Notes from the Island
November 1997


As the water temperature has plummeted, so has the number of fisherpersons. However, there are a few late season reports that augur well for next year. The first are recent reports from both John Matthews and George Malusky of each catching a large rockfish above the Little Falls dam. There were previous reports of many rockfish below the dam, but catches above Little Falls is apparently unheard of in recent years. Perhaps this is because the river has been so low and the water flow over the spillway so minimal. Also encouraging is the large numbers of juvenile fish of all kinds and the fact they seem to have put on a lot of fat for the winter. And now, just two weeks ago, the National Park Service has announced the issuance of a Special Use Permit to the US Corps of Engineers to begin work on the Interagency Little Falls Dam Fishway. Work on the project is expected to begin in January, 1998, and to take five months. Fisherpersons reading this will know better what this means.

A special mention in the dispatches is accorded to Sally Strain, who while substitute caretaking noticed a group of teenagers taking canoes and kayaks from Member's racks. They were already in the water by the time she got to the canoe float. Upon questioning the teenager who was, as a son of a Member but unaccompanied by an adult, responsible for the group, it became clear that they were using watercraft of Members without permission. She was required to be forceful to get them to return the Members' canoes to the proper racks and to use Club canoes instead. In this case it turned out to be the first visit to the Island by the son of a new Member and thus somewhat understandable that the rules were not known. None the less, this issue is very sensitive because this means that on 4 out of the last 6 weekends there has been unauthorized use of Members' canoes. Twice on Sunday evenings the Caretaker has returned to find Members' canoes left on the canoe float, when the owners were not logged onto the Island that day. And yet, even from the canoe float the sign can be seen on the canoe shed announcing: Canoe Shed, private Member owned canoes only.

Members are reminded that they are responsible to know the rules of the Club, and responsible to see that their children and guests follow these rules. And yet, the above case illustrates a good point... what are the rules and how can a member, especially a new Member, get a copy? Well... the Club By-Laws and the Standing Rules are available on the Club web site, and can be seen and copied by anyone. And now, a red binder (as in emergency red) is upstairs in the Clubroom, and this contains a copy of the Standing Rules and Club By-Laws. It also contains an instruction sheet for substitute caretakers and emergency numbers, and all substitute caretakers are encouraged to read it so that they understand that their job as substitute caretaker is, as in the case of Sally Strain, to be more than just that of a ferry person: you become the designated responsible person on the Island.

One Sunday recently an early fisherperson came on to the Island, and following correct protocol, took the ferry back over to lock it up for the arrival of the substitute caretaker. However, he did not actually lock it, and when the substitute caretakers arrived later in the morning they found the ferry on the Island, where two non-Member strangers had to be hailed to return the ferry to the towpath landing and fetch them. The two passing bicyclists had seen the unlocked ferry and decided to take it over and roam the Island.

The Caretaker feels guilty that a certain remonstrative shrillness has crept into his reports these last couple of months, as for instance the problem of the Member's canoes. But it should be reported that several instances of a certain "looseness" or "zaniness" appeared sometime in August, and corresponds roughly to a drastic increase in Island traffic and usage. Starting at this time there were "three page days" during the week, meaning over 40 people logged in at the ferry. And this does not include numbers from the increased traffic from the 22 large parties scheduled in the nine weeks between 21 August and 25 October. This is not a complaint... only a report... but it is true that your Caretaker is likely the only person you know who looked forward to the ending of daylight savings time.

A kingfisher has been noticed hanging out around the Island for the last month... seen frequently but mostly seeming to be flying hurriedly from one end to the other. While sitting out early one morning at the table at the lower end, he flew into the children's tree over the water, near the bank, where many ripples could be seen on the surface denoting the myriad little fish. It was fascinating to watch him fish, repeatedly diving into the water. I now recognize the splashing sound I have heard many times near the area of the large downed sycamore tree sticking into the river mid-Island. Remember, the big show is playing continuously on Sycamore Island for anyone who cares to sit quietly and watch.

A gentle hour's rain mid-month relieved any anxiety about most of the new sprouting grass surviving the drought. Only a quarter of the new grass was lost. The rain was un-forecast and two poor fishermen had just put their canoe in before the big surprise. They got soaked, but it was so gentle that I sat for 20 minutes under the tree at the bench near the ferry before the water made it through the tree canopy. Makes one wonder about how much water gets soaked up before it hit the ground. When one considers the actual surface area of all the leaves above, the smallest leaf absorption at all would make a big difference in how much water must fall before any hits the ground.

John Matthews came early one Saturday and we set about to try to finish making and attaching the new leaders to the canoes. The rope used is a five-eight's inch dacron of eleven foot lengths with a hooked clip on the end for quick attachment to the safety chain that will be rolled out upon the lawn in the event of flood. The safety chain will be connected to the hickory tree growing near the corner of the screen porch and deck. The ends of the rope are melted, the knot used was a bowline, and each end was crimped by John with aluminium wire cut into small lengths for that purpose. John Krasny joined us mid-morning, and by early afternoon we had almost finished all canoes. Then, after deciding to put clips on both ends of those leaders used for kayaks so the owners could detach the leader and would not have to trail it, and while experimenting with clipping the line to another rope... the flexible metal tongue on one of the clips broke... surprisingly and easily... and now the entire project will have to be redone and all clips replaced with a stronger type. It should be noted that on a cold and rainy day during which the Caretaker was abed with the flu, the Captain came down and undid all the original clips and all that work himself so he could return the defective clips to the hardware store. This time the Captain has selected sturdy brass hog rings as clips.

In a couple of days November will be upon us and yet, with the exception of the walnut and sycamore trees, all trees on the Island are still clad in leafy green. There are leaves on the ground and in the water, one can see further because there is less foliage, we have had our first white frost on the ground, but above ground it is still green. The water continues to be low and very clear. It is possible to stand on the end of the canoe float and see the bottom, to a depth of at least five feet.

Tryon Wells has finished the monumental task of compiling the Club History section of the Sycamore Island Club web page. All are encouraged to check it out. In particular he has uploaded the Centennial Issue of the Islander put together by editor John Thomson in 1985. Consider what a laborious task this was when you notice how many pages we are talking about: Tryon had to run each page through a scanner with OCR, and then read, edit, and correct anything not recognized by the OCR software.

I was particularly struck by the Norman Custis article recounting the early days. He describes having to take two street cars to get here as a youth... watching the barges pass under the iron bridge (yes, the canal was working in those days)... and describes leaving the Island after dark and "the thrill of lighting a torch of rolled up newspaper to flag down the street car." Run that one by your kids of today!!! I learned that there used to be a tennis court on the Island, that one of my predecessors fell off the ferry and drowned, that the bald cypress near the ferry was planted as a memorial to another "Doc," and of the "ruthless efforts of the Interior Department to take our islands by eminent domain." It is easy to take for granted this special place we know as Sycamore Island without realizing the great traditions and heroic efforts that have preserved the Island so that it could be handed down to us for safe keeping. The article was so well written that it evoked not only a certain spirit of the Island, but I confess, also a tear.

I also confess to periods of anger during this last year while observing a (very) few Members or visitors who seemed by behavior to be unmindful of the "specialness" of the Island and the responsibilities it implies. But then, "unaware" is probably a more apt description, as after all these are new times with new generations and many new Members How would they know? Accordingly, I will move that future issues of the Islander excerpt stories of the history of the Island as space will permit, beginning with the Custis article. I hope you will read them... and I hope you will make your children read them.

This Island is more than just another pretty picnic park. It is a tradition... and in this tradition we are all Caretakers.

-- Doc Taliaferro, Sycamore Island Caretaker