Monday, June 23, 2008

A-yuh, theah's watah theah!

Of all the ways kids can get into trouble nowadays, there's little danger that your child will take up divination and start running around with a forked stick. Not so in an earlier age.

Fifty years ago rural New England was full of old codgers who claimed they could find water (and other things) by use of a divining rod. Most of them were more than happy to show a youngster how to do it, and to see if he or she, too, had the "knack." This was done by having the the young neophyte hold one branch of the fork, while the experienced dowser held the other, and then traversing the ground where the "vein" of water was to be located.

More often than not, at point 'X', the rod would mysteriously point down, indicating a drillable source of cool, clear water. Some said that hickory wood was the only type that you could use. Others said willow, and still others maintained that wood from "any type of tree that bears a fruit with a pit" was the only substance that would work.

After considerable experimentation, I found that any wood that stayed springy and wouldn't split would do just fine. So would a piece of solid wire, for that matter. The trick was, that when the "handles" of the rod are held correctly, there is a tension on the whole apparatus that will cause the rod to bend downward (or upward) with an imperceptible twist of the wrists.

I only saw only one dowser holding the rod with palms down, like the lad in the picture above. Most of the "adepts" I saw held the rod with their palms up. Sometimes when they got a "reading," the rod would twist dramatically, even tearing the bark off the sticks in their hands. I ultimately came to the conclusion that most of these old fellows had an innate sense of where there was underground water, and how deep you would have to drill to reach it.

Prevalence of dowsing is not limited to New England, of course. Once a paving company accidentally covered a couple of water meters at a business in Marathon. When the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority meter reader came by and saw what had happened, he nonchalantly reached behind the seat in his truck, took out a wire divining apparatus, quickly dowsed the location of the meters, uncovered them with a shovel, took the readings, and drove off as if it were all in a day's work.

(More on this subject later.)

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