April 26, 1917 Swift Water
I spent the day alone today. Walked far away from everyone. The landscape is changing every day, faster and faster. I can see the trees are beginning to bud, but the cold nights will hold them back and one day they’ll burst out. One day the lake is covered in ice and the next day it’s completely free. You never know when things are going to change for the better or for the worse.
All the lakes and streams are high in water. I walked up to Baby Joe Lake, near Burnt Island Lake and this is the scene I found. Painting on a rock by the rapids is different than in the woods. You’re perched in the open and the sounds of the rapids drown out all your thinking. It was a good escape for me. I needed to get away from my thoughts for awhile and paint, just paint. The talk with Mark yesterday is haunting me. There’s not many men back alive from the front, so the stories about what’s really happening no one knows. Mark was telling about the soldiers that weren’t wounded in the physical sense, but had what the doctors called ‘shell shock’. They would start jibbering, running around, eyes bulging out, and limbs flailing. The British officer had a cure for shell shock – execution. Mark said he saw an officer execute eighteen solider in a matter of minutes, three of them from Mark’s own battalion. The officers were especially ruthless with the colonials, slapping them on the side of the head, saying they were a shame to the Empire before executing them.
To add to the insult, Mark had to write the letters home for these executed men. The censorship and the propaganda officers approving the letters before being sent meant that Mark could only write things about being brave and glorious, and they didn’t die in vain. There was no glory, it was in vain, and every letter that Mark wrote took away part of his soul, he said.
I was indifferent about enlisting. Had I been subjected to enough persuasion, even two months ago, I would have probably enlisted, but there was no way I would now. With conscription being a near certainty, I needed to think of ways to avoid the service. Bachelors up to age forty-five would be conscripted. That meant I had only two options before me – disappear or get married. The second option didn’t necessarily exempt me from service, unless there was a child.
With the weather being warmer, more people are starting to come. The Blechers are expected soon. They come in early May. Martin Blecher Sr. is retired and he comes with his wife, Louisa, for the summer from Buffalo. Their children (adults, actually), Martin and Bessie come too. They’re an odd lot. They’re not too friendly, Louisa likes to chase people off their land and the shore in front of their cottage.