Notes from the Island
November 2009


The changing of the seasons is always a special time but I think the transition from summer to autumn is the most exciting and dramatic of them all. Iíve decided that October is the most spectacular month to spend along the river. I know, the fishing and the swimming are over but the magnificent colors and the brisk air make up for any perceived loss at summerís end. The last two weeks have been amazing. Imagine, the air is still and the river is a giant mirror. The sun is bright and the sky is a cloudless blue. The reflection on the water is so clear and true that the eye is fooled and has trouble finding the riverís surface. The trees are ablaze with color and shine like stained glass. To step onto the ferry is to step into a kaleidoscope.

One afternoon, as I stood looking out my front door, I noticed a belted kingfisher perched in the sun at the center of the pull rope. This in itself is not uncommon but what made me run to get my binoculars was that this bird was holding a big fish in its beak. Once I raised my glasses I could tell that the bird was having trouble handling a sunfish that was bigger than itís head and beak combined. I watched for several minutes as the kingfisher tried to maneuver the fish so that it might be eaten. The trick was to get the fish pointed headfirst into the throat without dropping it into the river below. I was losing hope that the bird would ever accomplish such a feat but then, suddenly, the fish was gone.

This has been a great time to be outdoors but Island life is not all idle nature watching. October has also been a time of remarkable production too. The cool weather is the perfect time to tackle those big projects and now that the bell is ringing less, I have had more time to focus on maintenance. First of all, Jim Drew, Trip Reid, Phil and Marianne Ross, and myself finished the brick floor in the lower locker room. John and Judy Lentz painted the ladies room, and Paul Hagen primed the menís room. Christie and Garth Ross did a nice job arranging the clubhouse furniture and hanging the maps and old pictures. I built a new storage area under my living room. I was able to use all the leftover supplies from the renovation project to build a nice platform. Now we have a place to store all the usable lumber and other materials out of the rain. Iím happy to finally get all that lumber off of the lawn. I put a primer coat of paint on all the new exterior siding. Itís important to get that bare wood protected. I also cut the grass for the last time this year.

Two other projects that got done this past month were the removal of a couple of trees and the redoing of the new ductwork. Iím happy with the tree work. I feel better now that the giant limbs that were hanging over the clubhouse are gone and that the box elder that was crushing into my living room is also gone. The new ductwork is a big improvement as well and I think everyone will agree that it was worth hiring someone to redo it. Of course, once the old ducts were moved, I was left with two large holes into my living room. I donít consider myself a carpenter but I was proud of the patching job I did on the siding.

I rarely talk about the airplane traffic. (Usually, I try to pretend that its just not there) But sometimes you just canít ignore it. I went down to the Captainís float to watch the sunset one evening and a pink glow hovered above as the orange sun dropped behind the hills of Virginia. It was a perfect setting, but what I noticed was the number of planes in the air. There were five planes over the river, all qued up for the runway at National Airport, like cars in rush hour waiting on an exit ramp. Just when one plane disappeared over the eastern horizon the sound of another came rushing overhead. Every two minutes another plane would pass. From 6:30 to 6:45, I counted twelve planes passing over Sycamore Island.

Iíve mentioned before about the electric eye that was on the bridge over the canal. That one is now disconnected but there is a new, more sophisticated, camera-looking thing bolted to a tree further up the trail. Iím not sure why it is there. My only guess is that it may have to do with monitoring traffic on the canal bridge to see if the bridge is worthy of repair. Itís good thing that I donít suffer from paranoia.

We drove Captain John Matthews (of whom the captainís float is named) down the towpath so he could have a look at the new construction. It was fun to have him, along with his wife Barbara and two sons John and Robert, back on the Island. Itís been four years already since he last paddled here.

-- Joe Hage, Sycamore Island Caretaker