Laurel-Ann perched herself on a large granite stone under the dying oak tree. Pale brown leaves, dried and curling, fell around her like a papery snowfall. Waves of heat shimmered from the ground. She grimaced as she fingered the brass tubing of the divining rods she held. I never should have come up here, she thought. Her great-aunt Maybelle had called and nagged her so much that to shut her up, Laurel-Ann found herself jumping on the next flight to SeaTac.
Laurel-Ann recalled the story she had been told about her ancestors in the old country. They had received the Gift of dowsing in order to serve their communities. It was an honored profession back then, and the Gift had been passed through their bloodline down the generations, first to the farming New Englanders and then on to the NorthWesterners when they came to the mining camps.
Great-Grandpa Horace had helped the miners find their veins of gold but when the mines played out, Horace settled on farming and used his dowsing skills to sink wells into an ever-changing water table. The Gift had been passed to his daughter Bernice and then to Aunt Sally. Both had been dead for several years.
It was said that Laurel-Ann was the One with the Gift. She did not want it. The Gift was no longer the honored profession of her ancestors. As a child she had endured the whispers and the side-ways glances. Once she had flattened a classmate, Lewis, who had called her “Water-Witch” and had beaned her with a loaded water balloon. As soon as she was old enough, she left Badger Creek Valley to make her way to the city.
But now drought had come again to the Valley and Badger Creek was no more than a trickle. The farmsteads of the Valley were drying up. The community leaders, some of whom as children had taunted her in school, had come to Great-Aunt Maybelle and pleaded for her to help them. Maybelle could not. She did not have the Gift. Cousin Rodney tried his hand at it until, unfortunately, he dowsed the septic line at the Mayor’s farmstead and filled the entire lower Valley with noxious odors when they drilled the well.
It was then that Maybelle called her.
“Honey, we need you– they need you. You must put aside your feelings and help these people. You have the Gift. You are the One. “
Maybelle pleaded and then argued with Laurel-Ann for nearly an hour and then finally ended the call with “Mind you, ‘For of those to whom much is given, much is required’”.
“Oh, all right, I’ll come!” Laurel-Ann always caved in whenever Aunt-Maybelle quoted the Book.
When Laurel-Ann arrived at the farm, she was quickly whisked away by Rodney and Maybelle. They rattled up the Road in Rodney’s old pick-up towards to the Mayor’s place.
“He’s worst off,” said Rodney. “If we can make him happy, I figure we’ll get clients lined up from all over the Valley.”
“Rodney, we do NOT charge for our services”, said Maybelle. “Never have, never will” she warned. “And don’t make that face, Rodney…..Here we are. Laurel-Ann, honey, you just go have a seat under the tree and compose yourself. You remember how Aunt Sally taught you, right?”
“Yes. I remember.”
“Good, here are Aunt Sally’s rods.” Laurel-Ann took the rods and slid out of the pickup. She crunched through the dead leaves to the tree and sat down on the rock.
A few minutes later, Laurel-Ann heard the sound of voices. They were coming. A lot of them. It seems half the Valley had shown up to watch, including Lewis who had never quite forgiven her for beating the daylights out of him when they were kids.
Laurel-Ann sighed and lifted the rods. She felt the thin rods resting lightly in her hands. She stood up, shifted one way and then another, taking a few steps forward and swinging around. She heard murmuring from the crowd. She glanced up and glared at the crowd.
“It’s alright, honey, just relax. You can do it,” urged Maybelle.
Laurel-Anne refocused and tried to remember what Sally had taught her. She felt the rods begin to vibrate. She felt compelled to turn to the left and head away from the tree.
The Mayor shouted, “Hey, where’s she going? I need that well sunk here, not way over there. It’ll cost a fortune to pipe that water from way out there.”
“Ah, don’t worry Harold”, chimed Lewis, “she’s not going to find a thing.”
“Yes, she will!” Rodney turned to Lewis and the Mayor and began to argue with them.
Laurel-Ann tuned out the exchange. Her attention was fully focused on the divining rods in her hands. They were crossing and un-crossing. She turned and stopped. They crossed again. Then the rods pulled downward. She felt the power coming up from the earth through her feet, through her body, down her arms and to the rods. The rods began to get warm. She had found water.
“Hey, look at her. She doesn’t know diddly-squat.” shouted Lewis.
“Losers– all of you!!” With that Rodney rushed towards Lewis and shoved him in the chest. “I said, Shut up!”
Laurel-Ann’s attention was drawn back to the group. The momentary glow of her success faded away as she saw the two men struggling with each other. She threw the rods to the ground and stomped towards the Road.
Maybelle called to her: “Laurel-Ann, where are you going?”
“Home. I don’t need this. It’s exactly what I said it would be.”
“You can’t leave. They need you!”
“They don’t deserve anything! They deserve to rot!”
Lewis gave Rodney a huge shove that sent him sprawling to the ground, and then shouted after Laurel-Ann. “See? Look at her run away. WITCH!”
Laurel-Anne broke into a run and headed down the Road, the jeers of the crowd in her ears. The last thing she heard was Maybelle yelling: “You can’t leave! Much is required. You are the One!” Laurel-Anne shook her head and continued running.
When she was out of ear-shot, Laurel-Ann slowed down. Breathing heavily she finally stopped. She was at a low point in the Road, where a dry gully cut across it. In the rainy season, the Road was often washed out at this point. She sat down on a large boulder on the side of the Road.
Maybelle’s words echoed in her mind: “To whom much is given, much is required.”
“No! Not from me!”
A rumble from the mountain echoed through the Valley and large drops began to spatter on the hot pavement. Good, they don’t need me afterall. They’ll get a good soaker and that’ll be that.
The wind picked up and the rumbling grew louder and more constant. That’s not thunder she thought. The leaves swirled around her as the wind turned into a gale. The rain began blowing sideways, stinging her face and arms, and the rumbling grew louder. Laurel-Ann got up from the boulder and turned around, looking for some sort of cover.
That’s when she saw the enormous wall of raging water come crashing down the gully towards her.
No one ever knew what became of Laurel-Ann– not that they gave her much thought. Their water problems were over, it seemed, at least for a while. The rains returned, the water table rose, and Badger Creek flowed.
But Maybelle knew: to whom much is given, much is required– one way or another.
LJGloyd (c) 2007, 2014, revised. Original version first published Sept. 11, 2006 at the Soul Food Cafe.
Image: LJGloyd 2012