Friday -- December 1, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.0     Water Temperature: 42

You will notice in the parking lot on the parkway that there are some colored stakes driven into the ground near the two trash receptacles. Happening by when Park Service employees were installing them, the Caretaker inquired as to their use. Seems they are not at all related to the trash receptacles... but are instead located to mark the location of the metal gratings of the storm drains. Why...? Well, seems these poles are so the drivers of the snowploughs will know where the drains are. We do not remember this from last year. Considering that these poles are taller even than the trash cans... one can only ponder what the Park Service must know about the coming winter snows that we do not.

Saturday -- December 2, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.1     Water Temperature: 42

Captain Matthews called to say that he had visited the area of the rope swing yesterday and found the area trashed... to include empty gin bottles lying about. Over hearing the conversation, the Caretaker's Wife chimed in to say that on Thursday night after midnight another large party group had gone to the rope swing area but she had not awakened the Caretaker to mention it. Thursday night it was considerably below freezing and one can imagine much gin would have been necessary to ignore that fact. Again, one would think there are better places to party where one does not have to walk over a quarter mile in freezing dark. This means partying two nights in a row. On the second night several female voices were heard, but it is probably safe to say no party activities were indulged in that involved disrobing.

Monday -- December 4, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.0     Water Temperature: 38

The bird feeders are now out... a large "Dr. Geis" hanging feeder, hanging thistle for the finches, suet for the woodpeckers, and a large window platform feeder for everyone. We managed to get them up one afternoon and waited with heightened expectation for them to be discovered, but as daylight finally passed there were no visitors but instead that type of disappointed annoyance when the main event at a concert keeps you waiting. And since it is now terminally brown down here, one could walk the Island and see no life... and hence no movement... just a sort of cold aloneness.

Stepping out early the next morning all had changed! The constant flurry of three-dimensional movement was dizzying. There were birds on every branch stretching to the water's edge. Hundreds! Or so it seemed! Jockeying for position... stacked in landing patterns that would make National Airport on Xmas eve look desolate... each waiting to make the next small move closer once a bird on a feeder left. We are no longer alone... Nature is squabbling over space and seed outside our windows.

Tuesday -- December 5, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.0     Water Temperature: 38

A yellow-shafted flicker has been checking out the activity at the feeders, but has not actually visited one. They are supposed to be permanent residents in this area, but rarely visit the Island, so this is cause for great excitement.

Wednesday -- December 6, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.0     Water Temperature: 38

Today we received in the mail an advertisement for an "incinolet," which is "completely non-polluting, uses no water, drains nothing out - just push a button and waste is incinerated to a small amount of clean ash. Installation is a snap - just run a vent and plug in."

Well... one can see why the caretaker of an Island vulnerable to the winter loss of flowing Clubhouse water might sit up and read this twice... maybe even with a perceptible toe tingle... Island excitement in the winter being what it is. You can be sure this advertisement will be filed lovingly away... just in case.

Thursday -- December 7, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 2.9     Water Temperature: 37

Areas of bare ground are starting to take on a pockmarked and cratered look, indicating the freezing and thawing of surface ground water during this period of nighttime temperatures in the 20's. This is mentioned because of the several queries from Members about the geese. They are not in evidence... frozen ground at breakfast time is not for them... the red goose poop shovel has not been used in a long time... these temperatures are surely sending them further south into the tidewater... but that is only an afternoon commute for them when warmer temps return.

Friday -- December 8, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.0     Water Temperature: 37

The bird feeders have been re-filled... again... and again. They must travel for miles to get here. The numbers have been crunched and are alarming... the Caretaker's Wife may have to consider adding a night job.

Monday -- December 11, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 2.9     Water Temperature: 36

In the winter when the leaves are gone one is suddenly confronted with the "nearness" of everything. This is not just visually... but aurally. There is no muffling effect to soften distant noises; hence many things seem closer than before. Sounds of the surrounding metropolis intrude and it is not as easy to pretend one is far out in the country. Still... even though the city may seem nearer by its noises, it is actually further in motivation. Leaving the Island in freezing weather is more like an EVA on the space shuttle... one has to really suit up and pay attention to what is going on, especially on the water, until one gets to the next warm place.

Tuesday -- December 12, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 2.9     Water Temperature: 37

It was 0800 hrs when the winds shifted, chilled, stiffened, and got downright loud... heralding the passing of the front line. The whole outdoor experience changed in but a moment and it was clear that suddenly wild and awesome forces had seized control of the world as limbs came crashing, whitecaps appeared, and exposed skin begged to go indoors. There is no drama more compelling than the drama of Nature flexing her weather. Not a good day to attempt to handle the ferry.

Wednesday -- December 13, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 2.9     Water Temperature: 37

There may be a lot of buzz about the ice storm expected this afternoon, but down here it has already arrived. Again the ice on the river in the slough had to be broken through by the ferry to enable the Caretaker's Wife to leave the Island for an early work appointment. The buzz of chain saws on MacArthur was comforting, knowing they were clearing the overhangs from the main power line in advance of the ice storm... important to folks who might have difficulty leaving the Island at night during the storm if the power and heat went out.

Thursday -- December 14, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.0     Water Temperature: not given

We approach the time of year when the wooden walkway cannot be taken for granted and that attention must be paid to its condition before blithely skipping down to the ferry. If the wood gets soaked and then the temperature drops below freezing it can become a slippery test of flatfooted agility. Each year since we have been here we have both taken falls. It just comes with the territory... no matter how experienced one gets. Usually the question is simply whether to walk on or beside the wooden walkway when it gets that slippery.

Friday -- December 15, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.0     Water Temperature: 36

One of the things to occupy a Caretaker's mind in the off-season is to muse upon the physics of the ferry. Hands grip the rope... shoulder and back provide the motive force... but it is through the ankles and feet that the actual force is transmitted to the ferry. Some of you who have substituted on a busy day may have awakened the following morning wondering why your ankles were sore.

This morning there was a coating of ice on the ferry... very slippery. Hands gripped the rope... shoulders and back slipped into gear... ankles and feet moved... but the ferry did not... and the Caretaker proceeded to pull himself across the ice on the ferry deck and almost off the edge of the ferry. Only artful teetering and tottering saved the Caretaker from a very cold swim. Fortunately, the laughter of the Caretaker's Wife was masked by the terror of that moment on the precipice. You all know how the ferry can hang up in low water, and you can be sure that icy ferry operations will never again be attempted without careful calculations of the co-efficients of friction.

Monday -- December 18, 2000 -- The Club is CLOSED
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.1     Water Temperature: 36

The weekend's rain was enough to raise the river level above 5 feet at the Little Falls gauge. Funny how little rain it takes when there is no green growing stuff to suck it up.

For a couple of years we have talked about Elliot, the red-bellied woodpecker who hangs out on the Island, but we have never seen him with mate. Finally, a female has begun visiting the feeder, and while we have not actually seen them together, our hopes are high that at last he has a girlfriend.

Tuesday -- December 19, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: ?     Water Temperature: ?

No data on river conditions are given today because our web portal has been down and this that you are reading has been uploaded on a different day. Verizon has sent us a very nice letter apologizing, which we appreciate, as we can always forward it to people who received our delayed e-mail days later when it was meaningless and think we are ditzy. It is a sign of the times and our vulnerability to fragile technology.

For those who might wonder what significance can be attached to a name change, not leat the timing of such a change, it should be noted that while we have been here we can find nothing bad to say about Bell Atlantic... and nothing good to say about Verizon.

Wednesday -- December 20, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.3     Water Temperature: 34

Folks coming down should be careful on the steps on the iron bridge. Descending to the towpath on the north side of the bridge, the steps are shaded from any direct sun and any ice will not melt quickly. Although there is an attempt to clear snow and ice early in the morning when the Caretaker's Wife leaves for work, those intrepid folks and joggers who visit the towpath with the dawn compact the snow and ice on the bridge with their footsteps and make it difficult to shovel. So be careful.

We have had our first hairy woodpecker at the feeder. Similar to but more bulky than the downy woodpecker and with a larger and more powerful bill, we only notice them in the winter. One wonders if they are here all year but go unnoticed until they come close enough to be seen at the suet and feeder.

Thursday -- December 21, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.3     Water Temperature: 32

There is a lot of floating ice on the river, and with plummeting temps forecast, it is likely the river surface will be solid tomorrow morning. Note the water temperature above.

There is the looming presence of yet another house across the river, spoiling the viewscape of the Island and the river gorge. This is not a new house, like last year's intrusion, but the way it now sticks out gives meaning to the sounds of chain saws across the river that we heard all summer and fall. There ought to be a law.

Friday -- December 22, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.1     Water Temperature: 33

There is no ice and we are open. One reason may be the high winds that have made the water surface choppy and the wind chill dangerous.

I remember once visiting an empty farmhouse in the summer, and we entered through the sunroom, which in the summer was a very large sunny room with chairs and hooks on the wall. Asking after the purpose of the room... which was described as a transition space for folks working out of doors and their wet or dirty clothes... I remember wondering that so much space was necessary. My... how the world turns... as this is exactly what the Caretaker's Wife wonders out loud from time to time. But it is true. A wide variety of apparel needs to be available for a wide variety of situations as dictated by Mother Nature. Is it wet and muddy... is it cold... is it windy... is it precipitating... and in what form... and in what combination are these things happening. Already today by lunch three different types of footwear and three different types of clothing were donned, depending upon where and what on the Island required the attention of the Caretaker. This afternoon it will be warmer and even other types of garments will be required. And of course all of this must be kept next to the door... for two people. So if you chance a look into the quarters and wonder at the piles of laundry near the front door, consider the weather of that day, and the possibility that it might have more variations than there are hooks on the back of the Caretaker's door.

Saturday -- December 23, 2000 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.5     Water Temperature: 32

The river is frozen solid between the Island and the ferry landing on the Maryland shore. It took all morning to clear a channel for the ferry, which we had to do because of family arriving to spend Christmas, and it is noteworthy that the ice was so thick that the only technique that worked required two people. A single person on this Island would be ice-bound... the ice being too thick for the ferry and too thin to walk on. Arriving family does not yet suspect this Christmas will be a "Little House on the Prairie" experience, but we hope this will add to the Christmas-on-the-Island mystique.

The Sunday substitute caretakers have been called to stand down because the ice on the river will likely close the Island.

Sunday -- December 24, 2000 -- The Club is CLOSED
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.4     Water Temperature: 32

Weather conditions enroute caused arriving family members to be delayed last night until midnight. The ferry was run every hour until arrival in order to break up ice that was trying to re-form in the channel we had cut through this morning. Everyone is here... there is that charming feeling of being snowed/iced in for Christmas... just like "olden" days... we expect that to last until the younger set realizes there is no casual bopping out the door for a pizza or cola replacement.

Monday -- December 25, 2000 -- The Club is CLOSED
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.4     Water Temperature: 32

Merry Christmas !!! We are happy to report there were no lumps of coal left down here... and we hope Santa found you all.

The first of family was scheduled to leave, and accordingly the canoe was deployed on the ice beneath the ferry pull rope. Adventurous nephew Bret Green then pulled himself across the cracking ice to the towpath to show how it is done, but some family members were daunted by the procedure and decided that thin ice was a perfect reason to cancel any plans to leave the Island.

Tuesday -- December 26, 2000 -- The Club is CLOSED
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.4     Water Temperature: 32

The river level is dropping slightly, and this means the water is falling away from the bottom of the ice. This also means there is a gap between the ice and the water... that the top ice layer will not get thicker... and that the ice is very dangerous for anyone to try to walk on. Ergo, Members are cautioned not to try... and should know better anyway. However, we regularly cringe when watching people across the river at the towpath landing that have no sense of these things and look at the steps and the rope as a place to test the ice. Even in twenty degree weather the towpath is crowded and seems to be the frequent answer to the desperate question of "where to go to entertain holiday guests now?"

It is true that from our perspective there sometimes does not seem to be much intelligent life on the towpath. One of the most stupid things to witness is the all-to-common practice of throwing sticks into freezing water and forcing dogs to swim for them. Now you would think that if the river were frozen everywhere except where a channel in the ice was cleared for the ferry that even a clueless urbanite would suspect the water was cold. Or maybe it is not brains lacking but compassion. The sticks are thrown into the clear patch of water and invariably the dog runs down the ferry landing steps and stops on the last step. Of course, the dog is not stupid, and hesitates to throw his body into freezing water. But always there is the human urging the dog on or more sticks are thrown until the dog's desire to please overcomes common sense. Often some adult is thoughtlessly trying to amuse a child by forcing the dog into the icy water, and one wonders if we finally see the effects of an older generation of parents passing on flawed behaviour characteristics resulting from themselves having seen too many roadrunner cartoons. The TV generation is now rearing the digital generation and the disconnect with the natural world grows.

Wednesday -- December 27, 2000 -- The Club is CLOSED
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.3     Water Temperature: 32

We are now seeing the first people attempting to cross the ice while hanging on to the ferry rope. A sign has been posted warning folks of "dangerous ice," and they seem to agree because no one gets very far away from the ferry landing. The Caretaker's Wife has been heard to mutter about "pioneering" again, and indeed deserves recognition for being such a good "Conestoga Woman" regarding her daily commute to work. The ice is now thick enough that it does not break beneath the canoe, and thus the crossing is not as un-nerving.

Thursday -- December 28, 2000 -- The Club is CLOSED
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.3     Water Temperature: 32

It looks as though the Island will be closed well into next week. The river on the Virginia side is not frozen completely over as there is still a current of moving ice about 20 yards across in the middle. The ice on the Maryland side in the slough looks solid, but we suspect the water level has dropped away beneath it. We have seen no skaters yet, and of course the Caretaker is not allowed to play on it after the close call of going through the ice last year while the Caretaker's Wife looked on.

Friday -- December 29, 2000 -- The Club is CLOSED
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.3     Water Temperature: 32

The ice is singing. We are not quite sure what this means, but a variety of strange and wondrous sounds are coming from the ice. Surely some are great fractures, as one sound is like the twang of a steel cable parting under stress. Other sounds may be of reverberations that have been conducted across large distances by solid water. These sounds seem different from those of last year, perhaps because of the cavitation of the space between liquid and solid water, as the river level has fallen somewhat below the ice.

Saturday -- December 30, 2000 -- The Club is CLOSED
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.3     Water Temperature: 32

Today we would like to give a special mention in the dispatches to Maxine Hattery. Upon looking in the December issue of the Islander to see which Members would have to be called to stand down from substitute caretaking duty Sunday because of the ice, and seeing Maxine's name... again... the Caretaker's Wife pointed out that Maxine has served duty at least a half dozen times this year, and perhaps more. Of course, every organization has equal parts of slackers and eager volunteers, but exemplary service should be recognized.