Notes from the Island
August 2005

The nice weather and big crowds of June seem like a distant memory now as we look forward to the dog days of August. July was pretty quiet. We had the annual canoe-paddle-to-watch-the-fireworks, but since then we've had no large parties at all. The hot weather does bring out the swimmers though, and I can count on my regulars to start ringing the bell come late afternoon. The water was a relief from the heat in early July. But now even the water has gotten hot, (90 degrees!) and swimming isn't very refreshing. Yet, I have to be careful not to complain, the early hurricane season hasn't affected us too much and the river has been running nice and low, even if it is sometimes a little muddy.

I've never lived in the Tropic of Capricorn but after the past few weeks I think I have an idea of what it must be like to live in a jungle. The air doesn't move, the trees are full of sound, (day and night) and the wild flowers and vines are flourishing and threatening to cover everything. The invasive vines seem to be doing especially well. I've been quite busy keeping the kudzu, oriental bittersweet and porcelain berry in check. Pulling vines is thankless work, but it does have its gratifying moments. One day, I took the machete up the hill and rescued a sycamore by the parkway. It was being attacked by four different kinds of invasive plants. Invasive plants pose a real threat to the Island and have already done considerable damage to other islands in the gorge.

Yes, everything is growing like crazy. Even the sycamores, which earlier in the season were suffering from the symptoms of blight, seem to have recovered and have filled out nicely. The summer wildflowers are out and the insects are anything but lethargic. The ground hog is busy getting fat but mostly things have been quiet here. We did see a small group of great egrets one evening and I'm seeing the eagles more often now. The birding has been slow since the warblers finished nesting, but maybe that's about to change.

By the time you read this I will be in Michigan. I'm taking two weeks to vacation at a cabin on a lake near Traverse City. I've never been to that part of the country, and I hear it is beautiful. It should be an adventure. My last adventure was over the Fourth of July weekend. I went climbing at Seneca Rocks and after climbing each day we cooled off in a swimming hole on the north fork of the south branch of the Potomac River. I also visited Nelson Rocks, which is a private climbing area nearby, in W. Va. At Nelson's they have a Via Ferrata or "iron road" which is a system of rungs and cables that make it possible for non-climbers to scale high walls. They also have a cable bridge connecting two huge rock formations. The bridge is two hundred feet long, one hundred fifty feet off the ground and very scary to cross. You should go there sometime!

We have three new windows in my living room and it is a wonderful improvement. John Matthews Jr. came down and with my help we took out the old windows and installed the new ones in an afternoon. Of course, Matthews Sr. was on hand to supervise. I also repaired some screen doors and I re-hung all the safety signs by the canoe dock so they are more noticeable and easier to read. The big project for this month will be building a new dock on the mainland and repairing the ferry, again.

I'll be back on the 14th. The relief caretaker's name is Dominique. I'll be volunteering at Lockhouse 8 on the 27th.

-- Joe Hage, Sycamore Island Caretaker