Friday -- September 1, 2006
Water Level at Little Falls: 2.8     Water Temperature: 82

There is a very good chance that the Regatta will have to be cancelled. Call the Island or check this site on Sunday to be sure.

Sunday -- September 3, 2006
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.2     Water Temperature: 82

The heavy rainfall missed us again and there is no danger of flooding. This is good news, it means that the Annual Sycamore Regatta can take place as planned. The bad news is that the river never even rose above five feet, depriving me of the day off I thought I was going to have today. Oh well, the sun is out and it's a beautiful day to be on the Island. See you tomorrow at the Regatta, it starts at 1:30 pm

Friday -- September 8, 2006
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.9     Water Temperature: 72

What a contrast this week has been compared to last week. Last week the sun was shining, the water was clear and warm and the Island was a very popular end-of-summer place to go. It was one of the busiest weeks ever with fishermen and swimmers and picnickers flocking to the ferry. This week however has been cool and rainy and the river is an uninviting shade of brown. Everyone is busy again and it suddenly feels a lot less like summer and a lot more like fall.

I'm not complaining though, when it's pouring rain I'm much less hesitant to leave the island and it's nice to go out and not have to worry about the ferry. On tuesday morning I had to bike up to lockhouse eight, The Potomac Conservancy asked me if I would check on the cellar there. It has a tendancy to flood and needs to be pumped out from time to time. Happily the cellar was dry and I got back on my bike to head home. On the way I crossed over Cabin John Creek and I noticed that the creek was up and looking perfect for paddling. The sight of that creek, muddy though it was, bouncing down those rocks got me excited and I began to devise a plan.

Monday -- September 11, 2006
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.9     Water Temperature: 72

We heard the owls last night and there were two large hawks on the island the other day. I knew there was some kind of bird on the island because there was this screeching sound like the hawk calls in the old westerns but in rapid succession. I grabbed the binoculars and headed up island toward the noise. The sound was very close as I crouched behind a big log-jam but for the life of me I couldn't find a bird. A bird which by this time I was sure must be a young osprey out of the nest calling for food. I moved to climb over the logs and a huge red-shouldered hawk flew from a low perch just twenty yards in front of me. I could tell instantly that it was not an osprey plus it had a dead rodent in it's talons, not a fish. I followed this bird with my binoculars to a higher perch at the tip of the island but the screeching was still coming from a tree nearby. Finally it swooped down from my left and I got a good look at the immature red-shouldered with its three-foot wing span and its broad tail. It quickly flew to Ruppert's Island and disappeared into the trees. I turned my attention back to the adult with the meal in it's talons and it soon followed it's offspring into the trees of Rupperts Island.

Tuesday -- September 12, 2006
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.2     Water Temperature: 71

Last Tuesday I paddled down Cabin John Creek.
It wasn't until after five o'clock that I got the kids squared away and finally loaded the canoe on to the van. My concern now was would there still be enough water in the creek. The rain had stopped and these small creeks drop really fast. I decided that it was worth checking out. I drove through the wet streets thinking that it was better to have it a little too low rather than too high, especially since this would be my first time on this creek. I'd say it's a stiff class three in the right levels, it's very technical with lots of drops and turns. and besides I'd rather be on a creek as it was going down rather than have it go up while I was on it. My other concern was whether I would be back at Sycamore Island before dark or not, if the creek is too low it could be a long trip. Actually, it was amazing that I made it out the door at all considering all the things that I was worrying about before I left; do I have the skill, which boat should I take, is it safe, should I wear a helmet, how do I get back to my van, will the van be ok where I park it, can I make it through the culvert under the canal. That last one really had me worried. I had tried to scout out the tunnel under the canal earlier but there is no clear view from the shore, plus I had heard that the exit from the tunnel is six inches lower than the entrance, not good. I arrived at the put-in on River Road and found a nice place to leave my van. I walked down to look at the creek, not too scary, no trees rushing by or anything. In fact it looked just barely high enough to float a canoe, perfect. I quickly unloaded the canoe and paddles(I always take an extra). I had my drybag with water, a snack and my headlamp. I also remembered to bring my bailer, which came in handy later in the trip, and, even though the creek was only knee deep, my lifevest.

Cabin John is about ten miles long with head waters in Rockville, Maryland. It drains everything east of Falls road and west of Wisconsin Avenue. Wisconsin Ave. actually follows the ridge that separates this watershed from Rock Creek, whose headwaters are also in Rockville. I canoed the last 2.6 miles of the creek with an average gradient of 37 feet-per-mile and a maximum gradient of 80 fpm.
I carried the canoe, a fourteen foot Old Town, down the newly bulldozed construction road and followed the deep tracks toward the water. I stepped over the erosion control and past the porta-john. They have obviously been working on the sewer lines here and I put-in down river from the large timbers that formed a ford across the creek. I jumped in the boat and as I felt the current push me down hill I remembered another thing that I needed to worry about, strainers. I had hiked this valley before and I knew of one place for sure where there was a tree firmly wedged across the creek,(under the beltway where the pillars rise up sixty feet from the creek bed). There may be others so I proceeded with caution. I emerged from under the River Rd. Bridge as a green-backed heron flew from the bank on my right. I was quickly approaching an island so I followed the heron to the right. It turned out to be the better of the two routes and now I was on my way with a green heron as my guide. The green heron did stay with me the entire trip, doing its awkward takeoff every time I got too close. It would do its chicken-like flight and disappear around a bend until I caught up and scared it again. The canoe was moving pretty fast and it took effort to stay in the deep channels and avoid the rocks. I could see the scars of heavy erosion from the June storm as I skirted along with River Rd. to my left. There where yards of freshly fallen dirt and stone lining the unnaturally high banks. Large healthy trees not only lost their footing but were taken forcibly down stream. It is rare to see a tree across the creek with green leaves but not a bit of soil on its roots. I came to a small strainer as the creek turned to the right and I had to get out and squeeze the boat under a log.

The noise of River Rd. faded as I headed down hill along Seven Locks Rd. I startled some deer and caused a doe and her fawn to make a dash across the creek in front of me. The rain was over now and the sun was making an attempt to penetrate the thick canopy shading the creek. Everything was wet, glistening green except for the creek which was muddy brown. I passed the stone quarry on my right and did the first drop, a two foot ledge under the Seven Locks bridge. I think this ledge is the remains of an old ford that was used to cross the creek before there was a bridge. The river dropped again until I reached some wide riffles that looked like another old ford. I reached the beltway and portaged river right over the remains of the artificial creek bed, (concrete slabs that toppled when the banks were eroded behind them). This spot wasn't so pretty. The canopy was gone, replaced by concrete and steel and the banks were fifteen feet above me with fresh scars of erosion. There was also trash and invasive vines everywhere. I reentered the tunnel of overhanging trees and soon Cabin John was joined by Booze Creek coming in on river left,(maybe named during prohibition). Booze Creek drains NIH and everything east of Burdette Rd. After Booze Creek I enter a gorge where the creek is especially beautiful with rock outcropping jutting right down into the water. The pace picked up here and the last third of the trip was nonstop action.

I tried to catch glimpses of all the beauty around me but my attention was focused mostly on the rocks in front of me. The semi-low water conditions made the run very technical and it was all I could do to find the right route through the barrage of rocks and ledges. My canoe took on some water, mostly by being sideswiped coming off the ledges but I managed to stay upright. Things slowed down and I passed under the Cabin John Parkway. A great blue heron flew up from what looked like another ancient ford and suddenly much of my anxiety melted away. I was in a full sweat now and my shoes and pants were soaked with muddy water. The sun, now low in the sky, cast a strange light onto the scene as I drifted below the Union Arch Bridge high above me. I did my last portage around a log jam under the bridge. I passed a yellow-crowned night heron perched over the creek as I did the last few yards before the canal. I felt very far removed from the commuters passing over me on Clara Barton Parkway as I approached the afore mention tunnel under the canal. I was apprehensive but there seemed to be plenty of headroom and no strainers. When I finally got the angle to look through the tunnel I saw a clear path to the other side, what was I worried about? I coasted through and made a point of looking back up to the towpath to appreciate this reversed perspective, then I set my sights for home.

The sky was an assortment of soft pastel colors when I reached the open waters of the Potomac. The green heron seemed to turn back and head into the interior and I pushed my tired body down river. Doing this last section from the mouth of Cabin John down to Sycamore Island seemed to take even longer than the entire trip down the creek but finally I made it to the ferry and home. I quickly changed my clothes, had a snack, and made plans to bike back to my van. Most of the way back to the van was along the towpath or on bike paths, but there is a section along Seven Locks where I was sure I'd be biking on a narrow road in the dark. I cursed myself for not having lights on my bike, then outfitted my helmet with headlamps, one in front, one in back. My fears were unjustified however, there is a wide sidewalk along Seven Locks Rd. all the way to River. I was back at the van in half an hour, tired but feeling very satisfied. It felt like some sort of rite of passage had been achieved, a new threshold had been crossed.

Monday -- September 18, 2006
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.2     Water Temperature: 71

I got back from a weekend in Minnesota late yesterday afternoon. I was so impressed to find all the life jackets hanging and all the paddles put away, even though it had been a very busy day. Good job everyone.

It was a short trip but I did see the Mississippi river and the Minnesota River. Both rivers were low and speckled with the forms of great egrets and great blue herons.

Today I have a lot of grass-cutting to catch up on.

Tuesday -- September 19, 2006
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.2     Water Temperature: 71

I was pulling the ferry back to the Island after dropping John Matthews when I saw a small bass jump out of the water and onto the shore of the island. I don't know what could have caused it to do that but it managed, after a few seconds, to flap itself back into the river.

I was biking along the towpath this morning when I saw a dozen large carp in the canal. They were hovering together right near the surface. Seeing them made me think of bow-fishing but when I went back an hour later and they were gone.

Wednesday -- September 20, 2006
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.0     Water Temperature: 73

A great egret was fishing near the captains float yesterday. It's graceful, bright white form is a rare sight on the island.

I was just face to face with a doe and her fawn. They crossed the path just before I came down the hill and stopped in the trees long enough for us to stare each other down.

Today I start working on the metal roofs and I'm still looking for volunteers to help me organize the workfest.

Thursday -- September 21, 2006
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.0     Water Temperature: 70

There was a light mist on the water this morning, a sure sign that fall is right around the corner. Suddenly the air is cooler than the river, right now the water temperature is above 70 and the air temperature is below 50.

A red-tailed hawk announced the start of the day as we stood waiting for the school bus in the pre-dawn light. It's loud, high-pitched screeches made me look up from the passing headlights and I caught a glimpse of it's classic shape as it flew across MacArthur toward the river and perched itself in the giant oak tree at the top of the hill.

The wind was blowing up whitecaps on the river yesterday and even blew the shovel off of the swim float. Today looks a little more favorable for paddling.

There was a passing group of eight men from China at the landing yesterday. They thanked me repeatedly when I invited them for a ride on the ferry and were very excited about the chance to visit the island. They had very limited english but I learned that they were from Shanghai. They told me I was fortunate to live in such a palace. They looked around briefly and as we pulled back to the mainland they were blurting out the positive english adjectives that they knew, "good","very good","excellent". We waved goodbye and one said that we would always be friends from this day forward. Another one held up his intertwined fingers and said, "like family". I have friends in Shanghai now.

Friday -- September 22, 2006
Water Level at Little Falls: 2.9     Water Temperature: 69

I had my second cup of coffee of the morning out on the river. I love being in a canoe when there is a thick mist on the water, besides it looked warmer over on the southern shore where the sun was shining.
I had conveniently left a boat tied to the captain's float after my last evening's paddle, so I jumped in and headed toward Virginia. Having a river that is so clear adds another dimension to a morning's excursion, not only do you have the sky, trees and birds to appreciate but also the cliffs, valleys and fishes passing beneath.
Geese flew noisily overhead as a cormorant bobbed up looking like that famous picture of the Loch Ness Monster swimming through the fog. The bright, sun drenched southern shore was alive with the flutterings of song birds and I heard all the usual suspects as I approached; blue jay, cardinal, chickadee, titmouse, carolina wren and a kingfisher. I also saw some olive colored warbler-like thing which made me think that this cold mass of air we're experiencing is forcing some migrants into our area. I had seen my first common mergansers the night before, another sign that migration (meaning good bird watching) season has begun.(Too bad I didn't have my binoculars.)
Paddling back to Sycamore with the sun in my face I witnessed the phenomenon of the diving swallows. I'm sure I've mentioned seeing this before but usually it happens during the fading light of the evening when it's hard to see exactly what's going on. Often times in the evening, after watching the sun dip behind the trees, I'll notice splashes on the water. My first thought of course is that the splashes must be fish jumping since it is impossible to see the swallows flying above the water in the dim light after sunset. But now, in the full light of day I see that it is the swallows skimming the surface that causes these strange breaks on the water. Being in a boat like I was also gave me the opportunity to get a close look as fifty birds swarmed around me like gnats and took turns dipping into the water. Hearing the sound of their wet wings as they flew past made me think that this was more about bathing than about thirst quenching, but who knows.

Sunday -- September 24, 2006
Water Level at Little Falls: 2.9     Water Temperature: 70

I thought, after the chilling temperatures of last week, that our swimming season had come to an abrupt end, but the balmy weather yesterday made the river irresistible. The water was so clear and cold, it reminded me of the lakes in Michigan, wonderful!

There have been no ground hog sightings in a long time. Could it be that we're going to have a winter without those pesky varmints digging under the house?

Monday -- September 25, 2006
Water Level at Little Falls: 2.9     Water Temperature: 70

I hear the hawks everyday now, I'm guessing its the same red-shouldered but some paddlers reported watching a sharp-shined hawk up by Cabin John island on Saturday.

Tuesday -- September 26, 2006
Water Level at Little Falls: 2.9     Water Temperature: 70

In a way, the quality of my life can be gauged by the conditions of the river and right now life is good!

Thursday -- September 28, 2006
Water Level at Little Falls: 2.8     Water Temperature: 70

Last night, just before sunset, a beaver managed to climb up onto the ferry.

Friday -- September 29, 2006
Water Level at Little Falls: 2.8     Water Temperature: 70

Tomorrow I leave for Costa Rica. I'm very excited and I still find it hard to believe that I'm actually going. Mostly I'll be on the Pacific coast but I plan to visit an active volcano on Sunday. I'll be back next Friday. My friend Vanessa will be in charge while I'm gone.

I won't be swimming today, not after last night's muddying thunderstorm.