MAY 2002

Wednesday -- May 1, 2002 -- The Club is CLOSED
Water Level at Little Falls: 6.4     Water Temperature: 58

The Island is closed because of high water and river levels are forecast to be above 5 feet and thus officially hazardous through Friday. With Thursday's rains expected to drop an inch into the watershed... this weekend's Workfest is very iffy.

This morning we had just finished reading an e-mail report of people using the rope swing late yesterday afternoon (the river was a dangerous 6.5 feet at the Little Falls gauge) when sounds of loud motors were heard on the river. Four powered zodiacs were on the river, at least three of them from the Cabin John River Rescue squad. One hopes these things are not related.

Thursday -- May 2, 2002 -- The Club is CLOSED
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.6     Water Temperature: 59

The river is rising from last night's rains... Saturday morning the river is forecast to be almost 6 feet at the Little Falls gauge... so the Island will be closed and the Spring Workfest is officially postponed by the Captain. The river is expected to be above officially hazardous levels for several days and it is not now known when the Island will re-open.

This morning there was great excitement as we went out to prepare for the morning commute of the Caretaker's Wife and saw that the high water had receded so much during the night that we did not have to wade out to get the ferry. The river level had dropped to 5.6 and thus just within the margin of safety to use the hand pulled ferry. Having had to dress up for professional reasons... the Caretaker's Wife was especially relieved to avoid a wet canoe ride in the rain to get to the towpath. We little noticed the freshening wind from downriver... and it was not until we got mid-river that we realized we were in trouble. Usually in high water the ferry can be maneuvered and "crabbed" at a 45-degree angle to the current and the full force of the fast river is avoided. This morning the wind from downriver was so strong as to keep the rear of the ferry from trailing in the current and the full body of the ferry at a right angle to the full force of the river... and getting the ferry across the racing water and back without losing it was a close run thing.

Yet again the river serves as a continuing teacher. Although the river can display many aspects... one should never forget that it deserves constant respect and attention as a "Force of Nature." Farmers and other country folk live in intimate contact with, and awareness of, the forces of nature... but those of us herded into large urban reservations by commercial forces frequently spend our time shuttling back and forth between climate controlled boxes... and Nature is something we must go out of our way to seek. Usually we are surprised... delighted... and awed to discover Nature while she is being "forceful"... but also generally clueless that the margins of safety can be much less than modern life prepares us for. Last week there was some second-guessing because the Captain canceled the Spring Workfest when the river was at 4.8. Today was a lesson regarding the big difference a small detail could make in the margins of safety... such as... wind direction. Today a professional ferryman was humbled at 5.6. Last week the Captain made the right call at 4.8.

The Log should report that yesterday at 1700 hrs teens were yet again swimming in the river while it was dangerously high and fast... 6.1 at the Little Falls gauge. This time they were swimming from the towpath ferry landing... where a "No Swimming" sign is visible because someone drowned there in low water a few years ago. One wondered what they were thinking... but when they went to leave it could be seen they were unsteadily carrying lots of beer... and obviously not thinking at all.

Friday -- May 3, 2002 -- The Club is CLOSED
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.2     Water Temperature: 60

Tomorrow's Workfest activity has been cancelled because of the forecast high water. Stay tuned for rescheduling!

Saturday -- May 4, 2002 -- The Club is CLOSED
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.1     Water Temperature:

The Workfest is postponed... probably until next Saturday... watch this space!

Last night the river was still rising at Harper's Ferry... and that water surge will work its way downriver today. The Island will open later in the day if the level drops below 5.0 and all upriver gauges are falling.

Last night the Big Beaver had waited as I stopped to talk to the geese... and then startled me as he calmly resumed eating when I resumed my approach, moving into activity so as to signal his presence... such that I not inadvertently enter his intimate space. We were only parted by a dozen spaces and I was honored he felt comfortable enough to resume eating in my presence. Of course... he had nothing to fear... being as big as any large dog with short legs and obviously believing himself to be the dominant species on the Island.

He was grazing on herbaceous perennials as though they were salad... eating them like asparagus by chomping from the tip down... baby asters and milkweed... the latter surprising because it is noted for being toxic. After he ambled off I walked over to inspect the area he had just appropriated as his own buffet and realized that for years I have seen such grazings but had never understood what they were. The joy of such epiphanies is always followed by the depressing and humbling realization of how little of what is seen is actually understood.

Monday -- May 6, 2002 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.6     Water Temperature: 62

He knew he was in real trouble as soon as he said it. And we are talking big trouble... the "go to your room without dinner" kind of trouble. It had started innocently enough... a stroll before dinner. But suddenly... a crow swooped down and carried off a gosling that had wandered away from the main gosling herd. There was honking and squawking and goose general alarm noise and the Caretaker's Wife was off like a shot! My God... it was a real life burglary in process. It was all the Caretaker could do to keep up as she "vaulted" tree trunks in pursuit. It was a vision to behold... not even Hill Street Blues could portray such an adrenaline rush in the pursuit of a villain... and the kidnapper had good reason to fear as the Caretaker's Wife chased the poor crow from tree to tree, demanding that the hapless gosling be dropped in a tone that on the streets would surely be translated as "stop or I'll shoot!"

Finally, by tree number three the crow got smart and realized he was dealing with an avenging angel... a certified force of nature... and wisely ditched the poor gosling as he fled behind some dense leaf cover. The rescue effort then became a search effort... but despite lengthy efforts... the dropped gosling could not be located in the lush foliage. That was when the Caretaker's words mindlessly escaped: "Well... crows gotta eat too."

Fortunately... he was only sentenced to review the lines from The Fools Prayer :

The ill-timed truth we might have kept-
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?
The word we had not sense to say-
Who knows how grandly it had rung?

By the way... today is listed on our calendar as Nurses Day!! Find one and hug them. You can be sure The Caretaker's Wife will find some waiting on the ferry for her return tonight!

Tuesday -- May 7, 2002 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.3     Water Temperature: 64

This morning on the way to work the Caretaker's Wife startled a small herd of deer on the towpath. They will find someplace to lie up during the day to hide from the multitudes using the towpath... and if possible this will also be downwind so as to not draw the attention of unleashed dogs. Deer are great swimmers and regularly visit the Island. We have even seen them in mid-river heading for Virginia.

With the goslings for the most part hatched, the territorial instinct is in abeyance and the geese are recombining into their gaggles. One advantage is that the geese have figured out organized daycare, as the goslings are then combined into one large group and one couple designated to watch. This allows the others to be about their favorite pass time... trimming the grass. In the evening they will break down into family groups again.

Hatching seems earlier this year and started early last week... and there was considerable conversation about whether or not certain of the various nests would hatch before the river rose to wash out or at least submerge them with chilled water. Each year there are usually casualties, almost as though the goose gods must pay tithe to the river gods... like a connection fee to Mother Nature. But we were surprised that the number in daycare rose from 8 to 14, implying that at least two sets of unhatched eggs survived the high water.

Wednesday -- May 8, 2002 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.1     Water Temperature: 64

Water levels are rising upriver, and Members should be mindful that the Island will likely be closed again this weekend.

A duck egg was found on one of the paths, holed and empty and clearly the discarded remains of someone's dinner. Three such goose eggs have been found this year, but always the goose nests from which they were stolen were seen and known of beforehand. Now the ducks are doing their thing, but the foliage in now so lush and early and high on the Island their nests could be hidden anywhere... or everywhere... and not seen. Of course, not the wood ducks. Their ducklings have been hatched and in the water for weeks... although not seen in these recent days of higher water.

A wonderful heritage of our Potomac River is that it is still a "natural" river... un-tamed, un-dammed, and still able to display the cyclical ebbs and flows of changing water levels necessary to nourish the riparian fringe. So much life exists at and depends upon this ever-changing margin where water meets land. The floods that scour the river periodically of... for instance, the willow grass the fish need and hide in... are nonetheless a necessary part of the health maintenance process of the river. Those rivers that man has changed for his convenience have had their riparian margins reduced and have thus surrendered part of their health... and diversity.

Thursday -- May 9, 2002 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.0     Water Temperature: 66

It is the sort of gray, damp, overcast day that makes one wonder what is going to happen weather-wise and how much water may fall out of the sky. Of course... down here the obligatory instant next question is: "what is the river going to do?"

Fortunately, it is possible to look at a real time snap shot of just what exactly is going on with the river upstream... not just generally, but specifically at many discrete points along the river.

From the Sycamore Island web page one can click onto "Weather and River Conditions." These seven links are very interesting to people whose lives are somewhat weather driven... and to people who live on Islands in the middle of a river... the three river links are crucial. The USGS has done an incredible job of connecting their river monitoring gauges to the internet and thus making real time river conditions available on-line.

For instance, one of the river links on the web page goes directly to the gauge at Little Falls. One can see a value for the actual water volume passing this place on the river... the current water level... the water temperature (if one is metrically inclined)... and most importantly... whether or not the line on the water level graph is going up or down... and at what rate!!!

Another link provides access to the same information from all of the river gauges in the river basin. This allows one to see where upstream the river is rising or falling... and how quickly. The crest of any flood can thus be tracked in real time as it moves downstream.

But the first link we check is the river forecast report. Roughly every six hours the National Weather Service hydrologic team at Sterling, VA, posts a hydrological summary in report format that lists the current status of selected Potomac River gauges and the values of any changes (plus or minus) during the preceding 6 hours. At approximately 1030 hrs each morning a Daily River and Lake Summary with a forecast report is published that includes a forecast of river conditions and levels based upon the collected data from all river gauges and how much water has recently fallen or is forecast to fall across the river basin. This morning the report did not appear until 1057 hrs because the recent fickle rainy conditions must have made any analysis tricky. But consider... someone wishing to make a decision about whether or not the river will be safe or hazardous for recreational use on Saturday morning can see that the forecast level for Little Falls is 4.5 feet at the Little Falls gauge. The hazardous level defined for Little Falls (and hence Sycamore Island) is 5.0 feet.

Still... check this space tomorrow morning to confirm. There is a reason many people think fickleweather is one word.

Friday -- May 10, 2002 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.1     Water Temperature: 65

Single geese always stand out at this time when the gaggles re-combine... and always on the edge of the herd. This morning there was a forlorn male... honking out as one of a pair calling its mate home... only in this case he seemed to be an older widower.

River conservation is not a question or conflict of resources... it is a question of values. Should one generation fail to win the field... or even to stem the tide... then the primary responsibility is to safeguard and transmit those values through the next generation. Even if all we can aspire to is to stand as Horatio at the bridge... it is still we who must empower the next generation to wrest salvation from human greed and ignorance on behalf of Mother Earth. Some spiritual disciplines teach that greed is simply ignorance.

The problem is not resources... but values: Teach The Children !!!

Monday -- May 13, 2002 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.5     Water Temperature: 69

Fisherpersons take heart... many sounds of fish splash now compete with birdsong for attention. It is possible to sit by the river and frequently see fish ejected from the surface of the water. The large numbers of cormorants also testify to the numbers of fish... and consequently... to the presumed health of the river. Even in this time of high and fast water one can hear the telltale sounds of cormorants taking flight when their wings beat the water during those few moments of their conversion from submarine to airplane.

Saturday night we saw what seemed to be the first seasonal night-lights of fishermen along the riverbank. Recent immigrants frequently come down to the river at night to fish for food. One imagines that they do not think of themselves as sneaking into a federal park at night but come here from places where rivers are not yet "protected" behind walls of regulation as though in some outdoor museum. In a sense these folks are closer to the natural aspect of the river than their urban neighbors and their appreciation of the river is more instinctual and less learned.

However... checking out the group with the lights from the anonymity of the Island foliage it seemed they were not recent immigrant fisherpersons but mysterious shadows around a light being used like a campfire... fishermen do not sit with their backs to the river... and the first instinct was that I was looking at homeless folk about the business of bedding down.

Wednesday -- May 15, 2002 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.1     Water Temperature:

The Island is beautiful and accessible today. Come on down.

Friday -- May 17, 2002 -- The Club is OPEN
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.0     Water Temperature:

Tomorrow's Workfest is on... so come at 0930 hrs and be ready!!