In this crazy world, we all need some positive surprises

Jerry Apps
This little prickly pear cactus has survived both deer and Wisconsin winters to serve as a delight to its owner.

A few years ago my neighbor gave me this little cactus. She called it a Prickly Pear. It surely was prickly, but it bore no resemblance to a pear.

“What do I do with it,” I asked. 

“Just set it out,” she said, “Most anyplace outside, it likes lots of sun.”

I shook my head in disbelief. What I knew about a cactus was next to nothing. I had seen them growing in Arizona where I visited a few times, but this little cactus didn’t look like it would grow several feet tall, as some grew in that state. (What I saw in Arizona was a Saguaro cactus.)

I planted the little cactus in a little sandy spot on the southeast corner of my cabin, where I knew it would get lots of sun. I figured I’d enjoy it one summer, and then the winter cold and snow would do it in.

But how surprised I was. Now, several years later, not only has the little cactus survived, it has thrived. It survived winters when the temperature dipped well below zero. It survived deep snow. And the deer and rabbits won’t touch it—need I say it has long, sharp spikes that cover its little green palm-like structures. The deer have mowed down my daylilies and gobbled up my hostas, but the little cactus sits by itself, showing off its very attractive little yellow flowers. It is a true survivor.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: In this crazy world, we all need some positive surprises.

Jerry Apps

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