PALMER — Some call it folklore. Some call it pseudoscience. But Palmer’s Moonstone Colony Farm just calls it water witching. They had one fine well but they wanted another for irrigation. And they wanted to make sure the well was drilled in a likely location for water. So they put out a Facebook call for a local water witch.
There were many responses. Some made fun. And some didn’t.
At least three folks claimed they had watched their grandfathers witch their wells. They described the process as a slow, methodical pacing across the ground. The lost craft involves paying attention and a lot of walking.
Metal rods or willow twig handles were then held fairly level to the ground. Suddenly a weird power takes over and there is either a dramatic swing of the rods or dip of the willow stick. The sudden trajectory was the indicator of water.
The “water witchers” were invited to the farm. Because this is kinda-science, it was done several times by six different people. No one knew where the “spot” was, in the field. Interestingly all of the indicators were within a few feet of one another.
Clearly, after all the pacing and dowsing, the spot was set with some conviction. Then the well drillers came in. They too, carried the sticks around and came up with the same spot.
The drill rig was set and for several hours the equipment bored a hole into the earth.
One hundred feet.
At $40 a foot, the waiting seemed more and more expensive.
One hundred and fifty feet.
One hundred and seventy five feet.
Two hundred feet. The bill was now up to $8,000.
At this point the well diggers hit a silty clay-like substance, which was full of water. And there was lots of it. Sadly, it wasn’t usable as water.
The landowners shook their heads. What to do? Continue drilling in the same spot, deeper and deeper? Move the drill location and start over? It was a gamble.
They decided to drill deeper the next day.
Two hundred and twenty feet.
Two hundred and forty feet.
Two hundred and sixty feet.
The bill rose to $10,400.00. The landowners decided to stop.
Did the water witching work? Yes. It identified water. Absolutely. Was the water usable. Not in this case.
The well-drillers explained that water quality isn’t predictable. It could have benzine or arsenic or sulphur. Or it could be silty like this well or sandy. Solutions are not easy. There may be a silt-filtration system, which would cost many thousands of additional dollars.
Now the farm has one fine working well and another not-so-fine well. But the hole is quite impressive. The hole’s depth is the distance of a football field deep into the ground. You can listen to the earth through the pipe which still extends up a few feet from the ground. If you put a chunk of dirt in the casing, you will hear an unearthly whooshing sound until it hits the bottom, 260 feet down. It is like a teeny tiny elevator shaft which echoes against the metal walls. The farm-owners are deciding what to do next. They will either close it up or try again. But either way they are not divining the future.
Barbara Hunt lives in Palmer.