Monday -- January 1, 2001 -- The Club is CLOSED
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.3     Water Temperature: 32

Last October was the 150th anniversary of the C & O Canal and it was announced that a new set of strip maps covering the entire length of the canal from Georgetown to Cumberland would be drafted as a cooperative effort by the National Park Service, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the West Virginia Department of Natural resources, and the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River. Fieldwork for this project was to have been concluded last fall, and the maps are expected to be printed this spring. Certainly the Club should attempt to obtain those maps covering our local area.

Tuesday -- January 2, 2001 -- The Club is CLOSED
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.2     Water Temperature: 32

We continue to be iced in and the ice continues to be dangerous. There has been some melting on the Virginia river side as the open channel in the river is wider today. It is interesting that each morning the river is full of floating ice, making the open channel look much like a visibly moving glacier, yet by afternoon the channel is free and clear of ice even on those days when the temperature does not rise above freezing. Adjacent to the Captain's float the ice is thick on one side and thin on the other, for no apparent reason, and there are large, tectonic appearing cracks spreading across the entire ice pack that have re-frozen.

Wednesday -- January 3, 2001 -- The Club is CLOSED
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.4     Water Temperature: 32

You all know that announcement made by airline pilots that everyone should stay in their seats until the plane has come to a complete stop. Well, this morning we had just used the ferry rope to pull a canoe across the cracking ice so that the Caretaker's Wife could go to work... again... when the Caretaker stood up, stepped on to the ferry landing, and then reached down to give the canoe a tug to bring it closer to make it easier for her to step off. Unfortunately, he had made no such announcement, and looked back in time to see to his horror that the Caretaker's Wife had no hint of the extra movement coming and had stood up. The result was that she came crashing down, but because she had the presence of mind to grab at the rope as she fell, managed to crash on the bottom of the canoe instead of through the thin ice adjacent. It was a very frightening... and very dangerous... moment. The Caretaker's Wife put on a brave face, exited the canoe, and turned to walk up the hill before the Caretaker could see her tears... which he pretended not to notice.

Let me tell you folks, you cannot pay people enough to do this job. They will do it, or should do it, only because they love the Island and living on it. Why else would someone live in a place where winter mornings are always cold because there is not enough insulation to keep it warm when the temperature is in the 20's, and if the temperature falls through the 20's in the daytime one cannot add more heat but only more layers... a place where some mornings the first thing one must do is boil a big kettle of water to pour into the toilet so that the toilet will function. So when you come down here on a beautiful summer day and make some joke to the Caretaker about how you cannot believe he actually gets paid to live here... expect a grouchy response.

Thuesday -- January 4, 2001 -- The Club is CLOSED
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.0     Water Temperature: 32

It is interesting that as winter barrenness and cold has descended upon the Island our cats have become more active. They are far more adventurous in the daytime, especially our timid Czech kitty, Barney. On one hand one wonders why in the world they are so willing, even eager, to go out when it is so cold, but there really does seem to be a direct relationship between the lessening of vegetative ground cover in late fall and early winter and the frequency of outdoor cat excursions. One possibility is that less vegetation means greater line of sight... after all... when one's eyes are only 8 inches above the ground the world can seem a pretty close-in place in the summer... when any fearful surprise could be lurking behind the next bush or large plant. But in winter they are the Lords-of-all-they-survey, and they can actually survey what must be to them long distances of Island real estate that would otherwise be hidden behind summer foliage. Add to this the fact that to them winter is also a crinkly season, when dried leaves and other detritus announce sounds of movement of "preymates" at greater distances. Of course this works both ways, as there is less opportunity for feline sneakiness, especially where birds are concerned.

Friday -- January 5, 2001 -- The Club is CLOSED
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.0     Water Temperature: 32

It snowed today in two batches, and as the second was forecast to be just a sprinkling, and as the Caretaker's Wife had to leave the Island to work, it was decided to chance pulling the canoe across the ice. This was a serious question, as the more snow on the ice, the more difficult to pull the canoe, until it finally becomes impossible. Further, all lingering doubts and fears about the safety of walking on the ice were reinforced by the fact that on a large area near the ferry landing at the towpath there was a warm spot, evidenced by the fact that whereas before the snow it had been frozen... the falling snow was melting as it fell on this bad section of ice and there was standing water and slush.

As the second snow band started dropping considerably more than the forecast light dusting, there was rising anxiety that the Caretaker's Wife would not return before the snow accumulated to a depth on the "good ice" that would render the canoe useless and trap her on the towpath without any way to get to the Island. But what to do when your beloved is standing there in the cold snow on the ferry landing? Of course the canoe was put out on the ice... and of course the Caretaker got stuck halfway across.

What to do? There was no question of getting out, as the bad ice was half of the remaining distance to cross. Finally, the Caretaker discovered that by leaning over the front of the canoe he could reach to clear the snow from a small area in front of the canoe, pull maybe two feet ahead, and repeat the process. After much time and effort the bad ice was reached, which did not crack too badly, and was slick enough to resume serious pulling to the ferry landing. Now the question was whether or not the combined pulling power of two people would be enough to get back to the Island without getting stuck in the middle again... the clock ticking and the snow continuing to fall. But as you are now reading this... there was obviously a happy end to the story, although it was neither easy nor quick, the outcome of the adventure sometimes uncertain, and not without some humorous observations from the Caretaker's Wife that we had dropped below the continuous camping threshold to downright pioneering.

Saturday -- January 6, 2001 -- The Club is CLOSED
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.0     Water Temperature: 32

Regular staff will be on vacation until 12 Jan. Sandy Lee will be staying on the Island as substitute caretaker in our absence.

Friday -- January 12, 2001 -- The Club is CLOSED
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.0     Water Temperature: 32

Gee Aunty Em... it's great to be home!!! At least that is staff sentiment following vacation.

In our absence Sandy Lee has named the squirrel raider of our bird feeder "Oliver", because he always wants more. Sandy points out that the clever fellow has mastered the concept of window glass, and is totally unfazed by yelling and contorted human faces just inches away if there is intervening glass... even if the humans are pounding on the glass. Oliver also understands that the sound of an opening window is cause for immediate evacuation. Once the window is open we try to discourage Oliver by spraying water at him as he retreats, and Sandy reports going through two spray bottles worth of water during the last 5 days.

Saturday -- January 13, 2001 -- The Club is CLOSED
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.0     Water Temperature: 32

We have received a query from Tryon Wells about the reported water temperatures on the Log: Just noticed from your log that the water temperature has been 32 degrees for some weeks now. Is this right or has your source given up on measuring it since there's ice on top?

Each morning the water temperatures and levels are taken from a report on a NOAA web site that usually, but not always, has the data ready by 1030 hrs. A link to this site may be found through the Sycamore Island home page by clicking weather and river conditions and then the river forecast. There are a total of 7 automated river gauges in this report on the Potomac, but only 4 record water temperature. During this time of river icing the temperature at the Little Falls gauge, which being just a few hundred yards down-river is the one we always use, has been given as 32 degrees. The other gauges reporting temperature have reported warmer temperatures... and usually the further up-river... the warmer the temperature. Interestingly, despite this warm snap, the up-river temperatures are now colder than at any time this winter. Other unknown factors may influence this data, as perhaps, because of internal friction, a faster (higher?) river may be a warmer river.

Monday -- January 15, 2001 -- The Club is CLOSED
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.0     Water Temperature: 33

We knew we were in "deep doo doo" when we took the plumbers helper to the backed up toilet and the "doo doo" backed up into the tub... quite literally. So much for baths for a while! Previously, we had boiled large kettles of water to pour down the drains to clear them, and that had seemed to work for a couple of weeks... but now we were iced in by ice too thin to walk on with no prospect of immediate help... and suddenly grateful just to be able to walk through the cold to get to the toilet in the men's room... which still worked. Kinda like going to the out-house on a cold winter's night.

Plumber Herb Denison (301) 473-4015 was called about the "plumbing problem", who suggested that it was either a regular blockage... in which case Roto-Rooter should be called, or a freeze blockage caused by frozen water in the pipes... in which case we were just out of luck. A report was made to the Captain, who agreed that Roto-Rooter should be called as soon as the ferry can be freed from the ice, but of course, that could be days. No one can remember where things are buried from about twelve years ago as no drawings were made, so the Captain suggested several clever ideas and trenches were dug and pipes were uncovered, but none of the uncovered pipes seemed to go where they were supposed to and the mystery only deepened.

This incident points up the problem of an older institution with an ageing facility whose history spans generations but for which virtually no maintenance records exist outside of fallible human memories. I would like to suggest that the Captain and various Club Supervisors make a yearly report of this kind of information... for instance the Plumbing Supervisor would record this incident in an annual report, which could then be referred to by successive Plumbing Supervisors. This need not be too difficult because such things are recorded in the Caretaker's Log and Tryon Wells has incorporated a wonderful key word search as part of the web site. Therefore, the Caretaker need only incorporate agreed upon key words in his reports... such as "plumbing problem."

The real problem is in getting enough Members to volunteer to be involved. For instance, the position of Plumbing Supervisor had to be scrapped last year for lack of volunteers and the Painting Supervisor's job had to be added to the Carpentry Supervisor. What does it say when a Club that can be used by 406 families, counting all types of membership including the waiting list, has problems filling so few officer/supervisor positions each year. This Club does not need more people in it... it needs more of the people in it to be involved!

Tuesday -- January 16, 2001 -- The Club is CLOSED
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.0     Water Temperature: 33

In this warm weather the river ice on the Virginia side has finally cleared and there is now a small clear water channel in the ice in the slough on the Maryland side. With the ice breaking up we are truly trapped on the Island, and the small freezer purchased last fall is turning out to be the wisest family purchase of the year. Of course, we still look forward to milk, eggs, and Roto-Rooter.

There is that old adage that "I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man that had no feet." Lest the gentle reader think we are crying instead of reporting, let's make mention of the real pioneers... our predecessors... Peter Jones and Holly Syrrakos. When they moved here twelve years ago the quarters were only half as large because the one nice room that sticks out had not been built and there was not even what one could call a living room... just bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. The only heat was an electric heater in the bathroom and a very small wood stove that needed constant tending. There was no septic then and the winter water situation was such that for Holly to live with Peter that first winter she had to use a porta-potty for three months ... which surely for a woman must qualify as true love.

Now, some have pointed to this as an example of the sharecropper mentality towards employees by the Club at the time, and remember... this was only twelve years ago... but one would have to disagree that the Club was not easily embarrassed back then, when one considers how much progress and improvement there has been in only twelve years. Newer Members especially have no idea how recently so much has happened in twelve years because we do now have a septic system, ultra violet purified water, a winter toilet for Members, the new deck on the Clubhouse, and an actual bathtub in the quarters... just to name a few. Current staff has a unique perspective not only with which to understand the travails of our predecessors and be awed by their spirit and heartiness, but also to appreciate and be grateful for all the Club has done on the behalf of staff to make the living situation here better.

Wednesday -- January 17, 2001 -- The Club is CLOSED
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.0     Water Temperature: 34

The ice continues to melt in the slough and there are patches of open water only ten feet from the ferry. Unfortunately, the ice is not melting so fast along the Island side and the ferry itself is locked fast in about four inches of ice... too much to break through. It is too dangerous to take the canoe to cross ice, then open water, then ice again, so we are still stranded. Maybe tomorrow.

There is a bit of cabin fever setting in... evidenced by the fact that yesterday the Caretaker's Wife painted the bathroom.

Thursday -- January 18, 2001 -- The Club is CLOSED
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.0     Water Temperature: 34

The Caretaker's Wife turned on the crock-pot and abandoned the Island. The adventure began when we put a canoe in the water at the Captain's float, as the ice is mainly cleared from the Virginia side of the Island, and paddled up-river towards Ruppert's Island to find a place to cut through the ice to where there was a channel of open water running down the slough on the Maryland side towards the towpath ferry landing. The ferry is still locked tight in 3 inches of ice, and there is no telling when Roto-Rooter can get here. It was cold and rainy... but the rain was relatively light and not actually uncomfortable and served mainly to heighten the drama of the morning. Working our way back downriver we arrived near the ferry landing and began to work from the canoe on breaking and clearing the thinner ice there to get close enough to land. We had recently visited Jamestown and imagined ourselves in a unique Disney World ride recreating the settler's hardships. Spirits and adventure were high... especially when the Caretaker's Wife finally stepped to the towpath landing.

A friend later suggested that the Caretaker's Wife had voted herself off of our own version of the Survivor TV program. But in fact, the more compelling reason was her need to return to her professional life. Still... overnighting with friends means that for the first time in six days she will not have to put her coat on and walk out the front door to use the toilet.

Friday -- January 19, 2001 -- The Club is CLOSED
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.1     Water Temperature: 35

The ice is thinning in the rain... but by this we mean that the ferry is locked in only 2 inches of ice. There is great disappointment that the ice still extends way beyond the canoe float. Being able to put a canoe in there for a shorter trip across would make it easier to talk the Caretaker's Wife into coming home in the rain this afternoon.

Timing will be important... tomorrow the river is forecast to flood... but will it thin and carry away the ice soon enough so that there is a safe open window to get her across? Stay tuned.

Saturday -- January 19, 2001 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.4     Water Temperature: 36

Free at last!!! The Island is open... but only because we had two sledge hammers. Smashing ice is slippery work, and the first hammer, lost before the ferry was freed, will have to be recovered by summer diving. We await the Captain's call to Roto-Rooter.

Monday -- January 22, 2001 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.8     Water Temperature: 33

Roto-Rooter was here... the lines are unclogged... the toilets flush... the washing machine is running... and the Caretaker is bathed. A large, wheeled apparatus had to be brought over on the ferry to snake out the line. The upstairs toilet that was blocked since the Workfest was also cleared. The septic tank was opened as part of the process, and the experts offered some very discouraging comments on the state it was in and how many flushes it had left, but these details will be presented in the monthly Officer's Report.

Midday a crew from the Park Service came down to clear the iron bridge and its steps of snow and ice. Not having seen this before, an effort was made to go chat them up. They also could not remember ever doing this task before, so a point was made that soooooo many people accessed the towpath using the bridge that it was hoped today's visit would not be the only one.

Tuesday -- January 22, 2001 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.9     Water Temperature: 32

Gosh... how we have longed for this... a day with no continuing adventure/crisis... a day when one must search for words to fill this space, and the most exciting thing to report is that the male goldfinches are beginning to change from their winter plumage and turn gold.

Wednesday -- January 24, 2001 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.1     Water Temperature: 32

Your Caretaker reported for jury duty this day and left the ferry locked up.

Today's encounter with the Montgomery County judicial bureaucracy confirms an observation made during the Florida recount... that were the health of the Republic to be judged by the competence and dedication of people at the local government level, at least in these two jurisdictions, it would be adjudged to be in its prime.

Departing early this morning one was reminded that the iron bridge over the towpath and the pedestrian overpass over the Clara Barton Parkway are themselves in two jurisdictions. Whereas the iron bridge was clean and cleared as reported on Monday... the pedestrian overpass had not been touched since the last snow and was still covered with dangerous, slippery ice this morning.

Thursday -- January 25, 2001 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.0     Water Temperature: 33

The geese are back as this thaw continues. Last evening they came in from the south at dusk... gaggle after gaggle. There must have been at least six gaggles of maybe 25-30 birds each, but most departed the next morning. It looked like a migration, what with so many, but that is hard to credit this early in the season. Surely they are just restless as they probe the northern extent of a warm air mass.

The ducks, however, are here to stay. They showed up last week as soon as there was open water in the ice and their numbers have grown. When we had ice we had gulls scattered about it during the days. Again, the gulls just seem to be hanging out and it was impossible to observe them actually doing anything, like feeding or mating. As the amount of open water increased, so did the numbers of ducks. As the amount of ice diminished, so did the numbers of gulls. When there were only a few pieces of ice, the gulls would gather in small flocks and be communal and one could paddle very close to them and be ignored... unlike the ducks, who have a personal comfort radius of about 50 yards. But then, the shared collective consciousness of gulls does not contain the same dark dream of predator humans and their shotguns.

Friday -- January 26, 2001 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.9     Water Temperature: 33

An example of how the towpath is always busy... last night at 2100 hrs there were four cyclists heading for Georgetown... in 30-degree weather. Go figure!! There are regular cyclists in the evening, as even in the winter there are at least two commuters who are returning home almost every night around 1800 hrs.

Today Captain John Matthews came down with Arturo Fuentes to dig up and survey the sewer line from the quarters to the septic tank. John brought a transit so that elevation readings could be taken on the pipe every ten feet or so, and it was determined that in fact the drop was adequate. Following this, Arturo was set to digging holes for the foundation for the addition to the caretaker's quarters.

During the excavations we ran into an old foundation, possibly of the old building that was on the spot before the 1936 flood. There were also broken bits of an old toilet and a milk bottle that seemed from the 1930's.

Saturday -- January 27, 2001 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.8     Water Temperature: 33

We have had our first hint of spring: today the first daffodils stuck their heads above ground. There are other bulblets also with tiny shoots appearing... I think they are spring beauties but cannot be sure. What is sure is that although generally not seen, the geese are back and the morning ritual with the goose poop scooper on the floats is resumed.

Monday -- January 29, 2001 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.6     Water Temperature: 34

Cardinals are finally coming to the hanging feeder outside the window for the first time since we have been here. Birds are our main company down here in the winter as they are literally, aside from the squirrels, the only activity... the only things moving around. Well... maybe not the only thing... some mysterious nighttime visitor went through the trash can on the porch looking for food, but found nothing as that can is only for trash and not for garbage. A large and distinguished looking scat (poo-poo) was left on the front stairs to the Clubhouse, but could not be identified from the field guide.

Tuesday -- January 30, 2001 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.5     Water Temperature: 36

We have received mail from Jennifer Esch to the effect that again this year she has volunteered to coordinate Sycamore Island as a site during the 13th Annual Potomac Watershed cleanup to be held on April 7. Last year approximately 20 Sycamoreans turned out for what was a fun and satisfying event. We must be mindful of the date when scheduling the spring Workfest, as last year it was originally planned for 15 April but had to be postponed to 15 April.

Wednesday -- January 31, 2001 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.3     Water Temperature: 37

Loud... it's that time of year again when it gets cacophonous down here when the sun comes up and the geese start in. This morning they seemed to be arguing with the crows. The Romans used to have a festival in which they paraded a garlanded goose to celebrate a famous victory. It seems that while the watchdogs slept on a foggy dawn the sneaky Gauls almost got close enough to carry the gates of Rome, and disaster was averted only because disturbed geese gave the alarm. Thereafter, to commemorate the day the geese were celebrated and ten dogs were crucified.

Today's NOAA river forecast predicts hazardous river levels at Little Falls on Thursday... stay tuned.