Dowsers demonstrate their craft

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Larry Roe sat at Matt and Jenn Dedrick’s kitchen table and talked about dowsing. Roe said he did it for the first time when he was about 14 years old when an old farmer needed a new well.

“I knew that my great-grandfather could do it,” Roe said. “He was so into it, he could do it with his bare feet. He could feel the temperature difference.

My grandmother could do it. My father could do it. I tried it and found water within a few feet.”

Roe has dowsed for water for eight or more wells in the area, including the 198-foot well in the Dedrick’s side yard and an artesian well at Conway Construction’s building on Route 13.

He begins with a “crotched stick,” a stick in the shape of a Y.

“You can use cherry, peach, willow, basswood, buttonball [sycamore],” Roe said. “I try to find a smooth bark.”

Roe wraps his fingers around each leg of the “Y,” palms up and thumbs on the outside. The grip bends the legs outward. The bottom leg of the “Y” points away from his body and slightly upward.

He walks out into the field about 30 paces and then crisscrosses the area, feeling the stick more than watching it, focusing on what he is seeking and waiting for the rod to pull toward the earth and water.

“Sometimes the pull is so strong that it twists the bark off,” Roe said.
Matt Dedrick said the actions he witnessed when Roe dowsed on his property were surprising, to say the least.

“You broke the stick when you found my well,” Dedrick said to Roe.

Roe said the rod can twist off in his hands sometimes without explanation.

“There is an electrical current in your system,” Roe said. “Water flowing creates a current. The wire definitely has got current. If you are using wire rods, you can feel the current. It’s like the current from a 1 1/2-battery, a tingle.”

The U.S. Geological Survey does not concur. According to its website, “The natural explanation of ‘successful’ water dowsing is that in many areas (in the U.S.) underground water is so prevalent close to the land surface that it would be hard to drill a well and not find water.”

But Roe has also found conduit, cables, telephone wires and empty water mains.

“There was a crew digging for two days to find a Transite [cement] conduit,” Roe said. “I walked over the ground three times and said, ‘dig right there.’ They dug a foot and a half, and there it was.”

National Public Radio reported in 2017 that 10 of the United Kingdom’s 13 regional water and sewer utilities confirmed that they at least occasionally use dowsing to locate underground water sources.

Not everyone can do it, though Lansing Schools’ Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Glenn Fenner can.

“I use brass rods or divine sticks to find underground pipes and veins of water,” he said.

Dedrick said his uncle can do it, and Dedrick uses it as well.

“I use it to find drain tiles in the fields,” Dedrick said.
Roe said he knew an older woman in Newfield who could dowse with the top of a goldenrod.

“You can take goldenrod flower and strip off the covering,” Roe said. “As you walk, it will bob up and down. If you count the bobs, there is a formula for how deep the water is - so many bobs, so many feet.”

Roe’s grandfather did it in his bare feet, Roe said.

“He walked out in the backyard and found a cold place,” he said. “Until 1962, that spring supplied ice cold water.”

Roe has seen it done with a pendulum, a needle and a ring.

“You thread silk thread through the needle’s eye and tie a gold ring,” Roe said. “You put that into a water glass. The faster the pendulum swings, the closer you are to the water vein.”

We went out into the yard to see if I could do it.
Roe grasped a fresh cut crotched stick of willow and walked across the lawn. The stick bobbed and then swung down. It was uncanny.

“That’s the drain tiles,” Dedrick said. Roe then found a series of conduits and water lines in the Dedrick lawn.

I took the same stick and gave it a nervous try. I got nothing.
Meantime, Jenn Dedrick was finding everything under the grass. Her 15-year-old son Daniel wandered out and was soon finding things below the ground as well.

Not for me, though. Roe was conciliatory.

“Some people think about it and nothing happens,” Roe said. “Others try and whoop, there it is.”

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