Notes from the Island
February 2003

We've had quite a bit of excitement down here witnessing the recent moods of the river. The river is like an indicator of the climate and precipitation of the surrounding watershed and the Island is an indicator of the limits of human habitation in its flood plain. Lately, it seems, the limits are being tested.

The slough next to Sycamore Island
becomes a popular playground.
The new year started, as you may recall with quite a bit of rain. The rain was very nice and I enjoyed listening to it as I lazily slept in on New Yearís day. That was on Wednesday, by Friday the island was one quarter its normal size. The river level reached six inches below flood stage, by far the highest water I'd seen since I started here. No need to panic, we had plenty of food and the kids really didn't mind missing school for a day. The river slowly receded and we were left with an island covered in MUD.

Mud was everywhere! Thick layers of mud had to be shoveled from the boardwalk and the ferry landings. A walk to the Captain's Float meant a slippery trudge through ankle-high river mud. The kids found that the fire pit there by the captain's float had trapped some water creating a mini mud lake. So one day was spent playing in the mud like little pigs. Mud on our boots, mud on our clothes, mud in the house, mud everywhere. We had to do a lot more laundry that week but then it got cold and the mud froze into concrete.

We now cross the river in a canoe. I strung a rope
across the river and with very little trouble we are
able to pull ourselves skimming over the ice. From
the Caretakerís Log on the Clubís website, January 22.
It has been very interesting living close to the water in winter and watching it slowly change to its solid state. Early in the month we enjoyed the thrill of throwing large rocks onto the canal and watching them crash through the ice. Soon we were walking and yes, skating on the canal. The river took a little longer to freeze but by mid-January we had to chop our way through half an inch of the ice to get to the mainland. The frigid temperatures continued and before long the ferry was engulfed in thick ice. Without the ferry the new method of transport became sitting in a canoe on top of the ice and pulling ourselves sliding across the river. The canoe on the ice worked well but it wasn't long before the ice became so thick that we merely walked across the river. This past week we have been walking on the river ice and enjoying the unusual sight of ice-skaters on the river. I feel so fortunate to be here on the Island during this rare deep-freeze.

The snows we've had this month has made it easy to track some of the animals on and near the island. I identified the tracks of fox, raccoon, deer mice, beaver, squirrel, Canada geese and great blue heron. This is the time of year to see migrating waterfowl and this month I've seen Common Mergansers, Hooded Mergansers, Lesser Scaups, and many Buffleheads. I regularly see four different types of woodpeckers and I've seen eagles, hawks, and owls.

There's at least another month of winter adventure still to go, letís hope the ice skating and the birding are as good as they have been this past month. See you on the river.

-- Joe Hage, Sycamore Island Caretaker