Some Guiding Work

June 4, 1917

I had to prepare for the guiding work this morning. The guests from Ottawa were coming in on the afternoon train and they wanted to leave right after. That gave me a few hours to prepare. It was just me as the guide and the two of them, so two canoes were needed: mine and another. Shannon would rent them one.

In the lobby, as I was getting ready, I came across a poetry book left behind by one of the guests. It was a collection of Rudyard Kipling’s poems. I leafed through the book (I was thinking about taking it along for the trip) I came across the poem, “Secret of the Machines.” The poem was haunting because I remember writing in a letter once that Jackson was in the machine. The War machine. And here was Kipling glorifying these machines that have made the sacrifice of men an automated affair.

Shannon went up to the Station to pick the guests up. They came in on the No. 47 First Class Westbound from Ottawa. Shannon had got the mail which had come in from the Eastbound and when he returned I asked if there were any letters for me.

“None from, Winnie.” was the reply.

The guests were polite enough, but it seemed they were preoccupied with something that we weren’t supposed to privy to. They only offered their first names to us, John and Etienne and they wanted to get going as soon as possible. I asked them how their canoeing paddling was. The reply was rather curt, “Fine. We’ll take the one canoe, and you will go with the supplies in the other.”

That settled the arrangement.

Annie wanted them to stay for dinner, but they were insistent on going, so Shannon helped us get on our way. I’ve seen this before, from Americans who want to rush into a canoe as soon as they arrived, but these two men were Canadian: Upper and Lower as far as I could gather. A canoe should have been less of novelty to them, and the rush into Nature less urgent.

We got under way around shortly after 5pm. It was cool and there was a brisk wind coming in from the west. My canoe, as it was loaded down with supplies was fairly steady in the water, but when I watched the guests in the canoe, they were unstable and zig-zagging in a not-so-straight direction.

We got onto Smoke Lake and I did some fishing for dinner. They kept the canoe out of my earshot most of the time. That was fine with me. I caught three trout and signalled to them that we’d better set for camp soon.

We landed and set up camp. Or, I set up camp. Again they were out of earshot of me in intense discussion. My guess it was something about Government business, I just had a sense it was. From Ottawa, and keeping quiet with one another. Putting two and two together, I figured it was Government.

I cleaned the trout and used the reflector oven to cook them by campfire. For dessert, I made some biscuits with raisins which we had with tea. With the shortages, I had trouble getting coffee, but they were tea drinkers so it wasn’t a problem. The whisky came out, they brought a bottle. That wasn’t a problem, either.

Then the conversation came started to come more freely. I learned that they weren’t Government men but Party me. One was with Borden and the other with Laurier. They came on this trip to discuss some differences that they could try to agree on. It was too hard to do in Ottawa so they decided to leave town and go on a canoe trip. I also discovered that the their trip was more than just settling differences, they came here looking for something.

“Where’s Sims Pit?”

“Three minutes east of Joe Lake Station. Two more stops and you would have been there.”

“We don’t want to go there by train. Can you bring us there by another way?”

“Indeed I can. By canoe and by foot. But it will have to wait until tomorrow.”

“Not during the day, we want to go there tomorrow night after dark.”

With that peculiar request, they turned in for the night. They looked tired but they  look guarded. This was certainly not a holiday for them. There was something going on. Some deal to be made or some escapade to be stopped. Whatever it was, it would have to wait for morning.

The camp fire is getting low now. It’s difficult to write now as the light is too dim.I did bring some sketching paper but the mood hasn’t touched me to compose anything. The temperature has dropped into the low forties. The wind is still brisk at this late time in the evening. The wind is a blessing because it has kept the black flies at bay. It should be a comfortable sleep tonight.




Secret of the Machines

June 4, 1917

I came across this poem by Rudyard Kipling. It was in one of the poetry books left behind by a guest. It reads like a William Blake poem on steam and electrical power. It’s a weird but captivating antithesis to Nature. I had to copy it my journal.

The Secret of the Machines

BY Rudyard Kipling


We were taken from the ore-bed and the mine,
   We were melted in the furnace and the pit—
We were cast and wrought and hammered to design,
   We were cut and filed and tooled and gauged to fit.
Some water, coal, and oil is all we ask,
   And a thousandth of an inch to give us play:
And now, if you will set us to our task,
   We will serve you four and twenty hours a day!
      We can pull and haul and push and lift and drive,
      We can print and plough and weave and heat and light,
      We can run and race and swim and fly and dive,
      We can see and hear and count and read and write!
Would you call a friend from half across the world?
   If you’ll let us have his name and town and state,
You shall see and hear your crackling question hurled
   Across the arch of heaven while you wait.
Has he answered? Does he need you at his side?
   You can start this very evening if you choose,
And take the Western Ocean in the stride
   Of seventy thousand horses and some screws!
      The boat-express is waiting your command!
      You will find the Mauretania at the quay,
      Till her captain turns the lever ’neath his hand,
      And the monstrous nine-decked city goes to sea.
Do you wish to make the mountains bare their head
   And lay their new-cut forests at your feet?
Do you want to turn a river in its bed,
   Or plant a barren wilderness with wheat?
Shall we pipe aloft and bring you water down
   From the never-failing cisterns of the snows,
To work the mills and tramways in your town,
   And irrigate your orchards as it flows?
      It is easy! Give us dynamite and drills!
      Watch the iron-shouldered rocks lie down and quake
      As the thirsty desert-level floods and fills,
      And the valley we have dammed becomes a lake.
But remember, please, the Law by which we live,
   We are not built to comprehend a lie,
We can neither love nor pity nor forgive.
   If you make a slip in handling us you die!
We are greater than the Peoples or the Kings—
   Be humble, as you crawl beneath our rods!-
Our touch can alter all created things,
   We are everything on earth—except The Gods!
      Though our smoke may hide the Heavens from your eyes,
      It will vanish and the stars will shine again,
      Because, for all our power and weight and size,
      We are nothing more than children of your brain!