Category: Olympic Peninsula Tales

More Dowsing

Once in the seventies I showed this friend of mine how to dowse. He had a piece of land on the inner Cape up in the woods where he was planning to build a geodesic dome. The land was high, and on each side down a long slope were small ponds maybe sixty feet below. I went out there with him and when he told me he was going to dig a well I cut a stick and wandered the land. The stick pulled down so I said, “Here. Dig here.” He tried it. The stick did not pull down. I then walked backwards ahead of him, holding the ends of the stick where they stuck out from his hands with my fingertips, for contact. Because I had contact this time the stick pulled down. This totally freaked Peter out. It would have freaked him out even if we hadn’t inhaled.

So I went back fishing and Peter began to dig his well. The way he did this, was, he rigged up a big tripod over his site, which was about where my stick pulled down, and then using a pulley and rope he raised and dropped a big weight onto a section of two inch pipe. He would raise and drop that weight for hours, driving the pipe into the earth. Then he’d drop another section of pipe into the first, they were fitted so one slid inside the other two inches, and he’d pound again. Peter never spoke with me about our experience and I knew it troubled him greatly. Much much later he told me the rest of the story, and I swear by the Olympic Mountains this is true. I swear it.

It was summer. It was hot. I was fishing, trip after trip. Peter kept pounding. He drove those sections down thirty feet, fifty feet, eighty feet, a hundred twenty feet. By now he was sixty feet below the ponds down the hill. No water. Not a drop. The summer was passing. One morning, getting coffee, he overheard an old timer talking about dowsing and, remembering the baffling and confusing incident with me, and more than desperate, he mentioned he could use some help. This old dowser went home, grabbed his stick – he was one of those who used the same stick instead of cutting new green sticks like I do – and went with Peter to the site, the tripod, the weight, the pipe. The dowser pulled out his stick and said, “Now, I talk to my stick.” Peter said nothing. “Is there water here?” The stick went down. “Now we will see how deep it is. Is there water at one hundred thirty feet?” The stick did not move. “One hundred fifty feet?” The stick went down. “One hundred forty  five feet?” The stick went down. “One hundred forty six feet?” The stick went down. “One hundred forty seven feet?” The stick did not go down. “You’ll find water after one hundred forty six feet,” the dowser said.

Peter kept pounding that pipe the rest of the summer, driving four inches a day. He found water at one hundred forty six feet eight inches. He never did build his dome, but he drilled a well, and he found water.

How Ancient Are Alpine Trails?

In the Olympics when you get to the high country the main trails cross high meadows, sometimes rutted deep into the dirt, a combination of boot wear, erosion, and flowing water. Off trail tracks are sometimes well worn, also gouged into the earth, plain to see. It doesn’t take much to make a path, because the vegetation up high is sensitive, and passing feet soon wear through grasses, sedges and thin roots to dirt. Once a track is worn, it remains, for a long long time. Up high the ground lies under snow for eight to nine months a year, sheltered and protected, with only the short growing season for roots to bind into the soil, so a worn track, once made, may remain for years, even if untraveled. Now imagine a path traveled every year or every other year by a few people, enough to make the trail, keep the grasses low, but not so many people as to dig a ditch for water and erosion. Those paths up in the high country, maybe they were made by early trappers or Boy Scouts in the first decades of the Twentieth Century, but maybe they were worn much, much earlier. Somehow it has become the general feeling that native tribes avoided the high country, which makes absolutely no sense to me, because up high the elk gather, the berries ripen, and the basins are lovely. People are people, and what would appear a logical route to cross a pass today would seem the same a century ago, a hundred centuries ago, or even longer. So how old are those paths? A century or less, if you agree the high country was avoided, or a hundred centuries or more, if you believe people went wandering as soon as they became people? So, those trails and paths we trod, sweating under our packs, cursing the deerflies, among acres of flowers and heather, could we be walking in the footsteps of people who lived and died back when the ice ruled the earth, or even before? I like to think so. No. I know so.

Even here, way in the back country, we found a trail, made by elk, crossing from one basin to another. Made by elk? Or by human visitors?
Even here, way in the back country, we found a trail, made by elk, crossing from one basin to another. Made by elk? Or by human visitors?