For millions of Americans, water comes from the tap in the kitchen. But for those of us living in rural areas - as well as countless millions living in lands across the globe - water is an asset hidden deep within the earth.
To locate that hidden treasure, the unexplained art of "dowsing" or "water witching" has been practiced through the centuries. This mysterious means of finding water has met with both skepticism and celebration. For instance, Julius Caesar considered the power to be evil and made it punishable by death.
Albert Einstein was fascinated by the practice and studied it for years, never able to prove any basis for the talent.
And, during World War II, after the Germans blew up the water wells in Morocco and the Army engineers were unable to locate new sources, General George Patton relied on a sergeant in his platoon to dowse a well. The result was a well that produced 2,000 gallons per minute, plenty to supply the troops.
We, too, learned first hand how successful well witching could be.
Many years ago, we moved from the Erie suburbs to build a home on a lovely wooded site in Findley Lake. During the construction phase, we reached the point where a supply of water became a prime concern. We began asking friends and neighbors how to go about establishing a well.
The general answer was, "call in a dowser to witch a well for you."
But, given the combination of the self-assurance of youth and my college background in science, I found the concept of water witching ridiculous.
Hubby George agreed. So we spent hours driving expensive well points into various sites across our lot, searching in vain for an elusive source of water. Every attempt failed.
At last, we relented and called in a lady well-known across the area for her dowsing ability.
On the designated morning, I expected an elderly woman in an ancient car to show up at the lot. Instead, an attractive young lady arrived in a red convertible.
When we showed her the area where we would like to establish our water system, she took a fresh Y-shaped willow twig out of her bag. Then, holding the arms of the Y tightly, she criss-crossed the area. As I watched, I couldn't believe this weird practice could solve our water problems.
But suddenly, the willow stick began to vibrate, then the tip snapped downward, pointing to a spot on the ground. To confirm the findings, the dowser re-crossed the area several more times. Each pass resulted in the stick indicating the same patch of earth.
Finally, she announced, "Right at this point, there are two good veins that cross less than 20 feet down. If you drive your point here, you'll get a good shallow well."
She noticed my response and asked if I'd like to hold the stick along with her, just to feel the force of the pull. I agreed and placed my hands on the fresh willow twig. As we passed the location she had indicated, the willow branch went down with such force, the bark was actually stripped off of the wood.
When we drove the well point where we were shown, we hit a wonderful source of water just below the 18-foot mark. Since that day, I've been a staunch believer in the mysterious power of the dowser.
For city folk, the kitchen faucet may be the expected source of water, but for those of us out here in the boonies, it's reassuring to know there are still folks who can witch a well when necessary.