She's been married to a well driller for many years, but Bess Cutter doesn't need to use a drilling rig to find water.
A forked stick, wire rods, or a pendulum are the only tools she uses.
Bess, the wife of Certified Master Groundwater Consultant Howard (Porky) Cutter, Jr. of Virginia Beach, VA is a dowser.
For more than a quarter of a century, she has used her tools of the trade to find water and make other discoveries. She was surprised to learn as a teenager that she had the ability to dowse for water by using a forked stick.
"I was around 13 and was spending the summer on a farm caring for a lady who had just gotten out of the hospital. She was having a water well dowsed by an old Indian gentleman and I watched him and followed behind him with a forked stick and did the things he did. He essentially taught me how to dowse without saying a word," she said.
Dowsers use movements of the forked stick, rods or pendulum to indicate the presence of water or other substances and to answer questions related to their searches, and Bess said she was surprised when the stick began moving in her hands.
"I really didn't know what was happening, I'd feel movement in the stick and I was observing what he was doing and matching it. I was ecstatic and I went home and told my father about it and he told me to see what I could find on our farm. I found one vein of water under a concrete floor in our barn," she said.
Bess said she soon learned not everyone was as happy as she was about her newfound dowsing talents.
"I grew up in a Pentecostal church, and you don't do these things there. At age 13, they told me this was of the devil, but I believe God wouldn't let me do anything that is against his will," she said.
When she and Porky Cutter, Jr. married, he was working in Georgia as a well driller and didn't really believe in dowsing for water, but she said he later began seeking her assistance.
"In Georgia, well drillers guaranteed water and after he drilled a few dry holes, he said 'Let's see what you can do.' I started dowsing our wells and I dowsed every well he drilled for 15 years," she said. "It took him a while to get accustomed to it, but he started seeing there was some accuracy to it and he made sure to drill where I had staked out the site.
"We had an unusual relationship with a well driller and a dowser working together," she said, although she added her opinions about dowsing still don't necessarily reflect her husband's opinions on the subject.
Some water well drillers still refuse to drill at sites that have been dowsed and some others in the groundwater field look down on dowsers, she said.
"It's just common sense to make sure before drilling a well. Why would you want to invest material, time and equipment into a hole that isn't going to produce anything?" she said.
Bess, who still dowses and teaches classes on the art, said dowsing enables you to learn much more about a site than whether water is present.
"You can determine the beginning and ending depth of the water zone and can determine if two of the zones cross and you can determine the gallons per minute for each zone and see which would produce the most water," she said. "You can triangulate it out and get in the center of the triangle to find the best spot to find water.
"In dowsing you are tuning in to the earth's energy and tuning in to nature. You learn to read and be in harmony with them," she said. "I tune into things by the vibrations I feel."
Dowsers commonly use a Y-rod or forked stick, L-shaped rods, and a pendulum in their searches, and Bess said she uses all three tools to check and double check her dowsing findings.
"I can tell when I'm getting close to something by feeling the Y-rod and the L-rod lock onto them and pull. It's the degree of the pull that has to do with the depth and how close and how far away you are. Learning that comes with experience," she said.
A dowser for more than 25 years, Bess added, the vibrations differ according to the geographic area in which the dowsing occurs, and dowsers must be very selective in asking questions for which they are seeking to learn the answers by dowsing .
"You ask only yes or no questions. If you're dowsing for water, the first question you ask is whether there is potable water on the property. If you get a yes answer, you take the Y-rod and start with it and ask it to lock onto water," she said.
"When you get a lock, you keep going and turn 360 degrees and put stakes in the ground in the direction the Y-rod locked in. You do the same thing with the L-rod and to check it you use the pendulum and have it swing in the same direction of the water steam. If there's any differentiation, you have to start over and do it again."
"You really have to learn to close everything else out and focus on what you're doing," she said.
Dowsing isn't something which can be done quickly, as she said it can take two to three hours to dowse because there are often multiple streams of water on a property and the dowser has to select the main stream and determine if any of the streams cross or feed into others.
"It takes a lot of mental energy to dowse and it can be mentally exhausting," she said.
Noting "you can find anything" through dowsing, Bess said she has even dowsed her body with a pendulum to help determine the cause of a health problem which had hospitalized her and which medical personnel couldn't locate.
"I found out what the problem was," she said.
She added it is also possible to dowse sites without the dowser having to be at the location being dowsed.
"You can dowse over a map as if you were present there. You go into sort of an alpha state and receive information as if you were at the site. Some friends had an oil lease and I dowsed it by laying a map of the plot over the lease," she said.
Acknowledging she has encountered a number of skeptics who have doubted or questioned her abilities as a dowser over the years, Bess said she has a simple solution.
"I've had a number of people question me and I just hand them the tools and say 'Here, you do it,'" she added.
Some of those doubters have quickly become believers when the tools responded to their efforts and they discovered they also possessed the ability to dowse. "If you hand them the tools and it works, a lot of people want to know more. It's a part of themselves they hadn't ever seen before."
She added many people instinctively act in ways which are similar to dowsing.
"I can't tell you the number of times I've walked on a piece of property and asked where the people wanted their well and that's where it would end up being the best place. They had instinctively picked the best spot, but you couldn't tell them they had read it," she said.
Bess added young people also find it easy to dowse. She said she taught students at an elementary school about dowsing and many of them quickly located the underground water and sewer lines which served the school
"Young people haven't been programmed that they can't do it," she said. "Dowsing teaches you a lot about yourself and it's fun and it's interesting."