April 3, 1917
There’s still lots of snow on the north side of the hills. That’s where I decided to go today.
“Heading for the hills?” Shannon asked me as I was going out the door.
“Yes, heading for the hills.” He smiled because he knew that was a loaded phrase. It’s used a lot in those serial newspaper stories describing criminals (and more recently shirkers) headed for the hills to escape prosecution (or now, persecution). Since we were already in the hills here in the Park, it was a pretty apt phrase.
During breakfast, we got to talking about the Rockies. One of the guests had a tourist book that had a chapter on Jasper Park. The Grand Trunk Pacific was building hotels like the Chateau Laurier and lodges like the Highland Inn. The railways had figured out these attractions were good for business. I had been thinking that it would be a good idea to go out there again. When I went out to Seattle, I passed through the Rockies and when I returned. But I never stopped to paint them. Back in 1914, Alex [Jackson] and Bill [Beatty] got a commission to paint the mountains when the railway was laying new track. Alex said he was excited first, but they wouldn’t let him paint too far from the tracks. When he returned in fall, Alex told met that mountain painting wasn’t in his line. He said he burned a good portion of them and would probably burn the rest.
So, heading for the hills, I walked along Potter Creek, I crossed the tracks at Canoe Lake Station, kept north along Joe Lake shore until I was nearly at Tepee Lake. On the north side of a hill I found a small ridge with birch trees (again) casting shadows on the snow and earth. The different colours caught my eye, the reddish rock, damp earlier in the morning, was not freshly dried in the sun. There was a patch of wet earth and the deep blue shadows of the trees cast on the snow. These shadows are a mystic deep blue. You only see these types of shadows in the spring. It’s an illusion of dispersion. From what I can tell, the blue comes from within the tiny crystals that make up the snow that has beaten up by the strong spring light. It’s similar to the blue from the sky (scattered light ) and it’s like the blue of blue jay feathers. Up close, their feathers are gray, but from far off, they’re blue because the feathers scatter the light. Colours. Illusion or reality. Is there any difference?
Behind these illusions I could see a wedge of another blue in the distance – behind the birches in the foreground. It was the open water between Joe and Teepee Lake, at a narrow point where the water was running fast, reflecting the warm blue of the sky and turning it into a fearful cold blue of the lake. If you fell into that water, you’d be pulled under the ice and dead in a minute. It’s springtime, we’d soon be hearing word of those types of death in the Park. From the lumber camps, usually. And a month after that, when the ice was all gone and the water back down, the bodies would appear, either caught above a dam, or found in the lake below.
When I finished, I felt good about this sketch. I liked it. This was going to be a good addition the growing number of sketches I laid out in the dining room. I packed up and wiped down my brushes. This sketch was the regular size, so I slide it back into my sketch box. My box can hold 3 sketches, with the grooves that hold the space apart. I have a cigar box that I use for my smaller-sized sketches, but it can only hold one.
Upon my return, I found a letter on my dresser in my room. It was from Florence. Delivered by Dominion Mail to Canoe Lake, and then hand-delivered by Annie to my room. Thankfully, it hadn’t been opened. When I told Annie that the censors weren’t opening mail bound to Algonquin Park, the censor openings immediately stopped. But still I had to hide my letters so they weren’t subjected to a post-opening inspection. I opened and read Florence’s before I changed out of my painting clothes.
Florence, she wrote me, was planning to come up on May 4th for the weekend. She asked me to arrange a room for her. Her exhibition in Toronto went very well. She also wrote that she planned to travel afterwards to Ottawa to visit relatives.
I realized that Winnie might come up that weekend too. That would be awkward to have both of them around. I’d have to write them both so the plans don’t clash.
After supper, I tried to play a game of chess with Shannon. It wasn’t much fun, because he doesn’t reason out any moves ahead and he leaves his pieces hanging. We weren’t even five minutes into the game and he was down a Rook and two Knights for a pawn and a Bishop. In less than time than we took to open the game, I made short work of his material disadvantage – I captured his Queen and had checkmate in two moves. Shannon, as he is wont to do in his other endeavours, blithely kept digging himself into a deeper hole, all the while having a big grin on his face.
We reconciled the joy of victory and the grin of defeat with two quick shots of whisky each. We then proceeded to have a long smoke with our pipes outside on the porch. We could see through our smoke, and in the failing light, the chip yard, the skeleton structure of the Gilmour saw mill. It was surrounded by dead trees, stumps, and piles of creosote rail ties from the torn up spurs. The metal rails, valuable as scrap, was of course, absent from this scene.
It can be said, that the view from the Mowat Lodge porch is at its best during darkness.