The Sacred Well

Drilling a well in her backyard, the author becomes conscious of her connection to the earth

When I bought the land where I now live, there was nothing on it but trees, cows, and fescue. The first question the builder asked me was, "Where's your well?" I tried to hide my surprise. I had temporarily forgotten that water comes from the earth, not the sink. Of course there would have to be a well.

So I called Davidson Well Drilling, whose huge red truck appeared the next day with an enormous drill bit on it. After clanking his way across some groundhog burrows, the driver killed the engine, climbed out of the cab, and began to squint at the land. I had hoped to meet a real live water witch, but this man was more of a geologist. He guessed where water was by the lay of the land, preferring valleys to hills. By the next afternoon, I wondered if he should learn to use a dowsing rod. He had drilled three large holes and struck nothing but rock.

As I watched him position his drill over spot number four, I suddenly saw him as a lab technician trying to find a vein. The body of the land lay still beneath his probing. Under its surface ran rivers of life, which I was trying to tap into. My own life depended on the transfusion. Without it, I could not drink, cook, bathe, water plants and animals, or wash clothes. With it, I could make a home. When I heard a yell go up, I knew that the fourth "stick" had worked. The earth had granted me a lifeline by letting me siphon off some of the water that was on its way somewhere else. Because of me, there would be less water flowing into the Chattahoochee River: less for the speckled trout, less for the wood ducks, less for the mountain laurel that drop their white petals into the river. There would be more water flowing into my septic tank, laced with laundry detergent, dish soap, and human waste.

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At that moment of high awareness, I promised the land that I would go easy on the water. I would remember where it came from. I would do as little harm to it as possible. I would remain grateful for the sacrifice.

Since my well is a shallow one with just 30 feet of water, it has been pretty easy to keep my promise. I wait at least an hour between loads of laundry, and another hour before I take a bath. I fill the horse trough no more than a third full at a time. If I forget to mention the well to friends from the city, they take long hot showers and wind up with hair full of soap bubbles. When they lean over blindly to twist the faucets, all they hear is the long, slow gasp of an empty pipe.

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