Notes from the Island
August 1991


In August the most pleasant way to watch nature is by canoe, thus avoiding sweaty walks through luscious foliage laced with spiderwebs. Paddle upstream from the canoe float and you will see a stand of pink swamp milkweed at the lower end of the first small island. Pass through the Northwest Passage and be sure to notice the red cardinal flowers on your right. Please don't pick them, because they are the only ones I've seen this year.

When the Potomac is as low as it has been, two people in an aluminum canoe may scrape on rocks while rounding the upper end of Ruppert's, but it's worth the risk to see the gorgeous swamp rose mallow garden. Mallows are related to hibiscus, hollyhocks and rose of sharon. I had thought that marshmallows were so named because they resemble the mallow bud before it flowers. However, my dictionary says that originally marshmallows were made from the mucilaginous root of the marsh mallow.

As you paddle around the top of Ruppert's you will probably see lots of waterfowl. Great blue herons and cormorants sun themselves on rocks or perch in a dying sycamore. Occasionally, you can spot an osprey sitting in the branches with a fish in its talons.

The river is shallow and clear enough that often you can watch carp and catfish swim beneath the canoe. The water is warm for the bass, which are probably hiding in deep holes.

As you float down the Virginia side of Ruppert's there is a huge jimsonweed patch on your left. The trumpet shaped white and violet flowers are beautiful, but this nightshade plant is poisonous, so don't put it in your salad. The name is a corruption of "Jamestown" where early colonists encountered the weed.

Yesterday I spotted a black crowned night heron in a maple tree just below the jimsonweed patch. Nearby there is a beaver lodge overgrown with vines.

A large maple tree overhanging the river broke off in one of the storms. You can see where the beaver have been gnawing off branches and limbs as well as nibbling on the bark.

As you round the lower end of Rupperts you can see the entrance to another beaver den in the roots of a fallen sycamore tree on a small island between Rupperts and Sycamore. On the upper tip of another island there is a fragrant button bush, which is related to the gardenia and has small ball-like flowers and fruit.

Tryon Wells bought an industrial strenth pingpong table for the Club. Many thanks to Tryon, Ellen Kennedy, and the unwary passersby who helped roll, push and carry the thing down the hill from the parking lot.

John Krasny and others have commented on how busy the Club is this year. The membership increase, the sunny weather and the recession probably all contribute to a greater use of the Island by members and their guests. In any case, it doesn't seem to be a problem - there are enough picnic tables, canoes and grills. If anything, many members are happy to see the Club used more often.

So, please come visit the Island. August is a good month to paddle around Rupperts, look at the late summer flowers, and then go for a swim.

-- Peter Jones, Sycamore Island Caretaker