Notes from the Island
August 2004


I understand now why an enduring club like this one is named after the Sycamore tree. These magnificent trees are a symbol of perseverance and adaptation. They are also mysterious, beautiful and majestic.

Of course, like you, I have admired the Sycamores for years, their stark white limbs shining along the bank, their peculiar bark creating layers of colors and shapes. But, lately, maybe because of where I live, I have a new appreciation for these trees. First of all, they are huge. I know that in the winter I can stand in the parking lot on MacArthur Blvd. and be eye level with the top of the tallest of the trees. How high is that? Itís got to be at least 150 feet. When a Sycamore tree fell during Isabel, its sprawling limbs completely covered the field and reached two stories into the air! Its immensity was further realized the following spring by the noticeable hole in the Island canopy. The shade will be missed; and it took a little time to get used to the extra sunlight streaming onto the Island; but now there is more sky for stargazing and if one tree falls it makes room for others.

One tree that is sure to benefit will be, what I call, the wedding tree. It was planted here at a wedding in the 1980ís and was almost crushed when the Isabel tree fell but it now stands to benefit from the mishap of its tall neighbor. Itís truly amazing that this tree survived and I give the credit to Gerry Barton who propped it up and nursed it back to health. Maybe he had inside knowledge as to the tenacity of this species of woody plant.

We did trim the major branches off the fallen Sycamore. But once all the major limbs were removed, not much else was done. The barren stalk of the tree lay there across the field all through the fall and winter and into the spring. There was talk of chopping it up to make benches and maybe even a dugout canoe but the trunk just lay there. Then something amazing and totally unexpected happened: The tree began to grow new branches! Now itís July and the barren stalk is growing like a Chia Pet*. The new branches, in their attempt to absorb as much sun light as possible, have sprouted leaves that are extraordinary. These new Sycamore leaves are 18 inches wide and 14 inches from tip of stem to the tip of the leaf. I guess old Sycamores never die. This tree lives on, just like the swing tree that continues to grow, even after being reduced to a stump. The will to live is so strong among these trees that even a two-foot log cut from a tree and placed in a hole will begin to sprout leaves.

I thought it appropriate to talk about the Sycamores this month since this has been the month of the shedding Sycamore. I donít remember this bark-shedding phenomenon last year and my guess is that it has been a good growing season. Whatever the reason, the Island is covered with the shedding of the Sycamore with all their colors and layers and shapes.

In other news, there are two deer living on Ruppertís, spotted by numerous visitors. The ground hog has moved out to the swim-dock area, quieter there. And Iíve spotted a ruddy turnstone* in the mud flats at the foot of the Island on three occasions now. And my fishing report: Lots of catfish, stories of biting bass and two confirmed and very tasty, walleye, caught and filleted by George Malusky.

*Chia Pet? Ruddy turnstone? The Editor, adding to a long list of incompetencies, was baffled by these terms. Joe, helpful as always, clarified: A Chia Pet is a ceramic animal that you plant seeds in and when the plants grow it looks like the animal is growing hair. A novelty gift. A ruddy turnstone is a type of shore bird, very similar to a sandpiper.

-- Joe Hage, Sycamore Island Caretaker