Notes from the Island
November 1991


Autumn is here. Huge sycamore leaves are turning brown and falling all over the lawn. The spice bushes have yellow leaves and red berries. Black walnuts drop onto the tin roof of the canoe shed sounding like gunshots.

The beaver are preparing for winter by clearcutting the maple saplings and transporting them to their lodge on Box Elder Island off the lower tip of Sycamore. I have wrapped chicken wire around the base of some maples so we don't lose the entire grove. Apparently beaver don't like the taste of sycamore or box elder, but they have felled our only dogwood and sweetgum trees as well as a small bald cypress. Sometimes they nibble the bark off the base of a large tree, causing it to die.

The Canada geese, wood ducks and grebes are flying through on their way south. I even spotted an immature broad-winged hawk resting on the Island before continuing its journey. The cormorants, great blue herons and kingfishers are still here, while the first seagulls have arrived for their winter stay on Broadwater.

I haven't seen any fruit on our Pawpaw trees, but we do have wild persimmons and hickory nuts. If you walk from the lower end of Sycamore up the sunny Broadwater side of the Island, you can still see flowering ageratum, smartweed, sunflower, asters, ironweed, choke cherry and Joe Pye weed.

David Lyles brought some boy scouts down looking for plants and animal signs and we saw deer tracks in the mud at the lower tip of the Island. Kathy Carroll and Marty Burgess brought a school class down to identify the flowers and the trees.

The swimming has been nice. Holly dove in for the last time this year on October 27th. She reports that she didn't stay in long. The river continues to be very low and very clear. The fishing has started to drop off.

Tryon Wells, Doc Taliaferro, Holly, a few friends and I all assembled on the warm night of the October full moon and canoed up the canal to Lock 8 at Cabin John and portaged over and descended the Potomac. The full moon reflecting off the river provided lots of light, although we did manage to get stuck on a few rocks. In some spots, however, the water was so clear we could see three feet underwater by the moonlight.

Holly and I also paddled down from Old Angler's Inn one morning. The river was so low that we couldn't enter the channel between Offut Island and the Maryland shore. We negotiated Yellow Falls easily, but then had to scout the rapids which had appeared a hundred yards below. And Stubblefield seemed to have more rocks than waves.

The big Workfest is coming up this month. We have to bring in the floats and rake the leaves as usual. Several volunteers hacked away at the kudzu vines last month, but I'm sure we'll be able to find more. See you then.

-- Peter Jones, Sycamore Island Caretaker