Notes from the Island
July 1998


The hot wet weather has certainly brought out the skeeters... and in fact bugs and spiders of all sorts in much greater profusion. Last year it seemed to be always pleasant outside around dusk, but this year is different. Bring repellent if you plan to stay late in the afternoon.

The river seems to be almost completely recovered from the 1996 floods. There are lots of water plants and lots of fish. Paul Stanton has reported seeing at least 20 great blue herons feeding at separate places along the river above Sycamore, and this would support the rumors of a rookery up at wide water. There has been a lot of fishing this year, and the reports suggest that there are many small mouth bass, which are not large, and many bluegill, which are big. Catfish have even been caught with surface lure.

One incident I have been meaning to report has solved the mystery of why the geese sometimes fly up to the roof of the canoe shed and create a ruckus. Sometimes it gets positively loud down here, as when I went out one day to investigate a commotion of intermingled goose and crow sounds. There were goslings on the open lawn, and about four black birds (they seemed too large to be simple crows) were perched on lower limbs around the lawn. The black birds would swoop down and make passes at the smallest goslings, actually much the same behavior one would expect with a falcon or hawk. They seemed to work together, coming in quickly at frequent intervals from different directions. Of course, this had about 20 adult geese all squawking madly. I did not see any goslings carried away, but almost, and the process seemed well rehearsed by the black birds and could certainly explain why the number of goslings diminished slightly in the last two weeks of May. It could also explain why families with goslings stopped wandering around the open lawn areas of the Island. Finally, a couple of geese flew to the top of the canoe shed and strutted and honked challengingly. This put them above the "swoop zone" where they could threaten to drop down on any black bird making a pass, and so the black birds left.

The daylilies were out in June and the color was riotous. The Island was decked out from one end to the other. This is especially gratifying to the Caretaker because last year they hardly bloomed at all. At first I presumed that the floods of the year before had dropped so much sediment that the soil level had changed on many plants, causing them to spend a year readjusting themselves. Now I am of the theory that the floods are good for certain clumped perennials because of the more fluid characteristics of the top several inches of soil when beneath flood waters. It seems that those daylilies on the lower reaches of the Island are not as congested in their clumps... the beds are as though divided... as though when under water the top inches of soil is more the consistency of a thick soup in which things can rearrange themselves, and that the daylily roots flex and push away from each other. The bed near the canoe shed, which has only been under water twice during the 1996 floods, is in more need of dividing and is unlike the beds. Of course, this year the daylilies have benefited from some serious weeding. However, this has mostly been inadvertent, the result of last year's mid-season war against the stinging nettle, which has continued this year. The only weeding dedicated for the sake of the daylilies themselves has been to pluck out the jewel weed from the front of certain beds. Everyone should have seen the massive daylily bed now accessible by the new "beaver trail."

Fisher persons... beware!!!! Last June 9 a Ranger was noted checking the catch of a fisherman sitting on our towpath steps. The fisherman was an older person, who professed to anyone that came by that he spoke not a word of English, and seemed to convince some that he was Russian. What little Russian I heard convinced me that he was more likely a poor or homeless person just wanting to be left alone. He sat on the steps for many hours, and I saw him pull in at least one catfish. It seemed from a distance that the Ranger might have written him a ticket (no license?), and certainly he inspected the plastic bag in which the caught fish were kept. So make sure your own paperwork is in order if you come to fish... they are checking.

On the evening of 17 June we were visited by Bill Jackson, who had been a teenage caretaker in the early fifties. Caught reminiscing on the towpath, Bill was invited over and described a much different Sycamore Island Club from his youth. The man who lived here at the time "was not a caretaker but a gentleman," who was a Harvard trained lawyer that had retired from practicing patent law. Bill would come down and do essential caretaking, ferrying, and anything else that needed doing for 75 cents an hour. One of the first things he asked about was the pool table, on which he had been taught by the gentleman, and was especially fond of "bottle pool," where a leather covered bottle was placed on the table with two balls. The gentleman lived in a shack behind the clubhouse, where he frequently played classical music, and from which Bill credits his own love of the genre. He was under the impression that there were only about 50 members, only canoeists (and maybe fishermen?), and that there were no swimmers or picnickers on the Island. No one wore shorts, only slacks and wide brimmed hats. Bill now manufactures specialty computers at a factory in Ohio to which he commutes from a large farm nearby. So all you kids come on down and help... the first steps on the path to greatness can begin here.

Swimmers rejoice... Tryon Wells has come down and installed a new ladder on the swimming float... not the swimming "dock" which is near the shore... but the new wooden float anchored out mid-river. The ladder is identical to the one on the swimming dock. Even more important, the geese are around but in large flocks, are not territorial, and thus there are no pairs nesting on the floats and docks and leaving goose poo about. The water temperature is up to 81 degrees, but boaters and swimmers should take note that the river has been over 4 feet for the last three weeks with no sign of abatement and there is a lot of current.

Monday, 22 June, was the third day in a row that the park Police have come by policing the towpath. On the previous Saturday Officer Bill Thomas of the Mounted Patrol came by for the third time during that week, but on Sunday another officer came by on a three wheeler motorcycle, and Monday an actual patrol car came by on the towpath. All of this activity is probably the result of two reported incidents of indecent exposure during the last two weeks, and about ten days before Officer Thomas surprised and apprehended one of the perpetrators. I have of course called the Park Police to give positive reinforcement to the increased patrolling, and the Club might do a letter of support. Regarding the Sunday, 14 June incident in which a man was exposing himself indecently on our own iron bridge: The man was black (coffee), with black hair, 30 to 40 years old, 190 lbs. but round and puffy as though out of shape, wearing green shorts and white socks with white running shoes. He exposed himself at 1 PM on Chain Bridge and at 2 PM on our iron bridge. Please call Officer Bill Thomas if you have any info at (202) 472-3760.

It has come up that one reason we have not had more Park Police coverage along our part of the Park is that the barn/mounted police station at Glen Echo was taken from the mounted police while they were doing temporary duty in Atlanta during the Olympics. Research has suggested that this was done in a politically deceitful and unethical manner. A promise was made to provide another facility at Carderock, but this seems to be forgotten. As there has been an alarming increase in several categories of incidents in our area, some Members have decided to get out the "squeaky wheel" until this issue is resolved, and interested parties can contact the Island for more information.

Once as I went to answer the bell this month, I was surprised to see a dog tied up on the ferry. A Member and his family were having a picnic on the Island, but the Member himself had come late. I had not seen the dog waiting on the towpath with the Member, and a son had offered to go and get his father. The Member also answered the bell and hurried to the ferry, volunteering to handle the ferry while the dog was tied up on it, and explained that while usually he left his dog tied up on the towpath while he came to the Island to get his canoe before going to Ruppert's Island, on this occasion he was late and wanted to grab a bite to eat first... and after all, he pointed out... while tied up on the ferry the dog was not really on the Island. I had to admit this was true, but I also considered it to be high drama and great fun to see which arriving Members might ring the bell while the dog was on the ferry. Several arrived and shared the ferry with the dog, but it was a very nice dog and fortunately none seemed to mind, and before long dog and Member happily canoed off to Ruppert's as per their usual program. When I asked the Member later if he had responded with his dog questionnaire, he said that he had not, that he was actually ambivalent about the issue as he never actually brought his dog on the Island.

-- Doc Taliaferro, Sycamore Island Caretaker