Notes from the Island
May 2003


There are many beautiful places in the world and during this time of year people travel long distances the visit these exotic places. You can go to Holland to see the tulips, the mountains to see the wild flowers or travel to the prairies or the coast to see huge flocks of spectacular birds as they migrate northward along ancient flyways. Yes, there are a million places you could go, but to be on Sycamore Island in April is truly one of the greatest places you could ever want to be.

Watching this island of barren trees and mud blossom into a lush and vibrant paradise has been amazing! I was so excited when I returned from my trip to Italy (more on that later) to find the Island and the rest of the gorge in full bloom. The new leaves created a canopy around me as I walked down the trail in a tunnel of sun and shade. A bright white cloud of dogwood flowers hit me as I crossed the footbridge over the parkway, and then I saw the redbud trees with their wonderfully contrasting violet-red flowers suspended against a backdrop of early spring green. The sweet fragrance of some snowball-looking flowers made me stop and bury my nose in the little bundles of puffy flowers. When I looked down onto the river from the top of the hill it seemed so calm and green and inviting, (not at all like it was ten days ago as it unleashed the last of some of its winter fury). As I stood on the ferry feeling very tranquil, (jet-lag you know) I thought of how great it is to go away to an exotic place like Italy and have an excellent vacation and still not be disappointed when itís time to go home. Yes, there I was back on Sycamore Island in April, the trees and the river were heavenly green and the sky and the Island were blue.

The bluebells are all but gone now and shade is dominating the island. The goslings have been hatched and the tree swallows have returned. As I watch this vibrant season unfold I can't help but admire the intense and highly vigilant parenting exhibited by the birds here on the island. The geese can be a nuisance the way they dominate the island, but just imagine the amount of energy necessary for them to ward off so many intruders day after day just to protect their unborn offspring. Together they do everything in their power to ensure the survival of their kind. If only we could be so as committed. The other day I watched as a male cardinal aggressively pecked at the bumper of my van. I didn't understand at first but then realized that the bird was attacking its own reflection, diligently protecting its territory and nest. The cowbird on the other hand is a different story. I've seen cowbirds here regularly at the feeder, and they will lay their egg in another bird's nest, making them do the hard job of parenting. The migrating shad are another great example of this mono-focus on parenting. I went down to Little Falls and watched as thousands of these fish struggled single-mindedly against the powerful Potomac to do their part for the survival of the whole.

On to less philosophical topics, they have been working on the well all week so we have had to adjust to life without running water. The crystal clear water they are now pumping from the well is encouraging, so it has been worth the inconvenience. There was some leftover pea gravel from the well project and I used it to cover the bare ground under the steps in front of my door. It should help cut down on the amount of mud that gets splashed onto the walkway and tracked into the house. I built a little roof above my front door to give us a place to take off our shoes outside of the rain. That will be a big improvement! I got the primer coat on the walls in the men's room, its looking better all the time! I had to repair/patch the floor in my bathroom. The toilet was sagging through the rotten plywood so I laid new flooring over the old and I now have a sturdy throne. I'll have to write about my trip to Italy some other time, I need to get this article to Dave Winer before the deadline. See you on the Island.

-- Joe Hage, Sycamore Island Caretaker