March 31, 1917 Birches

March 31, 1917

1917 Birches

I could feel spring in the air. The temperature was warmer – it really felt like spring, but I had a chill that wouldn’t leave my body. Winter wouldn’t leave me today. But the sun was strong – brilliant actually – and its ever strengthening force was making the snow go away fast. The snow was mostly gone from the south-facing hills. As for the north-facing hills, the snow will stay into May. That’s what I predict.

I had walked a lot yesterday and I was tired. That’s why I felt chilled. The snowshoes weren’t suited for some parts of my trip, so I ended up post-holing my way through parts of the bush. I didn’t notice but my socks and boots were soaked until I got back. I set them out by the fire to dry. I didn’t think much of it, but yesterday’s wet-footed venture must have put the chill in me today.

Earlier in the morning I went out to the storage shed. It’s the second and southerly part of Mowat Lodge. It’s a separate but joined structure. It was a separate lease, but Shannon took it over in 1914 when he expanded his operation. There are more rooms there, but there is there is a large storage area and an outbuilding that Shannon uses as a stable for the horses and the cow. He doesn’t keep the animals in the barn up the road. It’s too far away for tending the animals, but he stores the hay there, the beaver grass, that’s cut and brought in early July. Shannon spends a lot of time in the back grooming and taking care of the horses. He takes pride in his horses. He also drinks back there. Ever since the Prohibition, Annie’s not comfortable having liquor in the ‘proper part of the house’ as she calls it, so Shannon is forced to drink out of doors or with the horses.

Shannon wasn’t there this morning. I don’t know where he was. The horses were there though. I guess he decided not to take the horses out for a sap run because the temperature didn’t go down enough and there wouldn’t be anything to bring in. I cut some more boards from the stack that Shannon set aside for me. The orange crates are good because they are light and flimsy. They’re meant to make the trip only once from California and they’re made with few nails and some wire. The panels I can make are about 5″  x 7″ wide. Depending on the condition of the wood, I can get about four to eight panels from each box. Although they are the size of a glorified post card, I can’t complain. If I use these boards as quick studies or sketches, I can save my better panels when I find a really good scene.

After lunch (Shannon didn’t appear for lunch) I was still feeling a bit under the weather, so I didn’t go far. I walked a short distance down Gilmour Road to Whisky Jack Bay. It’s a small inlet due south of Mowat Lodge. The dump for Mowat Lodge is around there too.  I saw the gray jays and they saw me too. Whisky Jack bay got its name from the gray jays that live around there. The Indian name for gray jay sounds like Whisky Jack so the name stuck. The gray jays stay all winter and do their nesting before the other birds come. They hide their food in the trees and you can see them flying about in the fall, hiding it in the trees, in crevasses, under flakes of bark and in holes left behind by woodpeckers. They’re smart birds, they remember everything they hide. They’re very territorial too, they keep an eye on you. If you’re in their territory, they know who you are, and dive-bomb if they don’t like you. I didn’t get dive-bombed today. I learned from my Uncle Brodie that most of the gray jays die when they’re young. It’s a cruel family life. They’re forced to fight each other to see who gets to stay in the territory. The “leavers” move on and try to take another territory, and the “stayer” (if the parents choose to let a younger one stay) sticks around for another year to help raise the next generation of young of its parents. But then, when the time comes, it  starts all over, another fight to the death over territory. When you observe what the gray jays have to do to survive, it makes you think that maybe the fight to the death in Europe could be the natural course of things. Love, honour and morality is only a figment of our imagination. Survival at all cost is the only thing that matters. Embrace the gray jay way.

I saw another stand of birches down in a low lying area at the edge of the bay. Together, they gave a nice composition being in the foreground, so I got up close and painted them. When I was finished, I went back and I still wasn’t feeling good. I had the chills and read the papers. It looks like the U.S. is going to declare war any day now.

I was quiet at dinner. Shannon had reappeared and I could tell he had been drinking all day. Probably at George or Lowrie’s place. Everyone knew well enough to leave me alone.

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