December 2013

Monday -- December 2, 2013
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.63     Water Temperature: 38

Took a canoe out last evening and saw a lot of winter water fowl; Hooded mergansers, common mergansers, buffle heads and lots of ducks. We couldn't identify all of the ducks, most were only silhouettes in the fading light, but dozens and dozens of them flew overhead as they headed downstream.

I've been doing a ton of leaf raking lately, big, huge sycamore leaves. The strong winds of last week pushed all of the leaves into piles and I've been tarping up those piles and carrying them over to the river bank and off of the field. I also wanted to be sure and clean all of the leaves out of the canoe shed. The leaves get stuck in there and stay dry and don't decompose which creates an inviting dry shelter for unwanted critters. While I was working I noticed how the fallen leaves seemed to gather in the "wind eddies; behind picnic tables and trees or down-wind of the canoe shed.

Wednesday -- December 4, 2013
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.4     Water Temperature: 40

Special Announcement; The Canoe Cruisers annual Holiday Party will be this Friday night, December 6, at the Clara Barton Community Center in Cabin John Md.!

We'll have hot cider, beer and wine and some buffet platters but Please bring a dish to share. Bring your old boats and gear to sell or swap. Bring your friends. All are welcome.

Our feature is a movie titled Remains of a River. From October 2011 to January 2012, Will Stauffer-Norris and Zak Podmore hiked and paddled from Wyoming's Wind River Mountains to Mexico following the Colorado River system from its farthest inland source to the sea, filming and narrating on the fly. The resulting film, Remains of a River, is an unforgettable story of friendship, adventure and environmental degradation.

Before the movie starts, Colonel Josh and the Honky Tonk Heroes will be playing for your listening pleasure.

Saturday -- December 7, 2013
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.8     Water Temperature: 45

The ferry is open today but by tonight the river will be too high to run the ferry. The prediction is or the river to get above six feet by tomorrow night, so it looks like the ferry will be closed through Tuesday at least.

Tuesday -- December 10, 2013
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.5     Water Temperature: 45

The river is on it's way down and should be low enough to run the ferry by tomorrow.

Well, I had to put down the rake and pick up the snow shovel. I cleared the snow from the steps and the bridge over the canal. Not a hard job. It was actually kinda fun to watch the slush sail into the water below and make a big splash. Clearing the bridge also counts as volunteering in the park so I was able to log in a few more Canal Steward hours. Remember folks, Sycamore Island Club is the Canal Steward for Mile 6 on the towpath so let me know if you want to help maintain your National Park.

Speaking of volunteering in the Park, a crew of saintly men came down the towpath last week and filled all of the giant pot holes. It's a big improvement, now the rain doesn't puddle up on the trail. Thanks guys!

I don't know if it had anything to do with the snow and freezing rain but an old sycamore fell near the head of the Island. It had long been dead and rotting and it finally just keeled over.

Thursday -- December 12, 2013
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.95     Water Temperature: 45

The river dropped to below five feet (just barely) so if you want to come down and freeze your butt off, the ferry is open.

It was a great party last night, and well attended. Thanks to Lynda and Gary for hosting. It was heartwarming to see the ever-growing Sycamore Island family, all together in one place.

Wednesday -- December 18, 2013
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.2     Water Temperature: 39

There is Ice on the canal! Every winter I have a devout few who wait to hear those glorious words. Alas, so far this winter there has only been a trace of ice on the canal and with the temperatures expected to climb into the 70's on Sunday, our dream of once again skating on the canal will have to wait.

Speaking of winter sports, we went skiing/sledding on last Saturday. While Bethesda and the rest of the lower county were getting rain, the upper parts of the county got four inches of snow, on top of three inches of base. The Islanders that were here when we left the Island were surprised to see Mary and I carrying skis and sleds down to the ferry. They didn't seem to hold out much hope that we would be skiing that day.

What they didn't know was that we had been tipped off earlier in the week by a Sycamore Islander, who told us about a great place in Montgomery County for cross-country skiing. I have to admit we were skeptical as we drove north on 270, seeing only small patches of snow on the way. But when we arrived at our destination, (near the highest point in the county, about 650 feet above sea level) we were thrilled to see the rolling hills of white, looking like giant piles of sugar. The snow was coming down pretty hard as we spent three hours playing in the fresh powder. Thanks to John Butler for the tip, who knew that just 300 feet in elevation change could make that much difference in the climate.

Friday -- December 20, 2013
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.1     Water Temperature: 39

We may want to consider changing the name of the Island from Sycamore Island to Beaver Island. Last night I counted eight beaver hovering like hungry sharks off the southern shore of the Island. It is not unusual to see the occasional beaver swimming around the Island, or even catch one on the Island chewing on a tree now and then, but last night blew me away. I knew that they were around because I had seen some damage to our trees, but I had no idea that there were multiple generations of them. I hope they don't gang up on me.

I broke out my Christmas decorations last week but no tree on the Island this year. I think I'll just hang some ornaments in the windows. It was nice to see the big Christmas tree on the porch of the renovated castle on the hill. That big semi-circle porch is perfect for a big tree, right where everyone can see it from Macarthur Blvd. My favorite though, since way back when the kids were here, is the big Santa with his sleigh and his Reindeer on the roof of our neighbor's house on the hill in Glen Echo heights. I get a good view of it as I'm climbing up the spiral bridge. As far as lights on the Island, it seems like a waste since very few would people see them way down here. Too bad too, the colorful lights look so pretty reflecting off of the river.

Tuesday -- December 24, 2013
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.7     Water Temperature: 45


Sorry folks, no Christmas walks on the Island this year. The river is up to 5.7 feet and it isn't predicted to go down until Friday.

I had some trouble with the ferry last night and I spent a few minutes stuck in the middle of the swollen river. It wasn't real late at night, but it was after dark when I stepped onto the ferry with the river at 5.5 feet and rising. I got about two ferry lengths away from the mainland when suddenly I could go no further. Somehow the chain had become snagged in the tree branches over head. I clipped the carabiner at the bow and went to the back of the ferry to try to shake the chain free.

The force of the river was bearing down hard and with the ferry now broadside to the current, the ropes and chains were straining against the pressure. I pulled hard on the chain to try to free it, but it was useless, the current was too strong. I really didn't like being on the outside of the ferry railing pulling with all my might so I had to come up with another plan. I thought about going back to the mainland and starting over but decided instead to wait until daylight. Then, I had to do something that I've never done, I unclipped the stuck chain from the ferry. I was very apprehensive about letting go of that chain and running the ferry with just the one safety chain but it was the only way out of my predicament. I had to lie down to get the leverage I needed to unhook the chain, but once I did, the back of the ferry quickly swung around, and for the first time ever, I was pointed straight up river, perfectly parallel to the current.

It was easy sailing after that but I sure am glad it happened while I was on the ferry and not someone else. Obviously, we need to do something to keep the ferry chains free of overhanging branches.

Merry Christmas!!

Friday -- December 27, 2013
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.9     Water Temperature: 45


The river has dropped below five feet, just barely, and the ferry landing has emerged from the river.

We're below five feet but that does not mean that it will be easy to operate the ferry. There is still plenty of volume in the river so please be careful while running the ferry tomorrow.

Also, I cut the offending branches that had me stuck on the river Monday night. The cables and pulleys are all free and working fine once again. That tree may be starting to drop a little but the current was very strong that night, so the cable was being pulled further down stream than normal.

Monday -- December 30, 2013
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.2     Water Temperature: 45


The river has been see-sawing up and down lately and this time it looks like it will get all the way up to 7.5 feet. They are expecting it to crest tomorrow night and it will probably be above five feet until the weekend. No New Years Day visits to the Island this year.

We had over two inches of rain yesterday so we decided to walk up to see the effects on Cabin John Creek. It was cool to see that tranquil stream turned into a real live river.

Tuesday -- December 31, 2013
Water Level at Little Falls: 7.0     Water Temperature: 45

Did you know that the biggest tree in all of Maryland is right here in Montgomery County? And did you know that it is a sycamore tree? The old champion tree of Maryland was the famous Wye Oak on the eastern shore but since that one died a few years ago the monster sycamore has taken it's place. The cool thing is that this new champion is growing on public land at the Dickerson Conservation Park in Dickerson Maryland.

Mary and I decided to go up there and pay our respects to a tree that is probably 450 years old. It was a nice drive out there but when we finally found the tree there was no sign or any other indication that we were looking at the right tree. We compared our tree to the picture of the champion on the internet and we felt assured that we were looking at the right tree. The champion Sycamore is 25 feet in circumference.

For comparison, the largest sycamore I could find on the Island is a mere 15 feet in circumference.