SOME PEOPLE BELIEVE that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Others believe that what goes around comes around. Both old sayings have a lot of truth to them. This summer, in my meanderings through the woods and upon lakes large and small, I have found ample evidence of the truth in such sayings.

Just in the last week, I checked out four of what have been my favorite duck hunting, and sometimes fishing, waters to see what I could see. What I could see were acres and acres of water with very few or no strands of wild rice dotting the surface. Partridge Lake, Rice Lake, West Plum and Irving will offer very little rice for pickers this fall, at least as far as I could see.

There are lots of theories why wild rice crops come and go like they do. I think the most popular would be the effect water levels have. Whatever the case, in 57 years of duck hunting and even more years of fishing these lakes, I have seen anywhere from rice so thick you could barely push a canoe through it to wide-open water with maybe a single strand of rice 20 yards apart. It comes and goes. 

Some wish now to blame it on global warming, but I tend to go with the natural cycle theory. Some years, the water is low; sometimes, it’s high. If it’s too high, it usually bodes poorly for the rice crop, but sometimes, water levels that are too low mean the same. Then again, I have seen years of high water and huge crops, which is something I could say the same about for low water years. Whatever the case, I have come to expect that sooner or later, even if it’s four or five bad crops in a row, a string of bumper crops will balance it out.

Forests, though some folks would like to see their favorite pieces of woods stay the same forever, are ever changing. Trees have a life cycle and with each cycle comes a change in how the forest looks.

Most of us, even in pictures, will never see how the forests of the North Woods looked before they were cut down by late 19th- and early 20th-century timber companies. We can only imagine what a forest of old white pine looked like. I’m old enough to know what they looked like in the ’50s, when much of the forestland here was about ready to harvest again.

There were no 100-foot high, 3-foot in diameter white pine to harvest, but there were plenty of 50- to 75-year-old oak, maple, birch and other species that needed cutting. Some would argue that those trees are too pretty to harvest, but nature dictates trees have a certain lifespan and will one day fall to the ground whether a logger’s saw touches them or not.

Add to that the need for open areas where young growth suitable for wildlife browse can grow, lest several species of wildlife drop drastically in numbers or even completely disappear, and you can see the need for logging.

As a young boy around the age of 10, I saw the effects of logging on a 4-square-mile tract of forest across the road from the house I grew up in. By the ’50s, large hardwoods and some stands of pine were almost totally shading out the understory area where they grew and it was hard to find a partridge or a deer track, much less a deer, during a day of hunting.

The loggers who select cut those woods opened it up nicely and by the time I was 12 and old enough to hunt, the improved habitat gave me plenty of partridges to shoot at along with many squirrels, deer and hares whose numbers grew rapidly as the habitat improved.

Gradually, that same tract grew back into a mature forest and several years ago, to the chagrin of many skiers at Razorback Ridges, loggers selectively harvested the tract again.

I still remember vividly the number of written comments from skiers in the logbook we provided who complained bitterly about the logging. “R.I.P. Razorback Ridges” and “What idiots would cut down so many beautiful trees?” were some of the nicer entries. Over the last 10 or 12 years since the logging was completed, the comments are more like “Who would have guessed what a beautiful sunset you could see without the dense stand of oak on the last ridge heading back to the trailhead?” Many other comments laud new vistas and new stands of trees that are providing new beauty and new habitat for wildlife. What goes around, comes around.

On lakes where wild rice is not a factor, changing water levels make a big difference in the way people use them. Again, from childhood on, I have seen what several years of drought will do to landlocked lakes, especially. On the flip side, I have seen what a few years of heavy precipitation can do to the same lakes.

During our recent 10-year drought, you could walk the shoreline around the entire circumference of many such lakes. A 1,000-acre lake like Big Muskellunge was no exception. Fishermen were even driving around the shoreline on stretches of the lake as a 30- or 40-yard strip of high ground suddenly appeared. Saplings began to look like trees as they grew up on the newly-exposed beach. One whole bay on the south side of the lake was completely dry, a mudflat that you could neither walk on nor watch a brood of ducklings swim on. Deer Island was no longer an island, connected to the mainland by a 7-foot high berm. Some people thought the change might be permanent.

Then, the rains came and they came and they came. Now, Deer Island is an island again. Now, the south bay is filled with water and is a breeding ground once more for mallards and wood ducks. Young trees, 20 feet high, are now 6 feet deep in water, and are temporary habitat for prey fish and predators that eat them. In other words, except for the drowned trees, the lake is back to normal.

I could go on with many, many more examples of how the landscape of the North Woods has changed, changed again and changed back. Always will it be so. The more things change, the more they stay the same.