A life of adventure brings Eileen Shea to the Swannanoa Valley

Shelly Frome
Special To The Black Mountain News
The adventures of Eileen Shea have taken her all over the country, but when it came time to retire, the mountains beckoned.

According to one of our guiding principles, in this land of opportunity everyone’s life is an ongoing adventure.

With this in mind, you can track Eileen Shea’s journey from her childhood in the nation’s capitol, seguing south to colonial Williamsburg, opting for career opportunities back in her hometown, on to Hawaii, Asheville and back again to Hawaii, and then over to Black Mountain’s Highland Farms community pursuing a new venture in self-discovery.  

“Because I grew up in Washington, D.C.,” she said, “national and international matters, politics and politicians were part of my daily life. Moreover, I lived in the ghetto, wasn’t aware I was in the minority, and grew to love human diversity.

"At the same time, my mom was an early childhood teacher and my dad was with the national Red Cross," she continued. "So the idea of service came from them and two of my mother’s sisters who worked for the Air Force and the Department of Education. My mom also worked for the F.B.I. as an analyst during World War II.”

As a result, being a civil servant was simply de rigueur. 

What’s more, as a Catholic in the fifties, in keeping with the liberal focus at the time, she felt “it was very okay to care for the disadvantaged because that’s what Jesus did, and it was also very okay to be open-minded and question things which was also what Jesus did.”

As a teenager, this continual questing dovetailed into a love of Jacque Cousteau on TV and a  desire to explore the ocean. This, in turn, led to graduate studies in marine science located south on the campus of William and Mary nestled in the cradle of America.

“In residence there,” she said, “linking up all the statues and museums in D.C. enhanced my appreciation of what we’ve been through and how it shapes who we are.”  

At the same time, she came upon a new program combining environmental law and marine affairs and was intrigued with the prospect of linking the two elements with science and nature.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration came into play, incorporating the weather service, climate, oceanic and atmospheric research, affording her various positions around the D.C. area and, eventually, to a posting centered around El Niño -- the dominant climate influence--in Hawaii “the heartbeat of the earth’s climate systems.”

Later on, a liaison with the national center for environmental information in Asheville also came about as she lived for a time in the Grove Arcade and envisioned new programs deepening awareness of the effects changes in climate has on our lives.

When the time for retiring rolled around, she experienced another paradigm shift as she realized “the mountains have their own beauty and their own draw that the oceans have. They each have this energy if you’re listening that calls to you, calls to your heart. You can learn things here, you can be yourself here.”

One thing led to another as she opted for a duplex in Black Mountain’s Highland farms. The setting provided her with a view of mountain ranges on both sides. The community was made up of a diverse group of people, many with advanced degrees from a broad range of disciplines, assuring her of interplay and intellectual stimulation. 

But even more importantly, she was in a place that fostered spiritual exploration.

“I had become very involved with native Hawaiins,” she said. “The most important part of aloha is ha which means your spirit of life, your special energy. Sharing your ha is what aloha is all about. The energy of this area reminds me of Hawaii in the sense of how open people are. Endeavoring to capture their energy in partnership with the natural world. The heritage of the Cherokees is all part of this draw to explore who I truly am and rediscover myself.”  

In this light, counted among her latest pursuits is a longstanding desire to write children’s books.

“I enjoyed watching my little dog Shep’s encounters in Hawaii. The first book in the series is “Shep and the Mama Mongoose” to be released soon, with four more of our adventures in development.

And, needless to say, the beat goes on.