Notes from the Island
July 1999


It occurred late one afternoon. One moment we were sitting with guests under the mulberry tree, and the next... well... I had better start at the beginning. We were there visited by the unmated young female goose we call pretty Face. Entertained by watching her forage for fallen mulberries a guest got up and shook the mulberry tree, to her delight. She then scrambled hither and yon to gobble them up... to his delight, and when there were no more mulberries lying upon the ground, walked up to him and looked first at him, and then at the tree... expectantly. The message was clear, so he shook the mulberry tree again. And then again and again, as her pleading was repeated. Tiring of the game after several times, the guest took his seat and conversation continued. Chagrined at being ignored, pretty Face walked right up to the guest and... like some petulant child... began stomping her feet. Conversation stopped, astonishment in the air. Did we just see what we thought we saw? Again she stomped, comical as her body rocked rapidly side to side as she as she lifted one foot to stomp and then the other. There was general laughter as the guest obediently rose to shake the tree. Conversation resumed... several snippets about goose cuteness... and then back to important and weighty human business, the moment forgotten. Suddenly she was there again, right in front of the guest. Conversation stopped. She began stomping her feet. The silence lengthened, a certain undefinable unease in the air, the suspicion that although we did not know what exactly was happening, some line was being crossed. The stomping continued. We looked at each other in silence, with raised eyebrows. Why did this cuteness seem somehow ominous? Again the guest rose and shook the tree, and sat back down. But conversation did not resume. All eyes were now fixed on Pretty Face, the quietness palpable. Stomping once was cute, twice was statistically significant, but thrice??? The tension mounted as she scooped up the last fallen mulberry and looked at us. And stomped. And that was when it happened... the legendary and fabled paradigm shift occurred... I now know what such a phrase describes... just as surely as I know that one moment I was a Lord of All That I Surveyed... and the next... well... reduced to a goose trainee... a mere waiter in training at a goose eatery. Proving yet again that unexpected changes in perspective can be a humbling experience.

Soon the Island will be much quieter as the geese are now rapidly growing new flight feathers and as soon as they can take flight again will leave. Their loud and sometimes argumentative voices will be gone, as will their poo, but the Caretaker will miss them as he will now have to start cutting the grass himself. It was in fact their raucous voices that endeared them to the Roman legions who carried them everywhere. They were valued too highly to be eaten unless in emergency as the Romans carried them as sentinels. Legions on the march would always stop before dark to make their encampments, around which they would through up breastworks and dig ditches. The geese would be thrown into the ditches, and the Romans would sleep soundly knowing that no one or no thing can get by a goose in the dark without causing an uproar. It was no small thing that the Romans could always field well rested troops on any morning.

Jeffrey Jay and kids returned from canoeing some weeks ago excitedly to report sighting a large unknown creature in the water. Not seen clearly except for the back as it rolled and dove in the water, it was as large as a small beaver but darker and without the distinctive tail. I considered this to possibly be a tale of another sort until two days later, returning to the Island on the ferry, I saw a similar critter leave shallow water near the ferry landing, but only for a moment and can not add anything to the above description. There was a third similar sighting last week. What I saw seemed too large for an otter or muskrat, but perhaps not for a nutria. All Islanders are urged to keep their eyes open until this mystery is cleared up.

The 11th Annual Potomac Watershed Cleanup took place during a Saturday last March, sponsored by the Alice Ferguson Foundation, which runs the Hard Bargain Farm environmental education facility. Over 3000 volunteers were involved from many different organizations. This sounds like something our Club should be involved in, something akin to our purpose and mission, and something we are uniquely able to do as few others have such access to our part of the river. Perhaps on that day Club canoes could be reserved solely for the use of Members and their guests participating in the project.

The grounds supervisor, Trip Reid, has approved a new gardening initiative. Members with a passion for gardening could volunteer to be assigned responsibility for certain small designated areas of the Island. This would not be to start garden plots, but to simply be responsible for, perhaps, getting bindweed out of certain day lily beds, or garlic mustard out of certain wild flower areas, or making sure kudzu and poison ivy do not get a foot hold in certain areas. People would be responsible for watching certain areas as the seasons pass and making decisions about pruning, weeding, or cleaning.

-- Doc Taliaferro, Sycamore Island Caretaker