Notes from the Island
Holly and I are ready for the sun to shine and the river
level to drop. We're looking forward to the grass and the flowers
and we're tired of the rain and snow and mud. Not to mention the
It had been a quiet winter--mild weather with very few
visitors. So when my friend and former caretaker Peter Day came to
Washington over Christmas and broke his leg in two places, I offered
to help him drive his truck back to Cape Cod when he was ready.
One overcast Wednesday morning in early March, Peter and I
started north. Holly was home recovering from the flu and she had
offered to cover for me, but neither of us expected any members to
That night rain poured throughout the watershed and the next
morning Holly received a phone call from the National Weather Service
predicting that the river would reach twelve to thirteen feet by
Saturday. It would be the highest flood in the five years we've been
Meanwhile, I was walking along the beach in Massachusetts
blissfully unaware of what was happening and Holly was unable get
through to me by phone. Thursday night I called Holly to say hi and
she informed me of the situation.
The next morning John Matthews rushed down and released the
rope from the ferry landing on the Maryland shore. Holly evacuated
the Island and Tryon came down to pull canoes out of the bottom two
racks and to prop up the ferry's safety cable. I flew back from
Boston in a snowstorm and arrived as the water was rising into the
canoe shed. I spent a couple of hours unlocking canoes and hauling
them out of the racks.
The damage seems minimal. The river eroded the Island in
some places and deposited three to four inches of silt in others.
The large box elder in our front yard, which had fallen last year,
swiveled down and blocked the path of the ferry. When the water
dropped, the ferry came to rest in the tree, but David Lyles, Steve
Jones, Donna Messersmith and I pried it off into the water. And then
John Matthews, Jack Colwell and I helped John Stapko cut up the log.
In a freak accident a log or a tree floating downriver caught
on the ferry safety cable several feet above the water surface and
is still there. We have attached ropes to it and have attempted to
pull it one way or another with come-alongs, but nothing seems to
budge it. John Stapko is talking about cutting it with a chainsaw
when the river drops and John Matthews is talking about loosening the
cable until the tree falls off.
Then the big snowstorm hit. The trees and the river were
beautiful and we enjoyed cross country skiing on the towpath, but
when the snow began to melt and it rained again, the river rose back
into the canoe shed. This time we only had to remove one rack of
The combination of snow melt and intermittent rain has kept
the river level between eight and nine feet for the better part of
the month, with no relief in sight.
Two days ago we woke up and heard about the oil spill on
the morning news. We wondered if it had happened upstream of us and
as soon as we opened our door we knew. The diesel fumes were
overpowering down here for about 24 hours and you could see the
rainbow colored oil slick across the surface of the river. Most of it
has passed but some has caught in eddies and backwaters.
Several members called concerned about the island, the
wildlife and us. Many of the waterbirds disappeared for a day or two
and I think the seagulls left for the season, but this morning I saw
mallards, wood ducks, Canada geese, a cormorant and a blue heron. I
even saw some beavers huddling under a log on Rupperts now that
their lodge is washed out, but I haven't seen any animals or birds who
were dead or obviously ill.
With all the excitement I'm surprised to see that Spring is
actually arriving. We spotted a pair of hooded mergansers in the
slough--the first we've seen here. And, the other day, I saw the
Easter bunny, or a close relative, who apparently came to the island
courtesy of the flood. The spring beauties, red dead nettle and
saxifrage are blooming on the trail coming down the hill. Here on the
Island the bluebells and trout lilies are poking up out of the mud and
should be flowering by the time of the Workfest. So bring boots,
gloves and a potluck dish. There will be plenty of work for everyone.
-- Peter Jones, Sycamore Island Caretaker