APRIL 1998

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 climate controlled.

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 the water.

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 room.

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 performance.

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

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.