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!!