Monday -- April 6, 1998 -- The Club is OPEN
It is the Monday following the Workfest, the Island is beautiful and looking pristine, and
the new season is officially underway. And the fact that you are reading this means that
the saga of the computer that was fried in a freak lightning storm is operational again.
Well... not exactly... actually it is a new computer. After four scheduled service calls
could not fix it I applied to have it replaced under Maryland's lemon law. And because the
technology is moving so fast, this means they had to give me a vastly improved machine.
Still, the hassle of being down for 8 weeks was not worth it. The water was so high so
often that trying to schedule a technician to make a service call was almost impossible
Tuesday -- April 7, 1998 -- The Club is OPEN
The Island looks so nice... and not just because of the many flowers and the effects of the
Workfests... but as a residual effect of these massive floods this winter the Island has been
swept clean of debris and detritus, so it looks incredibly neat. There has been ample
opportunity to study the Island under flood conditions and to watch the different
characteristics of water flow at different levels. There has been great erosion at the
center of the Island near the volley ball court, mainly as a result of a "hole" in the
log jams at the head of the Island. Whole systems of tree roots have been laid bare.
Still, one can notice great new piles of logs around and between certain other strategic
trees up Island. I now believe (not the first) that we should attempt to tie these log
jams in place with rope or chain so that they can not float free during the next high water.
A casual walk up Island will show the really heavy sediment deposits left immediately behind
them, where the water has been diverted and slowed, allowing sediment to fall out. In these
places the Island has been built up considerably, and the question is, how to manage things
so that the next big floods do not undo this. As to the "hole," I suggest that we obtain
snow fence as they use up north to break winds to drop snow or on the outer banks to drop
sand to build up the dunes. One roll of this fencing would fit in the "hole" where there
is a fallen log to anchor it. Water could flow through at first, but would be slowed.
Eventually debris would be trapped by the fence, the hole would be plugged, and the "prow"
of the Island made intact.
Wednesday -- April 8, 1998 -- The Club is OPEN
Don't forget the meeting tonight... or the impromptu dinner an hour before. Bring your own
and the grill will be hot. It will be curious to see if the rain gets here first, but that
is why screen porches were invented.
Thursday -- April 9, 1998 -- The Club is OPEN
The geese started squawking earlier than usual this morning... they are like children in the
best of mornings and it is difficult to sleep late... but this morning seemed different and
more urgent. So of course we rolled over and tried to ignore them. Next thing, there was
the kind of lightning that lights up the inside of your eyelids when you are asleep. The
resultant thunder and its reverberations had shock waves one could feel... especially
significant since the window was only cracked a little. Taking the Caretaker's Wife over
in the steady rain it was hard not to notice how beautiful the river was, and despite the
discomfort of wet and cold, hard to ignore how lucky we are to not be like everyone else
and awaken in a box, get in a box with wheels, and go to a box to work in... all carefully
Friday -- April 10, 1998 -- The Club is CLOSED
This morning the river was at 5.47 feet at 0809 hrs and the curve on the graph is going
straight up. This means that yesterday's rains will probably close the Island all weekend.
Paw Paw is at 15 feet and rising, so the uncompleted floats are at risk as the water rises
and I will try to get volunteers to come down later this morning to complete them and flip
them so they will float tethered in the flood.
And in fact... later in the afternoon Tryon Wells showed up with Jane Winer and Johnna
Robinson to work on the new float. The ladies proved themselves able carpenters, and the
remaining floatation was installed. Then the hard part, as we then had to flip the floats over
and turn them right side up so that they could float free when the water level rose.
We have designated these new and wondrous things the "Captain's Float."
Saturday -- April 11, 1998 -- The Club is CLOSED
The Captain and Tryon Wells showed up at 1000 hrs to connect the two floats into one and
to build the walkway. John Matthews brought the proper hardware to attach the walkway.
But the most ingenious thing was the way the Captain thought out a way to get the now
connected float into the water, which had not risen sufficiently to allow us to avoid
this task. Remember, this connected float is twice as big as the swimming dock. The Captain
used levers and fulcrums on the sides to lift the float slightly, which he and the Caretaker's
Wife manned, while Tryon and I levered one end toward the water, maybe six inches at a time.
We used long pieces of wood under the float as ramps so it would not scoop up mud underneath.
This method was slow but wonderfully effective, and a personal result was great respect for
fulcrums and levers and diminished amazement about the pyramids. The Captain's Float is now
operational and gives a new perspective to the Island. Folks will now be able to sit out
upon the river, and the tree limbs will shield eyes from the glare of the setting sun upon
Tuesday -- April 14, 1998 -- The Club is CLOSED
At about 1100 hrs the water level dropped to 5.5 feet, and so the Island was opened again.
Paul Stanton came to personally inspect the Clubhouse where his crew will come to paint, and
discussed the probability that three days of rain will close the Island before the Paint Day
on the 18th, next Sat. This would mean that Club volunteers would not do the necessary prep
work before his crew arrived, and that another $50-100 would be added to the cost. It would
also mean that the Club volunteers would not be able to paint the ladies' locker room and bath
Wednesday -- April 15, 1998 -- The Club is Open
There is a huge maple standing just off the deck, the one with the branches obscuring the
lawn. Above these branches is a very large and rotten trunk sticking into the sky. I was
standing near the bottom end of the canoe shed when I heard a loud cracking sound and turned
to see this large rotten trunk fall to the ground, smashing any and all intervening limbs.
To my amazement, one of the pieces moved, and revealed itself to be Rocky, the Island racoon.
I now realize that this was where he was living on occasion, as he probably sleeps the days
away in any of several hide-aways, and had just had, literally, a rude awakening. He did not
seem hurt, although it was difficult to tell as his normal walk is sort of a side to side
shuffle. I stood quietly still, so he did not notice me as he walked down the Island past
the canoe shed toward me, passing so close I could see what definitely seemed to be a frowning
and disgusted look on his face. He climbed up the large sycamore that is covered with the
winter creeper vine, and although I followed his progress three quarters of the way up this
very tall tree, he disappeared, probably into a hidden hole. Anyone visiting the Island after
a rain can see his tell tale tracks all over the Island, as he seems to have become a
semi-permanant resident. And it will be curious to see how many folks notice how opened up
the Island looks now that those low branches on the maple are gone.
Thursday -- April 16, 1998 -- The Club is Open
The geese are definitely nesting on eggs now. One pair has taken up residence on the large
upturned root ball of the huge sycamore that fell in February. They apparently have no fear
of the cats, and there have been so few people on the Island because of the high water that
they feel relatively safe. Of course, that is all about to change, as we have lots of groups
with small children coming in the next few weeks. The female sits the nest all the time now,
and I am curious to see how long before the eggs hatch. She can be seen by anyone who comes
over the little hill from the ferry to the main lawn, but one must look closely because she
will sit very still and quietly, and only her long neck gives her away among the roots.
Friday -- April 17, 1998 -- The Club is Open
The Club President came down to see how the new "Captain's Float" was doing, but when we
walked out to it there was a very large black snake sunning on it. The snake seemed to be
not appropriately disturbed or concerned when we walked out, after all he was there first.
I tried to hold his head down with a stick so I could pick him up and move him off the float,
but the stick broke and so we left him alone and pulled up a couple of chairs to enjoy the
view. But now "Blackie" was now agitated, and coiled somewhat in a threatening manner. We
tried to ignore him, after all he was a non-poisonous black snake, a slow constrictor, not
very likely to strike, and just putting on a defensive show while raising his head to get a
better look at us. But he wouldn't relax, and he was after all less than four feet from us,
so after a while Tryon got behind his chair, and using his chair, gently prodded him into the
water. Blackie was a graceful and effortless swimmer, and got out by the walkway of the float
as though daring us to try to leave. My thought as I watched him swimming was to wonder if
he might be the same black snake that lives in the tree hole by the ferry landing near the
towpath. One can actually look into his hole from the ferry. Maybe he is a commuter.
Monday -- April 20, 1998 -- The Club is Open
The Saturday Paint Day was cancelled because of the forecast that the river would rise and the
Island be closed. Who would of thought that NOAA would have actually released a forecast that
was too high??? So, if the Island was open, what about the Workfest Rain Date ??? What about
all those people who noticed the rain on the day of the Workfest and rolled back over to go
back to sleep? The event was cancelled by executive decision of the Caretaker after no one
showed by 1030 hrs, and George and Marcia Loeb (who were standing by) had to be notified not
to come down to prepare another Workfest meal. Kudos and warm appreciation to the Loebs...
and to the Richardsons, Kips, Brennemanns, Cannells, Hattery-Khans, Krasnys, Winers, and two
others whose names can not be deciphered from the ferry log but who showed up later prepared
to work. Shame on everyone else. Also, folks should be aware that although the river is
only at 4.9 feet here this morning, it is at 20 feet at Paw Paw, meaning that it will likely
be near 10 feet here tomorrow and that the Island will be closed this week.
Tuesday -- April 21, 1998 -- The Club is CLOSED
Last night's 2250 hrs river forecast was for the river to be 7 feet this morning and 8 feet
Wednesday morning. When I awoke and saw that the river was at 7.99 feet, I was not sure if
I slept through and missed a day or if they only expected the river to rise .01 feet today.
I mean, seriously, why are these folks not embarrassed??!!? They expect the river to crest
at around 8 feet Wednesday morning, when everyone who actually lives near or on the river
sees from the gauge at Paw Paw that it will likely crest near 10 feet at Little Falls. I
have called and Gerry Barton has e-mailed them pointing out the empirical correlation between
the levels at Paw Paw and Little Falls, which is correct every time when their predictions are
very off and very low every time. And boys and girls... I mean EVERY TIME since I have lived
on the Island. Sometimes dangerously so. I must agree with the Captain, that this situation
can only exist because they are government employees and their jobs are not linked to their
One sad effect of this high water at this time of year is that the nesting geese on the
smaller islands have been forced off of their eggs by the rising water and their eggs washed
away. We will thus have a much smaller gaggle of goslings this year. Johnna Robinson has
suggested that the geese sometimes will lay a second clutch of eggs when this happens, in
which case we may perhaps see a later group. It will be interesting to see... stay tuned.
Wednesday -- April 22, 1998 -- The Club is CLOSED
I hate eating crow. Yesterday I complained about how NOAA botched the river forecast every
time. Then it turned out to be the first time they got the river level right, as it crested
at around 8.3 feet, within their forecast window. The Paw Paw Rule in which Little Falls gets
one half the cresting level of Paw Paw did not work because so little came out of the Shenandoah.
I suppose I can take some solace that they got the day of the river cresting wrong... it
crested yesterday afternoon instead of this morning.
Thursday -- April 23, 1998 -- The Club is Open
The river level fell enough to just get the ferry back in operation this morning. Good thing
too, as Paul Stanton called early to say he wanted to bring the paint down this morning.
Instead he showed up with a full work crew and began the upstairs clubroom and kitchen. He
has made an executive decision and chosen a non-yellow color... an off white... and I think
everyone will be pleased.
Monday -- April 27, 1998 -- The Club is Open
This is a gosling alert!!! The first of this year's goslings made their appearance on
Saturday. There are three, but I have no idea where their nest might have come from. Our
nesting goose on the fallen sycamore is still incubating, and I am sure that all nests on
the surrounding small islands were washed away by the recent high waters. On Friday a
visiting nephew and I took a trip to Ruppert's Island and there discovered one nest with
5 eggs. I was impressed with how large they were, and it brought to mind Paul Stanton's
report of a homeless person that he saw from his canoe up river last week stealing eggs from
nests to presumably eat.
One noteworthy result of our exploration of Ruppert's was the discovery of survey stakes on
the island. Clearly a survey team had been on the island recently. The stakes are orange
on the top two inches and there are appropriate survey notations written on them. After
stumbling on the stakes we noticed plastic ribbons tied to branches above them so that their
location can be easily found by someone looking. For anyone interested, the most easily
accessible is on the Virginia side, mid-island, near the site of the Indian digs. They were
clean and neither muddy or dirty, and hence had to have been put there since the 11 foot flood
of two weeks ago. The Captain and the President have instructed me to contact the park Service
to see if they know anything. Stay tuned!
Wednesday -- April 29, 1998 -- The Club is OPEN
The gosling count is now up to 5. A family of wood ducks can be seen swimming around the
Island with 4 ducklings. It is that time of year.
I have spoken to Bill Stinson, Flood Recovery Project Manager for the Park Service locally,
and have been informed that he has no idea who might have had a survey team on Ruppert's
Island. I was glad to note that he sounded more concerned than I might have hoped for,
and promised to query other departments of the Park service and get back to me.
This morning I also spoke to Russ Norfleet, Land Protection Manager for the Potomac
Conservancy. He assured me that his organization was not involved in any survey project
involving Ruppert's Island and that they would also very much like to know who the responsible
parties might be. Russ will also try to put together some display of before and after pictures
published by them last year showing how the property owners on the Virginia side near Little
Falls had destroyed the scenic viewshed near the Island, and I promised that we would have it
framed and mounted in the Clubhouse to make our Members more aware.
Thursday -- April 30, 1998 -- The Club is Open
A STRANGE ENCOUNTER
Dusk was fast falling on an early March evening, and released from having to be within
listening distance of the bell, the Caretaker had gone to the up river end of the Island to
meditate, as was his wont. Sitting on a fallen trunk, he could see up the channel between
Ruppert's and the towpath, admire the numerous water fowl, and revel in his solitude.
Actually, he was less sure of that of late, wondering if unseen tricksters had been on the
Island, as when things seemed to move about the Island on their own. The garbage can was
found inexplicably at the end of the Island one morning, when the Caretaker had remembered
being straight and sober the night before. Perhaps there were leprechauns and devas on the
Island or other manner of jokesters. After all, the Caretaker believed in stranger things.
And surely the two occasions of strange footprints were from wintering canoeists who had
landed, but left unannounced. Still, frolicsome spirits were easier to accept than trespassing
visitors at this time of year, and the Caretaker felt alone and secure in his own world.
Suddenly... he heard soft voices... carried on the Virginia wind... from an unaccustomed
direction for that time of day... that set his antenna aquiver. He rose and crept softly
to a vantage point at the center of the Island from which he could see towards the water
on the Virginia side. There was nothing. There was still light to see, but mostly from a
mixture of backlit sky and shadows reflected on the water. Wait... the shadow of an upper
torso moved upon the water between the upright darkness of two trees on land. But where was
the canoe? Then... for the longest time... nothing. Suddenly, as one, two men arose out
of the flat plane of the water, and moved onto the Island like apparitions out of a commando
movie. Wow...!! The Caretaker pressed against the tree trunk. What was going on here?? The
two shadows moved slowly through the brush toward the stacked swimming floats, utilizing
maximum stealth. The caretaker was momentarily stunned and transfixed by the bizzareness of
the situation, but then he crept after them, curious to see what they were up to. Moments
passed... shadows moving amongst shadows. Then, sounds of movement from a new direction, and
the Caretaker's Wife came into view on a vector that would bring her between the Caretaker and
the now crouching shadows. Dinner was about to be called if she did not receive the scare of
her life first. Summoning his best assertive military command voice, the Caretaker stood up.
"You gentlemen need help over there with something?" Time and motion froze.
"No sir." The two shadows rose and walked towards the Caretaker. "We were just working our
way down river."
The Caretaker studied them as they approached... young... late twenties... earnest... khaki
trousers and T-shirts only... wet... not shivering although just out of 53 degree water...
professional bearing... obviously military...non-hostile.
"Is this Sycamore island?" The voice was deferential, non-threatening. The Caretaker's Wife
had not moved, and observed from a distance.
"Yes. Would you gentlemen care to identify yourselves?"
"Yes sir... I'm Skip."
"I'm Ken." No hesitation... forthright demeanour... Skip obviously in command.
They were all now facing each other, and the T-shirts had circular emblems reminiscent of
military days, but could not be read in the fading light. "Do you live here, Sir?" This
from Skip, deferential... calculating.
"Yes. Perhaps you gentlemen would care to identify yourselves by your last names."
"I'm sorry Sir, but I'm afraid we can't go in to that right now. Thank you for your
hospitality. Good evening Sir." And with that they suddenly turned on their heels as one
and briskly strode away towards the Maryland side of the Island. Very briskly. Before the
Caretaker could recover they were already fifteen yards away and quickly merging into the
gloom. Moving after them as fast as he could they nonetheless opened the distance between
and as he reached the edge of the Island they had already entered the water and were half way
across the slough to the towpath side.
"The next time you gentlemen visit I would appreciate it if you would come in the daylight so
you don't trample my flower gardens as you leave." Weak... very weak... but some face saving
gesture was called for. After a moment a fading "Yes Sir" came out of the dark, for the light
was gone on this side of the Island, and the Caretaker heard rather than saw them struggle to
find a way out of the water on the steep slope of the towpath side of the river. They were up
river from and had not seen the steps at the ferry landing. But when they did scramble out,
they then jogged to the iron bridge over the canal, in step, leaving the Caretaker and his Wife
to reflect on what had just happened... and why.