Notes from the Island
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
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