Tuesday -- February 2, 2010
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.8     Water Temperature: 36

It has just dawned on me, and it is now abundantly clear, why this club, over the last 125 years, has found it necessary and perhaps, even vital, to pay a caretaker a years wages to live and work here. There is just no telling what kind of strange sequence of events will lead to what kind of unusual circumstances in a place like this. I think the forefathers of this club figured out long ago that they needed someone here at all times. There is just no telling' what kind of strange scenarios this river and this weather can create.

This recent weather is a good example. We had a flood and we had carnage on the Island. We had debris and trees and mud and the canoe shed was clogged with river trash and tree limbs. We had canoes in the trees and we had canoes off the racks, we had canoes in the field, filled with water.

Then it quickly got cold and the water-filled canoes became ice-filled canoes and the mud that was everywhere turned into a cement-like frozen mud, impossible to clean from the landings and boardwalk. The ferry rope was down too, pulled to protect it from the flood. The ferry rope was down, which means I now have to launch a canoe every time I want to leave, or worse, when I come home late at night. I can't have guests without telling them the high risks of hypothermia if the canoe happens to capsizes and they accidentally fall into the icy potomac river.

Then we had snow, on top of the frozen mud, which added to the complications of getting onto the ferry, that is still stranded at the towpath landing. From the ferry I climb into my canoe, but not before I load my bags of groceries or packs and luggage, or what ever else I may need at home. If I don't go through the trouble of hoisting the boat onto the ferry and turning it upside down, I regret it sometimes. Sometimes I have to come home to a canoe with two inches of melting snow inside it. Sometimes that is a drag.

Friday -- February 5, 2010
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.8     Water Temperature: 36

I know that we're in the middle of the biggest storm to hit D.C. in most of our's life time but I wanted everyone to know that the ferry rope is up again and the ferry is operational. I became so tired of messing with the dirty, wet, and sometimes snow-filled, canoes that I had to do something. I knew that the impending storm was going to bury my canoe and make matters even more difficult for me, so I put the rope up last night.

Thursday -- February 11, 2010
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.4     Water Temperature: 36

I know that everyone is just dying to know how things are going down here. Considering everything, it hasn't been too bad. It could always be worse. Right?

I did lose power for 70 hours. I heard later that a huge tree had fallen on Macarthur blvd. by the Inn at Glen Echo and cut the power line there. Without power, I don't have lights, heat or water, since the well pump works on electricity. It was Friday night and I had all the trail light on so I could watch the snow fall. It was very nice and I was cozy in my warm house, but then around 5:30, all the lights went out and I had to go into emergency mode.

The house was warm, so that first night I slept in my own bed, hoping that the power and heat would be restored soon. I kept listening for the sound of the heat pump blowing but all I heard all night were the sounds of breaking trees and limbs crashing to the ground. At one point in my sleepy stupor I thought I heard a knock on the door, but of course, it was just another falling branch.

I got out of bed Saturday morning ready to embrace my new situation, a forced winter camping trip, no telling when the power would be restored. I also didn't want to abandon the Island just in case there was some emergency. I dug out my propane camping stove and had my coffee. The club room had some firewood by the wood stove but I spent the morning stocking firewood from the wood pile out back.

Next, I checked the club phone, dead. I wasn't surprised to find the phone dead considering all the trees and giant limbs that were litterer everywhere on the island and the canal. I don't think we lost any whole trees on the island but some of the silver maple limbs that fell were huge. Just outside my front door I had two eight-inch-diameter limbs resting on my power line. One limb fell with such force that it pulled the siding and trim from the house where the line was connected. Incredibly the cable itself did not break.

I started to feel very isolated and vulnerable so I decided to dig out my escape/rescue route. I wanted to break a trail up the hill but I also had to free the ferry. The weather wasn't super cold so the river wasn't entirely frozen but accumulation of snow near the shore caused a thick layer of frozen slush to form around the ferry and all along the shore. I decide it was worth it to chop the ferry free, especially since all the canoes were buried anyway.

I was on high alert as I approached the mainland on the ferry. I'm sorry I didn't get any pictures but I was too nervous about all the falling trees and limbs. The stairs at the landing were completely obstructed by snow-laden branches and other branches were hanging low onto the ferry cable preventing me from reaching the shore. It took a few minutes of dumping snow on my head but I was able to shake all the snow off the trees and free the ferry.

I ascended the stairs up to the tow path and I was hit with a scene of destruction. Looking down river, just below the bridge, the path was completely blocked by freshly fallen trees, at least three. Another tree fell up river, and had taken out the cable for the trail lights, leaving the electric cable dangling in the river. The phone line was also deep in the river and looking up the hill I realized why. One of the biggest oak trees on that slope had come down, taking out the phone line and a couple of other trees before its upper branches crashed onto the top of the metal bridge. The bridge now had a thatched roof with piles of branches and twigs on top. Somehow this tree missed my power cable but another large tree was now resting against my precious electric line. I clear my way up the stairs and I cleared a path across the bridge. I made my way up the hill but had to squeeze past many more fallen limbs, large and small. Not a soul in sight.

Back at the house I thought it wise to get up on the flat roof above my kitchen and remove some of the snow tonnage that was up there. I was especially worried about this roof since it was already supporting the weight of a two-ton heat pump. I also wanted to try to safely remove the branches from my power line leading to the house. I was glad to do the work, it kept me from getting bored and it made me so exhausted that I had no trouble crawling into my sleeping bag soon after dark. I slept pretty well on the floor by the wood stove but by the morning the fire had long been out and the room was freezing.

I called the phone company and they said that they could not fix the wires until they were freed from the fallen tree?? I guess this is another lesson in self sufficiency. I located the problem and I was able to cut the phone line and fish them through the tree. I was about to tie it off on the bridge and be done with it but then I had a second thought. There was another storm on the way and I didn't think it likely that the phone company contractors would be out any time soon. I decided that if I wanted my phone and, more importantly, my internet and email, I should try to fix it myself. I have to admit that I was rather pleased with myself that I was able to restore my internet connection. Unfortunately I did not get a dial tone on the phone but we'll let the phone company figure that out.

I rather enjoyed the challenges that I had to overcome. It was kind of fun to have this whole man vs. nature adventure. I was also glad that there was no one else here for me to worry about and be responsible for.

Sunday -- February 14, 2010
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.0     Water Temperature: 34

Happy Valentines Day!!

We were supposed to have the Canoe Cruisers Association's annual Valentine's Day party here today but, considering the snow pack, we postponed it. I hope you all make plans to be here for the party on the new date, Sunday, March 14 3:00.

It is a little scary with all this snow in the water shed. It's like a flood waiting to happen. This weather is ideal though, sunny and just slightly above freezing. Perfect weather for a nice gradual melting. The last thing we want is a warm rain like in January 1996

We just heard that long-time member Brad Coolidge has recently died. Brad was an active member and helped to make the club what it is today. I also have another sad announcement, back in November we lost Phil Thorson, another great man and lover of Sycamore Island.

I got the ferry rope up but right now the bell is not up. It is actually buried under two feet of snow. As much as I'm enjoying not hearing the bell ring, I promise to dig it out today. I also have to go to the hardware and buy a new bell rope since the old one was lost in the flood.

Thursday -- February 18, 2010
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.0     Water Temperature: 34

Don't forget, Bird Walk this Saturday!!

Come down for the adventure and excitement of winter bird watching!

It starts at 9:30 on the Island. The snow has melted enough for walking around and I will put wood ashes on the trail down the hill, to make it less slippery

I did get the bell up and now the Island ferry is fully operational. The only problem is getting to the ferry. I have cleared away all the fallen trees and branches that were blocking the trail but the packed and frozen snow make navigating the trail a little risky. I usually use a ski pole to help me walk up, soon I may resort to crampons.

The towpath has been completely deserted lately, there used to be the occasional skier but even they have stopped using the trail. There are none of the usual joggers or young lovers or dog walkers. It is a little strange to be living in the middle of a heavily populated metropolis and see only my own footprints in the snow, for two days.

There have been some hardships caused by the recent storms but there are upsides to this kind of event as well. First of all, I get to have the novel experience of Xcounty-skiing on the towpath. Plus, if the airports are closed, guess what, no airplanes or airplane noise. When the storm was really bad, even those low-flying helicopters were grounded. And, like I said, I have the place to myself. No one on the towpath, no one on the trail and no one ringing the bell.

Lots of birds, I walked down to the bottom of the island at dusk and there were thirty common mergansers, two pairs of hooded mergansers, a couple of mallards and twenty canada geese. I heard that our eagles are sitting on eggs now. They were first spotted sitting two and a half weeks ago, at the end of January. They laid their eggs a week earlier than they did last year, I guess they weren't planning on all this snow fall. I hope they manage somehow.

Thursday -- February 25, 2010
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.2     Water Temperature: 41

The river rose to above 5 feet today so the ferry is now closed. I might have had to close it anyway considering these strong winds today, 60 MPH! It looks like the river will peak at 5.5 feet sometime on Saturday but no prediction about when it will go back down below 5 feet. I'm still nervous about major flooding, I heard that there is still a record amount of snow pack in the watershed. I'm making preparations but you people with boats down here may want to consider taking them up the hill, just in case.

I've been doing a lot of tree work this week. I've been moving the limbs from the trail but I've also been using the 14 foot pruning pole to cut the low hanging branches around the ferry landings. I discovered during the big flood last month that those branches were getting in my way when I tried to canoe across and they were also getting in the way of the flood-elevated ferry. I've been wrestling with the cables across the river as well. Some were caught up in fallen branches and others needed to be tightened up and raised higher above the river surface.

We were so smart to have that professional tree work done last fall. I think having those big trees trimmed away from the house like we did, probably saved our roof from being damaged. I did learn one valuable lesson during the flood, of course I had to learn it the hard way. When I was asked what to do with all the fresh-cut branches I simply told the workers to drag them into the woods. I've learned now that any debris should always be stacked on the downstream side of the canoe shed and canoe dock. Right now all those cut branches are piled up against the canoe shed and will have to be moved.

There has been a young doe on the Island this week. I've seen her from my kitchen window for the last three mornings and this morning she had two friends with her. I realized that my kitchen window would make the perfect deer stand. I'm not a hunter but I was thinking that I should take this opportunity to thin the herd of these over grazing pests. Apparently the white-tailed deer are one of the biggest threats to our potomac gorge ecosystem.

Another creature that visited the Island was a coyote! I saw it's tracks in the snow back in early January when the river was frozen and crossable. The tracks were right outside my front door! And no they were definitely not fox tracks.

Sunday -- February 28, 2010
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.2     Water Temperature: 41

Well the river crested at 5.5 feet but it doesn't seem to be dropping. With the current warm temperatures in the area I expect the river level to hover above five feet all week.

The trail down the hill is almost completely free of snow and ice which means I can no longer claim it for my own. I must now share the trail with the joggers, and hikers , and bikers and dog walkers. It used to be so quiet.

Now that the snow is almost all gone I've started to clear out some of the debris from the flood. Next we'll have to get out the chain saw and clear all these fallen branches. We were lucky in that only one of the gutters was damaged by the ice, but that will have to be fixed. We also have to reattach the power line to the house?

I took down the blue tarp that was hanging from the tool shed, finally. The tarp did a good job of protecting the things stored under the shed and I was thinking that we should install a permanent wall around the lower part of the shed, we could really use the protected storage space.

The mergansers are still plentiful but soon our winter visitors will be gone to nest in the great white north. The canada geese are here as well, of course, but they will be staying and doing their breeding right here on Sycamore Island. It won't be long before they start to stack claim to their favorite nesting sites. It will be interesting to see how many nest here this year. The number of nests have been declining over the years.