Category: Real or Folk Tale?

Dowsing for fish

Every fall the bluefin tuna run into Cape Cod Bay and people go out with their boats to harpoon them. The boats are anywhere from 30 to 50 feet long, there’s a stand on the bow you go out on to “stick” the fish, which can be seen on the surface sunning itself. These fish are BIG up to 1,000 pounds and worth big money. One fish can be worth $ 20,000 and is sold fresh in the Tokyo market after being flown there overnight. So this is a short but big money fishery. One year my first skipper Sten was out there trying to get tunafish, with one sternman, but he got nothing. Not a thing, and he was a good fisherman.  Meanwhile my friend Gerry, who like me was first taught by Sten, was with one Elmer Costa on his big black boat the Columbia, and Gerry and Elmer had two fish. Sten was dying of curiosity, what was Gerry and Elmer doing that Sten was not? It bothered Sten. A lot. Meanwhile the season went on and Elmer and Gerry got another fish, and by this time Sten was sort of following them around, hoping to see their trick. Their technique.

This was the same year I had shown Sten with a dowsing stick where his well was, and found his gold coin, and this also perplexed him greatly, but not as much as being outfished by someone he had trained. Gerry and I had a discussion one afternoon because we both wanted to further excite Sten, and then I called Sten and said to him, “Listen, Sten, if you want to see the trick Gerry’s using, you follow Elmer tomorrow, close, get up right by their stern and take a look.”

This Sten did, it being a foggy morning so he was able to nose in real close, and he came around the stern of the Columbia and peered through the mist and saw Gerry on the stern of the Columbia holding in his hands a dowsing stick, facing aft, the stick standing upright and held in his two hands. Sten peered closer and realized that on the end of the stick Gerry was holding was an empty Bumblebee tunafish can.

This incident gave us much amusement, but then a strange thing happened. Sten began to catch fish and Gerry and Elmer were skunked, as we used to say. Sten ended the season with one more fish than Gerry and Elmer. This confused Gerry, and me, too, and one day that winter in the coffee shop we saw Sten and asked him, what changed for him? Sten gave each of us a long heavy-lidded look and cracked a slow smile.

“You were using the wrong can,” he said. “I caught my fish not with Bumblebee but with Chicken of the Sea.”

Sten passed away in 1998, brain tumor, but until he was across the bar he always said, with a perfectly straight face, when we asked, “Of course it’s true.”

Dowsing Stories That Are True

I have a lot of dowsing stories. I remember as a small child in Shutesbury Massachusetts watching this old man (he was probably not old at all of course) wandering the field next to our little house with a stick in his hand. My dad explained he was a dowser, there to find water. The well drilling company had struck three “dry holes” and so they’d called in a dowser. He found the place to drill in ten minutes. Now, I know this. Some of you will nod, recalling similar stories yourself, and the rest of you, probably most, will roll your eyes, thinking the whole dowsing thing is a primitive myth. What I love about it is there is no explanation (yet) for why it works. It works with me. I can cut a stick from a living tree and hold it and when I pass over buried water, or something, the stick turns down so strongly it will tear the bark away from the wood.

I first discovered this when I was 19 and spending a summer defoliating a power line right of way in the high hills of Western Massachusetts. We’d spray the brush with a chemical, later known as Agent Orange, and once between spells out on the line spraying the brush we played around with sticks and dowsing. One guy on the crew seemed to have the knack, and I saw the bark come off in his hands, and when I tried it the same happened to me.

Since then I’ve had way too much fun with dowsing. Most people don’t believe it, and for sure I know the chances are that whoever might be reading this is shaking their head and and muttering, but for me it works, and it works for others, too. There is no revenge so sweet as listening to abuse from a “denier” and watching him or her walk with the stick and nothing happens, and then walking before that person while touching the ends of the stick with my fingertips and seeing the stick pull, pull, pull while the “denier” goes white and gets all weird.

You can dowse for water. You can dowse for like metals, too. My dad had a friend, now long dead, he was a uranium prospector, and he said to me, very quietly, once, that most uranium is found with dowsing rods. Bob Goode, an engineer with the Port Authority, told me in 1985 that they’d take bent pieces of round rod and hold them in their hands, one in each hand, and walk until the rods turned parallel, which showed where a buried pipe lay.

Still with me, here? In 1983, I think it was, Sten, my fishing skipper, and his mate Bill Crockett undertook an effort to find Sam Bellamy’s ship the Whydah, the same year that Barry Clifford was seeking the ship. Barry found it, became famous, and became rich, and nobody ever knew about us, but we were out there first and might have found the gold had Sten followed my direction. Instead, he acted toward me like you, dear reader, must now be reacting as you read. I told him, back then, “Forget these magnetometers, give me a gold coin and I’ll stand on the stern of the boat while you range the shore and when the stick goes down, that’s where the gold and ship is.” Of course, Sten did not do this, because he did not believe me and running a boat costs money.

 

 

Tuna Fishing – Another True Dowsing Story

Every fall the bluefin tuna run into Cape Cod Bay and people go out with their boats to harpoon them. The boats are anywhere from 30 to 50 feet long, there’s a stand on the bow you go out on to “stick” the fish, which can be seen on the surface sunning itself. These fish are BIG up to 1,000 pounds and worth big money. One fish can be worth $ 20,000 and is sold fresh in the Tokyo market after being flown there overnight. So this is a short but big money fishery. One year my first skipper Sten was out there trying to get tunafish, with one sternman, but he got nothing. Not a thing, and he was a good fisherman.  Meanwhile my friend Gerry, who like me was first taught by Sten, was with one Elmer Costa on his big black boat the Columbia, and Gerry and Elmer had two fish. Sten was dying of curiosity, what was Gerry and Elmer doing that Sten was not? It bothered Sten. A lot. Meanwhile the season went on and Elmer and Gerry got another fish, and by this time Sten was sort of following them around, hoping to see their trick. Their technique.

This was the same year I had shown Sten with a dowsing stick where his well was, and found his gold coin, and this also perplexed him greatly, but not as much as being outfished by someone he had trained. Gerry and I had a discussion one afternoon because we both wanted to further excite Sten, and then I called Sten and said to him, “Listen, Sten, if you want to see the trick Gerry’s using, you follow Elmer tomorrow, close, get up right by their stern and take a look.”

This Sten did, it being a foggy morning so he was able to nose in real close, and he came around the stern of the Columbia and peered through the mist and saw Gerry on the stern of the Columbia holding in his hands a dowsing stick, facing aft, the stick standing upright and held in his two hands. Sten peered closer and realized that on the end of the stick Gerry was holding was an empty Bumblebee tunafish can.

This incident gave us much amusement, but then a strange thing happened. Sten began to catch fish and Gerry and Elmer were skunked, as we used to say. Sten ended the season with one more fish than Gerry and Elmer. This confused Gerry, and me, too, and one day that winter in the coffee shop we saw Sten and asked him, what changed for him? Sten gave each of us a long heavy-lidded look and cracked a slow smile.

“You were using the wrong can,” he said. “I caught my fish not with Bumblebee but with Chicken of the Sea.”

Sten passed away in 1998, brain tumor, but until he was across the bar he always said, with a perfectly straight face, when we asked, “Of course it’s true.”

 

 

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.