Encountering the donkey enroute to the Devil’s Chimney Waterfall

Have you ever felt envious of a donkey, or an animal?

I have.

It was in June last year that we undertook a trip to County Sligo. The months prior to that, my mind had been like a barbed wire fence that had been taken down and was jumbled up.

So many people in India had lost their lives to Covid-19, and in terrible conditions. Some had died because they couldn’t get oxygen on time. In one particular photograph, which has stayed with me, a woman sits in an autorickshaw with a mobile phone in her hand. At her feet is her adult son, lying motionless. She had apparently gone from one hospital to another, trying to find her son the oxygen support he so needed. Think she was turned away, there were no empty beds in hospitals and a short supply of oxygen cylinders. Somewhere along the route, her son had died.

My husband’s former colleague in India had also died in his hometown Lucknow, as he couldn’t get oxygen on time. He was there with his wife and children, staying with his parents as work from home was offered and he had opted to move out of Bangalore be with his parents in his hometown.

All the while, I thought it could have been us. I would get up, so many times in the night, glance at phone – afraid of a missed call, of a message that said my mother had fallen sick or someone that I loved had lost his or her own battle with life.

Another incident also haunted me. A little girl called Jamlo, had walked with a bag of dried red chillies, (she worked as a labourer) and during her long trek home (due to the Covid imposed lockdown, and her contractor shutting down work), had died on the route. She had walked for 155 miles, all the way from Telangana to Bastar in Chhattisgarh, and her body had given up when she was only some miles away from her home and family.

At one point, I was so anxious, and so laden with something akin to survivor’s guilt that I pulled out a mat, a fluffy blanket and went to sleep in the balcony of our apartment in Dublin.

Then in June we took the trip to Sligo. I was mesmerised by the coastline, by the sight of Ireland’s ‘table-top’ mountain Benbulben, but I was also haunted by what had happened in the past few months. I thought about my rather privileged life here in Ireland, where I was relatively safe, and also taking a holiday. In contrast, so many back home had died, gasping for oxygen, giving up in front of frantic family members.

When we visited the Glencar lake, which lies at the border of County Leitrim and County Sligo, it was a peaceful day, partly cloudy and with rain that came and went at its own will and fancy. I sat near the waters of the Glencar Lake for a while, and then we made our way towards the Devil’s Chimney – a hike up to a waterfall that is supposed to be one of the oldest in Ireland, and one that often flows backwards.

At the beginning of the hike was a plot of land that was fenced off. It was brimming with yellow daffodils and irises. Then, as we made the ascent, I came across a most amazing view to my right.

A large meadow was stretched out like a painter’s canvas. Yellow irises dotted its front, and flowers akin to buttercups bobbed their tiny heads up and down further up. A lone donkey grazed in the meadow, and you could see in the background trees with the greenest of canopies and the face of a mountain.

The donkey did not seem like he was in haste. Neck bent, head down in haze of green and yellow, he seemed far removed from the miseries of the world, and the unfairness, death and grief that rocked the people of this earth in the past year and more.

I gasped. Then, I sat down on a bench that offered an uninterrupted view of the field.

My husband looked at me quizzically.

“Shall we rather take a break to sit and pause on our way back? It might start raining any moment.”

“I just need to sit.”

As I sat on the bench transfixed, he took out his camera and started capturing the ferns and the many varieties of wildflowers that were dotting the trail.

Is this real, I asked the donkey. He paid me no heed, oblivious as he was to my presence.

Is this what heaven looks like, I asked him again. A field full of yellows and greens, mountains in the backdrop, and no haste, hate and misery?

Do you have a good life, I asked him again. Do you know about Covid deaths?

I felt foolish. And ashamed. I was being envious of a donkey grazing in a field.

After twenty minutes or so, we resumed our hike.

The waterfall at the end of the hike was missing; apparently it reappears in monsoons or when it rains sufficiently. But we got some beautiful views, and it was lovely walk. The air was sweet with the scent of trees in bloom, and we chatted with an elderly couple who had also come to see the waterfall.

On the way back, I saw the donkey again.

It looked the same. Neck bent, head down in the yellows and the greens. Peaceful.

Back at the hotel later in the day, I sent a friend in India some photographs from the day.

She circled the donkey, and sent it back to me with the following message.

“I want to be that donkey in the field.”

This is the beginning of the hike. And you can see the Glencar Lough in the background. Near the sides of a barbed wire fence are pinky flowers, and my husband is bent with his camera in his hand, face in the camera trying to capture those pink flowers.
The beginning point of the hike (the waters that you can see in the background are the waters of the Glencar Lough)

2 thoughts on “Encountering the donkey enroute to the Devil’s Chimney Waterfall

  1. The enormous scale of the crisis and the impact it is having is naturally causing a lot of fear, uncertainty and anxiety across the globe. Add social isolation, disrupted work and family routines, cabin fever and economic instability, and it is understandable that our mental health is suffering.

    I am glad to hear you were able to escape to Sligo and spend your time in nature as it can help clear your head and bring you into the present moment allowing you to de-stress and relax, which is much needed in times of turmoil. I am also glad to hear that you were able to see the donkeys – they seem to add to the serenity of the scene. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 1 person

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