Notes from the Island
May 1991


It is that glorious time of the year again. Many of you would agree, commenting on the quality of light and air of a springtime evening ... others the colors ... dogwood and azalea everywhere. To me the glorious time of year is whichever time Peter and Holly decide to go on vacation and I get to Island-sit... me and Fred ... hanging out again.

Those of you who didn't see the Island carpeted with bluebells ... shame on you! Generally I don't believe in encouraging more people to visit the Island more frequently. The selfish side of me treasures all the private or intimately shared times. Yet it would be a crime not to wave the flag for such a beautiful event at the Island. And where else could you share such a private vista in the heart of the city.

Of course, the small work crew at the workfest got to see the lawn before it was mowed. So, I guess we should all feel a little guilty for not seeing the bluebells on that particular day. I Know, I know, it was raining that day. What crazy people would work on a day like that? Actually, I must confess to having had that thought myself -- like many folks, I'm sure. Problem is, only 3 people showed up for duty on the rain day, the next Sunday.

I am told by senior members that workfests of old were grand affairs. The Island would be crowded with enthusiasts, and for years a certain gentleman manned a grill all day. It was understood that this was not just a duty, but a social event. Food and frolic were as much the order of the day as work. One could both pay for the private moments and participate in the shared moments with other members. Whether one viewed this as a social fun time or as obligatory, it nonetheless created a bond with the Island through the contribution of effort. Perhaps the Club should purchase one of those large, barrel-sized grills to encourage such goings on.

Wait! What am I saying! Of course we should not encourage more people to come to the Island. And remember, if you must bring friends, be sure to have them sign the secrecy forms promising not to reveal the location of our piece of Eden to anyone.

Actually, my first priority this stay at the Island is to work on the waterbug project. You have all watched them, especially out by the swimming float. I mean those little critters running around on the top of the water. Do they ever sleep, or are they out there during the dark hours I'm snoring, running all night in a desperate race against time and current, trying to stay in place. I will be out with my flashlight tonight, working on this riddle.

Of course dusk is the best time to meet the most interesting visitors to the Island. Earlier this year I would take a chair out near the swimming float and wait for the beaver to come and feed on the large tree that fell nearby. It is amazing how it is possible to blend into the background if one can simply sit still. While waiting for the beaver I have been ignored by a possum that passed within five feet, and the largest muskrat I have ever seen actually laid his nose on my shoe before becoming startled and heading for the water. And while I fancy myself lucky to have had such close encounters, no doubt I have passed them just as closely and unknowingly, crashing through the woods on some human errand, lost in my own thoughts. The trick, after all, is in the stillness, a trait we bigger animals have little experience in.

One afternoon, while pondering the waterbug problem (or other such weighty matters) and hoping that no one else would have the sense to come share the beauty of the Island, the bell rang, much to my annoyance. Glancing over, I was astounded to see a squirrel running across the ferry rope from the shore to the Island. Wow! I jumped to my feet in tribute to this Olympic feat, sure I was about to see a squirrel take a bath. But no, the squirrel stopped midway, stood upright, and looked both ways. Trying to locate Fred no doubt. Then it became clear that this was not a spectacular tight rope event, but merely a common excursion, perhaps a trip to the squirrel equivalent of the Sycamore Store. I can't imagine this will continue much this year as there have been numerous sightings of an eagle patrolling the area.

I would like to again mention the inadequacy of the bell. Newer members doing their first shifts of weekend caretaker duty do not always realize that the bell can be heard only near the house and the canoe shed, not at either end of the Island. Last summer I had shown someone where the new picnic table was situated at the down river end of the Island. I was not gone long, but upon returning to the house encountered a strange person walking around. It was in fact a member who, tiring of ringing the bell, had jumped in and swam over. I have encountered people in better humor, understandably. There was another occasion of a member who took his family to the far end one Saturday, and couldn't imagine why no one came down on such a lovely day (because he did not hear the bell). He was then shocked to return to the clubhouse and find a crowd. A couple of folks were angry that no one could find the "duty officer" in charge.

Surely there must be a better way. Perhaps some sort of a toggle or switch attached to the bell or the rope that would turn on one of those remote wireless transmitters and send out a beep signal. The "duty officer" could wear the receiver and hear it at any point on the Island. I know Peter makes a point to stay near the dock/house section at certain times of a day to make sure to hear visitors. Such a device would free him to do other things at other parts of the Island. He would be free to watch the sunset at the swimming float and free to sit in a heated room away from a window in the winter -- or an air-conditioned room in the summer. Also, when Peter was not on the Island, the person in charge would be The Keeper of the Beeper, who could only pass off the responsibility by passing on the beeper. Consequently, there would always be a designated responsible person on the Island.

-- Doc Taliaferro, Acting Sycamore Island Caretaker