Notes from the Island
December 1988


The leaves have fallen and the trees are bare. The maples and the paw paws were the last to turn. The needles of the bald cypress started dropping from the bottom first, so that near the end the tree looked like it was wearing a green cap. Two storms blew enough leaves into the river that the water turned a black inky color like strongly brewed tea.

Even though it is the beginning of December there are still flowers blooming. At the southwestern end of the Island a beautiful large lobelia is blooming just upstream of the sycamore that has fallen out over the water. Next to it there is a smaller plant that has the square stem of the mint family, but its lavender flower grows out of a pouch like the campion.

I mentioned last month that we heard beaver tails slapping the water down by the ferry landing. I soon discovered that the little creatures were tearing up all the mallows in Betty Burchell's wildflower garden, biting off the bark and even digging out the roots.

We have seen an opossum a couple of times. Once it was walking along the log down by the ferry landing. The second time our cat Fred was chasing it. The opossum fell over and played dead. Fred stopped, tiptoed over, sniffed it and then walked away. We were amazed.

Now that the branches are bare it is easier to see the birds. The red cardinals add a nice splash of color to the predominantly brown and gray scenery. Wrens, chickadees, sparrows, starlings and woodpeckers are all quite common. There have been a few mallards, grebes and Canada geese around, but not as many as in the spring. The great blue heron stand on the sunny and wind-protected southern tips of Rupperts and Sycamore.

One morning Holly and I were canoeing along the Virginia shore and saw a juvenile eagle perched on a branch above the water. It was a large mottled brown bird with a silver band on its right talon and a red one on its left. Mimi Cantwell saw the same bird a few days later on Rupperts.

The Island is getting winterized. The Trammells came down and we turned off all the water to the Clubhouse so the pipes won't freeze. Now there is a chemical toilet in the women's locker room for general use.

The main room upstairs can be quite cozy on mild sunny afternoons, particularly if you build a fire in the circle of warmth. Brad Coolidge, myself and others have cut some firewood, but it is surprising how quickly it burns. Please replace whatever you use. Peter Fuchs is repairing our two chainsaws, but there are axes, saws and wedges in the toolshed out back.

The Glen Echo Fire Department came down for an inspection and reported that we have "no violations at this time". They urged us to be careful, however, because it would be very difficult to reach us in case of fire.

It has been a beautiful autumn on the Island. However, I knew that winter was coming when Huckleberry took the outboard motor out of his boat and John Matthews came to take his canoe home. Now we're just waiting for the snow to fall and the river to freeze.

-- Peter Jones, Sycamore Island Caretaker