Notes from the Island
January 1999


Forget everything you heard about a mild winter. On the day after Christmas we had to break a channel through the ice so that relatives who were house guests could leave. There were two days in the -following week in which there was no ice and the Caretaker's Wife could lay in provisions, but on this weekend of the winter storm it is a real question when the next chance to use the ferry will come. As of yet the ice has the ferry locked in but is still not hard enough to walk on. One special reason this is problematical is that it is hoped that by the time you read this your regular caretaker will have been released by the doctor to return to normal duties. This means that the Caretaker's Wife has to be able to commute across the river when she returns to normal work.

Everyone has commented this autumn on the clarity of the water. Something about the cold weather has made it even more so. It is now possible to see the bottom clearly all the way across on the ferry. Even with the ice, one is able to view a surreal world below-- of rock, submerged logs, and discarded oyster shells. Standing on the swimming float one is able to note the old tires lying on the bottom nearby.

The beaver have been particularly active. Boxwood have been taken from right outside our door. You will recall from last month's report how they ate half way around the large mulberry tree near the screen porch in broad daylight while people were on the Island. Particularly worrisome is their penchant for smaller trees of one to three inches diameter which can suddenly disappear completely and unnoticed for some time. One beaver is particularly fond of dragging his booty down to the river adjacent to the ferry landing, and then actually sitting under the landing where the low water has made a place with a cosy alcove. The sycamore trees near the landing had to be wrapped with chicken wire, as they suffer from being near his favorite place, which is even more so in the icy weather as the bobbing ferry keeps a clear patch of water clear of ice on one side until the very last. During a long row of evenings I would go down and roust him about 8 PM, which certainly seems to make him mad... but not afraid, as he swims around only until I leave. One evening I kept going down several times, and the next morning found that he had managed to get under the chicken wire around one of the trees and eaten almost all the way around. You can not tell me this guy is not trying to send a message about territorial dominance. I guess he showed me. However, this is not funny because these particular trees are importantly placed for the rigging of our ferry lines.

And this is just normal beaver! Regarding the controversy about the Giant Beaver, there have recently been two sightings. While canoeing last month Paul Stanton saw a dog flush the Giant Beaver from a hole and almost not live to regret it. And Joe and Michael Membrino saw him on another occasion, reporting they would not have believed it had they not seen it.

It continues to amaze us at the continuing traffic on the towpath. It is not just the Island that seems busier this year. On holidays it is understandable that folks will take friends and visitors to the Island or the towpath to walk off a big meal, but on the first Saturday of the year... when the high temperature of the day was 23 degrees... the count on the towpath went over 100 at midday. Go figure!!

-- Doc Taliaferro, Sycamore Island Caretaker