Notes from the Island
September 1990


August has been a wet month. John Matthews has recorded over eight inches of rain in his gauge. However, the river level is still low because the precipitation has been local and not widespread throughout the watershed. The mold, mildew and rot have flourished with the dampness, so you might want to check your lockers.

Even if our anglers have been unlucky, the Potomac must have some fish because the water birds are still around. Osprey soar overhead, great blue heron stand out on rocks, and green heron perch on logs by the shore. A night heron frequents the northern swamp and Ruppert's. Mimi Cantwell even spotted a great egret on Sycamore itself.

The summer wildflowers are blooming. Probably the best way to view them is by canoe. Almost every island has stands of cardinal flowers, Joe Pye weed, swamp mallows, touch-me-not, ageratum, iron weed, and various wild sunflowers. Sycamore also has bouncing bet, bleeding hearts, coneflowers and virgin's bower.

I discovered a ground cherry on an island in the northern swamp. This nightshade plant has an attractive yellow bell-shaped flower with a purple center. The fruit is encased in what looks like a tiny green paper lantern. My guidebook blithely states that the unripe fruit is poisonous, but the ripe yellow, tomato-like berry can be made into pies and jams. I think I'll pass.

The harvest season is coming. Black walnuts are already falling and bouncing off the tin roof of the canoe shed, sounding like gunshots. Although difficult and messy to extract, the meat can be used in ice cream and cakes. The outer cover of the black walnut, once used as a popular natural dye, will stain your hands and clothes if you're not careful.

The Island also has hickory nuts and paw paws at the northern end. If you canoe into the northern swamp you can pick wild persimmons. Last year our mouths puckered because we tried eating them too early.

Painting continues on the screen porch. At the last work session Charlie Trammell, Lyle Blanchard and I primed the steel beams and painted some of the ceiling and walls. We hope to finish at the next third Saturday. Please join us.

The carpenters have almost completed the new addition. The windows are in, the siding is on, and the inside walls are up. I'm sure there are a thousand little tasks to do before the end, but at least our quarters are now closed to the insects and the dampness.

The carpenters report that they talked with a fisherman on the Maryland shore who had snagged a huge snapping turtle with a head the size of a fist. Now I'll think twice before dangling my toes in the river off the swim float.

However, if you are undaunted by the spectre of wild snappers, and you do want to swim, you should come down soon before the water gets too cold.

-- Peter Jones, Sycamore Island Caretaker