April 26, 1917
I spent most of the day outside and alone. I walked far away from everyone. I wanted to be with my own thoughts and with what nature had to tell me. The spring landscape is changing faster and faster every day. A scene to paint can suddenly appear and then disappear forever. The trees are beginning to bud out, but the cold nights are still holding them back and one day the leaves will burst out, like they’ve been there forever. But forever is an illusion of the present. Everything changes, nothing is forever. Open water is appearing at the shores. One day the lake is covered in ice and the next day it’s completely free. Like the ice was never there. You never know when things are going to change but you know it’s never for forever.
Right now, the lakes and streams are high. The sound of rushing water is everywhere. It’s in my head. I can feel it in my bones. But I hear other notes and rhythms of spring. I hear chirps of the songbirds, the taps of woodpeckers, and a strange drumming sound. It sounds like a plane starting up in a distant flying exposition. I learned from Mark Robinson that it’s a ruffed grouse beating its wings, but the aeroplane-like sound brought back memories of aeroplanes. It brings back memories of meeting Orville Wright last fall. The drumming sound stops. Thoughts of planes and world adventures fly away into the distance and the honking of the landed geese brings me back to where I am now.
I needed a new scene. 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 was still haunting me. Mark said, there’s not many men back from the front that talk so the stories about what’s really happened no one knows. Mark told me about the soldiers that weren’t wounded in the physical sense, but had what the doctors called ‘shell shock’ – jibbering, running around, eyes bulging out, and limbs flailing. The British officers had a cure for shell shock – a bullet in the brain. Mark said he saw an officer summarily execute eighteen soldiers in less than three 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 disgrace to the Empire before administering the bullet. Mark said he remembered them screaming for their mothers. Adding to the injustice, Mark had to write the letters home for the dispatched men. The censorship and the propaganda officers 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. That’s why he is still frail.
Before the conversation with Mark, I had been indifferent about enlisting and although I was anxious, I was accepting of my eventual fate. I tried to enlist before, like most men did, but I was rejected. Had I been subjected to enough persuasion, even two months ago, I would have probably tried again, but there was no way I would now. With conscription being a near certainty, I needed to think of ways to avoid the service. There was talk that 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 warmer weather more people are starting to arrive in the Park – mostly American visitors. But now that the Americans have declared war, they might not come up in the numbers of previous years. The Blechers from Buffalo should be here soon. They come in early May. Martin Blecher Sr. is retired. He comes with his wife, Louisa, for the summer. Their children, Martin and Bessie, come as well. By their age, they’re adults, but by their behaviour, that’s another matter. Martin Sr. is friendly, but the mother and children, they’re an odd lot. Not too friendly, Louisa likes to chase people off their leasehold, Martin makes a show of cleaning his guns in the boathouse, and Bessie screams louder than any creature that lives on Canoe Lake.
When I returned to Mowat Lodge, I entered through the back kitchen. Only Annie was there. She gave me a mischievous look, came close to me, with a wet cloth.
“Tom, you have a streak of paint on you. If it were any other colour than blue it’d look like someone smacked you on the side of your head! Let me take care of that.” Annie began to raise the cloth. Her touch through the cloth was gentle. As she wiped the paint off, I could feel the cloth’s warmth along the side of my left temple.