Notes from the Island
May 1999


It has happened yet again... the Caretaker... returning from the bank and hardware store one morning found that the ferry had been unlocked and taken to the Island by a Member. Unfortunately, the Member and his guests had then gone canoeing without returning the ferry to the towpath landing so that the Caretaker could have access to home and job or that other Members could have access to the Island. What does this mean??? It means it is time to have our annual review of the "Responsibilities of Members."

Any Member who comes to the Island while the Caretaker is not there becomes the de facto caretaker!!! With all the responsibilities appertaining!!! Forget your original plan. If you are on the Island alone you are the responsible duty officer. If you wish to take a canoe out it is your responsibility to leave the ferry locked up on the towpath landing. You can take the canoe out, tie it to the ferry, pull the ferry across, lock up the ferry, and then go on your way in your canoe free of further responsibility.

Members may not come on to the Island alone and go swimming. The ferry bell can not be heard from the swimming area of the Island. If you are on the Island alone it is your responsibility to stay near the middle of the Island where the ferry bell can be heard. One of the three previous instances in which I have had to swim was not because the Member in question was oblivious of their responsibility, but because they were unaware that the bell could not be heard while they were sunning by the swimming float.

Sharing the Island requires co-operative responsibility by the Members. These problems were especially apparent last year in the irresponsibility of many Sunday caretakers. I can not count the number of times I had to chase down a Sunday caretaker to inform them that a Member had been ringing the bell for a long time. Several times Sunday caretakers actually got in canoes and ignored their responsibilities and the ringing bell. On four occasions last year Sunday caretakers did not even show up for their shifts, the most egregious affront to the "Responsibilities of Membership," and no effort was made to discipline them. Often the last shift leaves the Island long before dusk. In short, the Island is frequently out of control on Sundays, there are substitute caretakers that do not take their duties seriously, and instances of liability exposure to the Club are not uncommon. The Club needs to pay attention to this problem. Nor can the blame be laid solely to many of the individuals involved, because there is no tradition established that substitute caretakers should take their duties and responsibilities seriously. But there should be!! You can get by with a lot of slack when you are a sleepy canoe club, but not when you are evolving into a highly used recreational facility. When this has been discussed in meetings, vocal opinion leaders have taken the position that Members who are substitute caretakers can not be expected to enforce the rules... that it is OK to merely hang out, party, and do the ferry. I disagree!! This Island is a special place, a place where unique special moments can be found, where shared stewardship is a privilege, and where it should not be asking too much for the substitute caretakers to be serious about being "on duty."

One difference to be noted on the Island this year is in the number of "baby" bluebells and other wildflowers. The lawn has become more of a wildflower meadow, and I suspect this has to do with the fact that this year we have not experienced the winter and spring floods of the previous three years that have covered the island even as high as the lawn. This means that the Island has actually re-seeded itself for the first time since we have been here, as before all seed would have been carried away by high waters. The Island flora continues on a recovery cycle following the '96 floods, and this year should see more dramatic plant growth on the lower reaches.

The first of the goslings appeared on 24 April, and we are sure to have a bumper crop this year as Alan and Robert Gelb went camping on Ruppert's Island and reported counting 15 geese sitting on eggs. The goose sitting a nest on the canoe shed hatched 5 goslings during the afternoon of 26 April, but the next morning they were all on the ground when we checked in the morning and we never did discover how they got down.

Those of you who have become Members since 1985 should take note that Johnna Robinson has brought down all the extra copies of the Centennial Edition of that Islander and put them in the bookcase upstairs in such a way that Members can sign for them and take them home library style. During his editorship John Thomson got many distinguished and sometimes older Members to record their reminisces and recollections of Sycamore Island through the early years and published these in a three volume edition of the Islander. This is rich reading, and if you find yourself on the Island with a whimsical wonderment about the early times and personalities of the Club, you will surely be entertained. Tryon Wells has made much of this available on our web page at: sycamoreisland.org.

Regarding the Workfest... There were task sheets detailing 17 different projects to be done, and all were accomplished except two. Of course the main projects of the morning were to get the floats out, and this year, to re-surface the swimming dock. So much got done it would be difficult to single out so many, but there are some who deserve special mention in the dispatches: Pat Roth single-handedly cleaned the women's bathroom upstairs, Trip Reid removed the massive and crazy shrub rose by the screen porch, and of course George and Marcia Loeb who produced the meal that brought us all together in fellowship.

There were some different things done this year... for instance there were large projects to transplant ivy and shrubs to the head of the Island for erosion control. But what really stood out as different this year was that so much got done after lunch! Usually lunch is the culmination of a hard day of service and folks disperse, but amazingly, much was done after lunch in the late afternoon... unheard of! Susan Elfstrom and Sandy Robinson cleaned the upstairs kitchen. Jim Drew and Greg Super laid the foundation for the new steps at the Northwest corner of the building, installing the trestles and hauling many wheelbarrows of fill. John Stapko Jr. dug up dangerous wire cable near the swimming dock. The Pomeroys cleaned the gutters. Jeffery Jay dug out the trailing shrub rose near the volleyball court that is a major reason no one plays there anymore. Tove Elfstrom repaired the screen door on the deck. John Stapko Sr. was still clearing and cutting deadfall late into the afternoon. Susan Elfstrom and Sandy Robinson did the upstairs kitchen. Imagine... folks were still working at 5 PM !

Beginning the season there are a few new things worth noting. There is a new broom closet just inside the kitchen door, wherein you will find all sorts of implements top help you clean up after yourselves. There is also a handy vac installed on a charger on the wall behind kitchen door adjacent to the refrigerator. The snow shovel near the Captain's float is not displaced... it is there to remove goose poop from the floats. Courtesy of a work party from the Edmund Burke School sponsored by Barbara Kraft... you will notice a new brick walkway along the river side of the clubhouse, leading to new steps and decking leading to the steps up the side of the building, and a newly bricked shower and improved shower path. And finally... let the word go forth... after many false announcements and suspected incompetencies... the canal is filling with water!!! And thus the last reminder of the '96 flood is gone.

One afternoon last month when the Island was closed because of high water I enjoyed a serendipitous encounter after walking to the swimming dock. While standing there in sort of mouth open agapement at the beauty of the moment I was startled when a long slender head and neck suddenly stuck up out of the water only a few feet away. It was a cormorant, who had been fishing underwater while I had walked up. As I stood still and thus un-noticed, I was privileged to watch him dive and fish repeatedly for what seemed a long time... maybe 20 minutes. Graceful in the water, when they dive they swim underwater using their wings as though they were flying. Unlike other waterfowl, while cruising the surface their bodies are completely submerged, with only the head and neck sticking out. But what is truly remarkable is that moment when they take flight, metamorphosing from submarine to airplane in but an instant. You may have heard them from afar on the Island, as their wings flap against the water a few times before they are completely airborne, making a distinctive sound.

But it was Peter Cannell who gave me the phrase to catagorize such epiphanous moments. Returning from an afternoon canoe trip with a friend, he reported seeing a bald eagle being chased by an osprey. In fact, he rhapsodized about it, and, pausing at a point where the experience was beyond any suitable description, simply said "Well... I guess it was just a... a... Sycamore Moment."

And I knew what he meant... although I could never describe what he meant... and I know that most of you know what he meant also. Because what makes this Island so special is not that it is a perfect and unique place to host a party or impress friends, but that it is an environment in which Mother Nature will provide anyone with the wit to seek an endless supply of "Sycamore Moments." This is the heritage that we must all preserve and protect, not just for our own selfish enjoyment, but because every day there are fewer and fewer such places to show our children. And this is why membership in the Montgomery Sycamore Island Club is... or should be... serious business.

-- Doc Taliaferro, Sycamore Island Caretaker