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Witching, Switching, Divining Or Dowsing

Have you ever been to the lab for a blood test ordered by your doctor or visited someone in hospital? Sometimes it’s not so easy for a technician or nurse to get a needle into a deep or rolling vein. Is this a medical story I’m writing? Not at all, but it does speak of a different sort of vein.

GIVE MAURICE A RED WILLOW

… and he’ll find you a vein; a water vein that is. This story is quite unlike anything I’ve written previously inGrainews.I coined a few poetic lines as a lead-in.

There’s water in the ground, But not always easy to be found, Underground water, which way do you flow?

Your streams are as veins somewhere down below. Searching for water, the drillers came by,

Time and again, frustrated they try. At last one day, a spot is revealed, Dig here shouts the witcher; it’s a gushing yield,

Deep or shallow, narrow or wide, From the red willow Y, water cannot hide,

Give Maurice a willow, he’ll find you a vein,

When the tip points downward at the terrain.

THIS IS A TRUE STORY

… about a water diviner named Maurice Blanchard who uses nothing more than a large, freshly harvested Y-shaped piece of red willow, about a half-inch in diameter with a nice even fork. Professionally, he’s been a commercial fisher on Lake Manitoba for well over half a century. He also sells fishing supplies and caters fish-fry bookings.

As a youngster, he learned a few chords from his accomplished pianist uncle, Fred Buffie. Maurice was a natural with a good ear for music. Eventually he became a remarkable self-taught piano player. It’s a talent he still shares with others.

However, my focus is on Maurice’s gift for finding water. Call him a dowser, a diviner, a switcher or witcher. But as Maurice said to me: “I’m not a witch, so it doesn’t bother me one way or the other, in spite of what some folks might think or say.”

He was born in Pipestone, Manitoba in 1933. Back then as a 12-or 13-year-old kid on the farm, the search for finding water is where it begins. Maurice’s dad wanted a better well so he engaged the services of a man known as a water diviner with a willow. He started looking; found a spot and said, “There’s water here.” Curious and intrigued as he was, Maurice grabbed hold of the same willow used by the diviner when nobody was paying attention. “Sure enough, by golly,” when Maurice walked “while holding the willow the same way, down it went, pointing at the same spot. I just couldn’t hang on to it. The bark would’ve come off in my hands.” At first onlookers thought Maurice was fooling, but he wasn’t. From that moment on, in Maurice’s words: “I became the local witcher and did quite a few south of Pipestone and throughout the Reston areas.”

As time went on, he became acquainted with Al Glauser who sold Sandpoint diaphragm water pumps. He suggested to Maurice, “We should get together. You can find water and I’ll sell water pumps.” And so they did, “especially out and about in the Reston, Manitoba area.” Maurice would follow the stream with Al behind driving pickets into the ground. As a result, wherever Maurice found water (where there was said to be no water,) it most often also resulted in a water pump sale for Al.

One day during their travels, Maurice and Al ended up in the yard of a professional well driller named Sebastian Keen. “He had all the bells and whistles when it came to mechanical water-drilling equipment.” Maurice and Al headed to the house and knocked on the door. According to Maurice, Al was a guy who had more than a bit of nerve. He informed Sebastian, “The two of us are in the business of finding water and selling pumps.” Almost laughingly, Sebastian greeted both at his door as though they didn’t know what they were talking about. He told his visitors, “I drill for a living and there’s no water on this farm. I bought this place from a fellow because I want to raise pigs, but I can’t find water anywhere.”

Maurice and Al were invited to stay for lunch and the trio got to talking more about water. As it turned out, Maurice was invited to exercise his water-finding skills. He said to a doubting Sebastian, “There’s water here, below this stake right near your house.” He and Al then left for the day. The next morning, Maurice received a phone call from Sebastian, excited as high as a mountain peak exclaiming, “I’ve got water and lots of it.” The whole scenario ended with Maurice and Al getting a job to install a hot and cold water works system throughout the entire barn and house. As it turned out, Maurice found water using his red willow for a professional water driller who was unable to find water on his own premises using sophisticated equipment.

THE VELVET TOUCH

Maurice related many other successful ventures at finding water over the years throughout Manitoba, including at Delta Beach and in and around Portage la Prairie where he now resides. In one instance he recalled “never having a feeling like that before. The willow literally tore out of my hand just like that. It was so close to being an artesian well. I guessed that underground stream to be about 10 feet wide. Others can be very narrow, go up and down, or twist and turn frequently.”

He continued to share many thoughts about his vast experience at finding water with a willow. He still does some occasional divining but commented, “I don’t know if I still have the touch as I once had. A nice warm day works well when searching for water. It’s important to release all distracting thoughts from your mind. I think that’s what it takes.”

He continued, “Try to keep your mind clear of any other subject and concentrate on exactly what you’re doing, and think of water. Don’t ask me what the connection is between a willow and water, but there is. When you find a good stream or pipe as it’s also called, it can tear the bark off that willow. You can’t hold it in your hand. Funny thing about water, you’ll find more of it on a hill, ridge, elevation or knoll, than you will in a low spot.”

He indicated he can generally tell how deep a stream is within about five feet, with some as deep as 28 feet. “The stronger the force on the willow, the closer the stream is to the surface.” In Maurice’s experience he’s observed that very few people can do it. “I don’t know why. Maybe they try too hard, or maybe they can’t concentrate. I think it has a lot to do with concentration by clearing away all abstract thoughts.” Maurice related the time he was blindfolded; turned around a dozen or more times and then set out on foot to find water south of Reston. “All of a sudden, bang! Down went the willow.”

Maurice prefers red bark willow. He likes it harvested fresh from down by the river the same day as he goes witching, as it’s nice and soft. He’s never used an apple branch nor coat hangers, nor crowbar. “I don’t trust them. Red willow works for me so I stick with it and don’t trust the accuracy of anything else.”

YOU WON’T GET RICH AS A DIVINER

… although Maurice told me he’s heard of miners using this craft while searching or panning for gold. In his practice, Maurice has received up to $30 for his services at finding water. Other times it was free-will offerings or as he put it “give me something if you like.” I, Ted, really sensed a degree of humour when Maurice told me in a forgiving and gentle way how he was frequently told, “I’ll pay you a lot of money if you can find me water. But in the end, that never resulted after water was found. Far from it. Certainly, there was a lot of that too, but I never really did charge a fee,” he said.

In conclusion, let me say that Maurice has the gift and it’s a rare one. To this day, he can proudly point out wells he’s found. Perhaps some of his success is rooted in the love he and his wife Shirley share in a solid marriage. Maurice and Shirley Blanchard will celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary on November 15, 2011.

ThisisTedMeseytontheSingingGardener andGrow-ItPoetfromPortagelaPrairie,Man. Haveyoueverfoundwaterusingawillowor anyothertool?Shareyourexperience.Justas therearebelieversandscoffersingardening accordingtothemoon,commentsvaryabout waterdiviningandrangefromdon’tbelieve init”toneverseenitfail.”Myemailaddress is [email protected]

About the author

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Ted Meseyton

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. I salute all gardeners and farmers who help make our world a little safer and more ecologically balanced, and who toil to provide health-giving produce to others who cannot produce their own. It takes all sorts to make a world. One half of the world doesn’t know how the other half lives. The best physicians are Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merryman.

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