Notes from the Island
November 1989


The leaves are turning color and falling. The tulip poplar and box elder tend to turn yellow while the sycamore leaves become brown. The maples are still remarkably green, but that will change. After a storm the river fills with leaves which float on the surface and collect at the ferry and canoe float.

Fishing has not been good this year. We had a lot of rain and the river was high and muddy for many months. That may be just as well. Recently the DC Public Health Commission found unhealthy levels of PCBs and chlordane in catfish caught in the District and it issued an advisory that individuals not eat more than half a pound a week of catfish, carp or eels. "Women of childbearing age, nursing mothers, and pre-school age children should be discouraged from eating any of the above fish from these waters."

An advisory has also been issued for sections of the Shenandoah (which is upriver from us) because of unhealthy levels of PCBs found in the fish. Chlordane and PCBs were detected in fish caught above and below the District, but the amounts were below federally suggested levels.

There are plenty of waterfowl passing through this time of year. Canada geese, mallards and wood ducks hang out in the islands above us. Osprey soar overhead. There are still lots of great blue herons and even a few night herons. I've noticed more woodpeckers recently, but that may only be because the leaves are falling and they're easier to see.

We've noticed more deer recently. While bicycling home from work in the evening Holly often sees a doe and a fawn in the kudzu patch across the canal half a mile south of the Island. A few days ago we paddled up the canal and saw a deer in the water below Lock 7. It was very quiet and still and we thought it might be dead, but it was standing in the water as if it had been struggling to climb up the steep bank to the towpath. We gave it a wide berth and later a park ranger told us they had received a report that the deer was alive and had been struggling to get out of the canal.

We had some rain this month. The river rose to six feet and the Island was closed one Sunday. Living on the Island I'm much more aware of the weather and of water levels than I was when I lived in Silver Spring. If it rains for three days or more, then the Potomac rises, often to hazardous stages. Usually the river crests two or three days after the rain stops. What that means is that we'll get a lot of rain and everyone will be cooped up inside. Then the sun comes out, it's the weekend, the weather is beautiful and everyone decides to come to the Island. Unfortunately, by that time the river is flooding and often people aren't aware of that fact. If it's been raining you might want to call before you come to see what the water level is.

We had a good Saturday work session this month. David Lyles and Betty Burchell bought a hawthorne tree and brought it down to be planted next month to honor Phil Stone. Gerry Barton, Bob Black and others cut back kudzu at the north end of the Island. Gerry and both Charlie Trammells worked on the new workshop. Brad Coolidge brought his chain saw and cut up a lot of firewood for the upstairs fireplace. I'm leaving the axe and the handsaw upstairs. If at all possible please replace the firewood that you burn.

-- Peter Jones, Sycamore Island Caretaker