Notes from the Island
February 1994


In January we had snow, ice, sleet, slush and freezing rain. First, the weather turned cold and windy. The canal froze over early, but the river remained open because of high winds and fast currents. For several days Holly and I skated down to Lock 6 and up to Lock 9. One crowded Sunday afternoon we saw a young boy using his hockey stick to slide a frozen black snake across the ice. I jokingly mentioned that the Chinese consider unusual animal behavior, such as snakes coming out of hibernation, as a sign of an impending earthquake. I'm sure there is no connection, but the next morning we heard the news about the tremors in L.A.

Finally, the river froze up and we were able to skate on the slough for one afternoon before the snow fell. Then we skiied up and down the towpath and the canal for a day or two, before the sleet and freezing rain turned everything to ice and slush.

Afterwards, the temperature rose and the snow melted, but ice remained on the river and canal and we walked across to the Maryland shore for several more days. However, the melting snow caused the river to rise, lifting the entire ice sheet away from the riverbank.

At this moment the Potomac is about six feet and rising. There is ice on both sides of the slough, but there is an open patch of water in the middle. The temperature is hovering around freezing and it is raining. I am glad I am inside the house looking out.

One morning about 9 AM Holly caught a glimpse of a dog-like animal on the other side of the canal. There were no people around and she wondered if it was a coyote. The next morning at the same time Holly and I glanced out our window and saw a large red fox with its bushy tail extended straight out behind it loping down the ice on the slough, leaving its footprints in the snow.

One evening I was walking down by the Broadwater shore and I saw a small beaver slipping and sliding over the ice and then diving into holes and emerging from cracks. They continue to take down trees, but I keep putting up chicken wire to discourage them. Yesterday, we saw two beavers huddled at the entrance of their lodge on one of the islands in the swamp.

I'm amazed that any birds are still around. Two weeks ago there were fifty Canada geese out on Broadwater and now they are gone. A few days ago I saw a great blue heron fly down the slough, but that was the only heron I have seen in a while.

However, the woodpeckers are plentiful. In the last half hour, we have seen pileated, downy, and red-bellied woodpeckers as well as a very sorry looking flicker. For a few days a yellow-bellied sapsucker kept tapping away at the sycamore outside our window. And, of course, we're getting chickadees, titmice, and goldfinches at our feeders.

Several members dropped by when the ice was solid - David Winer, Paul Englestadt, Louise Meyer, Al Brown and Marty Burgess, and I'm sure there were others. Many thanks to those of you who called asking how we were doing.

Winter is often beautiful on the Island, but not today. You might think about calling ahead if you are thinking of coming down, just to make sure you can get across.

-- Peter Jones, Sycamore Island Caretaker