Notes from the Island
December 1996


An unusual case, owing to the changing of the caretaker guard, is provided for this month with two "Notes from the Island." This is Peter Jones' last "Notes" and below is Doc Taliaferro's first.


[Peter's "Notes from the Island"]

At the beginning of November Holly and I moved off the Island. We secured permission to bring a truck onto the Clara Barton Parkway and we arranged for the National Park Service to unlock the gate at Lock 10. The weather was fine, the river was low and at 10 AM on Saturday morning I drove the fifteen foot Ryder truck down the towpath.

Fortunately, many of our friends came to help us carry the possessions we have acquired over the years and the move went quite smoothly. A special thanks to members Tryon Wells, Ellen Kennedy and Greg Super (Greg was the Saturday caretaker).

Our new address is 904 Prospect St., Takoma Park, MD 20912 and our new phone number is 301-589-7255, in case anyone would like to reach us. Doc and Phyllis also have our number, so you can always call the Island.

We are adjusting to life on the mainland. Ironically, the basement of the new house flooded within a week of our moving. I have a temporary job working for the Labor Heritage Foundation, a non-profit organization which promotes the use of art, music and culture in the labor movement. Its chairperson is Joe Glazer, father of Sycamore Islander Emily Glazer, and I will be replacing Joanne Delaplaine (daughter of member Esther Delaplaine) while she is on leave.

My last full day on the Island was the Workfest. Although the crowd was small, we were able to pull in the floats and do a fair amount of raking. I was particularly impressed that John Matthews, Doc Taliaferro and I were able to erect a new post on the Maryland side and connect the ferry rope to it. The old post was so rotted and eroded away that one good kick dispatched it into the river.

Yesterday, I went back to Sycamore Island. The geese and the ducks rushed up for their food. The Potomac was high, but Maria Stenzil and I paddled up to where the Minnehaha empties into the Potomac and we saw a couple of great blue herons and kingfishers. There were signs of some beaver activity, but not as much as I remember in other years.

Holly and I have had great times on Sycamore Island. I've particularly enjoyed the long conversations with members as well as the extraordinary natural beauty of the Potomac. However, I'm looking forward to this new stage in my life, which will include visiting the Island without jumping every time the cowbell rings.

-- Peter Jones, Sycamore Island Caretaker


[Doc's "Notes from the Island"]

The first thing you will notice about these "Notes" is new authorship, tentative and apprehensive about matching the standard set by Peter Jones. This month marks the transition to a new Caretaker and the debut of myself, Doc Taliaferro, as the new person to fill this space for John Thomson, and of my wife Phyllis, as suggester and proof-reader.

Phyl and I have lived in Prague for the last 5 years, and I can tell you that returning to the States after that amount of time is a major adventure, but coming to live on the Island has a special significance for us, as the Island is where we had our first date and really got to know each other for the first time. She arrived a week after I , right off the plane from Europe... with 5 bags and two cats... on a cold, and rainy night... down a long and dark path... and awoke the next morning to be told that the water was so high that the ferry line would have to be cut and the only way back to Maryland was by canoeing across fast and rising water.

Well folks, the timing was such that it was hard not to suspect Peter of ordering up rain and high water as a training exercise. None of this casual settling in stuff, it was all high water checklists and procedures. And of course, more than a little thrilling. Phyl spent 4 days going and coming by canoe over fast water. Fortunately, Peter and Holly are excellent teachers, and we feel we have passed our trial by fire (or water, as the case may be.)

Ferry service was restored in time for the Fall Workfest, which I am told was not as well attended as is usual (I am sure the rest of you thought the ferry was still inoperable, right?) None the less, the Island has been winterized and the essential chores got done: the floats were brought in; water turned off and pipes drained; miscellaneous cleaning up of the clubhouse; leaves were raked but not nearly enough due to short handedness; under the direction of Dave Holdridge, the decking on the canoe floats was removed so that new decking could be put on for next year; and importantly, John Matthews and Peter Jones supervised the installation of a new post for the attachment of the ferry line to the Maryland side. And then of course, the reward: George and Marcia Loeb organized their traditional splendid barbecue.

The crew for the Workfest deserves special recognition for getting so much done by so few: Trip Reid; Gerry Barton; Phyllis Taliaferro; David Lyles; Peter Jones; Bill Eichbaum; John Matthews; Holly Syrrakos; Mark Brenaman; Dave Holdridge; George and Marcia Loeb; Dick Finn; John and Peggy Thomsom; Betty Burchell; Joan Kennedy; and Susan Richardson. What!! You did not see your name here!!! Be sure you will get a call for the Spring Workfest.

All members and their guests are reminded that for the duration of the cold season the only toilet facilities are in the heated toilet in the men's locker room. Also, John Matthews has installed the new sign-in log on the ferry. This is a waterproof metal holder conveniently mounted on the railing of the ferry so that any non-members taking the ferry to the Island can sign the liability release form before they actually cross to the Island. If you are operating the ferry and are unclear as to the status of anyone coming to the Island, be sure to query them before you bring them over and have them sign the form if they are not a member.

Special Appreciation Citation: in recognition for giving up a valuable Saturday, for understanding the need of the Caretaker and his family to have a kitchen floor that was not dangerously buckled and torn up in the aftermath of the last flood, for exercising shrewd planning and excellent workmanship in the ripping out of the damaged kitchen floor and replacing it with a new and improved floor... David Holdridge is hereby mentioned in dispatches.

And now, gentle folks, we must discuss a Matter of Grave Concern to your Caretaker. Some days ago it was discovered that one of a group of tulip poplars growing quite near the clubhouse had been selected to provide munchies for a herd of beaver. In fact, the eaten portion of bark was so large, so noticeable, and so close as to be embarrassing to the Caretaker. But hey... no problem... the trunk was accordingly and lovingly wrapped with chicken wire. The next night, the Caretaker noticed one of his cats tense while looking out the window, and following the gaze of the beloved cat, noticed a huge beaver standing so tall on his hind legs that he was able to eat the bark above the level of the wire. The Caretaker, thinking to scare the huge beaver, got a spotlight and shined it on the beaver from the safety and sanctity of his living room. The huge beaver, not at all bothered, ripped a piece of bark off the tree and turned to face the light directly, chewing contentedly. The Caretaker, now personally affronted, opened the window and began to yell at the huge beaver. The huge beaver continued to ignore this outburst for several moments until the language of the Caretaker became so loud and so decidedly un-Christian that finally, careful to show no haste what so ever, the huge beaver ambled off towards the water. The next day the tree was wrapped with a second layer of chicken wire above the level of the first. The following day this second wrapping of wire was discovered to have been pulled down, and signs of a "high" feast were apparent. The higher wire was more sturdily attached to the trunk, but the following day the browsed are of trunk under the wire seemed suspiciously (but not verifiably) larger. Late that night, returning to the Island, what appeared to be the wake of a torpedo could be seen in the moonlight coming directly towards the ferry. The Caretaker's wife brought a flashlight to bear and observed first that it was the huge beaver, and then commented a few moments later that we were about to be either rammed or boarded. Suddenly, turning about two feet away from the ferry, the huge beaver swam away slowly and unconcernedly, having amply demonstrated just who was able to generate adrenaline in whom. The Matter of Grave concern is that the huge beaver seems to be confused regarding just who is supposed to be the dominant species on this island. Suggestions and comments are welcome.

Finally, I would like to say that Phyl and I are thrilled and honored to be allowed to succeed Peter and Holly on the Island. We will work hard to "take care" of the Island and preserve that "Specialness" it represents to us all.

-- Doc Taliaferro, Sycamore Island Caretaker