Notes from the Island
November 2003


It's been so long since I've written anything about Sycamore Island that I don't know where to start. The weather has been glorious and I've been trying to soak in these good days while they last. One of my favorite activities is to watch the sunset from the swim float after a cold swim. The sunsets seem more colorful this time of year.

There is still quite a bit of hurricane cleanup left to do but things are getting back to normal here. Having a flood is like having to move and we all know what a big job that can be. Thankfully, the rainfall from the hurricane wasn't too severe and my quarters were spared the dreaded flood of muddy water.

We weren't here during the storm itself and when I canoed over two days later (as the river crested at 11.3 feet) I discovered that we had lost one of our precious sycamores. It's huge expanse spread from where it had stood by the canoe shed, reaching all the way across the field toward Virginia. It lay across the flooded island as the muddy water flowed through its leaves, its giant branches reaching 30 feet up into the sky. I found it difficult to paddle around it, having to cross the strong current on the south side of the island as the big muddy river was carving channels right through the island. The other negatives from the flood were the thick mud (6 inches in places) and the driftwood and debris collected in piles by the docks and on the trails.

The mud wasn't all bad however, it was great for mud balls and mud men, (you know, like snow men); it was also the perfect consistency for preserving animal tracks. The beaver tracks became especially interesting because one day we had a beaver expert on the island. He came down to teach the children visiting from Lowell school all about beavers. He was very excited to see all the beaver tracks on the island. In all his years of observing beaver, he had never seen such perfectly formed beaver tracks. He knew a lot about beavers and I learned quite a bit. I think the group from Lowell had a good time too and our electricity was finally working again!

The biggest inconvenience of all wasn't caused by the hurricane but by a little 4-inch rainfall that happened four days later. This waterfall washed the soil away from a large dead tree on the hill above the canal and caused it to come crashing down onto our brand new power line that then pulled down our two brand new utility poles. For the next three weeks there was no power on the island. Luckily my parents own a large house over by Walter Reed Hospital and we were able to stay there. It was strange to have to commute to the island to go to work. It was a relief to finally get back to normal, well slowly getting back to normal. There is still a tree across the field.

The chain saws have been busy on the island. Gerry Barton and I have been making use of the island's small saw and John Stapko brought down his big saw and did a lot of the tougher cuts. The plan is to dig out the trunk and make a super-sized Sycamore Island dugout canoe. Unfortunately a smaller sycamore was damaged when the bigger tree fell; it's the tree that was planted at a wedding ceremony back in the 80's. Hopefully it can be saved. Other projects in progress include new gutters on my quarters and Blair Bower and I are rebuilding a brick walk and some steps.

Daylight savings time has ended which seems to mark the end of the "busy" season here on the island. No more swimmers coming by for a dip after work, no more fishermen out for a sunset paddle. No more families coming together for a summer picnic. Now, even the monthly meetings will be held somewhere else. We're talking lonely and boring. So let's have a party! I think it would be fun to end the season with a bang and have a big party after the workfest. I'll host (call me) and everyone is welcome to stay after dark for campfire fun. Bring your marshmallows, your graham crackers and your chocolate bars. You can bring your tents and can stay the night! We all deserve to have a good time so come to the work fest and stay for the funfest!!

-- Joe Hage, Sycamore Island Caretaker