Notes from the Island
October 2005


I've got groundhog problems. I wasn't sure at first why the bricks covering the floor in the screen porch and locker room were dropping and leaving big holes but it didn't take long to figure it out. When I went to fix these dangerous holes, I realized that there was a long tunnel about six inches wide running under the bricks. I removed brick after brick as I followed the tunnel until it led me to what I think was a hibernation nest. The nest was just under the bricks in the middle of the porch and was a perfectly round hole ten inches across and ten inches deep. It was packed tight with dried leaves and grasses and there was so much leaf litter in that small hole that it filled a kitchen trash bag. As I began to throw many shovels full of dirt in the now exposed trench, I began to appreciate the industriousness and engineering capabilities of this large rodent. I had to question, as I shoveled a large wheel barrel full of dirt into the hole, "how did this animal dig this long tunnel and nest and what did it do with all the dirt it had to move"? I filled the hole and put the two dozen bricks back in place, knowing, sadly, that I'm no match for a tireless burrower like the groundhog.

We saw the deer again yesterday. I was pulling John Matthews back to the mainland when we noticed the majestic profile of a large deer with a full rack of antlers. It was standing right there on the bank at the head of the Island looking like a scene from Bambi. I dropped John off and watched the deer as I hurried back to get the camera. I crept up to the head of the Island hoping to get a quick picture. I spooked it from the river bank and saw the chunky buck dash through the woods. I tentatively looped around to the head of the Island in pursuit of my quarry, but never caught another glimpse. I checked the river for a pair of antlers. Nothing. I gave up chase and wondered how the beast eluded me as I walked back to the swim float. I stood on the table by the swim dock and took a last look back into the darkening woods and there it was, less than fifty feet away. I readied the camera and slowly walked toward my prey. I managed to get within thirty feet but stopped suddenly. This deer didn't seem afraid and those antlers were beginning to look very threatening. My heart was racing as I clicked off some pictures, thinking the buck was going to dash at any minute. Once the pictures were taken I shifted my attention and stood there eye to eye in the presence of this very large and confident creature. I tested the situation and made a slight move toward it. The tail went up, but instead of running, this buck did a kind of bull-in-a-bullfight move and scratched the ground with its hoof. I decided to back off and rushed back to the house to show the kids my pictures. Soon afterward, I went for a swim and took a stroll to the top of the Island, hoping to see the deer again. There it was, just sitting there among the paw-paw trees not far from the trail. I passed without stopping. The deer stared as I passed.

-- Joe Hage, Sycamore Island Caretaker