Notes from the Island
February 2000


It is turning into an interesting winter on the Island and the Caretaker and his Wife wish to thank the many of you who have called to check on our welfare during this period we are iced in. You may remember the sequence... the snow that was supposed to happen and did not... and the snow that should not and did. In between the river froze in the slough between the Island and the towpath, and looking forward to below freezing temperatures for a week into the future, we spent some time cutting a channel through the ice for the ferry on Wednesday, 19 Jan, so we could leave the Mother Ship and bring in supplies. It was exciting, like preparing for a hurricane, and there was much jocularity between us concerning all those people who come in the summer and comment on how wonderful it must be to live here. But in fact the two weeks thus far have proven to be an adventurous, snowbound interlude right out of a "Little House on the Prairie" novel. There is still the problem concerning the inadequate insulation in the quarters such that wind chills dropping below twenty can bring the inside temperatures into the low sixties despite all heaters at max, but these intervals do not last that long and are the perfect environment for snowbound snuggling anyway.

After the snow the river level dropped below the ice and the snow on the ice provided too much friction for our usual technique of crossing the iffy ice while standing in a canoe and pulling along the ice. But at last on Thursday, 27 Jan, we scooted across, feeling brave while trying a new technique in which we lowered the rope to a level where we could sit in the canoe to pull. The bridge and path up were icy but not actually treacherous and we felt the smug satisfaction of a mission achieved as we crested to MacArthur... only to be stunned at the realization of the much harder work that those of you in the real world faced, as we contemplated our snowed-in auto and the sweaty task remaining.

As to the ice... it is always talking. There are sounds it makes in its forming... sounds it makes as the water level beneath rises or falls... sometimes like a great crack or sometimes like the sudden great twangs as of a cable snapping. I recall one night in particular when the ice was breaking up when it sounded all night like great leviathans were breaching in the darkness on either side of our ship. The morning after the snow I came out to footprints on the unshoveled walkway, and was astonished that someone would have been so foolish as to walk across. The security officer mentality swung on-line as I followed the tracks to a tree, and am embarrassed at how long it took me to figure out that although they really looked like footprints in the snow they were actually full body outlines of squirrels hopping from tree to tree. I still have not seen signs of beaver. There were some interesting tracks at the lower end of the Island, but consulting the book Peter left on the subject I was interested to note they were the tracks of a fox, and suffered a moment's apprehension for the cats.

All of the holes and sags in the floor of the caretaker's quarters resulting from the '96 floods (and before) have been repaired but one. However, these repairs are temporary, because when a large hole was cut through the floor to get to a sagging foundation for floor joists, it was discovered that not just one but many had been toppled or moved by successive flood waters moving beneath the floor. This does not at all affect the steel structure of the clubhouse, but only the flooring of the ground floor part of the quarters. The Captain will come up with another plan.

-- Doc Taliaferro, Sycamore Island Caretaker