CARETAKER'S LOG


Sunday -- January 26, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.3     Water Temperature:36


THE FERRY IS CLOSED!

Lots of rain in the watershed equals high water on our river. Sorry folks.

Tuesday -- January 21, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.8     Water Temperature:36


Winter is here! Brrrrrr. I had to winterize the Club kitchen and Bathrooms yesterday. That means I had to shut off the water to the sinks and toilets. You can still use the toilet in the Men's room and you can get potable water from the tap in there too.

I hope it doesn't get so cold that the river freezes but we'll have to wait and see I guess. The good news is that the cold snap has brought the ducks back. We are so lucky. Back before I lived on the river I would have to make a special trip out to Seneca Lake or Black Hill Regional Park to see the over-winter waterfowl but now the ducks are just a few yards away from my front door.

Sunday -- January 19, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.9     Water Temperature:40


There is going to be an open house/open Island here today. It will be interesting to see who shows up. I suppose the weather could be worse considering that it's the middle of January but I wish that it wasn't so windy. I'll have to make sure that I time the ferry trips to avoid the 30 MPH gusts that they are predicting. The wind was blowing so hard the other night that the bell started ringing.

I had to carry the 24' ladder over to the mainland. The old copper phone lines were dangling low to the ground from the utility pole. The copper lines were disconnected weeks ago, but I didn't want anybody fooling around with them, so I put up the ladder, coiled them up, and tied them high up on the pole. While I was up there I noticed that the junction box for our new FIOS cable was upside down and full of rain water. I used some zip-ties to secure it better and I let all of the rain water drain out. The fiber optic cable is so tiny, (less than the width of a hair) that I feel like we need to be extra careful with it.

Monday -- January 13, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.0     Water Temperature:50


This brief shot of warm weather is nice but now all the winter ducks are gone. Who knows where they go but last Thursday and Friday there were scores of ducks all around the Island and now there are none. So sad. My favorites, the hooded megansers were here for weeks and were joined recently by other diving ducks, scaups, grebes and buffle heads. I love to watch, and listen to, them take off from the river. Their little feet are moving so fast for take-off, that those little guys sound like they are playing a super-fast drum roll on top of the water.

Wednesday -- January 10, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.4     Water Temperature:38


I picked up some fancy, Martha Stewart stencils for our sign-in box. Going upscale!

We had the meeting on Wednesday night. The funny thing was, Amber and Hans had no idea that we were gathering at their house until we started showing up. Amber wasn't even there, but Hans and the kids scrambled and it all worked out. Thanks Hans, for being so flexible and accommodating.

The most important part of the meeting was that Tryon Wells was named an honorary member! He's been a member for 37 years and has filled many of the officer's positions over the years. Plus, he built and managed our website for over twenty years! Tryon has been such a huge part of this Club that it is hard to overstate all that he has done. Thanks Tryon!

BTW, I am now posting this log on the new website for the Club. Go to sycamoreisland.clubexpress.com to follow me there. It's hard to change but the new website allows me to add pictures to my posts. Right now it's only visible to logged-in members but we hope to make the log/blog public in the future.

Wednesday -- January 8, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.5     Water Temperature:39


Club meeting tonight at the home of Hans and Amber. Hope to see you there.

I had to remove and refurbish the metal box that houses the sign-in sheet on the ferry. Over the years I have had to fix it up a few times, I've had to fix the hinges, mend the box after a tree fell on it, replace the clip board and I've had to repaint it at least four times. This time I had to replace the rotted wood beneath the clip board. I also replaced the active-member list with new velcro to hold it inside the top of the lid, I added new cordage and refastened the platform that it sits on. Then I repainted it, forest green this time, and finished with the gold stenciled lettering. Next time you're on the ferry, take a minute to admire this simple piece of craft work. This box has been here longer than I know but it represents a different time. This box wasn't made of plastic in some far-away place. My guess is that this box was custom-made by a local tinsmith. Someone with the skills to bend and fabricate galvanized metal into a durable box that has lasted us for decades. Incredible.

While I was in the refurbishing mode I decided to clean and repaint one of the trophies that we have here. This trophy is from a race that was won by our Club at the regatta that took place here way back on September 3, 1928. It's a silver-plated cup, about 7 inches tall, that's cut in half and mounted on a coat-of-arms shaped wooden plaque. I polished the silver and repainted the black plaque. I'll have to devise a new way to reattach the cup to the plaque since the old wires are mostly broken but otherwise, I just need to find a place to hang it.

I also stripped and refinished a small table that I found in someone's trash. It looks great and fits perfectly in my little foyer.

Monday -- December 30, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.4     Water Temperature:42


They say it's going to get up to 68 degrees today! I doubt if it will get that warm down here, next to this cold river, we probably won't break 60 degrees. The cool thing about having warm air while the water temperature is so cold is that it forms a thick fog above the river. The fog creates an other-world feel down here and I'm looking forward to paddling into the foggy abyss.

Sunday -- December 29, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.4     Water Temperature:40


I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas! I know I did. Christmas eve is my favorite. First we went the see the Christmas pageant at the Brookmont "church" which gets me in the mood. Then we go to the main event at my brother's house, and the main event at the main event is eating Lefse. Lefse is a Norwegian, potato-based crepe that you slather with butter and wrap bacon inside, and it is heavenly. And for some reason, we only eat it once a year at Christmas time.

For Christmas dinner, I prepared a ham for the group. I bought a special ham from "PORK STORK" at the Brookmont farmer's market. It was like nothing I've had before, not smoked or cured, just fresh meat, and it was fantastic! It was strange not having my "Norwegian" Dad, the Viking, there for Christmas this year but having such a large, loving family helped to ease that burden.

I got the Club a Christmas present! Actually, I found it on the side of the road on Bradley Blvd., but regardless, I am presenting the club with a new croquet set! It's old but in good shape and it is definitely a deluxe set. All we need to do is make some wickets for it.

Not much beaver activity lately. I guess they are satisfied with the amount of provisional trees that they have collected.

The new year is around the bend and I have lots of things for us to do before the weather gets nice again. Most importantly, fix the zip line, so send me an email and let me know when you can come down to help me get things ready, thanks.

Happy New Year!

Friday -- December 20, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.6     Water Temperature:37


It looks like the river is going to stay below five feet and the ferry will remain open all week. They always seem to overestimate the water levels. It's about to crest this morning at 4.66. It's been a long time since we've seen the river this high, maybe back in March.

It's cold, and there is a little ice forming in the canal but so far I've been able to keep the water running in the Clubhouse. It's supposed to be warmer next week so I'll try to keep the water coming out of the spigots for as long as possible.

This recent cold blast has brought us some winter waterfowl to enjoy. I saw a group of hooded mergansers yesterday. Right outside my window!

Friday -- December 13, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.2     Water Temperature:40


Another Friday the 13th? We just had one back in September! So far we aren't too lucky with the weather. Don't forget to throw some salt over your shoulder for good luck.

A big "Thank You" to Vicki Judson and her husband Michael Esch for hosting the Club's annual Holiday Party/Monthly meeting. Not only did they host the event but Vicki served her incredible salmon. A full fish with head and tail still attached but instead of skin and scales Vicki layered the succulent flesh with thinly sliced cucumbers that looked like scales. WOW! If you can only make it to one meeting per year, the December meeting is the one to go to. Besides the salmon, Vicki made cheese cake and served drinks. And no Club holiday party is complete without Dave Winer's awesome eggnog. It was great to see everyone and I hope that next year the Club will find a way to discuss the annual budget without asking me to leave the room and wait in the garage.

The rain is pretty steady now and it looks like our docile river may start to do some bucking. It's been so nice to have the river at a steady 3 feet for so many weeks, but a river level of five feet is not out of the question for next week.

Wednesday -- December 11, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.3     Water Temperature:43


I had to laugh out loud yesterday morning. I was pulling the ferry close to the mainland, and there, in the middle of the pile of sticks and branches that the beaver had collected, was a big piece of CHICKEN WIRE! The chicken wire that we had so laboriously wrapped around the trees was now in a useless heap. I guess we'll have to up our efforts to beat the determination of these hungry beaver.

Remember folks, the sun may be shining but the water temperature is below 55. Once the water temperature drops below 55 no one is allowed to use the Club boats or paddle boards. For safety's sake.

Monday -- December 9, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.0     Water Temperature:44


We had a great time on the Island yesterday at the first ever Island Winter Performance Festival. John butler, the new entertainment director, organized a wonderful event and the weather cooperated nicely. There were four musical acts and John read seasonably-appropriate poems in between the acts. Club member Jennifer Hearn and I started the show with a quick, 8-song acoustic set, followed by member, Geoff Holdridge on fiddle with his teenage son, Sebastian, on guitar. Then the rocking began with John Butler's four-piece band cranking it up with John on drums. Then we had the headliner, The 1519 Band from Capitol Hill, featuring Club-member Russell Sturm on Keyboards. Lot's of high-quality music, and all originals! There was a pretty good crowd in the Clubhouse, but very few non-musician Club members bothered to show up. If they only knew what they were missing.

Saturday -- November 30, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls:3.0     Water Temperature:44


Well I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving. I know that the beaver did. There were four of them circling the ferry that night when I got home, like hungry sharks. Then they slap their tails real load in the dark. I thought that the tail slapping was a warning to the other beavers but now I'm wondering if it isn't a form of intimidation. Little buggers! I'm trying to protect the trees that I really care about but I counted over fifteen small, (3-8 inch diameter), box elders that have fallen victim to the beaver. Hopefully they are slowing down now.

If you want to see the trees that have been taken, there is a large pile of them sticking out of the water near the mainland, at the base of a sycamore, just upstream from the ferry. I guess they have a burrow dug into the bank there, and now it looks like they are all stocked up with food for the winter. You do have to admire the intelligence of these little, or not so little, creatures. It seems that they always build their lodges on the south-facing bank of the river, to get maximum warmth from the winter sun. The other thing that I've noticed is that the pile of sticks and branches actual help to keep the ice from forming around their entrance hole. When the sun hits the branches, the warmth radiates down to keep the water warmer at their entrance. Smart.

Not many winter waterfowl sightings yet. We did see three pied-billed grebes one day. (my Mom had to look up the word pied, turns out it means black and white, who knew.) It was also a recent joy o spot a brown creeper near the suet feeder. They have been absent since last March. I saw a black snake on Wednesday. It's kind of late in the year to see snakes but I suppose that the warm air on Tuesday enticed it to come out of its hole. When I saw it, it could barely move, since the temperature had dropped back down to the forties.

I fixed the roof! The fix wasn't too difficult. The hard part was figuring out where the water was getting in. There were small water stains on the wall in my living room a while ago and I thought it was due to the old windows. I replaced the windows last year, but the other day the water was leaking in again.

I climbed up onto the roof to see if any shingles were damaged. There were no obvious signs of damage above where the water was coming in. Then I noticed that the metal roof cap at the apex of the roof was showing signs of age. It looked like the water was leaking through some nail holes in the roof and running down to the wall. I banged in all of the nails and applied a generous portion of roofing caulk to all of the nail holes and seams along the roof cap. Problem solved, no expensive roofer required.

I've also been busy raking and moving large quantities of fallen leaves, mostly the sycamore leaves, that were still on the trees during the workfest. I cleared them off of the canoe shed roof and out from between the racks of the canoe shed and off the decks and gutters.

We had a few holiday visitors here yesterday, Black Friday. I was happy that people chose Sycamore Island as the place that they wanted to take their out-of-town family and guests. Five large families, five full ferry loads.

Friday -- November 21, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls:3.0     Water Temperature:46


We now have WI-FI on Sycamore Island. The Verizon technician came out and installed our brand new, more powerful router and now the Island has a wireless network! The Guest password is "Sycamore".

Other exciting news. I finished the wiring for the lights on the trail, so finally, the trail lights are restored! It is so nice to be able to see on the path at night.

We had a cold snap last week but I did not turn off the water in the bathrooms and Club kitchen. I did shut down the outdoor shower and I will winterize the clubhouse when the time comes, but for now it is nice to have running water for the members and guests.

We had some eager beavers here for the workfest on the tenth. Not as many volunteers as we had hoped, but we got a lot done including putting wire on the trees to protect them from the other eager beavers. Those other eager beavers are on a rampage right now and no unwrapped tree is safe.

Some one placed a bouquet of flowers up in the Clubhouse in memory of our dear lost Club member Alison Lavine. We are devastated by the news of her death. The Island will never be the same without her big smile and happy voice.

I also want to thank everyone for the condolences and wonderful cards. It is hard to lose one's father but what a joy to receive so much love and compassion from all of those around me.

Friday -- November 1, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls:4.97     Water Temperature:62


Heads up, the ferry may be closed tomorrow because of high water. Check level before you head down.

Thursday -- October 31, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.3     Water Temperature: 64


Happy Halloween and happy Nationals win the World Series Day! We may have to rebuild the baseball diamond that used to be here on the Island back when the Senators won the pennant back in 1924!

Exciting news! there is now a fiber optic cable running all the way to the Island's Clubhouse! We still need to have the technicians come out and do the final installation into the house but the cable has made it across the river!
Finally, Verizon sent the right crew out here and they did a fine job. RC and his helper ran the cable down the hill while I was away on vacation, and on Monday I helped them bring the cable across the river. My job was to paddle the "mule tape" across the river in the canoe. I also helped trim the branches that were in the way. I was so glad that we had nice weather and a low river, which made it so much easier than it could have been.

So on Tuesday I worked on raising the electric cable for the trail lights. As you may remember from the last episode, I got the cable across the river, but it was still too low and needed to be raised up high away from the river. I gathered up the extension ladder, cable clamps, pulleys, anchors, ropes, wire cutters and screws and ferried over to start on the mainland side. It was a little dicey standing on the ladder that high up and that close to the river's edge but I was able to get a good attachment at the very top of the lamp post/utility pole that's there next to the steps. The tricky part, how to attach a rope to the cable so that I could pull it tight and hold it while I attached the cable to the pole with the pull-clamps. The key was to use a prusic knot, a knot I used to use to ascend ropes back in my rock climbing days. This knot gets tighter the more you pull it, yet is easy to release when pulled in the opposite direction. It worked like a charm and I was able to anchor the cable high up on the pole.
Then it was back to the Island to anchor the cable high up in a silver maple tree. It took a couple of tries to get the prusic in the right place so that I could reach it when I was done but all went as planned and the cable is up. I'm happy with the results and my new cable is now higher than all of the other Pepco and Verizon cables. Yes!

I went canoeing in the canal! As you may remember, there was a torrential downpour on Sunday morning but it subsided early and it became a warm and pleasant day. I was coming home from the grocery store that morning and I noticed that the canal was up and moving fast. I had an idea, so I quickly put the groceries away and I grabbed the small Oldtown, "Pack" canoe and put it on the ferry. I guess I'm getting desperate for kicks and giggles but it was fun to drop the canoe into the canal and ride the rushing water down to the dam. It was a cool perspective to see the world from the canal just like the old canawlers did and to wave to the joggers going by. I also scared up a bunch of carp and I saw a beaver as it slipped into the canal from the berm side. Sadly the canal is somewhat dammed by silt below the dam so it wasn't long before I was paddling through thick green duck weed and I had to turn around. By the time I paddled back up to our bridge over the canal the water level had dropped and it was easy to get out of the canoe and back up onto the towpath. Cheap thrills!

Sunday -- October 13, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 2.8     Water Temperature: 67


Did anyone else get an email reminder about the meeting today? Sadly, I don't seem to be on the Sycamore Island email list but I think there is a meeting on the Island today at 4 pm.

Unfortunately, I was right about the swimming weather. No more careless frolicking in the river now that it's cool and cloudy. I did jump in the river on Friday, the eleventh of October, just to be able to say I swam in mid-October, and I must say, there is definitely a big difference between 73 degrees and 67 degrees. When it come to swimming anyway.

Sunday -- October 6, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 2.7     Water Temperature: 71


It looks like this weeks upcoming weather will spell the end of the river-swimming this year. It's supposed to be cloudy everyday with lows at night in the fifties so the water temperature is going to drop. I must say it's been a glorious stretch of great swimming weather, almost makes up for last year's bust. I think I swam pretty much every day in September and every day now in October. I can't remember what my record is for latest swim of the year is, but October 5th has to be getting pretty close to my personal record.

This dry weather did a number on the jewel weed. Sadly the poor things withered before they could go to seed. That means we won't get to "pop" their seed pods this year. I was thinking that periods of dry weather may also explain the fluctuations in the number of jewel weed plants we have year to year. If they don't drop seeds at the end of the year how are they supposed to proliferate?

This may not be common knowledge, but last year when the river flooded, the cable that powers the lights on the trail was washed away. So on this past Friday, I strung a new electrical cable across the river to restore the lights. Getting a cable across the river is never an easy thing, but this time I had a new, ingenious idea. I've had quite a bit of experience, by now, of running ropes and cables across the channel to the mainland. In the past I would put a very long rope in the canoe and pay it out as I paddled across. Sounds simple, but once the rope drops into the water, the current grabs it and slowly pulls the rope downstream. If you are lucky, and you have tons of extra rope, and you are able to paddle really fast, you might manage to get the rope across the river. Not easy. My new idea was to move the junction boxes so that the new electric cable would be closer to the ferry and the ferry rope. That way, I could use the ferry rope to help me get the cable across the river. This is where the genius comes in, I used plastic zip-ties to attach the cable to the ferry rope as I pulled it across, the cable stayed out of the water and I easily got it across while pulling the ferry. It was a little tricky getting the zip-ties just right, tight enough to hold the cable, but loose enough so that I could pull it through, but I figured it out and, after weaving the cable past the bell rope and ferry chains, I used a ladder and attached it temporarily to the utility pole on the mainland. Then I went back to the Island with the ladder and attached to other end of the cable high up in a silver maple tree. It was getting dark by the time I finished and the swimmers were heading home, but I asked Jim Drew to stay and help me. He pulled the cable taut, to keep it out of the river, while I cut off all of the zip-ties to free the cable. The cable is now across the river, yea! But that's not the end. Now we need to use some pulleys, ropes, ladders, and the come-a-long, to get the cable good and tight and high above the river. Once that is done we can connect the wires and restore the lights on the trail.

The Verizon saga continues. The technician was out here again on Monday, for the sixth time. Same technician, same result, nothing. I did meet his supervisor this time and he seemed even more clueless than me. They didn't even know that it was their company, Verizon, that ordered the installation of the new cable, wow. This all started way back in January 2018, when Verizon ordered us to switch from copper to fiber-optic.

Sunday -- September 29, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 2.7     Water Temperature: 76


One of the cool things that you can do when the water is this low is walk along the shore of the Island. You can't quite circumnavigate the Island but its fun, for a change, to walk along the "beach" between the river and the trees on the southern side of the Island. Lot's of late summer/autumn flowers there too.

Another cool thing to do when the water is this low is to step back in history. If you paddle upstream for a couple of miles, past the first two ledges, you come to a third rocky ledge. Here you can find a very long, man-made wall of piled up stones. This wall was built in the 1780's to help George Washington's Potomack Co. move cargo-laden boats up and down the river. These walls were built to impound and divert the river so that the boats could travel during periods of low water. Amazingly, the walls are still doing their job and they helped me find enough waterflow to get up past that third ledge just below Minnie's Island.

Sadly, I paddled all the way up to the beltway bridge and back and didn't catch, or even see, (I wore my polarized glasses to see below the surface better), a smallmouth bass. What I did see where dozens of carp and a couple of gigantic catfish. Then, I was surprised to see the colorful orange, black and white markings of an 18 inch koi! What is going on?

Monday -- September 23, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 2.72     Water Temperature: 78


The river is all the way down to 2.72 so I had to look back and check the historical record about when it was last this low. We had some pretty low water in 2013, (it was 2.78 in November that year) but below you can read what I wrote on September 10, 2010.

"The river is really low right now. The rocks are exposed, and stained with mud, making it look as if our dam has sprung a leak. This is the lowest the river has been since my first September here, eight years ago! Back then it got down to 2.18 and it became necessary to release water from the u-river dams to keep the river at its minimum flow. If this drought keeps up we may have to do the same this year."

It's been so long since then that I'm finding it hard to imagine what the river was like back in 2002. What I do remember about my first Summer/Fall here was that the low water was short-lived and it seemed like it rained all of September and October that year.

Sunday -- September 15, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 2.8     Water Temperature: 78


The swimming lately has been spectacular. I've been swimming every day for the last two weeks. Perfectly warm days and a cool, clear river that isn't in flood stage. It's so nice to get my river-side lifestyle back after last year's flooding. I'm tempted to take the biodegradable Camp-suds down to the dock and just take my bath in the river!

I was cutting the grass the other day when I came upon what looked like a rodent's burrow. We have many voles digging on the Island so it isn't unusual to see holes everywhere, but this hole was bigger, so I had to check it out. My first thought was a wood rat so I reached down into the hole to see which way the tunnel went. Maybe not a good idea to stick your hand blindly into a burrow, but as I felt around I realized that there was no tunnel. If there was no tunnel, who dug this hole and why? I started to scoop the loose dirt from the bottom of the hole, looking for clues. Interestingly, the hole was perfectly round and symmetrical, 6 inches deep and 6 inches wide, about the size of a small mixing bowl. The top of the hole curved inward like the dome of the Pantheon with it's opening in the middle. The weird thing was that inside the hole I found pieces of a honeycomb and lots of bits that looked like shredded honeycombs. Could this have been a nest for a large colony of ground-nesting bees? My working theory is that the bees had to abandon the nest last year during the flooding, and that over time the roof of the nest dried out and caved in, exposing the amazing engineering of these tiny creatures within. I wonder how many times I ran over that nest with the mower without getting stung.

Our septic tank is buried, of course, but the access lid is very close to the surface. The latch is secure but since the consequences of falling into the septic tank are high, I decided to place two cinder blocks and a stout plank over top of it to keep people from standing directly on the lid, just in case.

Tuesday -- September 3, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 2.9     Water Temperature: 81


I took another big bite out of that pesky log that's in the path of our ferry. I knew that there were going to be a lot of people running the ferry during the regatta and I was nervous about the ferry getting hung up. Also, the wind blowing from down stream was causing the ferry to run right into that log, so on Sunday I decided to try and make it better. This time I had some help and after rigging the come-a-long and tugging the tree out of the river as much as possible, Club member Garth and I set into cutting. Not only did we cut that same branch further back but we had to cut the smaller limb below it, since the river was all the way down to 2.9 feet and the ferry was now getting stuck on that branch too. Suddenly, it's almost a pleasure to run the ferry, almost.

Speaking of running the ferry, there were over ninety people (mostly non-members) on the ferry yesterday. I lost count of the number of trips that I did but I must have pulled the ferry for over three miles!

The rain did not effect the event too much, but of course I got soaked pulling the ferry in the rain. I will never understand why folks can't wait 15 minutes for the storm to pass before they ring the exit bell.

A great big THANK YOU to Steve, Mia and their two daughters for doing all of the hard work to put the regatta together!!