MAY 1998

Friday -- May 1, 1998 -- The Club is OPEN
Last night raucous sounds came from the MD side up river near the rope swing area where the towpath widens. Looking out, we could see a large fire. Sneaking up to the top of the Island, we could look across and see many people partying. This was not in itself alarming, nor even the fire, as there are often Hispanics or Vietnamese fishing at night and building small fires. But this was becoming a bonfire, and the sounds of large things being broken to feed it sent us back to quarters to call the Park Police. Again we snuck out to watch the drama play out across the water from the safety of darkness. After 20 minutes two large lights came down the trail... certainly they were not trying to sneak up on anybody. But the party goers were surprised none the less. Sharp voices rang out, followed by sounds of confusion and people scattering in the dark. By following the sounds we know that some escaped in the darkness. We were surprised that there was so much effort to escape, and when it occurred to us that some could be illegal aliens that would go to any lengths to not be caught, even taking to the river, we stayed at our post and on alert until it was all over.

Monday -- May 4, 1998 -- The Club is OPEN
Last night we finally talked to a Sgt. Haus, a Park Police officer who had promised to find out about what had happened to the party with the bon fire that we had reported. We had been concerned that we had caused people to be arrested and had affected their lives with dire consequences. His report was that there were 35 to 40 fraternity types getting drunk around the fire. Normally they might try to ticket offenders, but faced with such a large crowd, the two officers had decided instead just to make them put out the fire and escort them out of the park. We discussed the parameters of when the Park Police would want to be called and my reluctance to report the small fires of fishermen. He said that was fine, that although technically it was illegal (we all remember Smokey the Bear) it was a growing problem, especially down river, and he simply did not have the man power to chase every report. What was interesting was his description of the problem of the fishermen taking fish out of season (striped bass were mentioned), and of Vietnamese using illegal cast nets and possibly depleting fish stocks. He was also scornful of the mess left along the river banks, describing abandoned line and tackle, cans and garbage from meals brought or prepared over the fires, and even discarded dirty diapers.

Tuesday -- May 5, 1998 -- The Club is OPEN
Sarah Davis and Barbara Neal (a botanist and a landscape designer) had promised to find out for me just how poisonous mash hemlock is. You will recall that this is what Socrates' potion was made from, and last year someone had expressed concern that it be eradicated from the Island lest little children eat it inadvertently. To me it is a very attractive plant, like a gigantic Queen Anne's lace. But they report that all parts are listed as poisonous, so today I started to take it down. And learned that I should not have waited so long. No easy task! These are huge plants, and this year threaten to cover the lower end of the lawn. But this also brings up the question of just what is the club's policy regarding landscaping. On one hand there are voices that say the Island should be maintained as close to its natural way as possible. No importation of cultivated flowers, for instance. On the other is my dedicated war of extermination against nettle and poison ivy... and I suppose now... marsh hemlock. Should some of all of the above be retained for teaching purposes, to be pointed out on the Caretaker's Tour so popular with children's groups. The Caretaker would appreciate guidance and suggestions on this.

Wednesday -- May 6, 1998 -- The Club is OPEN
Despite all of the rain of the last several days, the river has remained level between 5 and 5.5 feet for over two weeks. Now that the world is green, enormous amounts of water that might have become run off are being sucked out of the ground by thirsty plants and turned into humidity. Still, Paw Paw is high, so stay tuned for announcements of Island closing.

Thursday -- May 7, 1998 -- The Club is CLOSED
We received a call yesterday from Bill Stinson of the Park Service to say that he had talked to Dave Trailor, the Park person in charge of the fish ladder construction at Little Falls, and to the Park engineer to see if either had any knowledge of who might have conducted a land survey on Ruppert's Island... and neither had. If we find out who the trespassers are they would like to know. I was certainly impressed with his interest and follow through after a week.

Friday -- May 8, 1998 -- The Club is CLOSED
The river forecast is for the level to be at 7.5 feet on Saturday morning and 8 feet Sunday morning... so it is hard to predict when the island will be open again. The dredging of the canal has now moved up the canal past the Island landing. It looks like they have done a good job. The Park Service employees working on it say that the goal is to re-water the canal on July 4th. For a short time yesterday it appeared that they tried to do a trial filling... as the canal water level rose almost two feet for a period of two hours.

Monday -- May 11, 1998 -- The Club is CLOSED
This morning I tried to take the Caretaker's Wife over on the ferry at when the river was at 7 feet. Going over was OK... but on the way back the safety chain got snagged on that part of the pull rope where the cable on the towpath side is tied to the rope. I lost the angle and the river current promptly swept me off the rope, sending the ferry crashing into the tree near the ferry landing. I was stranded there for maybe 30 minutes, without the strength to pull up to the rope by using the safety chain. Finally I was able to detach one of the safety chains so that the ferry swung around on end, and I was able to pull it up to the rope and then across to the Island. Which is a long winded way of saying that although the ferry may be used instead of a canoe at 7 feet... it can easily be more trouble than it is worth. The river is forecast to still be at 6.2 feet Wednesday morning, so an alternative meeting place might be considered.

Tuesday -- May 12, 1998 -- The Club is CLOSED
We have now had 11 days of rain during the last 12 days, and all weather persons delight in mentioning that we are at twice our usual rain totals for the year to date (23+ when the norm is 12+.) The river is at 6.4 and dropping very slowly, but the forecast is for it to rise to 6.5 tomorrow and 6.7 on Thursday. Levels at Paw Paw are already starting to rise. I checked last year's log and noted that this was about the time the dry period started and the river fell to 3+ feet. Tomorrow will be the anniversary date for the completion of the new canoe shed. What a difference a year can make... looking at the Island now it is hard to imagine how different and torn up it looked last year.

One consequence of this high water is that tomorrow's monthly meeting will be held off the Island at David and Jane Winer's house at 5927 Onodaga Road, in Bethesda near the Glen Echo fire station up the hill from the Island. For details they can be called at 301-229-8963.

Wednesday -- May 13, 1998 -- The Club is CLOSED
The high water has turned the Island into a refuge for all kinds of waterfowl, many with new families. Mallards, mergansers, and wood ducks can all be seen on the periphery of the Island swimming around with youngsters behind them. The gosling count is now up to 21. Yesterday we saw what appeared to be an initial swimming lesson for a new gosling. Approaching the swimming dock we saw a new family unit with 3 new born. Although not unduly frightened, the mother tried to herd all 3 into the water. One went immediately, a second hesitated until mom got distressingly far away, and the third just would not go in. Papa had to swim back and act alarmed at our distant presence while trying to coax the baby to make the leap. It was highly dramatic... mother goose out in the current with two and papa goose doing his best to keep us a bay and talk the baby in to the water. It did finally happen, although what role the appearance of a large white cat had to play is open to conjecture. My Mother is staying with us this week when coming and going is very difficult and wants the record to show how experienced she is getting at "walking the plank." The ferry can still be used with difficulty now that one of the safety chains has been disconnected and it can be turned directly head on into the current, but this still leaves the problem of dismounting from the ferry on the Island side when the dock and the walkway are covered with water. One solution has been to put a 12 foot 10x2 plank on the ferry so that after the ferry has been run up over the dock as far as it can go the plank can be run out to the walkway and she can walk down the it. Unfortunately, the water is so far up the walkway that there is still quite a leap required from the end of the plank to where the walkway is dry.

Thursday -- May 14, 1998 -- The Club is CLOSED
The first cup of coffee is usually taken on the bench under the mulberry tree just off the walkway and screen porch. This morning things were as usual... the secretly trained lawn geese were grazing and pushing back the day the caretaker would actually have to crank up the lawn mower. The nesting goose in the root ball of the fallen sycamore was in her usual place, head just barely sticking up. Perhaps it was a little strange to see her mate on top of the root ball where he could only get to by flying... and sort of acting like a rooster on a barn roof. But mostly it was one of those "God's in his heaven and all's right on earth" sort of scenes. Suddenly, the nesting goose stood up and there was a great movement of small fluff balls. The male strutted and shook out his wings. They were here at last!!! I went back and looked at the log to note that the first time this pair was reported sitting in the sycamore was on 16 April, but they were actually there a few days prior. It seems like forever that we've been waiting. After about ten minutes of nudging and honking everyone either walked or tumbled down the far side of the root ball. Papa goose remained as sentinel for a few minutes while he figured out he could not walk down from his higher perch but had to fly. But when he did and everyone had disappeared out of sight behind the root ball, I jumped up and dashed to the nest. Broken shell was everywhere. I probed the nest with a stick to see how deep the layer of down was, as there were six goslings and those were big eggs and I did not see how I could have not seen them when I had observed the nest from afar on those few times she had been off of it. But the nest seemed only about an inch deep, so now I am curious just how much time of her sitting was actually on eggs. I walked around the root ball just as they were all approaching the water. Mama waded right in, and four gosling jumped right in behind her without a thought. Two others stopped at the waters edge and sort of looked down at it first, but only for a second. Soon it was just another goose family in the water... but this definitely had to be the first time the goslings were out of the nest and hence their first swimming lesson because there is no way they could ever get back up the steep incline of the root ball. And I am sure the nest will now be abandoned entirely. So want to feel lucky some time... come on down!! Just have a seat, wait awhile, and keep your eyes open. This is a busy place and there is too much happening on this Island for patience to not be rewarded.

Friday -- May 15, 1998 -- The Club is CLOSED
As one is riding the ferry over to the Island one can look up river and see a medium sized maple jutting out at an angle over the water. It is now primarily noticeable because it has had its bark pretty well stripped and eaten by the huge beaver. Earlier this week I was making my rounds in the late afternoon. The ground is so saturated and silent that I almost walked into him before I noticed. I mean... almost literally... as in 25 feet away. He did not notice me... or at least did not care... and sat on top of the jutting tree trunk, totally out of the water, with his back to me. It was certainly THE HUGE BEAVER because that is the first thing one notices about him. He clearly does not have to worry about any other living thing not carrying a howitzer and knows it. He actually strips off large pieces of bark and then holds them in his paw as he sits up and eats, and while chewing there is not much movement to detect him by. It was another lesson on how often we look but not see, for I am lucky to have noticed him at all, and can only wonder how often I have walked right by him on other occasions without seeing him as he watched me... chewing contentedly away.

Monday -- May 18, 1998 -- The Club is OPEN
The Island is open... ain't it amazing!! This morning's gauge was only at 5.1... but it looks like more showers this week... so you better come on down while you can.

Thursday -- May 21, 1998 -- The Club is OPEN
It has been busy down here... the party season has started and there is a big push to get the Island ready for the up coming weekend. The constant rain has meant that the ground has been too wet to mow until the last couple of days, so much time has been spent bonding again with the mower. Tuesday John Matthews and his son brought down another load of wood and building supplies, this time to construct a new swimming float. The metal float that we have used for the last many years has been unpopular because it is very high and difficult to get onto, because the metal gets scorching in the heat and too hot to sit on, and because a family of water snakes thinks it is their very private apartment house. Wednesday Tryon Wells came down to begin construction. Luckily for him, Alex McCoy came down to canoe with friends Shulz and Justin and ended up "volunteering" to help. Consequently, the metal float was pulled out and cannabalized for its floatation (no easy task that) and most of the wooden frame construction completed. I am told that the old metal float was found during high water by the legendary caretaker Ken Fassler. The problem now will be to get rid of the old metal frame, which despite being aluminium, will require several strong bodies to remove from the swimming area.

Saturday -- May 30, 1998 -- The Club is OPEN
Recently I visited Roosevelt Island, across from Georgetown. It was one of those high water days during which the Island was closed, and on a return trip from the airport with no where to have to be, it seemed silly to pass up the sign to the Teddy Roosevelt Memorial one more time. Especially considering that this was also a Potomac Island near Sycamore. What better place to see what the Park Service was doing in circumstances similar to ours. But what a disappointment!!! The Island looked shabby and uncared for. I saw only 12 people the entire hour I was there, which might make one consider it an ideal place for solitude, except much of the island was unusable. Several of the "designated" trails were impassable because of the poison ivy that overlay great swaths of the island. Anyone who wants to know what will happen if the use of herbicide on Sycamore is banned should go and see. Clearly there were parts of the Island that had not been visited by Rangers since last year... if then. There was in fact no Ranger or Park Service employee on duty at the memorial... which was itself massive and could have been impressive but was not because of the neglected and uncared for appearance. It was sad. Great fountains were in evidence to rival the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial... but were obviously broken. Anyone who wants to know what will happen if the use of herbicide on Sycamore is banned should go and see. There has been far more poison ivy on Sycamore than last year. Perhaps even more alarming is the appearance of kudzu, which lay around on the ground mostly unnoticed last year but this year threatened to choke to death at least a half dozen paw paw trees during the most recent three week period that the upper end was unworkable because of the high water.