Sunday, January 19, 2014

Trail Dust: Water dowsing is nothing to shake a stick at

by Marc Simmons

Locating underground water by use of a forked stick is a practice that has been known and used for centuries. Indeed, a European scholar named Georgius Agrocola published a treatise on the subject as early as 1530.

The process is referred to variously as dowsing, witching or divining. People who practice it are called dowsers or water witches.

When I was a boy growing up in a rural area east of Dallas, everyone in our neighborhood dowsed for water as a matter of course. When we needed a new well, my father went into the peach orchard and cut a green stick in the shape of a Y.

With each hand he grasped a branch of the Y firmly and holding the point level, parallel to the ground, he walked around our pasture. At one spot, the fork seemed to twist in his hand and aim downward.
He passed the peach branch to each member of the family in turn and we all got the same result. The fork seemed to have a mind of its own; the pull was unmistakable. We drilled and got water at 30 feet.

Years passed before I discovered that water dowsing was considered superstitious nonsense by most people. I was even more surprised to learn that those who believed in it thought that dowsing was a special and mysterious gift limited to a few.

The truth is, the stick will perform for practically everybody, skeptic and non-skeptic alike. Often I’ve placed a dowsing fork in a scoffer’s hands and watched the amazement spread across his face as the branches twisted in his hands.

Like aspirin, dowsing works whether you believe in it or not...

After years of searching, I have been unable to run up any reference that would show the Hispanic settlers of colonial New Mexico had knowledge of dowsing. Most of their domestic water was dipped from streams or irrigation ditches. Occasionally, they had dug wells in valleys where the water table was shallow.

In 1880 when the railroad reached Albuquerque, Anglos, who founded New Town, two miles east of the old plaza, dug wells in their backyards. They had no need for dowsing either, because water could be found just two or three feet below the surface.

In a shallow hole, they inserted a wooden barrel with the bottom knocked out to serve as casing. Water seeped in and provided a plentiful source for an entire family.

I suspect that dowsing was introduced in New Mexico by Anglo emigrants from the East who took up farms on the plains and in the Pecos and Rio Grande valleys during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But the practice was not widespread,, and today there are many residents who have never heard of it.

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