Log or Letter?

-- by Renee Dunham

Sycamore Islander, January 2003

On Tuesday, December 10, I had the opportunity to be substitute caretaker for over 24 hours. I wrote Joe a letter during my stay in his quarters, as I wasn’t sure whether I was to keep a log or not. It is more a letter of appreciation than a log. Joe agreed that I might submit it to the Islander, as he also wasn’t sure whether it was log or letter. Now it is an article and the problem is solved.

Dear Joe,

Alas! I overslept and arrived at the Island at 10:30 a.m. This being a chilly, cloudy day, I was not fearful of standing up morning visitors, but I felt naughty nonetheless. The ice film on the water crunched crisply as I pulled the ferry to dock at the Island. Just off John Matthew’s float were the same sort of long, crystallized strands of ice, cross-hatching the water surface. Interspersed were plate-sized frozen disks holding air bubbles. It looked as if the water had developed a neural network.

I returned to your cozy, colorful quarters and enjoyed browsing your bookshelves, thinking I could happily hole up here for the winter with your naturalist guides and literature. Waiting for my tea to boil, I ran across “What Bird Did That?” with the cover illustration showing a view from the inside of a car looking out through a bird-poop-splattered windshield. Well, I got hooked on avian dejecta (new term for me!) history, photographs, and descriptions of windshield treasures, e.g., “Common tern description: A splood. Summery, light, precise…” A vocabulary of descriptive nouns amazed me: splood, splay, schplutz, bob, sklopic, splash,…” So delightful to have such a guide presented with such lighthearted accuracy.

2 p.m.: The bell is ringing. Marianne Ross came to visit me, as scheduled. In only a few hours, my senses had so relaxed in the muted tones of the landscape that seeing Marianne in her red and blue cap and bright pink scarf felt like a blow between the eyes. The silence had also changed my perception and our cheerful chatting on the ferry sounded so LOUD.

Soon after, Gerald Barton came to visit. Gerry quietly strummed guitar while we enjoyed tea and conversation, missing only Joe. Marianne brought a badminton set for the Club’s use.

5 p.m.: It is darkening. Freezing rain is expected tonight. If I can get the ferry across tomorrow, I shall then have to learn to slide uphill to my car. I watered your plants and discovered that what I thought was frost on the living room windows was really wax or rice paper for your privacy. What a good idea. It feels odd eating dinner alone at the table and imagining my husband eating alone opposite “me” at another table. Betty Burchell called to advise me to be a sissy about the expected ice tomorrow morning and to stay put. She remembered a very treacherously icy walk to the Island when Peter Jones was Caretaker. Comparing then with now, we agreed that the killer ice was at the same places. We’ll see about the weather and whether it will start at 4 a.m. as predicted.

10:45 p.m.: Nighttime walk in the snow. Bedtime.

Next morning: I’m staying put on the Island. The freezing rain is here. I’m wondering even whether you’ll make it back this afternoon, Joe. I don’t mind staying another night if you don’t return, but I’ll have to raid your peanutbutter jar. A Pileated Woodpecker disappeared into the armpit of the sycamore branch just outside the window. Is that its headquarters? Its presence blessed my decision to stay.

11:00 a.m.: Tryon Wells called to advise me to bring in the ferry lock so it won’t freeze shut, and then, when I leave and lock the ferry to shore, to wrap the lock against the snow or freezing rain. I never would have thought of that myself. It is a little warmer right now. The icicles hanging from the sycamore tree are beginning to melt. I will take this opportunity to leave the Island – reluctantly, as I am so cozy here and finally getting some homework done. I am leaving you some leftover lamb chili. Thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity.