Notes from the Island
May 1998


Despite the rainy day, enough stalwart souls turned up for the Spring Workfest to get most every thing essential done. The floats are out, the clubhouse cleaned, the detritus of the unending high waters this winter generally cleared off. Again the high point was the communal mid-day meal in the clubhouse produced by George and Marcia Loeb. The small co-operative work groups are a wonderful and fun way to meet other Members, but somehow to me the shared meal and informal meeting created a real feeling of community and fellowship... the sort of thing that children of all ages should experience as often as possible. This Spring it was a smallish group, the usual hard-core that does most of the heavy lifting, but anyone who was not here should not feel guilty because it was raining and you can be forgiven for rolling over and going back to sleep. No... what you should feel guilty about is not showing up on the rain date... which was also the paint date. But the Island looks great and as soon as the river levels drop off all should come play.

The season continues to be one of the wettest on record, and just the week before last the Caretaker's Wife was commuting by canoe because of the high water. Water tables up river remain saturated, so it does not take much rain to knock the river level above 5 feet at the Little Falls gauge, above which the river is officially fisted as hazardous for boating and fishing. Remember that you can check page 2 of the Metro section of the Post for river levels, and if it is anywhere near 5 feet on Sundays or 5.5 feet the rest of the week, call the Island before coming to make sure. These are the levels at which the Island is closed, but a call to the Island can be prudent because the levels printed in the paper can be lower than actual.

The upstairs clubroom and kitchen has been painted by our own Paul Stanton, who did a fine and professional job. The color has been changed from a yellow to an off white. Paul is a contractor who brought a crew in to do it at cost. The Women's bathroom and locker rooms are to be painted by volunteers later in the year at special time called by Susan Garbini.

There is a new attraction on the Island. A new float is in the river near the mid Island location where most of the picnic tables are. This is a sitting float, not a swimming float, and has been dubbed "The Captain's Float" in honor of that Member who provided the inspiration, the design, and the supervision of its construction. It was only partially completed at the Workfest, and in fact there was some concern that the rising waters of the following week would put the pieces at risk. But an emergency mid week work team was assembled by Tryon Wells consisting of Johnna Robinson and Jane Winer, who acting like professional carpenters were able to finish cutting and installing the flotation and then raise and flip these very heavy objects so that they would float right side up.

There is a huge maple standing just off the deck, the one with the branches obscuring the lawn. above these branches is a very large and rotten trunk sticking into the sky. I was standing near the bottom end of the canoe shed when I heard a loud cracking sound and turned to see this large rotten trunk fall to the ground, smashing any and all intervening limbs. To my amazement, one of the pieces moved, and revealed itself to be Rocky, the Island racoon. I now realize that this was where he was living on occasion, as he probably sleeps the days away in any of several hide-aways, and had just had, literally, a rude awakening. He did not seem hurt, although it was difficult to tell as his normal walk is sort of a side to side shuffle. I stood quietly still, so he did not notice me as he walked down the Island past the canoe shed toward me, passing so close I could see what definitely seemed to be a frowning and disgusted look on his face. He climbed up the large sycamore that is covered with the winter creeper vine, and although I followed his progress three quarters of the way up this very tall tree, he disappeared, probably into a hidden hole. Anyone visiting the Island after a rain can see his tell tale tracks all over the Island, as he seems to have become a semi-permanent resident. And it will be curious to see how many folks notice how opened up the Island looks now that those low branches on the maple are gone.

The first of this year's goslings made their appearance on Saturday, 25 April. There are now 6, but I have no idea where their nest might have come from. Our nesting goose on the Men sycamore is still incubating, and I am sure that all nests on the surrounding small islands were washed away by the recent high waters. One recent Friday a visiting nephew and I took a trip to Ruppert's Island and there discovered one nest with 5 eggs. I was impressed with how large they were, and it brought to mind Paul Stanton's report of a homeless person that he saw from his canoe up river last week stealing eggs from nests on the towpath side... to presumably eat. One sad effect of this high water at this time of year is that the nesting geese on the smaller islands have been forced off of their eggs by the rising water and their eggs washed away. We will thus have a much smaller gaggle of goslings this year. Johnna Robinson has suggested that the geese sometimes will lay a second clutch of eggs when this happens, in which case we may perhaps see a later group. It will be interesting to see... stay tuned.

One noteworthy result of our exploration of Ruppert's was the discovery of survey stakes on the island. Clearly a survey team had been on the island recently. The stakes are orange on the top two inches and there are appropriate survey notations written on them. After stumbling on the stakes we noticed plastic ribbons tied to branches above them so that their location can be easily found by someone looking. For anyone interested, the most easily accessible is on the Virginia side, mid-island, near the site of the Indian digs. They were clean and neither muddy or dirty, and hence had to have been put there since the I I foot flood of three weeks ago. Both the Park Service and the Potomac Conservancy have been contacted and have no knowledge of any survey. This means that several people have trespassed onto Club property and conducted a surreptitious survey for reasons unknown.

-- Doc Taliaferro, Sycamore Island Caretaker