Notes from the Island
December 1998


He did not come in the night... stealing from shadow to shadow... creeping fearfully towards his target. No, he came about 4:30 in the late afternoon, while there was still daylight, and took half the bark from the mulberry tree near the house while the Sunday caretaker addressed Christmas cards on the deck, only a few feet away. The beaver has struck again!! In broad daylight!! Brazenly... fearlessly... while at least three Members were nearby on the Island. This is the large mulberry tree under which the bench sits in the middle of the Island near the screen porch. Several witnesses could confirm that the tree was untouched and then munched upon during only a 40 minute time window. And what a violation!! The area of bark taken is so large that it jumps out at you as soon as you walk down the front steps, or out of the screen porch. Two days later the Island was circumambulated to take a survey of the beaver damage. Seventeen trees had been nibbled... three of which will probably be lost.

There is no question that beaver activity has picked up. Again we are in the season in which they can be seen practically every night. However, one evening while preparing to leave the Island the familiar V-shaped wake led by a small head approached the ferry landing. Light in hand and curious to see how big the body was, I lit it up. Surprised, the critter dove immediately. But to my amazement, clearly seen was not the broad tail of a beaver, but a long skinny tail like a rat. And no characteristic slap of the water. It was in fact a very large muskrat, the first we have seen. This has caused us to reflect upon the numerous beaver sightings and how many might have been muskrats instead, but in fact there has almost always been the tell tale water slap in the past. Still, a survey will be taken.

The bird nests in the newly leafless trees reveal how close we have been to others... who watched our comings and goings and overheard our conversations without any awareness on our part. And not just the birds. Sitting out quietly on the Island at this time of year one can hear activity and movement from every quarter because of the leaves and realize that the Island is a community of sentient beings of which we are mostly unaware. And yet, without the leaves human kind intrudes. The lights on the parkway can be seen. But most intrusive is the complex across the river... I say complex because there are now so many lights over such a large area. This year they have either put up more lights or taken down more trees and/or limbs... or both. Much more than last year this closest house/complex across the river "glares" with light.

The brief shower we had Thanksgiving morning caused us to check the NOAA web site for the river levels for the first time in many months. It was surprising to note that a "drought " statement was posted. We are actually down 10 inches of rain since July. All the more amazing that the grass John Matthews sowed in September is doing so well. And yes... because of the rain up river the water will indeed rise to the level of 2.9 feet (Gosh!!) at the Little Falls gauge. The water clarity has been stunning, and one wonders where the fish can hide. Those of you fisherpersons who have given up for the year will be chagrined to note that Billy Bays came down Thanksgiving week and caught a monster.

-- Doc Taliaferro, Sycamore Island Caretaker