Mt. Pleasant Lutheran Church

Water Witch – Well Blog Post #2/4

February 27th, 2013 by Pastor David Echelbarger

Reflections Spiritual

This is the second in a series of four articles Pastor Dave published through Eagle Printing on the drilling of their well in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Water is crucial for life.  This was published August 7, 1992.


                           Water Witch


God has poured out his gifts.  They settle on our shoulders and take up residency.  We should use them.  We might consider one gift to be simply the “distinctiveness of our personality.” A distinctive person, one with all their idiosyncrasies intact, is a work of art.  They are vivid and unforgettable.  Some possess strange talents that may border on trickery.  Who can say?  Such was the man who walked up my driveway last week.

I am clearing land to build a home this fall.  Neighbors call it “Sherwood Forest” because the many maples and oaks form a dense canopy that Robin Hood would relish.

“As a kid I imagined that Robin and Little John rode down the lane that will be your

driveway,” one told me.

It is a lovely spot and I’ve been there with truck and chain saw many a day.  Within two weeks we will drill a well – no certain thing in this part of the world with hidden rock

outcroppings that spring their surprises.  My wife, Christine, wants it “water witched” just to be sure we know the optimum location for a well.

Now my experience with this is limited.  I’ve heard the stories, viewed it on television westerns; but I’ve never seen it personally and discounted the practice.  It even was a topic in a

fishing magazine, suggesting that fisherman water witch over the ice to find streams and currents before drilling their holes.

“It’s a gift,” my shy friend with the distinctive name said to me, the one I call `Ralph.'”  “Some can do it others can’t.” Now this took me aback.  Ralph has a very empirical mind and

makes his living applying the sciences in his daily work.  He would be one of the last ones to think that a stick could point at the ground, or rods would spread wide at water deep underground — but he does.  He’s seen it.  My friend Clarence even has the gift — he’s empirical too.  One would think that we more philosophical types would more readily believe, but not in

this case.  Label me an unbeliever.  Regardless, Christine wants me to haul Clarence up north and locate our water.  Could this be one of those strange gifts?

I was thinking about the well as I cut down a small elm that was dying out on our land.  I turned it into a pole and was about to lay it on the wood pile when movement down the lane caught my eye.  I stood there with staff in hand like Little John.

Up the path came an elderly man with bright eyes, dressed in two conflicting plaid shirts.  In days of yore he might have been either a haggard traveler or a wizard with power.

“Now don’t get me wrong,” he said in a hoarse, gruff, but trying to be soft voice, “now don’t get me wrong, I saw the boulder was moved from the front of the lane and I thought I’d come up and see what was going on.  I hear you’re building a house in here — nice spot.

Don’t get me wrong, we folks here just look out for one another.”  He introduced himself and told me where he lived.  I knew at once.  He was the wood maker whose camp I’d seen, a place

with a hundred chord, easy.

“Yeah, I make some wood, once cut down a bird’s eye maple, but didn’t know it.  Turned a $10,000.00 piece of wood into firewood,” he was saying.

“I hope it burned well,” I replied trying to introduce a subtle levity which he completely missed.

“Oh sure,” he replied, “that maple burns good, don’t get me wrong.”

The gentleman was a creature of the woods, in tune with nature, but rather flat where society is concerned – a distinctive type — that I have always enjoyed.  His mind didn’t track the best, I had to ask the same questions three times before they finally got through, but his answers were filled with experience and I learned more about the land that I was buying from him in ten minutes than I had in all the hours I questioned others or hiked it myself.

“Did you see the bears yet?” he asked.

“I saw some signs, are there many?” I replied.

“Three to be sure.  Big ones, one is at least 400 pounds. You don’t see them until they want to see you.  Not much you can do.  They were here before we were, we just leave `em be.  Say have you found your water yet?”

“No I haven’t drilled the well.”

“I was saying have you `found’ your water?  Now don’t get me wrong.”

“Oh, you mean have I had it water witched?”

“Yeah, that’s right, sure.”

“No, but my wife wants me to.  I have a friend in Marinette who might come up and do it for me.”

“Happen to have my rods in the truck, I’ll be right back.” And with that the wood maker spun like a falling branch and went down the lane.

A moment later he returned with two long brass rods which were bent at the end so he could grip them.  He took a few steps and stopped.  The rods started moving to the side until they formed a wide V.

“Yeah there’s water here, can’t tell which way it is flowing though.”

And with that he walked around as if he were trying to drink the water through the soles of his feet.  Finally he stopped and the rods spread wide again, only faster.  “Now there is water all through here, I can’t say how deep, but all through here, now don’t get me wrong.”

I held the rods myself and nothing happened.  Handing them back I watched him with a skeptic’s eye.  His hands held the rods tight, I could see him press the blood out from underneath his thumb nails.  His fingers didn’t move, neither did the tendons in his wrists — yet the rods spread.

“Nice talk’in to ya,” said the wood maker and he was gone. He was a figure you’d expect to meet in Sherwood Forest.  He hadn’t gone twenty feet and I pounded a stake into the ground where the well might be.

Gifts.  I think of him often, the man with the repetitive phrases, at home in these woods for 53 years:  wood cutter, bear watcher, water witcher.  If he were a painting I’d hang him on

the wall, as a colorful figure of the north.  By society’s standards he is limited, but that day he used his gifts for me: the story of my land, the tales of the bears, and the strange movement of brass rods.  Gifts.  He poured them out for me – the wood maker did, under a canopy of green, one July day.


David Echelbarger

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