Notes from the Island
June 1989


We had a wet, cool Spring on Sycamore this year. As usual the wildflowers were spectacular. A nice crop of bluebells covered the lawn and the white-flowered garlic-mustard plant took over the rest of the Island. Patches of golden ragwort and wild blue phlox dotted the woods above the north lawn.

Myrtle bloomed alongside the house. A lone white iris appeared down by the canoe float and several purple irises have just opened back by the new workshop. Last year I cut back the wild rose near the screen porch and this year it quadrupled in size. I like its sweet fragrance, but I know some find it overpowering. When Holly and I walk down the path from MacArthur at night in the dark, we can identify the wild rose and the honeysuckle just by the smell.

The lawn is surprisingly thick this year. A lot of credit must go to Gordon and Joan Kennedy who seeded over and over again. It also helped that we had a lot of rain, the flood didn't cover the lawn, and there have been fewer Canada geese this year eating the young blades of grass. Of course in some places the lawn is mostly weeds, but many of these have beautiful flowers like the asters, violets, buttercups and false strawberries.

Many people have commented on how nice the Island looks. At the Work Fest John Thomson, Greg Super and others cleared out a lot of the underbrush down by the riverbank. Also, Betty Burchell, Ellen Richards and Beth Russell have been busy weeding the daylily beds and the various flower gardens.

The river didn't flood as high as last year. The water level only reached 9 1/2 feet. However, the local flooding was spectacular. About one hundred yards above Lock 7 you can see the battered cars that washed under the canal into the Potomac when the Glen Echo parking lot collapsed. Not as well publicized was the fact that the Cabin John Creek must have flooded a construction site and the water, swollen with boards and sheets of styrofoam insulation, backed up where the creek flows under the canal near the Union Arch Bridge.

The Cabin John Creek then overflowed into the canal washing away part of the embankment and exposing the large sewer pipe that runs parallel to the towpath. This caused the unusual situation where the C & O canal flooded before the Potomac River did. Part of the towpath immediately above Lock 7 was seriously weakened. And Chris Lea, who lives at Lock 6, complained to Holly that his front yard was flooded. (We commiserated.)

The level of the Potomac has dropped considerably and the river has cleared up. We started swimming about a week ago. The water is still cool and refreshing and the current is still a little strong. The flood carried the second swimming float closer to shore. We'll have to move it back out eventually.

The anglers have started to come down, but they haven't had much luck yet. Marilyn Ringell claims to have caught three catfish down by the swim float, but her daughter made her throw them back. Huge carp flop around in the shallow water, spawning and feeding at the bank. The canoe pool left one of its canoes on the Virginia shore during the flood and Leah Hertz discovered four good sized minnows which had survived for two weeks in the filled up canoe.

The reptiles and amphibians have emerged. Toads hop around the Island and frogs croak at night. Turtles sun themselves on logs in the canal. There are some lizards living in the pedestrian overpass over the Parkway. And of course the black snakes slither through the grass and up trees looking for birds nests. And water snakes hang out in the shallow water. None of the snakes are poisonous and the black snakes won't even bite.

The floods washed away the beaver lodge on the island above Ruppert's. I think the beaver have moved over to the Virginia side of Ruppert's, because I saw one there during the flood and then I heard their tails slapping the water once when I paddled by at night.

The raccoon got into the screen porch one afternoon scavenging for marshmallows left in the trash. I grabbed my camera and chased the little animal through the men's locker room, around the workshop and onto Fassler's Folly. The raccoon didn't seem perturbed by me or the cat.

Many members have spotted birds on the Island. Coy Lay saw cedar waxwings, Bob Black saw a scarlet tanager, the Russells saw a prothonatary warbler and several people commented on the 15-20 cormorants perched on a dead sycamore at the northwest end of Rupperts. I spotted a bright blue Indigo Bunting and an oriole.

The Canada geese, the wood ducks and the mallards all produced offspring and sometimes you can see the goslings and ducklings paddling around in the water and coming up on shore. The goslings are particularly adventurous as our cat Fred has discovered to his delight.

Because of the Spring rains the foliage is particularly thick and lush. The sycamores still suffer from Anthracnos, which makes them look very sickly early in the season. However, the leaves are starting to grow back and within a month the trees should look fine. The red and white mulberry trees are starting to bear fruit. The geese sit in the river above the landing and feed on the mulberries which drop in the water. Last year there was a woodchuck who lived in the Folly who would sneak out onto the volleyball court to eat the white mulberries that fell on the northern lawn. However, I haven't seen him/her yet this year.

The Potomac White Water Race was postponed twice this year because of flooding and was finally held on June 4th. Marilyn Ringell did her usual excellent job of providing refreshments. John Thomson, David Lyles, Richard Edelson, and Gordon and Ellen Kennedy all raced. John Heidemann, and George and Marcia Loeb acted as safety and sweep. Holly Syrrakos volunteered to be the impromptu timekeeper.

June is one of the nicest and most popular months on the Island. The river level is usually low and safe for swimming and canoeing. The water temperature is still cool, which makes for good bass fishing and accounts for those refreshing breezes on otherwise unbearably hot days. You might want to call before coming down just to make sure that a Cub Scout troop isn't scheduled to occupy the Island that afternoon.

-- Peter Jones, Sycamore Island Caretaker