Notes from the Island
January 2000


It started as a normal enough December day until the Member on the ferry returning to the towpath commented "look at the chicken on the steps." It took me a moment to focus... I guess I was looking more for an outline corresponding to a bucket of the Colonel's best... when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a black chicken... clucking about on the steps. As we got closer it was revealed that the chicken had been wearing some sort of halter arrangement constructed out of red ribbon that was festooned with Christmas bells. The chicken had been tied to a large rock with another long piece of ribbon, but had managed to peck his way free of the ribbon and was just... well... sort of there. Whoever had left him had also left a small pile of corn for him to munch upon. Now, there are the occasional Members who visit the Island for a short time and tie up their dogs at the towpath landing, but this was sort of unusual. I returned to the Island to see if any Members there had left the chicken, but they had not, one commenting that in fact he had eaten before coming. I was grateful not to be the only person experiencing disconnect between the grammar and the facts. Returning to the towpath with Barbara Neal, Sarah Davis and daughter Katy, we observed several big dogs approaching. Although we applied ourselves to get max speed from the ferry, the dogs got there first, driving the chicken into the river where it floundered about before making it back to shore where it obtained purchase on one of the roots sticking out near the water level. Barbara borrowed a glove and crawled out along the roots near the bank to try to "pluck" the chicken from the cold river, and succeeded only after having to actually wade into the cold (very cold) water. The chicken was returned to the Island where he was held, dried, and warmed... and spent the cold night in the caretaker's quarters.

The chicken, named Oscar, was taken to the Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary (301-428-8128) near the end of River Road in the Poolesville area. There Terry and Dave rent 400 acres where they provide refuge to abandoned and abused farm animals. Terry is a former vet tech at the National Zoo. They promised Oscar a safe and good home despite having no more room for chickens (and especially roosters). They depend upon volunteers and donations, and the Club should consider making some small appreciation to keep Oscar in corn. Anyone looking for a wonderful place to take little kids on any afternoon should keep this place in mind, for it is a great adventure at a beautiful place along the towpath with many unusual but people friendly animals. There is also a huge eagles nest in a tree behind the farmhouse, but fortunately they do not seem to hunt close to their home... or perhaps not close to a people home.

There is a small herd of approximately five deer lingering along the towpath in our area, and a few weeks ago a very large buck and his doe spent at least one day on the Island. The beaver have conducted their annual tree taste in which they take only one bite out of twenty trees, but they have not been back and none have been seen in over a month, which is unusual. A small flock of geese are back, but only in the area, they are not spending every day on the island, which is also unusual. Members are reminded that the water is off in the Clubhouse until Spring, and the only functioning toilet is the one that is heated in the Men's bathroom downstairs. The awful smell in the Island's well water has almost disappeared as mysteriously as it appeared. The key word here is "almost," as on some days it is noticeable despite the new charcoal filters. But on most days it is not, and the main troubling problem is that now several of the best experts in the area are concerned that they can not actually identify the problem. Most unusual. Stay tuned!

-- Doc Taliaferro, Sycamore Island Caretaker