Notes from the Island
July 1990


The Potomac has dropped to its usual summer level of three feet, but the river remains muddy because of the runoff from afternoon thundershowers. The fishing has been disappointing--our anglers are not taking home strings of bass and catfish.

On the other hand, the swimming is great. The current is slow, the water temperature is cool and refreshing. John Krasny has been pumping up the inner tubes, maintaining a constant vigilance against weak rubber and slow leaks.

Night before last, Holly and I moved the second swim float out into the Potomac. The small boulder we used as an anchor had fallen into the water and I used a winch to try and haul it up on the float. Unfortunately, the rope and chain slipped off and the rock disappeared into the primordial ooze.

Consequently, Holly and I used a homemade anchor someone had manufactured by pouring concrete into a tin can and sticking in a semi- circle of wire for a handle. This weight is not as heavy as the boulder, but it is easier to lift and works fine in the slow current.

The river has deposited an enormous amount of silt on both sides and the lower tip of the Island, creating a shelf of mud that is starting to harden. The most dramatic example is that you can almost walk out to the swim float without using the gangplank.

The summer flowers are beginning to bloom. Of course, the daylilies and jewelweed are all over the Island. Loosestrife, boneset and wood sorrel are flourishing at the northern end and water willows are flowering in the low, swampy areas.

Holly has sighted a few animals. On her way to work she spotted a deer on the towpath near Lock 5. And one night she heard a scratching outside the window. Holly grabbed a flashlight and saw a raccoon with two babies climbing a tree by the walkway. Our guidebook informs us that the raccoon is teaching her young how to forage, so please don't leave any food or edible garbage on the screen porch.

A friend of mine was down on the Island and watched for forty-five minutes while a five-foot black snake swallowed a rodent, which was five or six inches long not counting the tail. My friend wasn't able to see the animal's head, but thought it might have been a mole based on the shape of its claws. He didn't see how the snake was going to swallow something that big, but it did. After the reptile got past the claws it was smooth sailing.

Work has started on the addition. Two men brought down the big box elder outside our window by digging up and chopping the roots on the tree's uphill side while simultaneously winching the tree down with ropes on the downhill side until the wood made popping noises and the timber toppled with a crash. That method takes longer than cutting with a chainsaw, but it doesn't leave a stump. The next day one of the guys came back and dug an eighteen-foot trench four and a half feet deep for the footings.

The screen porch is looking better. The first coat has been painted, but we still have most of the second coat to go. Holly and I will be on vacation for the next third Saturday work session, but we're looking forward to seeing the new porch when we return.

It's a nice time of the year for swimming and canoeing. The consistent rain has helped the lawn, but it has also encouraged the mozquitoes. So, if you're coming down for dinner in the evening, you might think about bringing insect repellent.

-- Peter Jones, Sycamore Island Caretaker