lowrie Dickson’s place first. Not sure what prompted the change in  plans but I sensed that I had some unfinished business to attend to. Or I needed some whisky.

The rain came down harder and harder. The rain clouds descended from the sky and hung low over the water. It was hard to see through the rain and clouds and it felt like the distinction between heaven and earth had disappeared leaving only an amorphous expanse of gray. My only connection to this world was the sound of my paddle dipping and slicing through the water. I imagined that this was the first day of Creation, before the Light.  It could have been the afterlife too. Perhaps the essence of life is about colours and anything before and after is just a mass expanse of gray – just like the trenches in Europe. I didn’t like the line of thinking I was falling into. ‘Live the colours as long as you can,” I thought to myself.

When I arrived at Lowrie’s shack, I shook myself out of my thoughts. The rain was dripping furiously off the brim of my felt hat and my mackinaw trousers were soaked through. I had on my canvas shoes with the rubber bottoms; the once-white uppers are now a dingy gray. More gray. But I was I was thankful I wasn’t wearing my shoepacks because they’d stink to high heaven.

There was a light on inside and Lowrie Dickson came out to greet me.

“G’day, Tom”

“G’morning, Lowrie,” I replied.

“C’mon in. What brings you here?”

I explained that I was headed to Mowat Lodge because of the rain, but decided to drop by for a social call first. We went inside. Without missing a beat, Lowrie produced two tin cups on the table with a lick of whisky in each.

“Here’s to a rainy afternoon!” I bowed to Lowrie’s toast and another two licks of whisky were in the cups.

Lowrie said that after we had our Ouija board session a couple of weeks ago, he decided to look into the rules. A guest at Hotel Algonquin wrote them down for Lowrie. The guest warned him that the spirits got downright ornery if the rules weren’t followed.

Lowrie showed me the piece of paper. There were five of them.

Rule 1: Never play the Ouija board alone. As I recall there were at least three of us, Lowrie, George Rowe and me. We had a lot of whisky to drink I remember.

Check.

Rule 2: Do not allow the planchette to count down through the numbers or backwards through the alphabet. I don’t remember anything of the sort. I remember some numbers being counted out: 7 and 8. That’s counting forward by my numbering system.

Check.

Rule 3: Always place a silver object upon the Ouija board. I knew you were supposed to do this, but I did not know it was a cardinal rule. I had a lure in my pocket which I set out. I made it from one of Annie’s discarded spoons (I found it in the pile of potato peelings out back). Originally came from the Highland Inn, it was silver to be sure.

Check.

Rule 4: Never ever mention ‘God’.  We were good on that one too. Lowrie and George make a practice of only mentioning the lower-cased ‘god’ in conjunction with ‘damned’ or ‘forsaken’. I don’t recall any religious rites or swearing on that evening.

Check

Rule 5: When you’re done playing, say ‘goodbye.’ I think we did, but I wasn’t sure.

Lowrie looked at me. He had fear in his eyes. I looked back at him.

“Lowrie, it’s a parlour game. You think the spirits are going to come after us?”

At that very moment, a blinding flash of light came through the window. Less than a second later, a hideous crack of thunder shook the cabin. .Another flash – out the window, lightning struck the lake, where I had been in my canoe, not more than an hour ago. This time the crack of thunder was piercing and deafening. It was simultaneous with the lightning. The thunderstorm was on top of of us. What I wouldn’t give to have my paints now. I’d be outside painting in the storm. If the storm took me, so be it.

After a few minutes, the storm had passed, but the fear was still in Lowrie’s eyes.

“A storm like that is going to take me to my grave.”

“Lowrie, don’t worry the damn spirits of the Ouija board. I’m sure the both of us will be around for a long time. Let’s have another whisky.”

June 23, 1917 Victims of Circumstance

June 23, 1917

It was a muggy day today. The sun was out but not too much. There were big thunder clouds in the sky but enough sun that it became quite warm and things dried up.

I decided to canoe over to Little Wap Island. That’s where Taylor Statten has his cabin and he’s there with his wife and son. I got there around noon. I don’t like visiting too early. I asked him about the strange voices I heard last night.

“It’s part of the YMCA internment education program. I had heard about the education programs they were doing in the POW camps in Europe and I asked to do the same here.”

“Internment camps!” I was surprised that he was blunt with a fact that was otherwise intrigue and speculation.

“Yeah, Sims Pit. There’s a few kids working there. They can’t speak English.”

“I thought there was some secret weapons program going on there.”

“Indeed, no!” Taylor laughed. “I heard about Sam Hughes’ secret program. They’re doing nothing more than cutting up firewood to ship to the City. There’s a coal shortage, you know. The kids are free labour because they are enemy aliens.”

Taylor’s story sounded right. He was always concerned about helping youth. The kids at Sims Pit were victims of circumstance beyond their control. I’m sure some government bureaucrat thought that hard labour in the North would turn these young boys’ loyalty towards the Dominion and Empire.

Taylor invited me for lunch and I obliged. He was getting ready to go to the US. Getting his cabin ready for Dr. Howland and his family. They’d be arriving in July.

After lunch I canoed back to my camp site. The weather began to worsen and by 6 o’clock it became a downpour. It rained for a solid hour and the water began streaming around my tent. Almost every day this summer so far, it’s rained. In ordinary weather, the tent stays high and dry but with all of the rain the ground is saturated. The water has nowhere to go but straight into the lake and right by my tent.

The sun came out later in the evening, just around sunset. I could see the mist rising in the distant hills. I no longer hear the peepers, but instead the deep-throated warbles of the bullfrogs. I saw more than my share of snappers today. They’re looking for places to lay their eggs.The geese are out with their goslings. They are growing at an astounding rate.

I was planning to go to to Mowat Lodge to see if there was any mail for me, but I decided to continue the solitude from the greater world for another day. I didn’t really want to know what was happening, because I knew as much as I needed to. The march towards conscription is inevitable. All I know was that I have to go and soon. I need to get a message to Winnie, but I am not sure by mail that it would even get to her. Mail has become a risky proposition and I need to find another way to send a message. Going to Huntsville myself was certainly not in the cards. I must find a trusted messenger. I could ask Charlie Scrim. He is feeling better and making excursions out of the Park. I could ask him to go to Huntsville for me.

June 22, 1917 Gray Days

June 22, 1917

Once again the weather turned for the worse. I woke up to rain in the morning. Yesterday, there was no sign of a change of weather. I stayed most of the day in my tent.

The tent that I set up at Hayhurst is an old surveyors tent that I used. I purchased another tent for camping trips. That’s the one I’ll be sending up to South River to the Watties. This tent is a large canvas and the the poles and pegs I cut from the trees nearby. The bedding is made from balsam limbs. The limbs are cut and laid in a pattern in the tent to yield a soft sleeping surface. It’s actually quite fine to lounge the day on this balsam bed as I did today listening to rain patter on the canvas. When the rain let up, I went outside, sat against a tree, had my pipe and read.

It’s a wonder how these gray days can pass by so quickly. The coals were still hot from the night before and it was easy to make a good fire again. I made a pail of tea, and set beans in the bake-kettle. It rained on and off, but started to clear during the later part of the evening. Tea and baked beans were the menu tonight. Once it became darker, I went back into tent, laid out my blankets, rolled up my boots in my coat to make a pillow for the night. There is a slight breeze, making the flaps ripple open. Through the ripples, I can see the lake and its reflection of the night sky. The sky is clearing up and the stars are coming through. I can hear voices across the lake. I don’t think they are coming from Mowat Lodge. It sounds like they are coming from Little Wap Island, or Taylor Statten’s place. I don’t recognize the voices, so Iwonder if Taylor has already left for the United States for his YMCA course. He planned to rent out his cottage to a Dr. from Toronto, Dr. Howland, I think his name is. Maybe I’ll canoe over tomorrow and introduce myself.

June 21, 1917 Hesperus and Phosporous

June 21, 1917

It’s the summer solstice today. For the first time ever, the sun sets after 9 o’clock. It’s been setting a few minutes after 9 for the past few days now but since Daylight Savings Time went on for the very first time this year, it’s made the evenings longer. The extra hour is supposed to save coal and electricity in the cities. It doesn’t make any difference here, save for the changes it makes to the train schedules. Shannon said the extra hour of daylight is good for the crops. I believe he was joking on that point, but  you’re never sure. Astronomy is not his strong point. He’s hard-pressed to find the Big Dipper. He doesn’t understand the fuss about the Northern Lights, which the city folk like to call “Aurora Borealis.” Shannon thinks that term is a shameful waste of syllables.

Once, in jest, I said Shannon was as “constant as the northern star,” hoping that he would catch the allusion. I quickly realized it was lost on him on both counts. First – the reference to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar – Shannon’s literary depth went as far as compiling a grocery list. And second – that the North Star stayed in one spot in the sky – Shannon was still struggling with the concept of an extra hour of daylight. I could understand him not grasping the first allusion, but the second one, I found it inconceivable that he didn’t know that one. It’s fortunate that  Shannon does not have to rely on the stars to navigate Canoe Lake at night-time. He just has to follow the smell of Annie’s cooking.

The weather has turned for the better. The evening was serene. It was warm and the slight breeze  kept the bugs away. Knowing the weather would be nice, I decided to camp for the evening at Hayhurst Point. My campsite there is semi-permanent. It was my home away from home – just few minutes escape by canoe and easy to get back into operation.

I managed to catch a good trout for dinner. I wasn’t sure if I was going to catch anything, so I brought a few slices of bacon with me as well. I decided to prepare  both. I have more than enough food, so I’d keep my eye on the lake and if there happened to be a passerby, I’d invite them for supper.

The evening was beautiful, and nothing could be better than preparing a meal in such pleasant weather. I got the fire going, cleaned the trout, packed it with some flour and butter and put it in the reflector oven beside the fire. Then I started on the bacon and tea. There is a special trick to making tea. Most people think you add the leaves after you boil the water, but that’s not the case. You start with lake water and cold as you can get it, throw in the leaves, and remove the pot just before it comes to a boil. The real trick is to bring the water as close to a boil, but not quite  boiling.

Bacon preparation has its secrets too. You can’t just fry it. You have to parboil it first. The bacon has lots of salt for preservation, so you have to get that salt out first. You put an inch of water in the frying pan with the bacon and bring it a boil for a couple of minutes. You remove the water then fry it.

During meal preparation time, you have to keep your eye on the tea. It’s the making of good tea that makes the best tips for guides. properly steeped tea makes everything taste good. It has to be the right temperature, served at the right time, just before the meal. As soon as the lid shows a hit of steam coming from it, you take it from the fire. Once removed, you throw in a handful of cold water and that makes the leaves go to the bottom. That’s the secret technique – the other secret, as I said, is to make sure it is timed with the other food preparation.

After about a half-hour my dinner was ready, tea as well. Nobody came by in a canoe, so I had no dining partner. That was okay. I had dinner by the shore by myself. I watched the sun go down. The evening star was out – Venus, or Hesperus as it is known in Greek mythology. For all the wisdom of the Greeks, they never knew that Phosphorous (the morning star) was the very same Venus of the evening before. Hesperus and Phosphorous were the very same being, but the Greeks never figured this out. It was only when man learned that the heavens didn’t circle about the Earth that the someone figured out they were the same. It was the myth that kept man away from the true fact of the matter.

This train of thought reminded me of the ‘Wreck of the Hesperus,” the poem I knew by heart, and sang to Fanny Case and her girls. In some ways I feel the inevitability of the ‘Wreck of the Hesperus.’ Is this my fate too? Maybe I need to write a new poem called, ‘Rise of Phosphorous’, about the evening star, Hesperus, disappearing into the night, only to reappear the next day as Phosphorous, a new and different being to everyone. The secret that Venus held for millennia – that Hesperus and Phosphorous, were the same – and nobody knew. A  poem is a myth that creates a new reality.  Or maybe, it is the other way around. In either case, I needed a new reality, not just a new poem or myth. Poems and myths are for others. I’m not sure where these thoughts are taking me.

I hear the whistle of a distant train. Just a single long whistle. That means it is about to cross a trestle bridge , warning everyone well in advance.

The whistle has jolted me out of my thoughts and I look back out towards the shore. The sun is going down. The wind has stopped and the lake has turned to golden glass. It is about as peaceful as it could ever be. As for the heavenly bodies, I can only see Hesperus, but the other stars are coming out. I can’t yet see the Northern Star. But since it is constant, I knew exactly where to look. It will appear in due time. And tomorrow I will see Phosphorous.

June 20, 1917 Aliens in the Park

June 20, 1917

There’s a reason why everyone wears long sleeves in the Park. Yes, even in the middle of summer. Bugs, thistles, hawthorne bushes, raspberry thorns, poison ivy, blood root, water hemlock.

Lowrie came back with a report that he saw some water hemlock in the swampy area on near the dump. Shannon and I decided to investigate. We were in for a surprise. There weren’t just a few – there were hundreds. They were all waist-high now and by the end of the summer, they’ll be taller than an enlisted man. The water hemlock masquerades as a pretty wildflower. It smells sweet, like parsnip because it’s related to parsnip, but don’t try to eat it, it’s deadly poisonous. The sap, just a little bit, is enough to kill a full grown man. We all knew the story. Back in 1914, two American guests at the Hotel Algonquin set out for a three day canoe trip, never to return. After a week, a search party was sent out and they were found – dead at a campsite. They found a collection of water hemlock roots beside the dead men. The roots had bites out of them. .

 

We’ve all learned not to touch the stuff. Last summer, Lowrie got the sap on his arms and he couldn’t show his skin for the whole summer. Each time he exposed him arms to sunlight, he got burns ten times the worse than what you’d ever get from the sun. Shannon brought his scythe along, and he decided the best way to deal with it was to cut it down and keep an eye on it.

Giant Hogweed is an alien species in the Park. Someone brought it from overseas to decorate their garden and it got out in the wild. It looks like a wild carrot – a wild carrot from hell actually. It’s also surprising to know that many of the flowers in the meadows are not native either. Like Hogweed,  many of the garden flowers brought over from England have established themselves in the Park and are pushing out the native species. Once the pine trees were cut and cleared away, it gave these alien species opportunity to establish themselves. It’s ironic – we’ve sent our men to England to fight, and in return they give us flowers that grow in the land that should be worked by these very men who’ll never come back. It’s also ironic when people come for the ‘untouched nature’ of the Park, what they are really seeing is alien second-growth.

Aside from plants, there are other aliens in the Park. Enemy aliens as they’re called. The camp at Sims Pit has enemy aliens, and by rights, Martin Blecher Jr. is an enemy alien too.

Earlier in the morning I canoed by the Blecher boathouse. The doors were open, and I could see inside. Martin’s putt-putt boat was parked inside. Inside there was a workbench and repair tools. Martin was pretty handy with tools and he had all the expensive ones. I guess he has it pretty good; his father is a retired furniture magnate. I’m sure his father is the the one paying the bills.

I figured that Martin was sleeping once again in the boathouse. I heard the fights over at the Blecher cottage. He and his sister get into some pretty nasty fights and you can hear the yelling all the way up to the Lodge. The day before yesterday, I saw that  furniture had been thrown into the lake. I could only speculate that the nature of that fight resulted in some sort of eviction and Martin moving into the boathouse.

Martin saw me out front, “Just remember I got a gun for trespassers,” Martin gestured towards his workbench and to the gun mounted on the wall.

“Yeah, Martin. I was only passing by to say hi.” I drew my paddle back into the water and glided out of his line of sight. There was no need for him to be unfriendly. I think it’s more out of habit that he is so gruff. I’m pretty sure he learned it from his battle-axe of a mother, Louisa. Once she chased me off their property with a broom.

I try to think of other things, but Winnie is on my mind almost all the time. It’s been a few days since I sent the letter to Billie Bear Lodge. I haven’t heard anything back yet, so I’m getting worried. I am starting to think of another plan, that Winnie and I will rendezvous up in South River and then go out West from there – to North Bay, and then to the Soo. My friend, Tom Wattie and his family live in South River. If I don’t hear from Billie Bear soon I’ll  ship some gear to South River. That way, when I do leave from here, it won’t look like I’m leaving for good. I’ll wait a few more days before I decide what to do.

I went up to Joe Lake to fish this afternoon. A girl guest from the Algonquin Hotel came down to watch me. I ignored her, then she said, “You are a disciple of Izaak Walton!” I smiled and kept on fishing. I knew the game. Annie Colson gave the girl that quote. I’m sure the girl was quite smitten with me and wanted something smart to say to me. It’s happened before. The girls always seem to go to Annie for advice on what to say to me and this is the quote she gives them. It’s a game between Annie and me. The girls don’t know they’re part of a game. It’s harmless game, and I don’t do anything with it. I’d never want to get into that type of situation if the game ever got serious.

June 18, 1917 F-A-T-E-7-8

June 18, 1917

The dew was heavy this morning. I couldn’t walk more than 10 yards and my boots and trousers were soaked. The tall grass in the meadows is already starting to seed so my clothes were covered. Patches of milkweed are cropping up everywhere and I could see hanging from the milkweed a caterpillar pupa that was about ready to emerge as a Monarch butterfly. It’s called metamorphosis – the final stage – turning into a full-blown butterfly to enjoy the final few weeks of its life.

I studied  Monarch butterflies when I went with my Uncle Brodie on field trips in Toronto. He was an expert on insects, entomology, I think it is called. We called him “Dr. Brodie” which gave him the air of a scientist and researcher, but he really got his Dr.’s degree by  taking a dentistry course  which he dropped after two weeks. Needless to say, the Dr. title stuck, and Dr. Brodie became one of the foremost insect experts in Toronto. His reputation was so well regarded, he was consulted in the creation of the the Park.

A fascinating thing about  Monarch butterflies is not that they migrate from far down South –  they come from as far as Mexico. The fascinating thing is that there are four generations of butterflies when they’re here. Right now, this is the start of the second generation. The first one got its start in early May. They live for about six weeks, mate, lay eggs then die. There’ll be a third generation, and then the fourth, for some mysterious reason, has a longer life and the Monarchs migrate back down South. It goes to prove that while things get passed down through the generations,  some generations have what other generations don’t have. I often wondered about this. Did I have a distant relative from far back who was like me? Not my father, nor my grandfather. Not even my great-grandfather, but possibly my great-great grandfather. If I have a son, will he be like me? Or his son? Or his son’s son – my great grandson? What do I have that I do not know?  What will I pass down to my fourth generation? Maybe it’s my turn to migrate?

The pondering stopped when I saw Lowrie Dickson down by the shore. He hailed me down and motioned toward his shack. That was an invitation. So I made my way down, wet boots, wet trousers and all.

“Tom, I got somethin’ to show ya!” Lowrie greeted me as I got closer. “C’mon in!”

I entered his shack, and George Rowe was there too.

“We found this at the dump. We heard about them and gave it a whirl.” Lowrie showed me a board of sorts. It was an Oujia Board.

“My goodness, that’s the board Annie threw out. I thought Shannon would have burned it.” Then I remembered, Shannon hid it in the horse barn. It eventually must have ended up in Canoe Lake Dump.

“Yep. It’s a bit worse for wear.” Lowrie was proud of his find. “But you can still see all of the letters.”

I wasn’t really the superstitious type, but I was in the same camp as Annie. I didn’t like these things. “You tried it?” I asked.

“Yep, with an upturned shot glass.”

Oh my goodness. First of all you aren’t supposed to try the Ouija while drinking. Second, you weren’t supposed to use an upturned whisky glass as the planchette. The spirits would get downright ornery.

“Lowrie, I don’t like these things,” I said.

“I know Tom, but I think it’s broken.”

Now how in the world could a Ouija board be broken? Save for the board itself being broken in half, or using of a whisky glass as a planchette, I couldn’t begin to fathom what a ‘broken’ Ouija board would entail.

“Lowrie, you’ll have to explain to me, exactly what is a broken Ouija board?”

“It kept saying the same thing over and over, no matter what question we asked it”

Now I was intrigued, “What was it saying?”

“‘F-A-T-E-7-8’ and then ‘Goodbye.’ Every time.” Lowrie said.

“Fate 78?” I repeated, “Lowrie, you still have your Victrola? What’s the RPM?”

“78 revolutions per minute.” Lowrie paused and his eyes brightened up, “I get it, Tom! You think it’s tellin’ me to play a song?”

“Maybe.” I was feeling pretty smug. On a lark I thought the 78 might refer to a record. When I went down that line of reasoning things started to fit together. I had read in the papers that Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Song in a Storm” had been put to music by Sir Edward Elgar and was called “Fate’s Discourtesy”. The song was recorded as part of “Fringes of the Fleet.” It was available as a 78 RPM for the Victrola. A strange coincidence. A good yarn for Lowrie.

“Lowrie, it’s telling you to buy more music.”

“I ain’t got money for that!” Lowrie objected to the thought of spending money for music. He managed to get his records from the Highland Inn. The manager there gave him the played out ones when they got too scratchy, since Lowrie’s Victrola was the only other one nearby. The scratches really didn’t make much difference when Lowrie played the Victrola on the lake in his canoe. The pleasant surprise of music coming from the lake earned him tips from the guests. Sound quality was secondary to the surprise factor.

“Maybe the board is telling you to expand your repertoire,” I said.

“Yeah. I’ll go to the Highland to get more scratchies.” Lowrie seemed relieved. Message of the mystery spirits is resolved.

That was the end of the Ouija board discussion. I spent the better part of the evening having drinks with Lowrie and George. We must have been loud because Martin Blecher dropped by. He was about to complain, but then George offered him a shot and he joined the conversation. It also turned out that Shannon’s nostrils must have been burning because he showed up too. Together, we had a good time at Lowrie’s shack.

As things were winding down, George Rowe said, “A good time, gentleman. Next time it’ll be up at my cabin. Maybe the weekend after Dominion Day;  July 7 or 8.”

The Ouija board message jumped out at me.

“July 7 or 8 – FATE 78.”

I started to put the pieces together in my mind:

“FATE 7-8.”

Maybe 78 referred to the numeric date “7-8”, or, “July 8th.”

“FATE July-8th”

Maybe something fateful was going to happen on July 8th. I dismissed the notion. Nothing more than superstition. I went back to my room for the night.

“FATE July 8th”

I couldn’t get it out of my mind.