Notes from the Island
September 1998

The first clue that something was different was when that tell-tale smell came from the kitty litter box... strange because the cats have totally acclimated to the out-of-doors for their private toilet... even in the harshest days of winter. So much so that the litter box has been unchanged and largely unthought of for over a year. And upon thoughtful consideration, why yes... the cats have been staying indoors at night. And yes... come to think of it... our "fraidy cat," Barney, has been more neurotic than usual at night. So we considered the possibility that some "large animal" might be stalking the Island at night, scaring them. Of course, those of you who might recall the report of the "Strange Encounter" last Spring will understand that a possible description of a large animal could include that most dangerous of all, and why we now lock our door at nights, even though protected by our own moat. Still, it is hard to imagine the cats being skitsy about mere man being on the Island when one considers Madelyn's disgraceful behavior of rolling on her back and begging to be touched by virtually everyone who disembarks from the ferry. The mystery continues.

Then, last Friday, responding to the ferry bell at about 5 PM, the Caretaker's Wife walked out of the quarters and found, sitting placidly on the clubhouse stairs, Rocky the raccoon. A little too placidly, she thought as she edged by, as Rocky seemed to have no thought of moving. And there were lots of people on the Island at the time. Rocky then followed her down the walk toward the ferry, and sort of hung out while a load of folks came over. He did not seem sick, and if anything seemed to be too friendly. However, he was a nocturnal raccoon walking around sort of aimlessly during the day, so all were warned. At one point he tried to walk up to me and ended up backing me up the walkway about ten feet before he stopped, looking puzzled. At another time he walked over to the canoe float and stared at the Jay family for a time, but eventually he got into the river and swam over to the towpath, at a distance indistinguishable from a beaver in the water. Madelyn came out to watch, and they acknowledged each other but kept a good 20 feet between themselves with such familiarity that it was obviously not Rocky responsible for the cats staying in some nights.

And so, our nerves were well exercised, lying in bed reading just before that midnight, when that sound came out of the silence that froze us in adrenaline shock: Someone was trying to open the front door!!!

It is hard to describe such a feeling of vulnerability and nakedness (quite literally), the bedroom being a mere 123 inches from the front door. The mind was not as momentarily frozen as the body: Did we really remember to lock the door??? Why don't I have a gun??? Am I going to stop to put something on when I jump out of bed. (Yes, no idea, no.) And then we sprang out of bed, ran to turn on the outside lights, and then trembled at the window. Nothing! Yet the sound had been unmistakable. Someone or something had pulled the screen door open and let it shut loudly. All Members waiting for the ferry know this sound. I noticed that the Caretaker's Wife had had the presence of mind to grab the large iron pipe she now keeps by her side of the bed. Cautiously and at the ready we approached the front door, iron pipe raised, and opened it, peering out. Nothing could be seen. Nothing. It was un-nerving. Feeling brave, I pushed the screen door open to stick my head out and look down the side of the building. A small shadow detached itself from the darkness and walked in the open door, sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor and looking expectantly for a kitty treat. Madelyn!!! We looked at each other... was it possible... I mean, such a small kitty and such a large door... which had obviously been pulled open some distance to make such a loud noise when let go.

Unconvinced, we locked and checked the door and returned to bed, wide awake. The chapters passed more slowly now, as every night sound was processed for identification. One hour and ten minutes later, the door slammed again, the drill was repeated, and again as we crouched by the windows... nothing. As one might imagine, this time we wanted to find a kitty in the shadows when the door was opened, and we did. No treats this time, and in fact I tried to lecture Madelyn about the fine winter slippers her fur would make if she did it again, but she pretended not to understand. It remains to be seen whose behavior will be modified. Stay tuned.

Even with this drought, the Island is covered with beautiful late summer flowers. The woodland sunflowers are lasting for weeks, and the butterflies are everywhere. The best viewing is from the secret chair at the upriver tip of the Island, but the Caretaker suspects few if any have been intrepid enough to discover it.

Island use is up, and folks frequently express surprise at how many others are here when they arrive. Gone are the days when an arriving Member could expect to find a natural solitude to experience on the Island. One reason for this is the near doubling this year of the Guest Card List. Checking the log for the 31 days in the month of July, the average daily use was 23.45 persons per day according to the log. Of course, the actual number is higher, as, for instance, this number does not count several children's parties where separate liability sheets were used, or reflect accurately certain Sundays when many people were not asked to sign the ferry log.

-- Doc Taliaferro, Sycamore Island Caretaker