I was looking for a waterfall, I didn’t know where it was but I knew it was there. I was somewhere in Lithuania. I spent the hot morning jogging through a great green mass, a curving valley of willow and pine split by a long and shallow brown stream. I found myself by a railway, navigating knee-deep in wild plants. I encountered a lady lingering there, miserable, hunched and fleeced. I think she was speaking to me, but of course, there was no sense in listening. I turned back.
In the rural areas of the Baltic countries it is difficult to determine when you are in the Lord’s back garden, or someone’s back garden. I think this all traces back to the Soviet times (the good old days) when everywhere was everyone’s garden. The Baltics haven’t quite grasped the concept of paths here either, there being few available and those that are often lead to nowhere.
I traversed the valley to the river. A couple of women were walking towards me, so I asked them how to get across. For some reason unknown to me they found the encounter to be most humorous, and told me there was a bridge close by. The bridge was wooden and shook with each step. I worried that my legs might be too big for it, but there wasn’t a sign with a leg size limit on it so I was good. On the other side there were car parks, ice cream fridges on wheels, bouncy castles, children on bikes, that kind of thing. I followed the road up the hillside, running for ten minutes before cutting back into the pine forests, clambering over root and rock. I was lost. There was a sign at the top of the hill which I found particularly useless, an old stick pointing somewhere. But where would you lead me stick, and what are your motivations to do so? I wondered, hopelessly.
I found no indicators of water. Earlier I had fantasised about being utterly exhausted from jogging, and hearing in the distance the gentle and continuous sound of water splashing down from rock to rock. Here, deep in the forest, the water would reveal itself to me in full aquatic splendour, crashing down the hill, all colours of the spectrum refracted off the floating vapour clouds. Mother nature exposing herself to me, naked, devastating. I imagined myself stripping off and jumping in the crystal pool at the bottom. Diving in it, bathing in it, drinking handfuls of its pure ice-cold water.
The waterfall was playing hard to get, as they often do. Many a great man have been destroyed by this test, taunted, fatigued, and driven to a bestial madness by waterlust. I was determined not to join their wretched company. The search was something to give myself to, something to overcome. I am the kind of person who is very determined to get what he wants, much like the child who lies on the supermarket floor, screaming until his parents submit to buying him the toy he wants. Often the thought of not having the thing is unbearable to me, and I seek it out, at the expense of all else.
I carried on running, the running was nothing to me now. I interrupted a segwaying man with his baby in a pouch to ask about the waterfall, and they told me to keep going, it was near. I did, and found a gooseberry bush, revealing itself to me like a natural vending machine. I imagined how nice it would have been for our distant ancestors to find one of these, with its juicy green gooseberries like sugary mini-basketballs. They tasted exquisite, and not like any other fruit, immensely sweet and refreshing. I ate my fill like a gluttonous berryeater before dusting myself off and getting back on the road.
Seconds, maybe minutes, maybe hours later I came to a house and stood on the drive. I’d seen a bald man with a strimmer disappearing into his backyard. Two chained dogs barked and tried in vain to hurl themselves at me, presumably to bite me in the thigh and give me a form of debilitating rabies. Never have you seen such irate beasts. Launching themselves like dog-rockets, only to find themselves suspended in thin air. What is remarkable about it is that after the failed launch, they then proceed to do the whole thing again and again and again… until you leave. Now I do like dogs, but I have to admit, this whole thing paints the species in a most unflattering light.
After a sustained period of absentminded driveway-standing, a large woman peered out the window. I asked where the waterfall was and she said ‘water! Yes okay,’ and came out three minutes later with glass of water. I thanked her, and took the glass, it tasted rusty and old. With the help of Google Translate I asked her where the waterfall was. She took a while and pointed to a number of different places on the map, with added comments in Lithuanian. I thanked her again for her help and then thought, to the abyss with it all and ran up the nearest road I could find.
I started to doubt whether I could find the waterfall, whether it even existed, whether the Gods has placed me in the heart of an obscene metaphor, and were watching me for their sport. I concluded that doubts are the test of a man’s faith. I remembered I was looking for the zenith , nothing less would suffice and in this case, the zenith was the waterfall. With this newly found inspiration in mind I advanced, each languid, gawky step increasing my yearning for the falls.
My shattered phone screen (complete with ever-growing black blots) told me that the nearest mapped attraction was an observation deck, a measly seven minutes away. I made my way there, hoping perchance I might be able to observe those glistening falls from above. Again, it took me a long while to locate and I ran down many a wrong path, but with Glutes by Patrice Baumel in my ears to guide me, I made it.
It turned out the observation deck was in fact many circular decks at different points, linked together with a wooden path. There was a pavilion at the back. People played music and smoked cigarettes in between songs. I felt like I was mid-way through the drying process after being grabbed by a strange water-nymph and dipped by the ankles in the dead sea. The sun was on the way down.
It was amazing to see so much open space beyond those trees. At the bottom of the cliff wound a frothing brown river, and on the hills an all encompassing mat of trees changing their shades as their leaves blew in the wind.
A blonde lady came over and started taking selfies. She spoke to her family in an accent I immediately determined was preposterous. I asked where she was from and she said Vilnius, but her husband was Irish. That explains it then, I told her. I offered to take photos for her and her whole family came flocking over for the big shoot. I tried to impersonate her but the voice came out Jamaican and I called the whole damned thing off mid-sentence.
I told them I had been looking for the waterfall but had nearly given up all hope. She said she was going down to see it soon and asked if I wanted a lift. At first I was repelled by the commitment of it all, no being the default response, but then I remembered my raison d’etre for the day, remembered the zenith. I accepted the offer, but warned them that I smelt rank, but they said it was fine, they probably smelled too. We spoke about a few things in the car, what I thought about Vilnius, what I had studied, what Ireland had to offer. They said many things I found it difficult to understand, and what I did understand often didn’t constitute a reasonable response to the questions I was asking. But I was happy to have shared twenty minutes with them, as they were people of a most delightful and generous kind.
We split up at Belmonta car park and that was the end of them. I saw a sign. I was within a ten minute distance of my goal, but I felt strangely apprehensive, as the ground was too flat and open and there were too many tourists. I discovered I was in the same place I was in earlier with the bouncy castles and the children on bikes. I followed the track out to the falls and found them with no trouble.
Looking down at the falls, I found they were annoyingly recognisable. They were concretey, it was the kind of feature you would expect to find as part of bog-standard Shepshed brook. The stream came to an acute angle, water flowing timidly down to make a sheet of white water between the two levels. People lined the bridges, shooting the ducks with their smart phones. Below them the water went down another step, and on the long broken pillars of concrete were two girls, taking photos of each other. The unwanted visitor let himself into my mind and spoke to me…
These girls haven’t contemplated the beauty of nature for five seconds. If you started to tell them about the utility of horseshoe fungus, or about the beauty of a bedstraw hawk moth caterpillar they would look at you like you were a freak and scurry off like hamsters. Look at them, using mother nature for their own paltry, personal online gains, OH WELL ISN’T THAT….
I told the man he wasn’t welcome and to shut up and go away. He shook his head, grabbed his jacket from the peg and slammed the door on his way out.
I was nicely jelly-legged, so I lay down on the side wall and placed my hands over my face, staring up at the clouds through a circle made by forefinger and thumb. I watched as a plane slowly drifted from one side to the other like the cursor of a mouse. I listened to Love on a Real train and felt very, very in touch with the universe. The universe was trying to communicate its strange, broken, mesmerising messages to me. Smooth electronic sounds flowing into my canals, lighting up the dark parts of my brain, my pores oozing with iridescent blobs of mystery.
I woke up to discover I had slept a bit. When I opened my eyes the first thing I saw was the girls again, the Instanymphs, adopting different poses, different positions, different facial expressions. They were looking for a waterfall too, but their waterfall was social media likes. I did not resent them, as the unwanted visitor would have had me do. I looked down at them from the wall and simply wished that they find their way through this terrible, beautiful world, in whatever way suited them best.
I lifted my vessel up the stairs past the fancy wooden restaurants, through the rock gardens of Belmonta. A big black bird with a red beak slowly drifted across a pond. I was later to discover this was a black swan, a bird I had never seen before and until recent years; did not know truly existed. It was so peaceful, so slow.
I’d seen enough for the day. I ordered a taxi and lay on the grass, waiting.
Message to waterfall seekers-
We are all looking for a waterfall. The mind excels in creating them. The truth is this, that after many years of laborious pursuit, you will realise that this watery idyll exists only in the mind.
You must be prepared that you might never find anything that resembles a waterfall in your life. If you are lucky enough to reach one, you may find it to be dull, banal and completely unremarkable.
We spend all of our waking hours running up the hills, tumbling down the troughs and clambering up the peaks, bewildered by the sight of Google Maps, searching through the woods that quite frankly all look the same. We all spend our time obsessing over the unreachable falls.
You may be disillusioned by the realisation that your search is in vain, that the goal is illusory, a cackling chimera on a shelf beyond your reach. But do not be disheartened, and continue your unique quest, your personal journey, continue without question…
On your quest you will encounter dead ends, unhelpful signs, gooseberry bushes, long grasses and wildflowers up to the knees, strange women speaking irritably in foreign tongues, ferocious dogs that want to eat you but can’t, lovely Irish families willing to adopt you, swans, black and red-beaked, great bouncy castles and many more things greater than these.
My dear wanderers, realise this-
That it is in these components of the journey itself, these miraculous ricochets of the universe, that true satisfaction, that true waterfalls can be found.
With Love from the Lord.
“I was looking for a waterfall … somewhere in Lithuania.”
Sounds exactly like the kind of directions my daughter gives me when she’s asking to be picked up from a friend’s house.”
yeah pick me up on the house on the street next to the road