Notes from the Island
December 2003

The biggest and saddest news this month is the death of Betty Burchell. She was a great woman and a long-time dedicated club member. Her death marks the end of an era and she will be missed. I will miss her calls warning me of impending floods; she was always keeping me posted on the happenings of the river good and bad. I will miss having her to go to with my questions about the history of the club and of the river; she was a well of information. I only knew her for a short time but I feel fortunate to have met her.

Onto less somber news: The Workfest was a big success and the island is ready for the winter. We had a crew raking leaves, a crew cleaning the clubhouse and another crew cutting and hauling logs. We had some skilled labor fixing screens and decking and hanging a new gutter. The Loebs brought their usual feast and I think everyone had a good time. It's so much fun to see so many different club members on the Island at the same time, all having a good time together.

That night I had a gathering of friends and clubbers for a marshmallow roast and we were treated to that beautiful lunar eclipse. It was so magical to watch the fire under the strange red moon with the river all around us. I'll have to host another after-hours party again soon.

Blair Bower helped me with another project that we've been working on and we finally finished the new brick steps and patio outside my door. It's so great to not have all that dirt and mud at my front stoop. Thanks Blair!

Things have been pretty slow since the Workfest; I haven't had a visitor for almost two weeks. The last two weekends the river has been over five feet and I've had to close the ferry and ask the relief caretakers to stay home. Last night the river got up to nine feet! John Matthews told me that we've had twenty inches above the normal rainfall so far this year. Speaking of John Matthews, I miss him; for some reason he hasn't been bugging me this month. He hasn't been coming down and he's only called me half a dozen times all month! John, maybe you should get your canoe back down here. I do hope people will come down once the river recedes. It's really beautiful here in the winter and if you call ahead I can warm up the clubhouse. We'll be around during the holidays, so please give us a call and come down to the river. It's a good way to get a break from all that family.

I saw my first deer on the island this past month. Apparently not the first time deer have been on the island but surprising and special just the same. I guess a raging river is no obstacle when it's rutting season. I'm afraid that same buck was killed a few days later; the police had to shoot it after it was hit by a car on MacArthur. This deer overpopulation really needs to be dealt with.

I refilled my bird feeder this month and I'm being rewarded by dozens of energetic songbirds and majestic Pileated woodpeckers. I've been treated to many hawk sightings as well. I've seen sharp-shined and red-shouldered hawks along the canal and red-tails soaring over the river. Three times this past month I've spotted the large distinctive Bald Eagle.

Finally, for your holiday giving, I can "objectively" recommend Rock Creek Park by Gail Spilsbury, a friend. Smithsonian Magazine wrote that "This testament to the rustic splendors of Rock Creek Park--its woodlands and trails, meadows and streams--serves as an eloquent tribute to the great urban wilderness that lies at the heart of the nation's capital." Seems just right to me.

-- Joe Hage, Sycamore Island Caretaker