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"A Tale of Two Wells"
a story by Larry Reimer
Sermon – May 7, 2000

Now this did seem dangerous to Rachael, as she stood, nervously balanced on the iron bar of a single blade plow, trying to spit her long blond windblown hair out of her mouth as she used both hands to hang on to the seat of a groaning Ford tractor. Rachael, who was always proud that her name was spelled like Michael, R-a-c-h-a-e-l, stood on the plow behind her dad who was driving the tractor, plowing an acre of ground for a garden.

Rachael’s family had bought a farm known as the "Old Cadwallader place." When Jake Cadwallader died, Edna put the place up for sale and moved into town. From the looks of the place, Rachael thought, it could have been abandoned for the last ten years.

The farm idea popped up out of the blue one day when Rachael’s Dad came home and said he was fed up with living in the Newton Center, Massachusetts. He announced that they were going to buy a Vermont farm where they could live in harmony with the land. Clearly, Rachael thought, her dad was having a mid-life crisis.

That was a year ago when Rachael was eleven. When they found the place and decided to go their weekends and over the summer Rachael actually thought it was pretty neat. It had an old stone farmhouse with woods, a little pond in a valley below, and rolling fields above. There were barns to mess around in and a special little shed Rachael painted with all the different colors that were left over after her parents had finished painting the house. She called it the Rainbow Room, and kept it as a place where she could play the memories of being a child and the dreams of being a teenager.

The farm wasn’t bad as an occasional retreat. But when Rachael turned twelve her folks sold the house in Newton and decided to move out to this fool place permanently, and she hated it. At twelve, Rachael wanted to be with her friends in Newton. She wanted to go to the mall and to movies and to those parties that now included boys. She even wanted to be baby-sitting in the neighborhood making a little money of her own. She didn’t figure her parents would actually move out here, and she would be spending Saturday morning standing on the back of a single blade plow, holding on to the seat of the Ford tractor while her father cleared this acre of sod for the garden.

Her dad had given her a long speech about how tough it was to plow a field that had never been cultivated. That’s why they called the first farmers out west, sodbusters. Rachael, frankly, could care less. Right now she remembered a social studies list of the top ten most dangerous professions in America. Farming was number 1, ahead of being a fire fighter or police officer. Riding on the back of the plow showed her why. She pictured herself falling under the blade of the plow and being neatly cut in half and turned over just like the sod beneath her. Would her parents ever be sorry then! But her dad said he needed weight on the plow so the plow wouldn’t just bounce over the sod.

Great, thought Rachael, now I’m dead weight.

What Rachael most wanted to do, besides move back to Newton, was go hunt for the artesian well. As soon as the family had bought the place, everyone around there told them about the artesian well up by the milk house. Old man Truitt at the garage told them they really ought to uncap the old artesian well in this drought.

Emma Crouthamel, the postmistress, said, "There’s an old artesian well just about 6 feet off the steps to the milkhouse. You should get it flowing."

Even a perfect stranger at the general store turned to her dad and said, "Heard you moved into the Cadwallader farm. Great artesian well up there under a rock. Really should get it going."

"What is an artesian well?" Rachael asked her dad. Her dad, who really didn’t know much about farming, but never admitted it, said, "Artesian means it’s deep."

The day before the plowing Rachael and her dad had walked over to old Mrs. Cadwallader’s house to ask about the well.

"Wonderful well," she said as she stroked a motionless fat cat in her lap that Rachael thought might just be dead. "Artesian, you know."

Rachael and her dad agreed with her like they knew what she was talking about.

"Well," Mrs. Cadwallader continued, sensing their ignorance like a cat smelling tuna, "do you know what an artesian well is?"

"Deep?" Said dad, not nearly as sure of himself as he was when he was explaining it to Rachael.

"That ain’t half of it," said the old lady, banging her cane on the wood floor loud enough to wake the cat from its sleep of the dead. "Sure it’s deep. But the main thing about an artesian well is that it taps a stream that flows under the rock down from the hills. It flows so hard that the force of that water will push it up through the rock. You can hook a hose on it and it will run water like a drainpipe."

"Yeah, I thought so," said dad.

Rachael knew dad had not thought anything like it.

"It’s a right fine well," Mrs. Cadwallader continued, "but we didn’t use it. We got our water from the old well down in the valley which pumped enough for the house and that pond down there. We was saving the artesian well for emergencies."

"Where is it Mrs. Cadwallader?" Rachael piped up, whipping out a pencil and a scrap of paper to get this right.

Mrs. Cadwallader looked at Rachael like she was dumb as a post. Even the cat seemed to sneer at her ignorance. "About six feet from the steps of the milkhouse under a rock," she cackled as she pointed her cane at her. "Everybody knows that."

Saying that something was under a rock in Vermont was like saying it was under sand in a Florida beach. Rachael had already dug up about a hundred rocks that year looking for the well.

A sudden bump on her precarious but boring perch behind the tractor jolted Rachel back to her present condition. Her Dad had hit a Vermont rock with the plow. The pin holding the plow to the hitch sheared off, and the whole contraption fell apart. Rachael managed to hang on the seat of the tractor and jump from the plow to the tractor’s drawbar just in front of where the hitch broke. Rachael’s dad stopped the tractor, jumped down off the seat, looked at Rachael and asked, "You okay sweetheart?"

"Yeah, that was pretty scary..."

While her dad tried to figure out how to put the plow back together, Rachael’s mom came from she corner of the field where she had been burning weeds and branches. She shouted over the noise of the muffler-less tractor that it was time to go in for lunch. Rachael’s dad said he’d be there in about fifteen minutes. Rachael said, "Me too."

While Rachael’s dad messed with the tractor, Rachael ran off to hunt one more time for the well that had to be under the rock by the milk house. Rachael walked off six feet from the steps just like she had done a 100 times before. She looked down for a rock, and just like the last hundred times, one was indeed there. She pried it up, thinking this whole farming bit was ruining her hands. Suddenly she realized that this rock was different. Beneath it was a deep dark hole. She picked up a small pebble, dropped it, and after about three seconds, heard a splash.

She looked up and saw her mom come out of the house. Rachael shouted at her that she had found the artesian well. But her mom wasn’t paying any attention. She was running toward her dad, screaming at him, but dad couldn’t hear over the tractor engine. As mom shouted she pointed to the barn roof. Rachael looked up. A spark from the brush fire at the corner of the field must have carried to the old dry cedar shingles on the barn roof. The corner of the roof was in flames.

Dad looked up and yelled at Rachael to get a hose. He got a ladder while mom ran back to the house to call the volunteer fire department. The last rung of the ladder barely reached the roof. The hose wouldn’t reach the barn from the garage. The fire spread.

"Dad, I found the artesian well," Rachael shouted.

Her dad, at the moment, did not see this as an important piece of information.

"Just get me more hose so I can get to the barn," Dad shouted.

"But Dad, we can use the artesian well."

"Geez Rachael, we can’t fool with that now. Get me more hose."

Which Rachael did.

Mom ran back saying the volunteer Fire Company was on their way.

Rachael found another section of hose and untangled it as she ran toward her dad. Dad grabbed it, scrambled up the side of the roof, and was trying to water down the part that wasn’t on fire when the Midway Volunteer Fire Company rolled into the yard.

There are no fire hydrants in the country, and a tanker can only carry a limited amount of water. The fire chief ran right over to Rachael, since her dad was still on the roof and the mom was holding the ladder.

"Do you have another water source here?" the chief yelled as the rest of the crew unrolled hoses and ran up toward the barn with ladders.

"There’s an artesian well, right by the barn."

"That’s right, this is the old Cadwallader place isn’t it?" the chief remembered as he shouted for his men to get a pump over to the artesian well.

Rachael was quite proud of herself. Maybe her dad would listen to her in the next emergency.

The tanker began sending water to the barn. In the meantime the pump chief, a crackle faced old Vermonter with hands that moved like lightening, fitted connectors onto an intake pipe, fed it into the well, and fired up a gasoline powered diaphragm pump hooked up to a four inch hose.

Within a minute water spewed out of the hose from the artesian well.

Within another minute the pump coughed, a valve shut down, and the water from the well stopped.

The pump operator pulled off his glove with his teeth, unscrewed the intake pipe and checked the suction valve to his pump. It was full of dirt and silt. He pulled up his pipe and it was filled with mud.

The artesian well had quit as quickly as it had started.

The water in the tank truck was already getting low, and the fire was still burning. By now the chief had made Rachael’s dad get down off the roof with his garden hose.

Rachael saw the chief shouting questions to her dad and dad pointing to the pond fed by the old well. The pump crew ran the hundred yards down to the pond. They cleaned the trap on the suction valve, connected four sections of hose to the diaphragm pump, and ran the water up to the barn. Just as they got the hose connected and the pump running, the tanker ran out of water.

The fire was still burning, but it was contained. When the water from the pond started running through the pump, the men on the roof extinguished the remaining flames. About a third of the roof had been burned, but there was no danger now to the rest of the barn, nor the house, nor the dry woods around them.

Rachael realized she had been biting her lip since her father had yelled at her to get the hose, both because he hardly ever yelled at her, and for fear that the fire would burn down everything.

Suddenly she unclenched her jaw in relief.

"What was going on here with that first hose?" Dad asked.

The chief and the pump operator explained that Rachael had led them to the artesian well.

"You know, ordinarily, that would have been perfect," the chief explained. "A deep source of water right by the barn. Just what’s needed in an emergency,"

"But," the pump operator, chimed in, "you can’t save a well for emergencies. If you don’t use a well, it closes up."

"You mean the artesian well ran dry?" Rachael asked.

She could see her dad was a little annoyed by this concern for the well when the barn had just about burned down.

"The well doesn’t exactly go dry," explained the old pump guy, stopping to spit on the ground for emphasis. "There’s still water down there. The well just caves in and fills up with silt. You have to force water back through it to clear out a connection to its source. Water down, water up, we always said."

The chief added, "Your old well down in the valley gave us water because it’s always been used. You keep a well working by going to it every day. And by the way," the chief continued, now turning to Dad, "would you like to join the Midway Volunteer Fire Company?

Dad wrote check on the spot and joined up. He never went to a single meeting nor fought a single fire, but he wrote them a check for $100 every year after.

Mom decided they wouldn’t be burning debris from the field anymore. Rachael went back and looked down the deep hole to the bottom of the artesian well. Where there was once water, was now just muck. Down in the valley she could see the little pond, drained low by the pumping, but filling steadily again, from the well that had been used every day, forever.


I tell this story, because our connection to God is like a well. If we do not keep our souls open to the source of the water of life, it will stop flowing. We think God is dead or gone. But God is there just as the water is still underneath this clogged well.

If we quit drawing from our wells to God, saving God only for emergencies, we may find the well clogged and dry when we need it.

Talking to God, worshipping regularly, sharing loving deeds, forgiving and accepting forgiveness, crying, dreaming, hoping, and struggling, are all ways to keep the well of God open.

The water of life flows in give and take. Jesus said, "Give and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, more than you can hold." (Luke 6:38)

Prayer -

Do I have well to God, to the source of my deepest strength, that I draw from regularly? This is my prayer question. What is my well? How does it refresh my spirit? How do I keep it flowing? How do I use it to quench my thirst for meaning? Have I used it to douse the fires that have tried down burn down my spiritual home?

Let me feel your deep well of life flowing in and through me, God of cool and comforting water.

And we pray for those we name in our hearts, loved ones near and far.

And we pray for ourselves, for places we are at dead ends. For parts of our lives that need healing.