David and Sea Langston Sitomer were relief caretakers while Joe Hage was on vacation.
Wednesday -- August 6, 2003
I arrived yesterday afternoon about three and ferried Christian over. Joe had left around noon sporting a bad back and had her cover the Island until I arrived. I had to be in Superior Court DC, copying a dissent by Bill Douglass. How appropriate on the Island, that rare private property left in the Park. But, if you have to work, what better place? All in all, I'd rather be a SI caretaker than in court. I hope Joe likes it out there. I have long thought this the best job in Washington. Sidhartha's last stand. Writer's paradise. The Emperor's Club: "a day begun paddling etc...."
It was Bill Douglass who took the hike on the Towpath in the fifties which was critical, as legend goes, to keeping the road builders off the canal and led to the establishment of the Park. But for him, I might be sitting here listening to the roar of traffic on the bank opposite. I also remember SDS marchers fouling the government's attempt to bridge Three Sister's Island. Twice blessed. Douglass was the first public figure I ran into when I first came to DC in the 60's. He was dining at Chez Pierre with his new bride. Perhaps that dates it better. When Justice Douglass went on vacation during the summers, in Goose Prairie, Oregon, I think, he went so deep in the woods that if a litigant wanted to catch him on circuit, he had to convince the state police to go looking. I have always thought that if BD could do that , little old me shouldn't even leave my court a forwarding address. But times have changed.
First time I saw Sycamore was in 1967 when a GWU professor friend and I were paddling from Harper's Ferry to G'town. Sea wife, daughter Suzanna, and I were members of SI Club in the 70' and 80's, I think, until a decade or so ago. Paul Sailer, last heard from California, sponsored us. We finally dropped out after becoming too involved in Delaware Beach Houses, Vermont summer camps, and Mid Hudson Valley Sufi retreats to justify paying the ever-escalating dues. Had I only known how long the waiting list would be. I think I remember meeting Frank Davis once and definitely spent memorable hours with KF round the circle of warmth. One of my first work fest tasks was to help tear down the last of the old cabins on the north? end of the island. One of my last was to help Ken dismantle his houseboat a la Dr. Strangelove. Sad tasks both and not ones I'm proud of. But decisions were collective/personal, there was no taking the houseboat over the dam, and I just couldn't imagine coming down here to retie houseboat ropes in the middle of a flood. My first memory of Ken was his building a computer. Now I see he doesn't even list an email address. Someone say hello for me and thanks. I stopped by the Island just once during Doc's reign and then again this spring when I asked Joe if he had summer vacation plans. And so it goes.
Friday Night -- August 8, 2003
Must have made 15 trips with the ferry today. Twenty some since I came. Who said the Island isn't used? Three women friends canoed up river, young mother and girl child hung out a while, a latina and her ninjos, wanna be ninjas. Jordan fisherman and ancient paddler. My daughter Suzanna came through for an afternoon swim on her way to Cleveland. A young beau come through, pre-announced by phone, to show his lady a favorite haunt. They didn't stay long. A Dad with two young girls and a dog rousted me out for trick or treat. Not members. Assorted teens for a quiet swim. Nothing like the teen rope swingers upriver of Rupert. Leaving beer cans, causing the same old troubles teens have been causing there for about a hundred years. Eluding a waddle of Park Rangers and floating immersibles to Rupert during a Code Orange. On our land. Right under the noses of the spymasters across the river.
C wife crossed over about seven after a few weeks of DC grand jury. We sat by the moonlit river in a steady overtone of cicadae and listened for the off tone grackle of night blue heron and the leap slap of bass. We talked about doing the Douglass anniversary walk next spring,
The proximity of Mars, the redundancy of SARS….
Even Iraq drowned in the quiet of the river.
Good night, Moon.
Sunday -- August 10, 2003
After a slow ferry day, a pm lawyer's meeting and an inspired am CONCLUSION, Sunday was a great long day of conversations with relief caretakers, Wayne Limberg (Russia Desk at CIA and State), a fine paddle with Sea up river and home, and the McNultys (lawyer, Wm and Mary archeologist, Harvard architect, JCBrown group, and both Elder Community Devel. NP Org. with board ) . I still cannot find the key to sell S.I.T- Shirts. While sitting on the dock with Wayne, out of the corner of my eye, some cat like black loping critter frolicked across the lawn. I have no idea what that was.
I do now think I know how to edit Blythe Dutchess.
Tuesday morning, early -- August 12, 2003
Dreams, schemes, in betweens.
We let our membership lapse about a decade ago, because $200 a year seemed too much to pay when we were making $25,000 a year and maintaining both Kilbourne House, 69 Henlopen, Delaware, and were trekking off half the summer to F&W in Vermont and Omega in Dutchess County while trying to save enough money for what became Oberlin Conservatory. But because we had a residence in DC, we could not take inactive status at Sycamore Island. The lady president of this place thinks that we all have to pay for our life style choices and my idea of a nunc pro tunc senior membership for Sea wont fly. Kids are so much trouble.
We've been here a week now and it isn't nearly enough. I don't just want to visit I want to live here. Maybe if I pay Joe a few grand to take a hike and a few more if he can get us into this job. Or maybe we take care of the ferry and a few minor chores and he does the hard stuff the young stuff on a handsome hourly. Yes, that would be just grand. Or maybe they would let us build a life estate duplex shanty for overnights on the upriver, end of the Island, in three high tree.. Right.
I met McNulty's neighbor last night, the five week interim caretaker until they found Joe last fall. Young kid without Joe's got it together for my kids pizzazz. He came by after dusk for a head clearing paddle. I asked him what had been on his mind and he said he was doing a few part time Montgomery College courses. I told him that I was fifty-six and hadn't yet figured out what the fuck to do with my life either. He asked my name again, we shook hands and I ferried him back to the main land. Continental service.
I spent ten hours yesterday finishing the immunity first draft and several more today on the attorney-client relationship takings and general editing. Sea read me some funny parts of they shoot canoes don't they. She really enjoyed herself. Al and Susan might show in a few hours for a pajama party. Tomorrow I go off Island for a three o clock before Judge Vincent, to check the mail, a little shopping and back again before the monthly meeting. Less than a week to go. It's not enough.
My writing is breaking through here. You're not getting it much, but in the brief I have to write for Court. It is in opposition to a motion to dismiss. I have to write as if I might never get another chance. It has to be poetry as well as law. Notes from Sycamore Island. In today's portion I got to write an homage to a young attorney some twenty years ago with a slightly crazy sense of justice, disbarred on a point of honor. It was all about a premature slander charge against the court and rather than answering the charge, rather than admit or deny that lies were told , discretion exercised, the court hid behind an occasional common law but absolute immunity. What a low show of character and law.
Years after he was gone and by most forgotten:
"The last three times I saw John Stanton he was running. Fleeing from justice still. Gump legged through the eternal concrete forests of the city. His will.
Jim Crow aint dead he's just laid low by Nile Fever.
So, I said. I like this river, boss. You let me stay here a while.
No, I'm not too old. Well, maybe we could split the job. Jack of Ferries; Master carpenter. That sort of thing. Miss Sea can cook and clean.
You know I think this is the greatest job in the city.
Don't tell Joe? Oh, I think he knows.
If not he wouldn't deserve to be here. You wouldn't have hired him.
And you? Coming to a mid august business meeting and no one swims?
Did you see that moon?
Why are you here in your late summer beans?
When there's Midnight paddeling to be done.
No one can answer my questions? I get telephone numbers.
I get people I haven't even seen.
That dock needs -pulling; the ferry pontoon will have to be carried onto the canoe dock again. Three more men. Four hours. Lets go fishin then.
I've been so busy I haven't read the archives yet.
I d love to live here through the winter. Sea wife too.
A winter of retirement not discontent. Writing. Editing my book. Baking Bread.
Sending naked ladies through the either. Flower drum song.
I'll pay my way in candle lit dinners for the board?
Rice and Rat-tat-tui stuffed and baked in tri-colored peppers. And dipped olive garlic bread. Focaccio. Lamb from the spit. Dripping velvet. Sparkling apple cider on ice chilled glass. Oak Roasted Corn and Peach crisp cobbler with hand cranked coffee ice cream au rhum. DARK. Cruzan.
Poetry from the fiord. Make you an offer you cannot refuse.
Can we have music here and long white tapered candles held by whiter gloves.
Can next mid summers night dream be orchestrated?
With a central casting Oberon and the Titania of all our dreams.
Slow Wall moving between lovers? Puck in the fireflied bushes?
Heron dressed up as ladies in waiting for the moon.
To sleep, perhaps to dream.
Aye that's the rub.
I've done that before.
Caretakers bold relief.
Willing suspension of disbelief.
Late evening, the shore.
Thanks, cranks, river banks.
Gentle whispers in the room.
Occasional jets washing the final pattern.
The moon full rising through the leaves.
Cicadiae rhythms in a dark wood.
Thursday Morning -- August 14, 2003
The Ferry's tie up on the East bank chain is missing! How in hell could that happen? Swim and Social docks 2B cleaned, repositioned. Docks Done and chain found attached. DUH.
Two young inner tube interlopers suddenly appear on the swim dock. Had I, in a senior moment, forgotten when I brought them over on the ferry? Sea wife says unlikely. She still has confidence in me, dear woman.
I swim out to them, lest they float down stream and be eaten by the dam without further warning. AU students: the guy just back from South Africa and Spain, the lithesome lass, from Cleveland and NYC. She's been student teaching in DC public elementary schools and wants to make a career of it, God bless her. We talk of trips to Europe and the Middle East. Two weeks before school starts again. They ask about the club and about a good place for camping. "Well just about anyplace a few yards off the tow path for about a hundred miles ought to do," I reply. "But if you're looking fer a more official spot with a good river rat cracker bar restaurant close to hand try Paw Paw. You got a car?" Yes. "It's a nice drive up there too." It turns out they know the up river rope-swingers, used to buy them beer. Sorry about the mess. They want to know why the rope tree was cut down while they were out of town, out of country. Patriot Act, I tell them. Times they are a changing.
We had five official visitors into the early evening. For the daily paddle, to fix the faux birch bark canoe, for the last swim of the day, to watch the evening shades fall gently over the river. Now, I know why each came separately, but why did we have to make four separate ferry trips in 20 minutes for their going home. Talk to each other people, don't you know The West Wing is now on Bravo from 7-8 p.m.? Bus leaves on the half hour. You turned those lights on; you turn them off. Livery wears a smile.
The law is going to kill me sure. I thought I would run the tow path while I was here. Hasn't happened. Instead I am chained to the computer writing my brief, struggling to corral bits and pieces of written inspiration into a coherent whole. Was I ever better at this than now? I don't remember. Doubt it. I will need another 12 days here when the brief is done and filed. I will run the tow path. I will swim to Virginia. I will canoe to the Monocacy. Leap tall buildings. Before I die. You'll see.
Asleep by 10; up at 6.
Friday -- August 15, 2003
Wrote and edited until noon. What a pleasant surprise! Georgette Miller came packing a picnic lunch and a trim bathing suit. I hadn't seen her in a year. We talked, swam, paddled. We finally saw the rope swing tree, cut down in its prime. A criminal act of cowardice. Insurance men and lawyers will sanitize the world into a boring flat land. She left at dusk with the fee agreement. Well, let me think about that. No Sea, she should be jealous.
Saturday -- August 16, 2003
Bass Derby? Carp shoot's more like it. How's the water now? Like the Verizon telephone man we scanned each inch and inlet of the river for days looking for signs of clarity and some promise of bass.
George McCulsky is a national treasure and knows how to run a fishing Event without necessarily too many fish. I mean this guy and his wife and kids brought a lot of stuff, food, prizes, fishing poles, barbeque gear, you name it. Three trips down from the parking lot! Looking a little slow there, George, on that last climb down. Not taking my bait and without further comment, he pounds the official "Go fishing Derby" sign into the ground near the ferry stop. He even brought the hammer! And unrelated adults actually were lured in to joining. Teams of mature fisher men and women paddled off up river earnestly in search of remarkable fish.
Winer caught the first majestic cat in muddy waters. Green canoe lingering off the down river tuft of grass past the swimming dock, rod bent and straining in a hopeful arc. But did it wiggle and thrust? Was there something there? He played it for all it was worth. No, wait. NNAW, he was clearly just caught on bottom? Well, I dunno. No, he's got nothing; it's all show. Well, now who was towing who? Oh, you see, dear, the canoe is not moving with the current, that's how you can tell. All he's got is Island. Yes? No! If there were a fish there, movement would be relative to the .... Yes!!!! had he indeed hooked leviathon? Yes! Without bringing this bewiskered beauty to the surface, Winer, that jack, nay king of all Island trades, hiker, biker, publisher, theatrical producer of cats and fisher of men, grandly towed the beast, still underwater, unseen, to the kid-filled social dock. They gathered all round, vying for the right to see, to touch. To feel what fishermen feel. Don't touch him, said a particular father. You might get hooked yourself. Aw, dad. I just got to. Another helpful adult offered forceps on a chain to surgically remove the red feathered lure from the cat's, broad grimacing lip. Pictures were taken. Oh, give me a set of heavy plyers. We'll nail him to a tree and strip the hide away for the sweet flesh beneath. Ok, if you want to eat him. Otherwise it's all catch and release. Right boys and girls? And so it was. Catch and release at least a few more times that whole day. More cats, no bass. Muddy rivers. The upstream boaters come home only with lists of birds. It was a good bird day. Red Tailed hawks, Comorants. Osprey. Was that an eagle? We'll get some next year.
A dad and his boys stepped on the ferry carrying a few long and narrow cats on a stringer and I thought they wanted to go to the other side. I did. There were five kyakers over there, coming down the steps, in little multi colored plastic odd angle shaped vehicles, snug lifejackets and tight uncomfortable helmits. Like little ladybugs, shells attached. The sixth had already gone boldly straight down for Brookmont Dam and I wanted to talk the others into looking before they leaped. "We here on the Island here don't think that it's a very good idea to go over that dam, you know." The second paddler circled the channel nervously and then waddled back up the stairs and with the others down to the pumping station to have a closer look. But, what did I know? I had acted on reputation and urban legend only. Was it five drowned marines in a raft from Quantico? Or had they been death obsessed gravediggers from Ft Meyers, their fate preordained, embedded in their assignment? Is character fate? KF had told me years ago that he was witness to their drowning. Caught in the J backwash but safe in the eddys, just circling, going no where, before the choppers arrived. It was the down wash from the props what got them throwed in the water and killed them, Ken said.
Hey we're moving. Half way over I realized that my passengers had boarded the ferry just as convenient place to release their string of cats and didn't want to go over at all. Well, shy, why didn't you all say something?
Back at the screened porch, I asked around for the truth of the thing. A veteran grandmother paddler told me that the AC of E had filled the damn with boulders, and created a fish ladder on the tow path side of the dam, that it was safe enough to run. I had heard that years ago , but my instincts kicked in and I had warned them off. I had never gone down to the island to see for myself. They never came back. When they saw their fearless leader again down stream, fer sure he told them that they had wussed out. For the rest of the summer, while running the slolams, he would remind of their courage.
A man's gotta do what a mans gotta do. I went back to my brief.
Time for Burgers, coke and prizes: brown balsa wood cigar boxes full of brightly colored lures, spinners and fishing widgets, handed out with great coffee and chocolate milk cups. The first . The biggest. The most. The best effort. The cutest angler. The last. Not the least. Applause. Applause. A good time had by all.
I found Michelle waiting at the park bench, ready to go home before the others. We had a talk about what she liked to do. Swimming, she said. We talked some about her school in Rockville. I said I still remembered my sixth grade teacher and his social dancing classes. I told her about a fishing trip to the Thousand Islands I had taken with my best friend, Big Al, and my daughter, Suzannna , when she was about Michelle's age. We loaded up. Just as George and family stepped off the ferry, homeward bound, a light rain started. I hadn't seen it coming. Felt nice and cleared the muggy air. Perfect timing.
Sunday Morning, Two days to go.
Up a 5 I write my Island notes for yesterday.
I am now treating my occasionally sensitive and swim infected left ear. For once, I am prepared with all the drugs. No swimming today. But, I am learning THINGS.
I haven't run the tow path once. The humidity has my smokers lungs raspier thicker than they get on shore in Mt. Pleasant. We haven't played enough. I haven't read all the Island literature in the club house.
The morning relief caretaker came. We had a good talk, his wife and kids came. I made foccaccio bread. They left while I fell asleep in the middle Atlantic sailing the 14 foot Tinkerbelle to Falmouth, England, surrounded by porpoise, Portuguese Men of War, Russian trawlers and American subs all participating in some delusional military exercise. Or was it? I watched a little golf. Tiger had disappeared and then Mathew Brady debated attorney Drummond until the power went in East Tennessee. Survival of the fittest. Not a terrorist event. Just some power grid after effects of Enron and the Texas Rangers taking over California. Who's next?
The afternoon caretaker didn't come but I met the father of some Oberlin kids daughter Suzanna had told me about. Back to sleep. Sea wife ran the ferry, made the hamburgers, cut the watermelon, poured the wine. A long night's sleep.
Time to clean up and go.
More foccaccio. This time for Joe.
I will leave my notes from Sycamore Island on your machine, in case I blow the email sent and the disc taken home. I have left some instructions from the Washington Post in case the worm remains on your internet connection.
Ms Cunningham, the sycamore pres, if I remember her name rightly, said that you get a paid vacation and there is a fund for relief caretakers. My annual income is such that I wouldn't mind getting that, although I recognize the value of things we have consumed here. I lost a hook and sinker, for example. I bought you a black ink cartridge, for another example and will leave some food and cash. The bulb went out in the living room fan. We could have cleaned better. Sorry. I didn't mow the lawn. But it looks fine. I'll be by in a day or two with olive oil, a stick of butter. A six pack. But, let me know how I make that claim. I understand the treasurer is off in South Africa or some such place. .
Anyway, Joe, thanks for everything.
This was special . Thank you. Say, if you ever need coverage here again or want to move to New Mexico. Give us a heads up. Twenty minutes notice and I'm out of law, on the Island. There are some chocolate candy kisses in the freezer. Thank the Board for me too.
Do what you think best with my Notes from Sycamore Island. 7-18 August 2003.
Fantastic. David and Sea.