October 2012

Monday -- October 1, 2012
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.3     Water Temperature: 69

Our resident, self proclaimed, small engine repair man, Gerry Barton, is up in New York so it was up to me to fix the lawn mower. Luckily, he had already showed me what I had to do, so it wasn't too hard to get the needed parts and rebuild the old carburetor. It's nice to have a mower that is running properly, especially when you have to cut an acre of grass with a 22 inch mower.

Tuesday -- October 2, 2012
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.3     Water Temperature: 69

Last Friday and Saturday I was out in Shepherdstown at the Chesapeake Watershed Alliance 2012 Forum. It was at the state-of-the-art National Conservation Training Center. I was honored to be a part of the forum and it was cool to realize that my position as caretaker has put me on the front lines of the watershed conservation movement. The conference was attended by numerous environmental non-profits and by government environmental agencies of all levels. I was pleased to see that our local group, Little Falls Watershed Alliance was there, plus some others that recognized me from the Island. I learned a lot and it was a lot of fun. I hope I get to go back next year!

We had a good rain this morning, I'm glad I got up on the roof and cleaned the gutters yesterday.

Wednesday -- October 10, 2012
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.1     Water Temperature: 62

I have some unfortunate news, our homemade bridge is gone. The Superintendent of the C&O Canal Historic Park, Kevin Brandt, has decided to have our bridge removed. I was lucky enough to get over there before they threw away all our ladders and our lumber, but the bridge is no more.

Over the years I have had to overcome many obstacles to get to and from my lodging. I've battled flooding, thick ice, and fallen trees but I never would have guessed that I'd have to deal with this.

I'm not sure what this means in terms of planned functions on the Island but it looks like it will be many months before the metal-truss bridge is repaired.

By the way, there is a Club meeting tonight, 8 P.M., at Larry and Anne Heilman's house, 46 Grafton Street, Chevy Chase Md. Among other issues, we will be planning for the fall workfest, so come on out and get involved!

Monday -- October 15, 2012
Water Level at Little Falls: 2.9     Water Temperature: 60

The weather has been spectacular and despite the access issues, many determined Islanders have been getting out in their canoes. The river is super clear right now and it's fun to paddle around and look at the river bottom, too bad it's too cold for swimming.

Mary and I took a canoe out late yesterday. Normally I would sit and watch the football game but it was such a perfect fall afternoon that we just had to get out. Our decision was rewarded, for once we got the canoe on the water we were transported to a world very far removed from the Redskins and FedEx field.

The wind was at our backs as we headed up river. We made it past the first lower ledges without any hassle and we were going to make an attempt to reach Minnie's Island. That was the plan, but with the river below three feet with rocks everywhere, we just could not get past that last ledge below Minnie's.

We played in the waves for a bit, then came to a rest in an eddie between the rapids. We sat there enjoying the view. There were white trunks of Sycamores on the left, bright red leaves of oaks and maples on the right and everywhere the soft golden glow of the autumn sun. There were herons and kingfishers, and lots of duck cruising by. We watched as flocks of tree swallows swirled above us, chasing their invisible prey. Then we saw the unmistakable shape of a bald eagle headed our way from down river. We were delighted as the giant bird banked and circled just yards from us. We couldn't believe our eyes as the eagle circled lower and lower until we could clearly see its massive claws reach down and pluck a small bass from the river! I suppose it was just another day in the life of the eagle but we felt very fortunate to have been there to witness it.

We got back to the Island just before dark and we turned on the TV in time to see RGIII dash into the end zone for the winning score. Perfect Sunday.

Monday -- October 22, 2012
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.1     Water Temperature: 60

At the last meeting it was suggested that the pontoons on the ferry might be leaking and that someone should investigate to see if there is any water in the pontoons.

Our Captain, Drew Walsh, is not the type to let much grass grow under his feet so on last Wednesday we set about checking the pontoons for water. Drew showed up with a miniature pump that connects to a hand drill. We connected a long tube to the pump and planned to feed it into the small access plugs on the pontoons. The problem was that the plugs are on top of the pontoons under the deck of the ferry. How were we going to reach them? The water was far too cold for swimming so Drew came up with the idea of using his small inflatable raft.

Incredibly, the raft fit perfectly between the pontoons and we were in business! Drew, always ready to lead by example, volunteered to get into the raft and do the claustrophobic work under the ferry deck. It took some work to get the ferry unchained and partially up on the bank, but once that was done we put Drew into the raft and, just like closing a dresser drawer, we slid him under the ferry. The work went smoothly from there and thankfully we found very little water in the pontoons. In fact, one pontoon was completely dry while the other, down-stream pontoon had just some trace amounts of moisture.

Norman Metzger and a friend happen to show up just then and they helped us get the ferry back into place. So, despite everyone's concerns, the ferry is not in eminent danger of sinking. It was decided, however, that the pontoons should be re-patched and that more effective bumpers should be installed at the ferry landings. Good job Drew!

I haven't seen any squirrels or beaver for days now. I did see a female rose-breasted grosbeak though,and I'm learning that if I walk out to the captains float at dusk, there is a good chance that I'll see a bald eagle fly by. The great egrets seem to have flown to warmer climes, haven't seen one for over a week.

The metal bridge over the canal is still officially closed but people are stepping over the chains and using it anyway.

NEWS FLASH --- As of this afternoon The Bridge has been refenced and is no longer passable. I see a muddy walk through the canal ditch in my future. The way that it is, is the way that it is.

Thursday -- October 25, 2012
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.1     Water Temperature: 60

The following excerpts to the log were provided by Gerry Barton, Substitute Caretaker.

At 9 Wednesday morning when I reported to the Island a crew of 8 Park Service bridge repair specialists were at work. Sounds like we may have a usable bridge in a "few days."

One part of the crew worked under the Parkway end of the bridge. They cleared all the tree pieces and dug two trenches about 2 feet deep. At the end of the day there was a scaffold from timbers in the trenches to the bridge deck. This will support the bridge the bent trusses are replaced in the future.

The bent hand railings on the upstream side were welded in place.

I assume that they will complete the replacement of the downstream hand railings and repair the deck and wooden hand rails, and that the bridge will then open the bridge to use. I will let you know what happens today and tomorrow.

One of the guys said that the bridge is much used. Sounds like there were many complaints.

I took a pot of tea over for them for morning break and had two guys over to the Island for their lunch on the Captain's Dock.

Sunday -- October 28, 2012
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.1     Water Temperature: 60

Gerry Barton, Relief Caretaker wrote,

Thanks to the Saturday substitute caretakers. They moved some chairs and items and helped start the button up operation.

Joe had scheduled a friend to watch the ferry today but she did not come. (My friend, Melissa works at Dumbarton Oaks and unfortunately had to report there unexpectedly, for their own hurricane preparations.) I was there at 11 and Drew came from about 1 to 3. We decided to close down the Island today. All chairs, charcoal grills, are in or near the club house. The deck is clear except for the big green table. I took down the hammock and the volley ball net. There was a ladder near the canoe shed and I put it on a rack. We moved the john boat up near the club canoes as well as a huge beam that was near the canoe dock. We pulled the canoe dock closer to the shore. I moved all of the heavy planks from the walkway to the wood storage area under Joe's house. I moved a bunch of fire wood the past 3 days and loaded up the wood crib next to the stove. I cleaned the chimney last Wednesday and it is in good shape. Last time I swept it was about 2 years ago. We put up the Ferry Closed sign.

Drew and I discussed the ferry and decided to park it parallel to the flow on the Island side. Drew had to go to work so I parked the ferry, raised the bell rope, and raised the ferry pull rope as much as possible. The ferry rope needs more help but there is a lock on the Canal side of the line--Joe will have to to this when he returns. I put a canoe on the steps -- it is locked and has a paddle and two life vests.

NOAA forecast has 7.3 on Wednesday. Goes up to 5 feet on Tuesday and continues. The curve seems to flatten on Wednesday, but probably will go higher. I am guessing 8 to 9 feet. Joe told Drew we start the Canoe shed clearing at about 9.5 feet, so we may have more work to do on Wednesday or Thursday.

One person came to get a favorite kayak off the Island about 4:45 just as I had move the chains but I was able to get her. She did not know about the bridge being open so paddled back upstream to the lock house.

Wednesday -- October 31, 2012
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.1     Water Temperature: 60

I got back to the Island today, a day earlier than I had planned. I was down in sunny Florida listening to all of the horrific predictions for hurricane Sandy and I decided it would be prudent to cut my vacation short and head back to Sycamore Island right away. It's funny how these storms always show up when I'm out of town.

I was so worried that this was going to be THE flood and I wanted to be here to take care of things, including all of my belongings. When I left Florida, the river was expected to go up to 17 feet on the Little Falls gage which meant that it would be the first flood to get into my quarters since I moved here ten years ago. I had already talked to Drew, our captain, and I knew that he had arranged to have a group of Islanders to come down and move my stuff out of flood range but I still wanted to be here when the river crested.

We drove all afternoon on Monday and we still had ten hours of driving to do to get home, but by Tuesday morning some of my fears were abating. We were monitoring the storm and thankfully the river level predictions kept going down. I soon realized that this was not going to be the killer flood that I had feared after all. I got back to the Ferry landing last night after dark but decided to wait for daylight before crossing over.

I shouldered my luggage this morning and made my way down the trail. My first delight was that the canal bridge had been fixed! My second delight was having a flock of cedar waxwings filling the trees around me as I came down the switchback. I found the canoes locked on the towpath and paddled over. I was a little nervous, it had been a long time since I had paddled when the river was this high, plus the water temperature had dropped considerably, only 50 degrees!. I got over to the Island while the river was at about ten feet and found that things were not too bad. There are a few broken and fallen tress on the picnic tables but the docks are OK and no trees on the clubhouse. I shewwed all of the Canada geese off of the docks and went to inspect my quarters.

This was the third time that we've had to move my furniture due to flooding but all three times it was unnecessary. Thankfully, all three times the river did not reach it's expected level. I found my bedrooms and foyer empty of furniture and my living room and kitchen piled high with stuff. Thanks to everyone that came down to pitch in, especially Drew and Gerry, I really appreciate you guys looking out for me while I was gone.

The river crested at a mere 10.2 feet, that was at about 5:00 pm. Tomorrow I'll be pushing the docks back out, clearing the debris from around the ferry and shoveling the mud from the walks and landings, as the flood waters recede. It looks like the ferry wil reopen on Monday, once we get the pull rope back in place.

I'm really sorry for all of those people up north that were not as lucky as we were, but I sure am relieved that I still have not had to witness the river flowing through my bedroom.

Right now I guess I'll start moving all of my furniiture back to where it belongs.