March 18, 1917 Last Canvas on the Easel

March 18, 1917

Last canvas is on the easel. West Wind. I’m not finished with it but it’s finished with me. If I can live with it until the week is out, I promise I won’t touch it unless it touches me first.  Its greatest danger is me being around. If I do, I can wreak a god-like wrath on my creation. Complete destruction, or a worse fate, an abandoned disfigurement, like the men who’ve returned from the war, suffering and refusing to tell their stories.

Not much here that’s mine. I’m a man of few means. I’ve given away more than my share, which makes the ordinary church tithe look shameful, except none of it ever went to a church. Never take more with you than what you can portage. On the Grand Trunk, don’t take so much that they charge you extra. But you still end giving a tip to the porter, so keep it to what you can carry yourself.

Always have two fishing poles: one split bamboo, the other a steel rod. Take with you the flies of the summer months (no need for the winter flies, the ice is frozen), but always carry  lures with you, like my home-made lures, made from Annie’s old spoons found in the pile of peelings out back. I bring these back to the City. I bring them to the place of my childhood and will be bringing them, once again, up North. They never leave me. They will probably go with me to the depths of the lake.

There are four seasons in the world, but there are only two in my mind – painting and no-painting. Or the season in the City and the season to be out of the damned place. As Lismer once said, ‘Toronto is a good place – to get out of!’ I miss him.  I miss Jackson. The machine has torn our world apart, and it’s looking for more to tear apart: families, photos of loved ones (struck through by a bullet) and the bodies of young men. Factories for farm implements now churn out munitions and ordnance that rumble out on the daily trains to Montreal, Halifax and then overseas to battle, if they aren’t sunk by U-boats. Battles can be regaled in romantic poems of glory. But there is no appropriate verse for unrestricted warfare; it requires the deaths of another five million men or the strafing of souls left to sink in the North Atlantic to discover the glory of a new verse.

What is painting, then? A useless act? ‘Leave your paintbrushes and take up a rifle in the trenches.’ When all is dead and done in No Man’s Land, the poppies still grow. Why fight? Why win? When enemies pray to the same god before fighting to the death, who gets turned away at the gates?