Last week I was yarning with a couple of buddies about water witches. I snatched images out of my memory from way back in my life, thirty years almost and longer. We were standing in a RV park in Lakeview , Oregon and I have no idea why I got started on the subject but ever since I told them this stuff, it has been right there, sitting on the front porch of my consciousness, not trying to kick the door of NOW in, but not going away either.
So, here goes. Back in the 1980s my good pal and business associate, Robert Moser and I were involved in a southern New Mexico mountain real estate development. We got government approvals, put in great roads, phone service, power lines but no matter what we did it seemed like it was never enough to satisfy most potential purchasers. They wanted water. I can’t really blame them, since in New Mexico, having ample and suitable water is always an issue when contemplating a purchase of real estate.
Just to show someone that water was on the various properties, we decided to drill a well. This particular lot was a fairly flat spot on top of a pine and fir studded mountain ridge that poked nine-thousand feet into the clouds. It was a pretty good lot and we convinced a well driller to drag his rotary rig up the mountain. We picked a spot after discussing the theory of water, the geology of fractured limestone mountains, and the reliability of water witches. The well driller was a big, gruff man who guffawed when we asked him if we should witch the lot for water. He barked, “You don’t believe in that crap, do you?” I don’t know about Robert, but just being semi-accused of believing in something like a dowser made me roll my shoulders over like I was guilty of some crime.
After a thousand feet of dry hole we quit that well and of course since there is no guarantee of the driller finding water, it cost us plenty. The well had been drilled in a dike that went all the way the way to the portals of hell. While up there cussing that dry hole our surveyor showed up and recommended we call his Uncle Lester about getting the lot witched. The well driller was there so of course we went to pawing the grass and scoffing around but then asked about Uncle Lester. The well driller glared at the surveyor who said, “He’ll give you a good deal. $25.00 a lot and he don’t charge unless you hit water.” What had we to lose other than our lack of faith in the unseeable? The threat of another dry hole was a hell of a lot more threatening than hiring a well dowser. Not that it’s always this way, but right then, greed and spirituality were on the same side.
Imagine my surprise when I drove up to Lester’s house and found out he was damned near blind. I recall sneaking a look around to see if anybody I knew noticed me in front of his house. And to boot, he was pushing eighty years of age and the surveyor and I had to help him get in my rig and he made us stop by Fresnal Creek and cut him some willows sticks, one long one and a forked one that we had to trim down just so. By then I was wishing I was at the bar even though I had quit drinking the year before.
Lester bragged all the way from the six thousand foot elevation where he lived up to the nine thousand foot lot we wanted him to witch. He boasted that when he was younger he never could sleep at night until he met an old Bruja over in Cuchillo, New Mexico just west of Truth or Consequences on the Rio Grande. She advised Lester the reason he couldn’t sleep was because he was a water witch and was sleeping over an underground river. He laughed after he told us that part as if it was the commonest thing, to go home and move your bunk into another room because you were a water witch and couldn’t sleep over an underground river. He said, “And I never slept better and that’s when I became a dowser for hire.” I could hardly keep from breaking out in uncontrollable laughter, so I lit up a Winston and just grinned.
Up on top, we led him to the lot and he put the two ends of the willow fork in his hands and the surveyor helped him negotiate Douglas fir roots, chunks of limestone, bushes and holes. I followed them and kept my eyes on his hands so that when he turned them down I could see for myself what a fraud Lester was.
Not ten feet from the dry hole the willow fork turned its snout down and he said, “Here. Now give me that other willow limb.” He sat on the ground and began to count. The end of the stick began to point and bob up and down where the willow fork had indicated water should be. Lester began to count as the end of the willow stick went up and down with each number he said, or maybe the numbers came out of his mouth as the end of the stick pointed at the ground. I tried to see how much of all this he was causing with his hand but I really couldn’t tell. When the point of the limb stopped bobbing up and down he said, “There. You got strong water at two-hundred ten feet. Better than ten gallons a minute.”
I scoffed but on the way down the hill we had him witch four more lots, just for fun and since it didn’t really cost anything, why not? Two weeks later the well driller hit 12 gallons a minute at 208 feet. I didn’t know what to say but we sent Lester his $25.00 check and when we hit another well, on another lot, right where he said, we sent him another check.
I am not a spiritual or a religious man, so I am not sure how to explain all of this although yesterday I read something interesting by the journalist Arianna Huffington. She was blogging on her experience of receiving an honorary doctorate at Brown University in Rhode Island and the professor who acted as her guide. He is a biologist who believes that Darwin and the theory of evolution can be reconciled with the notion of a supreme deity, a God. He says that given enough time, science will repeatedly show that the mysteries of life are the work of a supreme being, or at least that’s how I read her post. Maybe water dowsing is something that can be explained by science.
I am not sure I feel that science and a supreme deity are the same thing, although lately things in my life seems to act as if they were meant to happen and I think back to Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time where he ruminates on the creation of the universe. What he says intimates to me that sometimes it seems we were put here to see it all happen, black holes, super-novas, galactic movement, water witching. Sometimes I feel that way, that I was put here to see what happens, and for what purpose, to report it? To just witness it? For what purpose, but then I think about all the random stuff that slams you and then it’s like, No, everything is random, within the sphere of the laws of physics and there is no intelligent design.
All of this doubt reminds me of a man I knew who was an accounting client of my mother’s. He was a trained aeronautical engineer who became a real estate developer. Although a Catholic, he was a person who believed in the rules of physics. Later in his life he got into buying farms so that he could control and later sell the farms’ water rights. He and I were talking farms, wells, water rights and water. I asked him if he ever drilled wells on those farms after he purchased them. He said he did. I asked him if he ever used a witch. He said “Yes. Everytime.”
I said, “Do they work?”
He nodded. I must have let my skepticism show because he shrugged and said, “I don’t believe in water witches but I never drill a well without one.”