By Ty H Phillips
Tenalach (Irish): A word used in the hills and mountains in the west of Ireland. It points to a relationship one has with the land/air/water, a deep connection that allows one to literally hear the earth sing.
It’s hot outside.
It’s the kind of sweltering that makes you sick just standing in it. The humidity in the air—thick like molasses—makes each breath feel labored and heavy. As my feet pass over the the roots and shrubs as I walk, sweat runs down the tip of my nose. I furiously wipe at my head and face with the shoulder and arm of my T-shirt and march along.
Animals that usually skitter and hop, now sit and stare pensively while I pass by. They will not move unless I come directly at them. The birds are silent and the air is dead—there is no breeze, no relief, just my plodding steps as I make my way around the four mile trail that leads from one end of the wooded reservation to the other.
Usually this trip brings me face to face with owls, deer, wild turkey and if I am lucky, large black snakes which I lovingly refer to as the naga, the great protectors of wisdom and the land. Two years ago, I was barely able to go out without encountering them. This year, I have not seen one.
I get lost in thought as I hop over fallen trees and scurry up eroded hill sides, wondering if I have lost my connection to them or if some ecological change has dwindled their population.
I mount the rise, take a few labored breaths from exertion and continue on my way, mentally chanting the naga mantra. Typically not one to be superstitious or prone to flights of fancy, the chant makes me feel mentally connected and if anything else, helps me contain my thoughts within a single trail much like I am contained within the train at the park.
I come back to this same trail, almost daily during good weather. I don’t know why. There are dozens of trails and hundreds of miles of woods around me but this trail for some particular reason has captured my imagination. I know it well and walking it soothes me. I stop along the way to take pictures of odd fungus or mushrooms, acorns that have fallen in unusual places, or the occasional bug when I see them.
I feel home here.
We have connected. I have walked these woods barefoot, in panic, in depression, in elation and just in fun. I have shed tears and blood here. I have sat under enormous trees here and felt my connection to the Buddha of ages past. I breathe in and I breathe out. We are close; we are friends.
Every year, I will climb into a region several miles in that I have not yet explored, and park myself there under the heavens. I will stay for a few days and allow myself to detach from habits and addictions. I spend hours meditating at the base of trees and just simply watching life around me.
The animals become less and less shy and I begin to smell less and less like cities and soap.
I wade naked into the rivers, rinse myself of the day’s toil and climb to the top of the rise once dry, enjoying the fire and the company of owls. I fall asleep thinking about Orion as he hovers over me and wonder what the Buddha thought as he looked into the night sky. Did he see the same constellation? Was he filled with the same sense of awe that I am? Did he feel a special connection to Orion like I do?
The day breaks and I pack up my things and cleaning the space that I have taken, and leaving it as close to how I found it. My feet intentionally step over roots and stumps, fallen trees and sink holes. My shoes are placed in my back pack, each step out I try to take with me. My feet planted firmly and with awareness. I am not slow, but connected. Miles pass by and my lungs expand with deeper movements.
Eventually the trees begin to open and space becomes more apparent than the green. I see my car and as I slow, taking my shoes out of my pack, I take a few more breaths and let my feet sink deeper into the earth before I say goodbye.
Crossing over the street and reaching my car, I smile. My daughter is waiting and I am excited to see her. I open the trunk, place my things within and slowly close it.
I turn and look back at the green and land and think to myself, tenalach.
Photo: provided by author
Editor: Dana Gornall