Spring fever

Friday, November 20, 2009

When I was growing up, water was a big deal. We needed water to drink, cook, bathe, wash clothes and irrigate the garden. We needed water for livestock too.

The creek that came down the valley on the other side of the garden was dry most of the time. It took a deluge before any water would run down the creek. The creek was not a source of water for us. Most of our rural neighbors relied on springs.

In the early 1950s, our water came from a cistern near the back porch. Gutters collected rainwater from the roof of the house and deposited it in the cistern. A stout rope on a pulley attached to a bucket fetched the water. There also was a shallow hand-dug well a few feet away from the cistern, but the water table wasn't always high enough to produce well water.

In the mid-1950s, we had a deep well drilled. A water diviner was hired (I'm not making this up) who cut a forked branch out of the peach tree in the orchard and held it in both hands as he walked all around the house searching for an underground river. Sure enough, the peach limb twisted in the diviner's hand so strongly that the bark peeled off. I saw this with my own eyes. I was all of 8 years old.

The completed deep well provided a bountiful supply of fresh, clean water.

The closest spring to our house was way down near the end of the valley, where Black River lined up to go under the highway bridge next to the railroad tracks.

The biggest spring I could walk to as a youngster was not too far below the dam at Clearwater Lake. It was a good-sized spring and flowed almost immediately into Black River. For local folks it was a popular picnic spot back in the day. My cousin Pat learned to shoot tin cans off a stump there. She was a much better shot than I ever was.

I hadn't thought about that spring for years until last weekend when my wife and I drove to Van Buren and Big Spring, which is one of the prettiest spots anywhere. Big Spring was a special place when I was growing up. We had picnics there, and took rides on long johnboats and climbed the rocky bluffs over the spring. I don't think they let you do that anymore.

On the drive home, I started thinking about that spring near the farm but couldn't, for the life of me, remember its name. I kept calling it "Pickett Spring," but I knew that didn't sound right.

There are some wonderful online resources about springs in Missouri, but none of them list this particular spring, although, as it turns out, it is the largest spring in Wayne County.

Knowing that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for Clearwater Lake, would likely be able to tell me, I called this week. A courteous and helpful fellow immediately knew what I was talking about. Turns out his father owns property right up to the spring, but not the spring itself.

"It's Pittman Spring." As soon as he said it, I knew we were talking about the same place.

If you go canoeing or tubing down Black River below the dam at Clearwater Lake, look for Pittman Spring on the right. A short walk will take you to the spring itself. It's not Big Spring, but its worth the look-see.

Now that I think about it, I've got lot of spring stories.

Another time.

jsullivan@semissourian.com<I>

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