The tale of two ponds

Jerry Apps
The water in the ponds on the Apps' farm have ebbed and flowed over the past 80 years.

Back in the 1940s, the ponds on our present-day farm were small lakes, teaming with wildlife, fish, and lots of ducks and geese during the spring and fall migrations. Some 25 years later (1966), when we bought the place, the ponds had all but dried up. Even in the spring, with the snow melt, the ponds gained little water and by mid-summer had become wet marshes. Trees began growing where water had been.

In 1993, the ponds began filling with water and continued so into the early 2000s. We canoed on the pond, exploring its many nooks and crannies. A pair of sandhill cranes nested on the northwest shore of the pond, a pair of wood ducks raised their brood on the south shore, a pair of mallards on the east shore. Deer came down to the water to drink, so did raccoons, and songbirds by the dozens gathered there.

Then the water began disappearing, each year a little more, until 2017 the ponds looked like they did in the middle 1960s. Where once there was water, now grew birch and willow trees, some thirty and more feet tall.

In 2018, it began raining. An inch of rain one day, two inches another day, and even more than that on some days in late summer. The pond began inching higher. The snow was deep during the winter of 2018-2019, and more rains fell in the spring. The ponds rose rapidly. Birch trees stood in four feet of water, all dead. Once more we canoed on what are now small lakes.

Will the pond waters recede again? Probably.

THE OLD-TIMER SAYS: Never curse the rain.

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work go to