Notes from the Island
August 1990


When it became certain that I would be the lucky person to stay at the Island while Peter and Holly were at a family vacation, I naively thought my days would be filled with solitude that demands constant reflection upon nature. In fact, my time here has been filled with people, events, happenings, and a certain lively excitement.

Certainly the most significant happening has been the construction of the addition to the living quarters. As I arrived Saturday morning they were just completing the pouring of the concrete foundation for the steel. By Thursday the basic structure was up, walled, and roofed. I am happy to report that a high degree of craftsmanship went into the construction, evidenced by frequent examples of extra touches and extra care to get it right. I feel I have already enjoyed the new room more than anyone ever can, as I had two lovely nights alone in a fabulous tree house, after the roof but before the walls. The work crews arrive every morning at 7 a.m., thus days are involved with the construction, but the late evenings I have to myself.

As to other animal life on the Island, I can mostly report only numerous sightings of humans. On my first day Peter Geiger showed up with his scout troop and attendant parents. At first I thought I might be miffed at sharing the Island with such a crowd, but the scouts were mannered and well behaved, and the parents gracious and companionable. The adults had such fun hanging out together I accused them of using the scout troop as a cover for their own play time. It should be reported that they left the Island neater than they found it. There is something very pleasant about lots of youngsters making the sounds they make when they are having lots of fun, and it took a while to adjust to the stillness when they left.

The Island was also visited by the Glen Echo Fire Department, or at least by 8 members who worked with their river rescue team. They were surveying this stretch of the river from the towpath and were clustered at the ferry landing for about 10 minutes before I took a party over. None had ever been on the Island so I invited them over to see the river side. It seemed the only impression they had of the Island was of a place they called when the water was rising dangerously and talked to people who "always seemed to know what they were doing." They left the Island convinced that this was not a place to park or keep their airboat.

On Wednesday, 25 July, the Island was "visited" by a helicopter that hovered about the Island for about 25 minutes. They circled the entire Island several times. While over the water they were often below tree level, and while over land it seemed that their skids were almost in the trees, at one point blowing branches down upon us. They were so low over the canoe shed at one point that Jim Ramey's daughter was able to write down the registration number on the tail boom. Subsequent calls to the FAA gave us the name of a corporation that has no listed telephone number and has never been heard of by local airports or the Helicopter Association.

Sitting on the swimming float one evening while the sun was low, being amazed at the lack of bugs during my stay, I looked over the water and noticed that it appeared to be sprinkling. But wait, no clouds, no water on my head.. what is this? The low angle of the light was magnifying the effect of the circulation of riffles caused when the methane bubbles break the surface. The effect upon the water was that of a light rain, and I was suddenly in awe at the enormous amounts of methane bleeding into the atmosphere from the river. I have since made a point to notice if the process continues at the same intensity all day long, and it does. All atmospheric methane has increased 40% since the 50s, our river is doing its share.

Finally, a few observations from a part-timer's perspective. I have noticed that the upstairs of the Club house is virtually unusable on a warm sunny day because of the lack of air circulation through or about the building. This could be greatly improved if an exhaust fan were put on one of the windows in the rear of the building, or if a ceiling fan were put in the big room. The same could be said for the staff quarters downstairs. Spending much of my time in the new room which has neither screens nor windows has allowed me to appreciate how much the screens inhibit air flow. Secondly, because the bell cannot readily be heard at the upriver end of the Island near the swimming float, the staff cannot enjoy or be busy at that end of the Island at those times of the day when members are most likely to show up. Perhaps a second or louder or differently placed bell would allow staff to be other than at the center of the Island.

And about staff! Yes, this has been a wonderful experience, and I'm a lucky guy to have been here, particularly during this two-week period of construction. But it has been busy. I brought books and the sort of projects you take to the beach for 2 weeks. But they are unread and undone. Often I have come here and thought how idyllic it must be to stay here. What I have learned is that a lot of staff manhours are necessary behind the scenes to maintain this setting we so appreciate.

-- Doc Taliaferro, Acting Sycamore Island Caretaker