Notes from the Island
April 1997


It is funny things can change. One day we are outside being amazed at how nice the weather can be, and suddenly we are overwhelmed with how everything is different. How did this happen? Why did we not notice. Did it happen all at once? How did this sneak up on us... especially when we thought we were paying attention? It seemed the bush in front of the screened porch developed leaves in three days!!

One sudden thing is how fast the walls of our world has come rushing inward. The line of sight vistas are fast disappearing... there are no green leaves on the trees yet... but just the buds and other assorted non-green things being exuded from the trees have hidden walkers on the path coming down the hill. One more week of this and visibility from the side windows in the Caretaker's quarters will be reduced from half a mile to five feet.

Certainly March has been a time of unrelenting high water. The Island has been closed 16 of the first 24 days this month... and substantial rain is still expected. The gentleman who came to check and certify our fire extinguishers lives on a mountainside above Harper's Ferry and reports that the mountains are saturated... have been all year... and that any water that falls runs directly into the river. The high water of March 5 was interesting because of the enormous amount of sediment deposited by the receding waters... almost two inches on the lower level of the wooden walkway. This is interesting because one can see many places on the Island where the two floods of last year scoured the topsoil off the surface... exposing networks of small fibrous tree roots. It will be interesting to track the ebb and flow of sediment.

The narcissus are in full bloom and the bluebells are blue but have not yet raised their heads. If you have not seen them when you read this... drop everything and rush to the Island. Everywhere shoots are exploding upwards. The Caretaker has continuing disappointment at not being able to walk the Island at night while fragile plants are emerging.

Big fish... let me say this again... BIG FISH... have been seen jumping during this time that the insects are emerging. The Caretaker wishes to be cautious about saying just how big for fear of being embroiled in any "big fish story" dispute. But during late dusk with his own eyes he saw a dark body so large come from beneath to take something off the surface that one can only hope it was a fish. You can imagine the internal anguish about whether or not such a sighting should be reported. It is not as though the problem is one of credibility... such as a UFO sighting. Rather, the Caretaker imagines hordes of Members descending on the Island... bait at hand... fuelled merely by the hope that the report "may" be true... driven by Spring Fever and that peculiar quest for "The Big One" that seems to be come upon certain people the first time they grip certain fishing poles.

Once the Caretaker imagined that having a hook, cork, and bamboo pole as an excuse to explore nature, to sit and do nothing but examine one's internal dialogue... or doze in natural surroundings. But then the Caretaker had a favorite camping buddy (now a Member who shall remain nameless) who went off on his own one day and returned with that 1000 yard stare when recounting his virginal fishing experience. Thereafter, all camping sites were selected for proximity to prime fishing, and in the spirit of fellowship... a small investment was made in fishing apparatus. Yet this did not turn out to be the bucolic experience originally imagined. Indeed, the friend approached the experience with the single-minded determination of the true predator. And just when lamentations seemed to be in order for lost souls... an experience even more consuming than this addiction took over the friend: Parenthood. And thus he was lost. Not that the two are necessarily connected... except to note that there are more compelling forces than addictions. But if you ask your Caretaker how the fishing is and he hesitates... know he is measuring the possible impact on your sanity and his privacy... and if he answers that the fishing has been terrible... be suspicious.

As the season changes new birds are appearing at the feeders and on the Island. Wood ducks are about and it is strange to see ducks sitting in the sycamores. House finches have arrived and our only nuthatch now has a friend. The piliated woodpecker can be seen still using the same hole in the same sycamore. Two doves are shyly using the feeder... one is never seen without the other. And the robins are everywhere on the grass... running and pausing... alert for the worms which are in profusion and in all sizes in any turned spade of dirt.

-- Doc Taliaferro, Sycamore Island Caretaker