New Year's Day 2002

by Sherry Pettie

Sycamore Islander, February 2002

The day started out with a bang. As I descended the steps of the canal bridge with photographer Andy Carruthers, we heard a gunshot. Looking up the canal, we saw someone standing on the tow path firing another shot across the canal into the woods. Of course I immediately feared it was the rope swing gang who are known to operate sometimes at frigid temperatures. "Looks like a State Trooper," said Andy. I calmed down when I saw that indeed he was not an adolescent but a grown-up man with stripes on his trousers using a very professional-looking shooting stance. Andy fearlessly walked up the tow path to see what he could learn, which was that a Park Police officer was putting down an injured deer that had likely been hit by a car on the parkway. Andy also learned that it was okay to photograph the deer but not the officer.

Meanwhile, I set about opening the replacement padlock on the ferry that the substitute caretaker Mary Ellen had called me about when the old one broke. She also warned me that the slough would be iced over by the time I got there in the morning, so I brought a shovel to batter the ice. I was determined to open Sycamore Island on the first day of the year so that members could pay a visit and Doc and Phyllis could return safely from their holiday.

Andy and I started punching through the ice with the shovel and inching the ferry forward into the cleared area. It looked like it might take us an hour to reach the other side. Then the Captain appeared. "Let's pull it over the ice," he said. He climbed onboard and directed us through a creative technique of standing at the back of the ferry so the front raised up, getting a running start, so to speak, and pulling like crazy till the ferry went up on the ice, which our combined weight then broke through. Ferry-length by ferry-length we repeated the process until the passage was quickly cleared of ice.

We took the Captain back to the canal side, and marveled at his parting words: "Don't bother wearing a life jacket. If you fall you'll be dead in minutes." Andy and I somberly pulled back to the Island to begin our term of duty.

After giving Andy a quick tour of the clubhouse, boat shed, and north and south ends, I received a phone call from the Captain. "The Island is closed. It's too dangerous. Don't let anyone over there." Knowing my Island protocol, I assented to his instruction. But I wondered, since we were already there, wouldn't we be better off sharing the danger with others? At any rate, not a single member showed up to be turned away. I found a warm spot to sit and read Anna Karenina, and Andy roamed the island taking pictures, stopping periodically to pull the ferry across and keep the passage clear. Our quiet afternoon was punctuated by cawing of crows and the zinging sound of ice shifting and cracking on the river.

Photographer Andy Carruthers was especially
taken with this sycamore, "whose magnificent
silvery trunk and canopy thrust up from the
tiniest little patch of mud in grand solitude."

This episode, inspired by photographer Andy Carruthers' pictures, is Sherry Pettie's second article for the Islander. Sherry has been on the waiting list for several years and is a very active participant in Club activities.