Notes from the Island
February 2004


I forget sometimes that I don't live a typical suburban lifestyle. I forget that not everyone has to remember a flashlight or a lifejacket when they leave the house. I forget that a river crossing and a quarter-mile hike a few times a day somehow gives me a less obstructed view of the rhythms of nature. And I forget how the river affects me and how its gentle power is a constant, though not always conscious, reminder of my human limitations. Yes, sometimes I forget, but when the wind blows cold and hard across the water on a cloudy winter's day, I remember.

The river and the cold have conspired to become co-creators of the most beautiful sculpture. The frozen river has become a canvass for the artistic whims of the freezing water. From above looking down, the river is a myriad of white shapes trapped under layers of textured and fissured glass. A closer look reveals the geometric precision of the ice crystals whose forms are as varied as snowflakes -- from miniature spires to intricate basket weaves with patterns both subtle and complex.

The freezing temperatures and bitter wind are making their mark on the character of the island and offering us some new challenges. I learned the hard way that it's very important to block the wind from blowing in under the house lest your drainpipes freeze. Also, I've been reminded of some of the hassles of winter commuting when the ferry is uselessly stuck in the ice. Happily, my pipes have cleared now and with a little practice the canoe-sled trip across the ice isn't so bad. The frozen river has its advantages as well. Soon we may be able to walk off the island, and the ice keeps the beaver out. Most of all we can't wait to ice skate on the canal!

The geese seem to be slow in colonizing the island this year, irregularly gathering at the foot of the island. I saw my first winter migrants, three female hooded-mergansers right outside my window. The Carolina wren has been my winter buddy. After all the songs of the other birds have long faded away the Carolina wren still blasts us with its early morning call. Did you know they have as many as 32 different songs? I discovered its nest the other day, neatly built in the bow of an upside down canoe. It's inspiring how tough and resourceful these little birds are.

See you on the canal!

-- Peace, Joe Hage, Sycamore Island Caretaker