Notes from the Island
October 1999


Paddling over to the new construction site one afternoon I encountered the foreman for the J. B. Fay Company. Several large work barges had been put in the river by the huge crane and attached in such a fashion as to create a large, square work barge with steel girders at each corner able to be raised or lowered to provide an anchored and stable platform, much like an ocean going drilling rig. At this time they were using a large backhoe to build a earthen causeway level with the deck of the platform so that both the backhoe and the crane could be driven onto the platform. A large motor stood by to be swung on and attached to an impressive outboard propeller to move the platform down to the dam. Divers, hard hatted and tethered, will inspect the dam. A coffer dam will then be constructed around the area of the dam to be cut out and replaced. They hope to be finished sometime in December.

The foreman suggested that the prep work and breakdown times would be longer than the actual work time, A road down to the river had to be widened and improved, a considerable undertaking. However, the owner had agreed to this as he wished to use it on his own construction project. The owner also wished to buy the crane after the fish ladder is completed, as he wishes to tear down the large stone, castle like residence on the hill and use the stone to build a new residence. Only a caretaker lives in the stone house now. The foreman related that his company did not know who the owner was... that it was all sort of mysterious because the owner would only deal through an anonymous corporate shell. During the conversation with the caretaker about buying the crane he had asked, but had been told "I could tell you... but I would be fired if I did."

One remarkable thing about this year has been the number of times families have shown up on rainy days and just hung out upstairs, often just reading. Amazingly enough, this also coincides with the impulse several Members have had to gift the Island library with some very interesting books. Frank Daspit has composed, specifically for the Island, a bird list that will soon be available upstairs for folks to walk the Island with in one hand while in the other one could have one of the several copies he has donated of A Guide to the Field Identification of Birds of North America. Peg Thomson has donated a copy of Captain Kate by Carolyn Reeder, a story of life and adventure on the canal barges during the civil war. Rene Dunham has donated Blue Rooms by John Jerome, about ripples, rivers, pools, and other waters. And Peter Cannell, an ornithologist who has become the publisher of the Smithsonian Institution Press, contributed Finding Birds in the National Capitol Area by Claudia Wilds and two others, which I would name except that they have already disappeared... which means they have already been appreciated. Hopefully these books will reappear, and this begs the question of how to best establish a library space and procedure for the Island. I have been astonished to note how popular Island reading has become, and it would have probably gone unnoticed except that on three occasions people have commented idly on the ferry how much they had just enjoyed thumbing through Blue Rooms.

The beaver are back. Two adolescents swam up to the captain's float the other night and one got up on shore nearby. I was so excited I ran to the house to get my 750,000 candle power spot light, because at that time I was not really sure if the wee critters were small beaver or the "unidentified creature" several have seen. Upon returning I was able to put the light on him from only 25 feet away. Was he annoyed... did he bolt... not at all !! He looked straight at me... stood up on his hind legs... and proceeded to preen under the spotlight. They must have glands near the cheek like cats do, for while I watched he groomed and scratched his entire body. What a show off... it was shameless. It occurred to me that I was merely directing the theater spotlight while he pirouetted for the other beaver who stayed in the water. And this went on for over ten minutes, because the show ended only because my hand got tired holding the big light.

-- Doc Taliaferro, Sycamore Island Caretaker