Hooray for Paddler/Birder/Biker
Co-editors Jane and David Winer

- By Peggy Thomson

Sycamore Islander, July 2003


David and Jane with their five years of Islanders.
- Photo by Peggy Thomson
Jane and David Winer! They've treated us to five years of Sycamore Islanders, those welcome mailings -- fun, interesting, delightful. How do we sing the Winers' praise? We can coo CALLOO! We can shout CALLAY! More appropriately, perhaps, pour buckets of prize river water on their creative heads. For, yes, they've kept us happily in touch with our Island's life.

Just now, having re-reread all those issues, I've also talked with that co-editing pair. I've learned how David, having studied up on Desktop Publishing for Dummies, decided on Lucida Calligraphy for the tall bold title -- The Sycamore Islander -- and for Johnna Robinson's Ruppert mischiefmaker cartoons as well. He picked sans-serif Zapf Humanist type for the headlines and Times New Roman for the text. It's Jane who attended to the newsletter's grammar and punctuation. It's David who attended to the spacing, the look of each page, involving a shift from one to two columns of type and from the traditional tree-scene masthead photo to a different photo for each issue. They both wanted many more pictures in each issue, and David supplied much of the animated photo coverage of our regattas and workfests (which, judging by the laughter volume, are now said to be more like funfests instead).

They wanted also as many contributions as they could get from members and from people on the waiting list -- their writings, drawings, photos, poetry. "I wanted people to see the newsletter is written by members and wait-listers, and we editors edit. At workfests, at orientations, I'd set the hook. We were looking for authors. We'd suggest topics and offer to take the pictures." Jane adds, "It was our encouraging people in this way that made the process so rich and wonderful for us."

David sought out Islander children -- the boy who built the logs & limbs/flotsam & jetsam fort on the lower Island and the ten-year-old girl who wrote "The Reluctant Camper" about her change of heart once she saw the fun in a Midsummer Night camp-over on the Island, her only complaint being the too-peppery French toast for breakfast. ("And I did the peppering," Jane admits to me.) Never mind the pepper, I just wish I'd been there to hear George Loeb's morning talk on solstices and to see his 3-D Stonehenge model.

All the re-rereading I've just done has reminded me of the wonderful material culled for us by Jane and Dave. Sure, they properly covered all the meeting minutes, changes in by-laws, new Club rules, dues and treasurer reports, the status of our drinking water. Good for them! But the items I pounced on were not these.

Just consider all the reports from members on their canoe adventures in far off places. There's John Lentz's "Paddling through Grizzly Country" -- on the Horton River, north, from Great Bear Lake to the Arctic. There's Renee Dunham's report on wooden-canoe paddling on Chesuncook Lake in Maine and her discovery of the Caucomgomac River as an effective swear word for yelling. We read of Lucky and Bill Marmon canoeing the Upper Missouri; Sandi and Jeff Komarow in Oregon paddling the Upper Klamath Canoe Trail; Star Mitchell and her snow time at the Minnesota Boundary Waters where -- though not canoeing -- she learned the skills and commands of dog sledding.

There's special stuff in every issue: George Malusky on fishing, Carl Linden on restoration of the old Monocacy Aqueduct, profiles of longtime members Jinny and Phil Jones and of our longtime Captain, John Matthews. There's Renee Dunham on Betty Burchell's archaeological studies on Ruppert Island and along the Potomac shores -- signs of Indian settlement, of old fishing weirs and ferry crossings, although we have no clue (or do we?) about the mysterious old cannonball found on Ruppert).

I like the coverage of Oldtimers' Day picnics and the "Hear Ye, Hear Ye" notices of Regatta events: Round-the-Island Race, Drowned Rat and Sink-or-Swim Relays, Jousting, and the Raw Egg Toss. Good pictures of young James Super's tug-of-war birthday party! And it's a treat to look at the late '70s snow scenes of Penny Doolittle, Bob Sinclair, Lydia Weber crossing the Potomac on foot to Virginia and to read Penny's account of this thrilling and easy way for the canoe poolers to walk to work, just as she remembers -- our family does also -- the joy of skating across the river on smooth ice.

At the photo spread of Ice Action (hockey) at Lock 7, I got the joke of the sign: Please Stay Off Ice When Thawing (take that, you thawers!). I did not catch on here to David's joke inspired by his meeting the kid with a frozen worm dangling from his fishpole. What David reported (it sounded real to me) was a fishing tip garnered by Sycamore's fishermen Bill Bays and George Malusky. These two, with zero luck at fishing through the ice, asked help, it seems, from a clearly successful old fisherman, who, annoyed, said "Yh hummysf hwavl tchee wmmmsos WMAMM," Asked again, he spat first into his hand, then shouted: "You have to keep the worms WARM!" I'd guess our two master fishermen were as surprised as the rest of us by their role in the joke.

Not to be overlooked: Important letters to the editor were given their space -- Brad Coolidge's urgent plea to make a study of our septic system and our well a top priority; Sycamore architect John Wiebenson's caution (I've lost his eloquent words) that in expanding the Clubhouse we take care to protect the nearby trees and to retain the nature-friendly, unobtrusive image of our Club.

From botanist Jane Hill came a fascinating piece on the sycamore tree, whose common name may come from the Greek sykon (fig) and moron (mulberry). The American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis, named by Linnaeus and meaning "bread" and "western") had giant forms that could stable a horse, a cow, a pig or shelter a whole family in the same way that the smaller descendants now shelter raccoons, possums, owls and wood ducks. Another botanist, a visitor, wrote to the Islander that some of our mentioned phlox are actually not phlox but Dame's Rocket with four (not five petals), native to Europe where it was a favorite flower of Marie Antoinette. She also identified our Elephant's Foot blooms, white Snakewood, Sneezewood, too, and an invasive Mile-a-Minute weed that members were urged to remove. (Can this have referred to the kudzu that our Phil Thorson has led so many work gangs to attack? -- reminding Islanders to "keep your enthusiasm and your tools sharp.")

Yet another visiting botanist said that, edging cautiously around two Canada geese, she'd stopped amongst the blooming Bluebells and counted ten flower species within ten feet of her. "I felt I was standing in a 13th Century French tapestry." Indeed,Wildflower Walks have been a beautiful Island tradition from the time of Phil Stone and carried on since by Joan Heideman and Ellen Richards, most recently by RG Steinman and John Parrish. The lists of sightings are all there on Islander pages, drawings, too, and photos by the Winers -- as of the autumn bloomers: The stunning Great Lobelia and the delicate Mistflower. Do we remember that our Virginia Bluebells are Mertensia virginica, Spring beauty is Claytonia virginica, Solomon's seal is Polygonatum biflorum, Toadshade is Trillium sessile? How dignified of Dutchman's-breeches to be Dicentra cucullaria, and, adding to Renee's botanical swear words, how about Glechoma hederacea for Gill-over-the-ground?

As for birds, one of David's Islander lists -- in taxonomic order, mind you -- includes 37 species seen around the Island. These editors are devoted birders. When David invites his Ornithological Society pals for the annual "bird paddle," he picks October -- "when a warm river and frosty air make for a magically misty atmosphere." And they see kingfishers, herons, cormorants and ducks. They spot migrating warblers flitting in the trees, a good show of Cedar Waxwings, of woodpeckers (Sycamore is famous for its Pileateds), and Osprey.

The Winer newsletters continued the tradition begun by John Thomson of Caretaker reports, which are highly popular. Doc Taliaferro was a natural at writing Notes from the Island. He was a guy tuned to the Island life all around him, as was his welcoming wife Phyllis, initiator of the Midsummer Night campout parties. It was Doc who clued us in that the ice was always talking, sounding sometimes like a great crack or like a great cable-snapping. He'd report on the chorus of boom crash thud bang caused by the slow steady rain of black walnuts onto the canoe shed. In February it was the gaggles and more gaggles of geese returning from the south and how, when the Bluebells appeared, the cacophonous goose racket intensified; how, too, when the goose hotels on the Island floats were filled, his shovel came into full use. Doc was always good at recording the antics of the creatures with whom he and Phyllis shared the Island. We'd hear about flagrant, mindless, obscene duck cavortings or about the ruckus in the men's locker room when a raccoon got after a garbage can. It was two days after Doc had counted 17 trees recently nibbled that Doc wrote: "He did not come in the night stealing from shadow to shadow...creeping fearfully toward his target. No, he came...while there was still daylight and took half the bark from the tree near the house. The beaver has struck again!! Brazenly!!"

When Doc and Phyllis said their gracious goodbyes, our current Joe Hage came on -- fun, friendly guy with his playful daughters Kelsey and Kaylen. (Interestingly, it was Kaylen who found the 16-inch sycamore leaf -- to match one mailed to the Winers by a former Sycamore member, wanting to know: Could such a biggie possibly be from a sycamore?) Joe on the job ventured right in to composing his In Touch with Joe column. It can only make one wonder: Are Sycamore caretakers hired on the strength of their sensitive-to-nature musings and their skills of expression? We were soon caught up in Joe's tracking of animals by their footprints in the snow and in his close looks at Red-necked grebes. Then we got the drama of his first flood. Joe had turned up the canoes and secured them. He'd tied down the picnic tables. Then with help from Ann Marie Cunningham and Tryon Wells (and David Winer, who'd come to photograph) Joe coped with a breakdown of the ferry as he tried to cross in the high fast-moving water.

Why are they smiling?
- Photo by David and Jane Winer
Which brings us to these retiring editors. Now, we can say that, with Norm Metzger taking over of the editorial pen, though there'll be no more tandem motorcycle trips for the Winers to deliver camera-ready newsletter copy to the printer, there'll still be motor biking aplenty for them. For sure. I never knew it before, but these vroomvroom vehicles are how Jane and David first met. It was when she, biking on the streets of Georgetown, waved her helmet to the guy who was biking past her. And he, with great good sense, responded by circling back.

So, what, we may ask, is ahead for these released-from-duty editors? Both are retired folk -- Jane, from teaching, David, the onetime Navy pilot, from his work on Operations Research for the Federal Aviation Administration. For sure, they'll be birding and biking, who knows how far and how wide. What they'll not retire from is the Potomac River. As new grandparents, they'll be riding the Sycamore Clipper with now four-months-old Thalia, showing her birds, Bluebells and boats -- perhaps even in a magical mist. "And," says David, "at Jane's urgent request," (Jane rolls her eyes) "I will get to writing about my Navy flying days." We readers await.

Peggy Thomson is the author of many wonderful children's books and a member for 42 years.