Notes from the Island
February 1995


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 from hibernation.

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