Notes from the Island
The January weather has been unusual. At the first of the
year the temperature dropped and the slough froze over. The ice was
too thin to walk on, but too thick to operate the ferry, so we pulled
ourselves back and forth in an aluminum canoe.
Then the temperature rose, the ice broke up, and the
forsythia continued to bloom. Star of Bethlehem and crocus shoots
appeared in the soil. The weather was so mild that one day while
strolling on the towpath I found a garter snake which had emerged
It rained hard for a few days and the Potomac rose to nine
feet at the Little Falls gauge. To give you an idea of what that
means, remember that three feet is our usual summertime low water
level, at five feet we have to use a plank to get off the ferry, at
ten feet the river enters the canoe shed, and at 16 1/2 feet water
enters the clubhouse.
As the river rose I lifted the railing on the Maryland
landing, raised the ferry rope and the safety cable, tied up the club
canoes, and pulled the ferry into the trees. As the water subsided I
was very careful to push the ferry back out into the river before it
became beached on dry land.
The temperature has dropped again and the mud with its many
animal and bird tracks has frozen. The flood caused little damage.
However, I was surprised to see it had washed away a fallen but still
living tree at the upper tip of the island, which had served as a
bulwark against erosion.
Also, the flood may have washed out the beaver lodge. It's a
bit early to tell, but I haven't seen any sign of the aquatic rodents
since the water rose.
Sometimes when beavers eat through a trunk, the tree will
topple but then catch in the branches of another tree. It always
seems a shame, because the first tree is now dead and the beavers
didn't get their food anyway. I saw this happen about a month ago,
and then I noticed that the beavers were coming back and chewing off
the bottom two feet every night. They did this until the dead tree
stood vertical and fell of its own weight. One morning I came out and
the only thing left was a line of wood chips running from the stump
to the second tree.
One day I was walking along the towpath daydreaming when I
heard a noise on the other side of the canal. I looked up and saw
two bucks with antlers browsing away. I thought it extraordinary
that I, and probably many others, could just walk by and not notice
the deer, unless the animals made noise. So I paid closer attention
and sure enough, I saw a third buck a hundred yards away standing
perfectly still and blending into the landscape.
I imagine we'll finally get some real snow and ice in
February. I'd hate to go an entire winter without using my skates
and cross-country skis.
-- Peter Jones, Sycamore Island Caretaker