CARETAKER'S LOG


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 years 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!!

Friday -- August 30, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.0     Water Temperature: 79


Big news. Two new paddle boards magically appeared here last Saturday. They aren't exactly new, one is missing a keel, but new to us and they seem to be high quality, OXBOW brand, sups. I don't know who to thank but thanks! One member has already volunteered to get a new keel for the one. Now all we need is someone to volunteer to buy two new paddle board paddles.

The zip line is still out of commission. Club member, Dr. Dan, came down to help get it back up and removed the old, rusty cable. We have more of that same cable here already, but since it rusted out so quickly we were hesitant to use the same galvanized cable that we used last time. I think that Dave Winer is looking into the cost of a stainless steel replacement cable.

The bass fishing is terrible. I floated all the way from Angler's Inn to Brookmont and didn't get one bite! Catfishing, on the other hand, is excellent. Fishing aside, it's well worth a trip to the Island, just to see the late summer wildflowers.

The Maryland Fire Equipment Corporation came to do their annual inspection of our six fire extinguishers. The interesting part of that story is that due to liability issues within the corporation, my technician wasn't allowed to come to the Island so I had to carry all of the fire extinguishers up the hill to have them checked in the parking lot. Then I had to bring them all back down again. Safety first, I guess.

I put up the screen tent a few weeks ago. I thought it would be nice to have a shady, bug-free zone inside the tent but I don't think anyone used it, so I took it down. I had to remove the slide from the dock earlier this month as well. I'm not sure what happened while I was away, but I had to remove it and rebuild it after it got damaged and became unsafe.

The water is low again so maybe I'll try to cut some more of the log blocking the ferry before the big regatta tomorrow.

Monday -- August 19, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.1     Water Temperature: 86


I'll be finishing up the carpentry job that I started. I took on the large project of replacing the rotted siding on the southwest corner of the clubhouse. I suppose I should have known, but the rot did not stop at the siding and once I removed the siding, I found that all of the plywood behind the siding was wet and rotted too. I also found that there was no vapor barrier tar paper behind there either, so not surprising that it failed.

By the time all of the wet wood was removed, I had to install a full sheet, 4'X8', of 3/4 inch plywood. Of course I added a ton of insulation in the wall before I sealed it off. Normally we don't need to insulate the unheated clubhouse but since this was the wall for the winter bathroom, I decided that we better insulate. I covered the plywood with tar paper. Then I installed the new wood siding, but not before I primed the back of each piece. And I took the time to prime every single newly cut edge. (very important) I think that one of the reasons that the old siding didn't last was because it wasn't properly primmed.

After all of the siding was in place I used epoxy putty to hide the new seams. After sanding the patches, I primed and painted everything, two coats.

I installed eighty feet of new siding but I had to go out and buy 48 feet more. I discovered that the two bottom pieces of siding were also rotted. This was a separate area and I believe that it was compromised during the floods of '96 when the river saturated the lower parts of the Clubhouse.

After making the Clubhouse look so nice and new, I wanted to make sure that the root of the problem was addressed. I think that the trouble started when the gutter on that side of the house was modified. Someone thought that it was a good idea to install a downspout there. Before, the rain would just shoot off of the gutter and fall like a shower below, and the gutter never became clogged. With the new downspout, I was constantly battling the leaves and sticks that would clog the gutter and cause the water to overflow onto the vulnerable bare-wood siding. So what did I do? I switched the gutter back to what it was and I got rid of the downspout. I took down the downspout and the gutter, cut off the hole and then carefully riveted and caulked a ten-foot extension to the gutter. Then I had to reinstall the massive gutter.

I also installed new siding on the north side of the Clubhouse where the wood rotted because it wasn't installed properly along the roof line. I also replaced two pieces of rotted window trim.

This is probably way too much detail for most people but since the Club trusted me to do this job and has agreed to pay me for the extra work, I wanted you to know that it is being done in the most thorough and professional manner for a long-lasting repair.

Friday -- August 16, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.2     Water Temperature: 84


I mentioned that I cleaned the screen porch ceiling and it still looks great, but I'm worried that it won't last. I was admiring my work yesterday when I realized that the ceiling in there was dripping wet! I can't imagine why that ceiling is constantly wet. I opened the doors and windows and set up a fan to circulate some air, but why? It reminds me of a humid green house, so maybe it's condensation from a hot upstairs and a cool downstairs. Maybe the moisture comes from the ground and gets trapped. Whatever the case, I think we need to figure out a solution or be stuck with constant mildew. Maybe there is a scientific mind out there that can solve our little dilemma. Maybe we just need to install a couple of exhaust fans.

Wednesday -- July 31, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.2     Water Temperature: 88


The river level is 3.2 right now. That's lower than it was in all of 2018. The river hasn't been this low since December 2017, and it hasn't been under three feet since the summer of 2017!

I got a good picture of a spicebush swallow-tail butterfly. It's cool to think that it lived out all of it's life stages right here on Sycamore Island.

I organized, swept, and scrubbed the screen porch. All of that wet weather last year left a layer of mildew on all of the ceilings and walls in there. The black mildew was so bad that after cleaning it, it looks like I put on a new coat of paint.

The zip line is out of operation. The cable has rusted out and I had to remove the trolley. I informed Dave, who put it up, and I guess we will replace the cable at some point.

I had to exterminate two bee's nest. They were ground nests that were right along the boardwalk. I can tell you first hand that they were a menace.

I also got stung by a wasp when I was working to replace the gutter in back. I'll have to get some wasp spray before I can finish that project.

Wednesday -- July 24, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.2     Water Temperature: 82


The river went up a foot yesterday and it's still all muddy but the good news is that the temperature of the water dropped down from the record, 94 degrees, back to a cool 82 degrees.

I so glad I got out there and cut that log in the river when I did. the next day the river was so high and muddy I couldn't even see the darn thing. I did go back out later that day to cut the smaller branch by the steps. It was small but very annoying.

I forgot to mention the coconuts, gourds and flowers that were placed on the bank near the ferry steps. Touching to see, but very mysterious. Were they placed here as an offering to a deity or maybe a way to remember someone who has passed? This river is so much to so many.

Sunday -- July 21, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.4     Water Temperature: 90


Big news! I cut some more of that pesky branch that's blocking the ferry from the landing! I know all of the relief caretakers and anyone else running the ferry will be happy to hear that. I was waiting for the river to go down some more before I wrestled with that tree again but I got tired of waiting and decided to try and cut at least a little more off of the limb. One of the members has promised to bring a small chain saw but in the mean time I thought I could make it a little better with just my hand saw. This kind of work isn't exactly in my job description but sometimes things just got to get done, so I do them, because it's the right thing to do. I was able to cut off another 12 inches or so and it really makes a big difference. I still can't believe at how dense that wood was, as soon as I finished cutting that log, it didn't float. It just sank right down to the bottom of the river.

My A/C went out back before July forth. The repair man came out and found that the fan/blower motor was broken. The part was ordered and the A/C should be working again by Monday. It would have been unbearable down here without A/C, but, lucky for me, I was really smart and I didn't discard the old window unit that we used before the renovation. The kitchen is still uninhabitable but that little A/C is working pretty good considering that it's probably been on the Island for over twenty years. Now I can at least sleep at night. The funny thing is that the tiny window unit might keep me cooler than the heat pump, heat-transfer system. When it gets this hot, the heat pump can't really keep up.

I thought that it would be fun to have a sun dial on the Island. Nothing fancy, just a simple dial in the middle of the field. But alas, there is just too much shade and not enough sun for a sun dial to work out here. It might work during the winter months when the leaves are down or maybe we could draw a sun dial on the swimming float.

Wednesday -- July 10, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.6     Water Temperature: 80


The ferry is open.

Monday -- July 8, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 6.0     Water Temperature: 75


The ferry is closed.

Wow, never seen that before, and I hope I never see it again. The river went up two and a half feet in less than three hours! The canal was so full that it was overflowing down our steps and there was another Niagara-type waterfall flowing over the towpath just a little upstream from here! I pray that the towpath doesn't collapse there.

I guess we won't be getting any visitors for a while, which will be a huge change compared to the super-busy June and early July that we just had. I can't believe how busy it's been. The bell starts ringing early in the day and doesn't stop until the last swimmers leave at dark. Even on the weekdays! Monday last week was actually busier than the Sunday before it! I guess that these new waitlisters are making up for lost time after last year's Island inaccessibility. Also, it's getting hard to distinguish between the members and the waitlisters since the waitlisters have figured out that all you have to do is volunteer to run the ferry for half a day on a Saturday, and Bam, you get a pass to come on another Saturday, or Sunday. What the heck?

Friday -- May 31, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.1     Water Temperature: 78


Wow, what a Spring it has been. So many times, if you're not careful, Spring can slip right by you and the next thing you know all of the trees are full of leaves, the birds are done singing and nesting, and the weather is hot and muggy. But not this year. This year I did all of those cool naturalist-type things that you can only do once-a-year between March first and May 31st.

I started my Spring by going to my first ever Trout unlimited meeting. There we learned all about the shad and herring migration and the Spring fishing on the Potomac. I never did catch a shad this year but on Easter Sunday I went to Pierce mill on Rock Creek and was blown away to see dozens of herring and hickory shad swimming upstream and spawning below the dam there!

The other inspiring event I went to was a talk by our local ornithologist and Club member, Bruce Beehler. His talk helped me to clue into what was happening all around us, on the Island and elsewhere, the migration of millions of tiny birds. While camping nearby at Little Bennett Park, I experienced first-hand the "fall out" of migrating birds. This is a phenomenon where hundreds of song birds descend from their lofty heights to refuel for their migration north. It was amazing to be there when, right at first light and after flying all night for hundreds of miles, the birds filled the trees of the campground and I was awakened by the overwhelming sound of bird song. While birding there we saw many colorful woodland warblers. What a treat! We also found the lesser ginseng in bloom while we were there.

Of course Spring is also about flowers, and seeing all of the Spring flowers coming up on Sycamore Island is a joyful event. But there are some flowers that don't bloom here, like the blood root. That plant I would have to seek out somewhere else. I took a hike on the Billy Goat Trail, I didn't see any blood roots there but the shad bushes were in full bloom and the trout lilies were everywhere.

Come late April, it was time to venture a little further a field to the Trillium Trail. There, along the Appalachian Trail, near Skyline Drive, the trilliums bloom by the thousands and you can walk through acres of pink and white flowers decorating the forest floor. While hiking there I found the elusive blood root, but not the lady slippers that we were hoping to see.

Near the end of Spring I went to the mountains and again experienced the overwhelming presence of song birds in the forest. While at this higher elevation I saw the remnants of a lady slipper, a kind of orchid, and I saw the first of the mountain laurels sending out their bushes full of bell-shaped flowers.

It has been an amazing Spring from the first dutchmans breeches,to the extra-showy mountain laurel. Can't wait until next Spring.

Wednesday -- May 22, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.6     Water Temperature: 70


The website was down for a few days but it seems to be working now.

Monday -- May 20, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.9     Water Temperature: 70


The ferry is open!

Wednesday -- May 15, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 7.0     Water Temperature: 60


The ferry is closed

The river crested at a little over seven feet. It's on its way down now but it could be Sunday before its below five feet again.

Saturday -- May 11, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.7     Water Temperature: 68


Well, we got real close to opening the ferry yesterday but alas, more rain, and the river is back up again. Ferry closed. What really sucks is that the Downriver Race is today and without the ferry it becomes a total fiasco trying to get all of the racers timed and fed. Saturday is normally my day to get away from the Island but since we told the relief caretakers to stay home, and since George will no longer be a part of this event, I decided I better stick around and represent for the Island. Sure do miss you George, but don't worry, I got the cookies and lemonade ready for the racers. I'm surprised that more of our Sycamore Islanders don't get excited about this canoe race that started a whopping, 63 years ago!

Sunday -- May 5, 2019
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.2     Water Temperature: 68


The ferry is closed. No surprise there, after that hard rain on Friday night and another hard rain last night. So sad, I was really hoping that the river would finally drop below four for a change. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the Club meeting will not be held on the Island this month.

The good thing is that I was able to get Colonel Josh's double neck pedal steel guitar off of the Island on Friday before the river got too high. I was also able to bring my mainland drum kit back down to the Island.

And, I remembered to get my bicycle off of the Island while the ferry was still running. I miss my bike rides when my bike is trapped on the Island during high water.