JULY 1997

Tuesday -- July 1, 1997 -- The club is OPEN
Hi there again... I am sneaking back on-line. Yes... it is true about the fried modem. One buys surge protectors for all electrical outlets with sensitive equipment, but one never thinks of the telephone line as a potential source of electrical surge. We had the computer off and unplugged, but when the pulse came down the telephone line we heard it. So be forewarned, we now have a surge protection device on the telephone line. I have since heard that this happened to Peter several times. So stay tuned, and your Caretaker will try to get back in the groove. Today is pay-day and publication deadline day, so we will be at the bank and at the editor's this morning. All the news you missed will be coming in the Islander.

Wednesday -- July 2, 1997 -- The club is OPEN
Although it has started out as a rainy, dreary morning, it is supposed to clear to a fine day. Yesterday the water temperature was up to 81 degrees. The geese have not been seen for a couple of days now... the grass can use the break. But not even the regulars are around, and we now have corn on the Island, so it seems unusual that they would leave just when Phyllis is feeding them again.

Friday -- July 4, 1997 -- The club is OPEN
HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA !!!! It is a glorious morning, the birds are singing, the swimming is great, the outdoor shower is working, the stage is set. So come on down. The Taliaferros have family guests from both sides of the family. So Dara Tokarz will be in charge and manning the ferry today.

Saturday -- July 5, 1997 -- The Club is OPEN
Moving a little slow this morning...? Had too much fun last night after the fireworks...? You need to come on down and manage to fall in the river. Inner tubes are optional. There is also a virginal volley ball net down here. Still the geese have not returned. We have now seen none for 6 days. It would be surprising if the many goslings were yet able to fly, so we assume they must be in the neighborhood. The Sunday Caretakers will be Jasper Ingersol for the early shift and Jyl Pomeroy for the late shift. Come play.

Monday -- July 7, 1997 -- The Club is OPEN
The Pomeroys are now believers !!! Not that they scoffed when warned about Madelyn's peculiar affinity for gloves... and Jyl specifically warned John about leaving the gloves on the bench near the ferry. But when he did set them down there, it was only moments before the first one disappeared, and the chase was on. George Malusky and friends came down Saturday to fish and reported catching some small mouth, some catfish, and some bluegill. All were small, however. Lee and Rocky Adams also reported catching catfish. Another carp washed up near the picnic tables by the fire circle. This one was massive, at least three feet long and looked to weigh 40 to 50 pounds. One of George's fishing guests said that where you can see one carp there must be fifty, and that surely there were hundreds in our little stretch of the river by the two islands.

Tuesday -- July 8, 1997 -- The Club is OPEN
Well, we are late this morning, a result of the Nettle Wars. I have declared war on the nettle after a botanist confirmed that if I cut them to the ground just before they set seed, it might so damage the perennial clump by denying growth time to store up for next year, that it might kill the plant. Earlier this year I mounted a campaign to make the trails and common areas safe from nettle for children of all ages, and actually used herbicide. One can see yellow nettle plants around the Island, and while they are not thriving, they are not dead. Anyway, got carried away with the loppers this morning, and did not get this out.

Wednesday -- July 9, 1997 -- The Club is OPEN
Yesterday spoke with Sgt. Kevin McGovern of the Park Police at Glen Echo (301-492-6293) regarding the idea of the emergency phone at the iron bridge across from the Island. He has not yet heard back from his superiors, but did pass the request on to Tom Nash, our District Ranger, and admitted that he was trying to get this out of someone else's budget. He had called the phone company, and learned that a pay phone could be put in for $262 installation fee and $51.20 per month.

David Winer came down yesterday and completed the Herculian task of managing the new canoe rack assignments. All canoes are now in the racks they are supposed to be in. There are 8 unknowns.

Do not forget that tonight is the Monthly Meeting, and that the picnic will start before the Meeting at 1900 hrs.

Thursday -- July 10, 1997 -- The Club is OPEN
The telephone line is down and lying in the middle of the Clara Barton Parkway. Since yesterday mid-day. This is a shame because I can not notify yall of the notice I saw in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal:
HELP. We need someone to drive BMWs around New Zealand. Should have an interest in sea kayaking. For details, visit us today at No phone calls please. The BMW Cyberdrive, as close to real as it gets.

Friday -- July 11, 1997 -- The Club is OPEN
Bee Alert !!! John Thorne's boys Joey (8) and Sam (4) were both stung by bees while walking up the boardwalk yesterday. A nest of sweat bees is beneath one of the boards near the area where there is now a bee trap sitting. Massive spraying is underway, but they keep coming. I was myself stung 5 times Wed and Thur, but this was while mowing the beaver trails on a different part of the Island... and certainly I provided provocation. Stay tuned.

Saturday -- July 12, 1997 -- The Club is OPEN
Today the telephone repair people finally were able to get the cable back up. They had to stop traffic on the Parkway. A couple of fishing parties went out today, but everyone reports only small fish biting.

Monday -- July 14, 1997 -- The Club is OPEN
Think it is summer yet ? The river level has now dropped below 3 feet at Little Falls (2.94) and the water temperature is 82 degrees. Wayne Limberg and Peter Geiger, who jointly took the second shift Caretaker's duties yesterday, swear yesterday must have set a record for Island weekend usage without a major party. Just for the record, the ferry log shows 54 people. George Malusky and his regular crew were out fishing until well after dark last night. George is convinced that the timing of the two floods last year is responsible for the dismal fishing last year. Spawning would have been interrupted and at a low level as breeding females were washed downstream. He also points out that there is significantly less vegetation in the water this year to provide feeding areas. Although they did catch a couple of large catfish and one decent sized small mouth, most other fish were very small, similar to reports from others on the river this week.

Tuesday -- July 15, 1997 -- The Club is OPEN
No early upload today. On such sweltering weather predictions the early mornings must be reserved for grass cutting. Not that the grass needs it often with this drought... but most of the non-grass plants seem unaffected and grow quickly.

Neat things I have learned today: The lawn mower actually goes harmlessly over the horse shoes... as in those that are hidden in the long vegetation and are not seen until it is too late. The response cycle is interesting: one experiences stomach acid surge upon looking at unharmed horse shoe and mower, proving that the realization of what one has done comes before the realization that it is OK.

For the last several days I have seen many of the large, tubular blossoms of the trumpet vine floating down river. The are lovely, and being native to the area, I am sad that we have none on the Island and have resolved to remedy this lack. In fact, having an affinity for vines as a gardener, I noticed while mowing today a large wisteria vine growing across the grass beyond the volley ball area. I will definitely transplant it to a safe place. Unfortunately, it is too late this year to move the many sweet autumn clematis plants growing wild between the volley ball area and the swimming area. There are many of the large, fragrant plants hidden in the brush and fighting for there lives that would be splendid specimen plants if transplanted to the proper location.

Wednesday -- July 16, 1997 -- The Club is OPEN
Roger Hertz took me fishing to Snake Island yesterday late afternoon, and now I understand why the water level can not go much lower. Geese were standing on top of the "dam," and water flowing over it came barely up to their ankles. How high is a goose's ankle... I estimate a quarter inch. It is so dry that there is very little mosquito problem in the evenings. With the moon filling there is a lot of evening activity. One hears new sounds of little critters all over the Island at night. Last night about midnight Phyl and I went to sit on the swimming float and a couple of beaver made a point to get in the water from up Island and swim over to check us out. The beaver have been seen every night for a week, and several folks have had the opportunity to see them walking around before dark.

Thursday -- July 17, 1997 -- The Club is OPEN
Today we shall speak of drought and geese and canoe shed protocol. The grass is dying!!! This is most apparent on the new beaver paths, although there it has more shade. Drying out (as in brown) seems definitely to be the cause. Perhaps because it was the most recently sown with least time to become established. Now I wonder if grass quality caused by drought is what motivated the geese to leave early this year... even though they left after we got a new shipment of cracked corn and began feeding the regulars again. Remember, they left at the end of June, and have not been on the Island once since then, although I saw about 40 down at Little Falls at the spillway and a couple of nights age saw about 15 bedding down on the end of Rupert's Island.

The Sycamores by the canoe shed are losing leaves again, and one would be tempted to blame the drought except they seem to have gone through shedding cycles twice already this year for no apparent reason. I decided to mow the area between the ferry landing and canoe shed for neatness sake (Lord knows the grass did not need cutting) and to experiment with the leaf mulching capabilities of our mulching mower. The result was that it worked fine on scattered leaves but choked up and shut down on even the smallest pile ... so the rakes will be needed on the Fall Workfest. Someone had left their small anchor rod and rope lying on the ground in the leaves where it could not be seen... and rope wrap shut down the mower immediately. Much time and tin snips were needed, and I was grateful the mower seemed unaffected. But nasty thoughts were generated about sloppy canoeists, and be assured that to be seen leaving such lying around will result in a screaming caretaker.

Friday -- July 18, 1997 -- The Club is OPEN
Where did all the poison ivy come from? It is only to be found on the beaver trails, and I went out and sprayed large swaths with herbicide, but I was amazed at how it just suddenly appeared so fast. Matt Bauer and his friend Sean went fishing just off the up river end of the island across from the towpath where the rocks and little islets are and report great success. Not only did they catch lots of small mouth and bluegill, but a couple of the small mouth were pretty big. I am impressed that all of the fisherpersons who have come to the Island are catch and release. I would be curious to know how many of these fish are caught more than once, and if there are tell tale signs of previous hooks.

Regarding observations concerning the sycamore trees, I received this message from Gerry Barton:

"The disease in the Sycamores is anthraxnos or anthraxnose or something like that. I noticed it from east of us all the way to the other side of the Blue Ridge and a ranger up there by my old place told me that's what it was. I noted it in the spring with late leaving out of the trees. Not sure if it does its thing now with drought also."

Saturday -- July 19, 1997 -- The Club is OPEN
What a storm last evening... Jim Drew and John Matthews barely brought their canoes in before it broke. As we watched the storm from the screen porch, John told stories of the river long ago... about the history of the Lighter Gauge across the river on the Virginia shore, and the wealthy family of the same name and mansion that used to be there. Apparently the house burned down long ago, and then the park service pulled down the chimney, but he and Johnna Robinson will mount an expedition to explore it in the fall.

The storm was amazing because the 1730 weather report had nothing on the radar screen, and were predicting more drought, so when it blew through at 1920 it was a great surprise. Mindful of the recent storm that blew my modem, I had purchased a surge protector for the telephone line the computer is on. This morning I could not get my modem to recognize a dial tone on our computer line, but I could get one if I plugged it in to the Club line. I got more bewildered and cranky as the morning wore on and I could not trace down the problem connection or wire, until I was forced to follow the Sherlock Holmes maxim that when all believable solutions have been eliminated, the unbelievable becomes true. Sure enough, my telephone surge protection device was blown. Obviously that long wire down the hill readily is susceptible to electromagnetic pulses.

Sunday caretakers will be John Crook for the early shift and Bill Banta for the late shift. Last Sunday the caretakers registered 54 people on the ferry and proclaimed a record (or at least their tired muscles did), but this weekend the weather prediction is for scrumptious weather, so come on down and let's beat it.

Monday -- July 21, 1997 -- The Club is OPEN
More fishing reports... George Malusky came down again this weekend and had good luck with bluegill (about a dozen for he and colleague Bob) and catfish (half dozen.) George notes that in years past the walleye came in to the river and seemed to eat the bluegill. Now the walleye are scarce, perhaps due to the floods of last year, and the bluegill are making a comeback.

According to the USGS graph (clickable from the river conditions page on the web) the river level actually bottomed out at 2.74 yesterday. Water flow amounts are about one third the annual mean for this time of year, and I do not believe the river can go lower... at that level water is not flowing over the dam spillway but only going down the kayak chute to the left.

Tuesday -- July 22, 1997 -- The Club is OPEN
Distressing news reported by Betty Burchell... yesterday there was an auto break in at the MacArthur parking lot across from Sycamore store. A gentleman had parked in the lot but at the farthest point away from the path to the river. Someone broke his rear side window and took out a bag containing clothes and his wallet.

Last February the Caretaker's auto was broken in to while parked up in the usual place. In this incident both the front passenger window and the rear window were broken out. It was a mess. However, the only things stolen were the spare tire and jack. Best guesses on why are either vandalism or someone with an old car just like ours. So... what with last month's attempted rape at lock 7 and the incident of the masturbating man on the iron bridge near the Island the month before... all are advised to maintain a "heads up" attitude until you reach the safety of the Island.

Wednesday -- July 23, 1997 -- The Club is OPEN
Today the Discovery creek School was supposed to be here with George Loeb from 1000 until 1400 hrs... no matter how wet the weather, but they called and postponed the event until Friday. This will be approximately 50 people.

Tryon Wells came down yesterday and went over the entire locker list. By this I mean we verified all the numbers on the list (would you believe there are 4 additional bootleg lockers being used that are not on the list), noted if they were locked or not, and if not checked to see if they seemed to have been used in the last 20 years (some very full lockers did not even seem to have been opened in 20 years.) The woman's locker room was in great shape compared to the one downstairs. We should be grateful that Tryon is on this job... what a gordion knot this will be.

This is a moment to preach the case for a single official database. As Tryon points out, one this stuff all gets on the web page it will be semi-official. But who will administer the change in data? There are currently three separate versions of his database being used by different departments.

Thursday -- July 24, 1997 -- The Club is OPEN
Yesterday was like a dreary, drizzling, long sleeved, October day (I am quoting weatherman Bob Ryan), but there was a lot going on none the less.

First thing out the door I glanced into the screen porch and saw that Madelyn, our smallish black cat, had sort of cornered a small racoon kit only a little larger than she. The extremely cute racoon seemed calmly concerned but not actually frightened, although Madelyn had to be called back from her stalk and pounce mode. I grabbed Madelyn and sat down to watch from near the open door while the racoon methodically investigated the screen porch, neither panicked nor in too big of a hurry. When I did move from the door the racoon ambled out, and Madelyn and I followed him around the island from a distance for the next 30 minutes while he checked things out. Sure seemed to be looking for places instead of food. It brought to mind the huge animal nest that Tryon and I discovered yesterday in the bottom of one of the lockers during our inspection, but surely this nest pre-dated Fred.

In the afternoon the geese returned !! It was the larger of the gosling gaggles, but the adults were only barely distinguishable by their greater size. They also started toward me when I appeared, but I resisted the urge to feed them and we shall see if they return tomorrow. Perhaps these are the ones I have seen hanging out at the Brookmont Dam, and they have been close all this time but scornful of our dry grass. Now that it is wet, they are plucking it up again.

Later in the afternoon, during the steady drizzle when I would have bet a lot I would remain lonely (the Caretaker's Wife being at her Mother's in Conn.), the bell rang. Renee Dunham had come to meet Maria Stenzel, hang out, and do some kayaking. Both were clad in all weather gear, and cheerfully disappeared into the misty river for a couple of hours. I marvelled at how intrepid they were.

Even with all this rain, the river is predicted to rise only to 2.8 Friday and 3.2 on Saturday. But the temperature has dropped to 78 degrees.

Friday -- July 25, 1997 -- The Club is OPEN
Looks like it is going to be a sparkling day... temperature is just right. The kids from the discovery school are here with George Loeb and the most together group of counsellors I have seen this year.

And yes... the geese did return for the second day... but they did not stay long... and swam off toward Little falls.

For those of you interested in how the recent rains might affect the river the following is the 0810 hrs Friday river statement. Note the last sentence:





Saturday -- July 26, 1997 -- The Club is OPEN
Water snake alert !! Ann Kip was sitting on the swimming float with her daughters, near where the walkway comes out to the float... when she looked down and saw a large water snake. The snake seemed unaware that anyone was around, and seemed about to come on to the float to sun itself. Startled, Ann moved suddenly... scaring the snake... which ducked under and quickly swam away.

Mosquito alert !!! For the first time this year, the mosquitoes drove us inside at sunset. It was surprising and unexpected... perhaps due to the recent rains and requisite incubation period. So take note.

The substitute caretakers for Sunday will be Bruce and Catherine Graber (301-654-7479) for the early shift and Art Gutnick (703-527-9792) for the afternoon shift.

Monday -- July 28, 1997 -- The Club is OPEN
The Sycamore home page server has been down all weekend, so the Sat morning log entry did not get uploaded until late sun night. As a consequence, several days will be left on the daily greeting, especially because of the snake alert.

On Saturday the water snake made another appearance... this time in the water about 6 feet behind Ann Kip's husband, Mark Brenneman. He was some distance out, so when she yelled and screamed a warning at him, he could not understand what the fuss was about, and kept on swimming. The snake veered off and swam in the direction of Virginia, so Mark was clueless about the possible danger until he got back to the dock.

Saturday at dusk, Greg Katz was swimming out to the remote swimming float. When he reached his hand out to grab the float near where the ladder mounting is, a large brown snake stuck his head out and made as if to strike. One can imagine Greg's adrenaline spike. This was the third instance of a snake near swimmers in two days.

Saturday night I called Sycamore's snake specialist, Allen Greenlees (301-916-1260), also know as George Malusky's brother in law. Allen was kind enough to come on Sunday, but no snake could be seen. He did relate the story of two years back, when the swimming float was being put in the water, how about a dozen water snakes were apparently nesting there and all slithered down to the water after several people attempted to move it. From what others have said is in fact common for the snakes to nest in the swimming float, and in fact the styrofoam cell construction of the flotation underneath the float makes it an ideal habitat for the snakes.

Ann Kip visited the Island Monday morning and reported that she had verified from her snake book that the snake that tried to climb up on to the swimming dock was a water snake, therefore it can be assumed that it is only water snakes we are dealing with. None the less, the snake reportedly seen by the Cub Scouts on the up river end of the Island in the early summer was a cotton mouth water moccasin, which I personally saw and verified with my snake book. When I told Allen Greenlees that most members were convinced water moccasins did not live this far north, he informed me that he had already captured two up river within a mile of sycamore Island. So everyone should be informed and heads up.

The swimming float does not have a ladder, has a metal deck that is often too hot to stand or sit on, is seldom visited, and if it is not going to be laddered and used... it should be towed elsewhere so that a snake nest is not so closely adjacent to our swimming area. If we are determined to have a swimming float, we should get another on that is not so snake friendly.

On a lighter note, we got a call Saturday from Montgomery Cable, again trying to sign us up. Seems we only need 1200 feet of line, and they would only charge us $5,400.00 for installation. Some deal, yes !..#@!%#?

Tuesday -- July 29, 1997 -- The Club is OPEN
Last evening's storm was quite dramatic... it came so suddenly... threatening so that folks wanted to leave... but the sudden 55 mph winds caught me in the middle coming back on the ferry and blew me off the rope.

Ann Kip has hung a curtain in the doorway between the women's locker room and the women's bathroom. This is a result of the casual way in which children or uninformed male guests use that bathroom, and now women can change in their locker room without worrying about strange men of any age walking in.

Wednesday -- July 30, 1997 -- The Club is OPEN
With the cooler air and low humidity, this is a great week to be outdoors. It is also a lesson on how fast things can change. It seems there has been an explosion of poison ivy along the beaver trails. When I went through there a week ago lopping nettle, I noticed some small beginnings, but now it is rampant, and much of yesterday was spent spraying herbicide. I also did not ignore second growth nettle from clumps lopped off earlier this summer. Because of the mild weather this week will be devoted to the lawn mower.

At 0800 hrs yesterday Cecily Abram brought down some folks from the Carnegie Institute and Thomas Mann School to evaluate the Island as a site for a one day teacher training seminar for about 34 people on teaching the natural sciences. Needless to say, all were impressed with the Island as a perfect outdoor laboratory for such an enterprise, and the end result was several queries about membership. Every school group or large party seems to result in calls for Peter Winkler's telephone number... and I am sure the teaching seminar on August 29 will be no different.

Lucky Marmon showed up at 0830 this morning to explain all the sounds of heavy equipment on the towpath. Seems that a "government dump truck" drove off the towpath and into the canal downstream from the iron bridge. In order to get it out they brought in another truck, dumped a load of dirt into the canal, and then used a bulldozer to construct a ramp the errant truck could be pulled up. It will be interesting to see if they clean up the signs of their problem.

Thursday -- July 31, 1997 -- The Club is OPEN
There I was... sitting at the computer last night... certain I was alone... when I heard someone outside.! I actually walked out the door and up the stairs to the Club Room. The lights were on because George Malusky and his fishing colleagues had just left. But no one was about and I returned to the computer. Then I heard it again... too loud to be an innocent night noise. This time I turned right and went into the porch... turning on the light so that I could see. Nothing! As I walked out of the screen porch I saw Barney, our white cat, looking in. Following his gaze under the table, I saw the top to the garbage can... on the floor. I thought then that Madelyn, our black cat, must be in the garbage ... again. I took three steps to the garbage can and looked down. There, half submerged in the can was... wait... not Madelyn... but the small racoon kit seen on the porch two days ago!!! The racoon looked up and saw me looming overhead... and calmly stuck his head back in to the garbage. Unafraid in an innocent way. I was ignored.!!!

I pulled up a chair and sat next to the garbage can. Occasionally he would raise his head and gaze at me while chewing. Barney came in and they glanced at each other. I realized that they already knew each other... we were all family but I was just finding out. I must have sat there for 15 minutes... speaking frequently to accustom him to my voice. I would almost describe him as tame, but that would give humankind too much credit. Merely preoccupied is more like it.

So I went back inside and made him a hot dog. By this I mean I went in and nuked a hot dog in the microwave so it would not be cold out of the refrigerator. I know it was bad and sending the wrong message but I was curious to see if he would eat out of my hand. I stood over him and extended the dog... Hebrew National, real stuff. He sniffed it briefly... then stuck his head back into the garbage. I sat down again, this time close enough to reach out and pet him. But I dared not, knowing that my ego would not survive making such an intimate gesture and being again ignored.