Tag Archives: nature

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Into the Mountains

A Journey of Loss And Acceptance in Wyoming

STORY & PHOTOS BY MIRANDA MCDONALD

“Are you meeting someone in Jackson Hole?” inquired the lady sitting next to me on the plane.

I wondered if she was genuinely curious or simply making conversation because she felt as anxious as I did about the turbulence currently bombarding our tiny aircraft.

“No,” I choked out as I tightly gripped the arm rest of my seat. At this point, my stomach felt like it was permanently lodged in my throat. “I am actually spending the week alone.”

“Oh. What brings you to Wyoming?” she continued. Her confusion now momentarily replacing the fear.

As I looked down at the backpack wedged between my feet, I thought of the list of possible answers I could give her: a failed marriage, the two years of utter confusion that followed, or I could describe the overwhelming guilt I carried with me every day since the moment I decided to leave my old life behind.

“I am here to hike in Grand Teton National Park and do some writing.” I decided to keep it simple.

“That sounds nice,” she replied. “Be sure to take some bear spray and try to find other hikers to walk with on the trails. They say groups of three are best!”

I wanted to tell her it wasn’t the bears I feared. I wanted to explain to her that I was embarking on a spiritual journey with this trip, and that I hoped to unpack all that guilt I had strapped on my back so many months ago and leave it on those trails in the mountains.

Besides the wildlife tour I had booked two days prior to my departure, lightening my mental load was the only thing I had really planned for the trip. Oh, but there was the minor detail of finding a place to sleep for three nights. I had thought about pitching a tent. However, once I discovered the temperatures dipped down to the 30s when the sun went down, I decided to book a stay at a Heart Six Ranch in Moran, instead.

My Arrival

Like the city itself, which has a population of just under 12,000 people, the Jackson Hole airport was small. Well, small enough for it to nestle comfortably at the southern base of the Grand Teton mountain range. As I stepped off the plane and onto the tarmac, I counted the snow-covered mountain caps directly in front of me. The mountains were unlike any I had ever seen.

“I hope you enjoy your stay in Wyoming,” the lady said with a smile as she walked by with her luggage rolling noisily behind her.

I watched her walk quickly ahead of me and into the airport. She had been so kind, and yet I had never bothered to ask her name. I was thinking of our interaction on the plane when my thoughts were interrupted by the sound of another plane flying overhead. I guess names were irrelevant at this point. It was time to gather my luggage and pick up my rental car.

Twenty-Six Miles

Even though the temperature was only 50s in Wyoming that day, I rolled down every window in my rental so I could take in the spring air rolling off the mountains. I quickly typed the address to Heart Six Ranch into Google Maps, and it informed me that I only had 26 miles to travel from the airport. However, what Google didn’t mention was that I would be driving through a national elk refuge that housed 25,000 acres of wildlife, or that I would also encounter some of the most beautiful views of the Grand Teton mountains during my commute.

By the time I reached Moran, I had parked to take pictures at almost every turnabout on the highway, stopped twice to allow elk to cross the road and watched a moose graze in a small creek that was just a few miles away from the ranch. Somehow, I turned my 30-minute journey into four hours of sightseeing.

When I finally reached Heart Six Ranch, the sun was going down, and I was welcomed by a furry, four-legged “ranch hand” named Leo. His body stiffened and he began barking as I got out of my car. As a peace offering, I let him sniff my hands. I guess he found my smell acceptable because once he was finished, he walked with me to the lodge for check in. I had been in Moran for less than an hour and had already made a friend.

A Cup of Coffee

The next morning, I loaded my backpack with water, a journal, my camera and a book, and walked over to the main lodge at the ranch. I needed guidance on which trails to hike while in the national park. Leo was sprawled out and still asleep on the couch by the front desk, but the property manager was already up and reading the local newspaper behind the counter.

“I was told I need a big can of bear spray for my hike,” I said as I slung my bag onto the desk. I hoped a little humor would be a good way to start a conversation so early in the day.

“Of course, but how about some coffee first?” he asked.

As we walked into the dining room, the smell of eggs drifted from the kitchen and into my nose. With our coffee in hand, we sat at a large table made of beautiful, tan wood. It matched the logs that constructed the entire building and all the cabins on the property. I sipped my coffee slowly and hoped it would help me shake off the fogginess from another sleepless night. I seemed to be having quite a few of those lately.

“So, what brings you to Wyoming?” he asked.

“I want to hike the trails by the Grand Tetons, and hopefully do some writing,” I explained.

“Oh, you are a writer,” he said with as much enthusiasm as he could muster up before 8 a.m. “What will you write about?”

I picked my mug up and took a large drink of the hot liquid inside. “Divorce,” I explained after the coffee was fully down. Something about his presence made me feel comfortable enough to finally say it. “Well, not just divorce. I want to start figuring out who I am after divorce.”

“I see,” he replied.

“I was recently laid off from my desk job, so my schedule just got a lot more flexible,” I responded with a sarcastic tone as I played with the loose string hanging from a seam in my jeans. “I don’t own a home. I have no kids or even a dog. My marriage is over and there is no significant other that claims me. Oh, and my landlord just sold the house I am living in. So, here I am.”

“I see,” he replied again. “So, you are a gypsy?” His tone made the words sound more like a declaration than an actual question. “At this point in your life, you don’t have anything tying you down to one place,” he continued. “You, my dear, are a gypsy.”

I had never thought about this title before. Of course, I had been labeled many over the years: sister, writer, spouse, friend, coworker and now there was the heavy title of ex-wife. However, this one – gypsy – was completely new to me. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it, but I sat there for a moment and imagined myself trying the word on like a new pair of gloves. In my head, I pictured myself slowly pulling these gloves up over my fingers and then onto my wrists. Looking down at them as they covered both hands, I wasn’t quite sure how they fit.

“Now, about that bear spray,” he said after a long moment of silence.

Lake Taggart

After a few recommendations from various sources, I decided to hike the trail to Taggart Lake first. I was informed the walk was under 5 miles and boasted spectacular views of the park.

Once I arrived at the starting point, I laced up my hiking boots, tightened the straps on my backpack and wrapped a denim jacket around my waist. With a can of bear spray also hanging from my belt strap, I started my journey to the lake.

Even though it was May, there were still mounds of snow covering parts of the path. Eventually, I came upon a bridge that had an extraordinary view of a small waterfall. I slowly walked onto the narrow apparatus, and with water rushing over rocks of all shapes and sizes below me, I sat on its edge and dangled my feet over the side.

I thought about why I was there. I forced myself into these woods in search of something that would help me finally move forward and out of my current mental state, but I still wasn’t quite sure what that something was. I guess I was hoping it would meet me somewhere on the trail.

After sitting for a few moments, I realized the answers I searched for were not on that bridge, so I got up and started walking again.

I hiked a mile before I reached a small clearing. The trees were sparse in this area, and the snow was deep. I had only come across a few hikers that morning, but there was still a large path of footprints showing me the way to a part of the woods where the trail picked back up. The sun bounced off the snow with such ferocity that I was forced to shield my eyes with one hand as I walked. Once I reached the next set of trees, the temperature took a noticeable drop. I was getting close to the lake.

After a few minutes of walking through more snow and trees, I came to another clearing and stepped out onto a bed of pebbles. I then looked up and before me was a frozen Taggart Lake and an astonishing view of the Grand Tetons behind it. I walked to a fallen tree at the edge of this frozen body of water, and after a few minutes of stunned silence, I sat down to journal.

This is what I wrote:

At some point after my divorce, I came to believe that I deserved to be punished for hurting a person that I loved for so many years. Even if our 12-year relationship needed to an end, the guilt I feel from leaving my marriage consumes me every day. I still see the pain in his face and the fear in his eyes when I told him I had to leave. I still hear sadness in his voice when he told me not to go. The memory is just so vivid in my mind.

I have allowed this memory to block all the good memories that came from my marriage. I have allowed this memory to put a halt to any happiness that has tried to enter my life since that day. My failed marriage has made me also feel like a complete failure.

However, as I sit in front of something so grand and pure, I realize that there is so much beauty to be seen in this world. I have to start making space for this beauty. I have to unpack this guilt and leave it at on the edge of this lake.

I sat on the shore of Taggart Lake for what seemed like an hour. It was so peaceful in this spot that I could hear the silence fill the space around the trees behind me. Tears rolled down my face as I sat in the silence.

Before I started my journey back, I walked to the edge of the lake. There were a few inches of shallow water that had thawed under the warming rays of the sun. Dipping my fingers into the cold water, I tried to imagine the entire ecosystem that existed just below the surface. There was so much life sitting under that ice and it was just waiting for everything to melt so that it could finally reveal itself. Was I like this lake? Was I also waiting for a new season to arrive so that I could finally reveal a metamorphosis that was slowly taking place just underneath my own surface?

I’m Not Good at Goodbyes

After three days of soul searching on the trails of the Grand Tetons, it was time for me to catch my flight back home. I woke up early to see my last sunrise at Heart Six Ranch. As I watched the sun peek over the valley below the lodge, I wished I had booked my stay for longer. Leo must have known I would be leaving soon because he came to sit down beside me around the time the sun was almost completely above the ridge.

“I am not good at goodbyes,” I said to the French Mastiff as I rubbed a spot behind his ear. Besides a small group of bison I stopped for every day while driving back and forth to Jackson Hole, Leo and the ranch manager were the only regular contacts I made while in Wyoming. Most of my days were spent alone, and in silence.

A few more minutes passed before I walked to my cabin to gather the luggage I packed the night before. Leo followed closely behind. I picked up my backpack. It seemed so heavy when I first arrived, but now it felt a bit lighter. I guess I had accomplished lightening my load after all. This made me smile.

“Where will you go next, Gypsy?” the manager asked as I started to walk to my car with my luggage, Leo my faithful escort.

“Everywhere. I will go everywhere,” I declared with a feeling of confidence I hadn’t felt in some time.

After all, I was now a gypsy and there is just so much world to see.

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KIDS REALLY DIG GARDENING

By Farrah Alexander

WHEN MY HUSBAND ASKED ME WHAT I WANTED FOR MOTHER’S DAY, I WENT THROUGH THE ROUTINE SUGGESTIONS: “OH, NOTHING. JUST THE ADORING LOVE AND ADMIRATION OF MY LOVELY FAMILY.” OR “I DO WANT TO SLEEP IN, THOUGH.” AND, “MAYBE A NAP, TOO. ACTUALLY, JUST 24 HOURS OF SOLID SLEEP SOUNDS NICE.”

In addition to sleep, my husband asked, “What about a garden? The kids and I could build you a garden.” I was elated. I so badly wanted a garden, I had even purchased some weed-block and gardening items that sat unopened in our garage.

screen-shot-2018-06-05-at-5-40-59-pmMustering up the energy (see previous pleading for sleep) to do the manual labor part of building a garden hasn’t been in the cards for me this season yet. All the hauling dirt, tilling and building has been too much. But tending to a garden with my two favorite little people was something I really wanted to do this summer. So, my husband offering to do all the hard things involved in building a garden, and letting me stick to the fun stuff was a perfect gift.

I first became interested in gardening with children years before I had my own. I wrote an article about community and school gardens for a local publication. I was so amazed by how the garden changed the children’s perspective on personal responsibility, health and food.

These kids loved getting dirty and taking care of their gardens. They would pick offending weeds and check on the growth of their plants. The pride they took in the work they put into their gardens was obvious. They were incredibly knowledgeable about the entire seed to plate process, speaking with the experience of master gardeners.

After they nurtured their plants for months and it was time to harvest, they couldn’t wait to try their veggies. Most parents go through the daily dinner struggle of trying to convince their kids to try the veggies on their plates while the kids recoil and resist like you just asked them to eat dirt. But a kid who tended to a plant for months and watched the plants sprout colorful, edible veggies? It’s hard to convince them to even wait to wash their veggies before devouring.screen-shot-2018-06-05-at-5-41-04-pm

Now we can get any fruits and veggies just about any time of year at our local grocery stores. We don’t have to wait until early summer for strawberries; we can buy strawberries in January! Most of the produce we see in stores aren’t locally farmed, and a lot of it actually traveled a long distance before it arrived here. Some of our most popular household staples, like bananas, weren’t even grown in this country. Instead, bananas and many other items are grown in the Caribbean, Mexico and elsewhere and shipped here.

It’s easy for kids to become disconnected with where food comes from given the complicated nature of how it gets here. Adults don’t typically know exactly where their produce comes from, either. But with a garden, kids can eat food they grew in their own backyard. The disconnect is eliminated.

In fact, there are absolutely remarkable benefits for children who garden. There have been a number of studies showing that children who participate in some type of gardening program either at home or at school

• showed a significant increase in self- understanding and an ability to work with others

• have positive bonding experiences with their parents and other adults

• are more likely to ear fresh fruits and vegetables

• scored higher on science achievement tests

• showed an understanding of ecology, interconnections in nature, and responsibility to care for the environment

• develop an interest in gardening that is likely to be lifelong

screen-shot-2018-06-05-at-5-41-10-pmPlus, it’s great for parents to get outside and work on something with their children. It’s fun to be able to involve your kids in cooking dinner and gathering fresh ingredients you grew together. Last year, I just had herbs in small pots outside my door. I loved going outside with my son to clip some and then add those to the dinner we cooked. I found he was much more excited about dinner and more prone to try new things if he was involved in the process.

If you’re interesting in gardening with your kids, it can be incredibly easy and simple. You don’t have to tear up your yard and make a huge garden. Our area is great for growing tomatoes, which can be grown in containers with the cage included. Super easy! No planting even required, just watering. Herbs are always very easy and can be grown in small containers.

To make it even easier, you could even go outside your home and get involved in the gardening process. Many area schools have gardens and probably love when parents volunteer to help tend to them. There are small community gardens in both New Albany and Jeffersonville.

Huber’s is a huge, beautiful farm in Starlight. On their website, they have a picking schedule. Depending on the date, you and your children can pick strawberries, zucchini, green beans, apples, peppers and eventually pumpkins. You can ride out to the fields on a tractor, fill a box with freshly-picked produce and then check out at the market when you’re done. My son loves picking strawberries and then making strawberry bread when we get home.

You can even just check out one of the wonderful farmer’s markets in the area and get a chance to speak with the farmers who harvested the food you’re about to eat. Then you get to have delicious, local produce without any of the dirty work.

Whatever works for you and your family, try some locally grown food this summer.


IF IT’S SUNNY, YOU BETTER GET OUT AND TAKE ADVANTAGE BECAUSE THE NEXT DAY VERY WELL COULD BE RAINY, FRIGID, SWAMPY HOT…


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Get Out This Spring

1By Farrah Alexander

As a Southern Indiana local,

you know describing this area as “the sunny side”

is little more than a cute tourism slogan.

If it’s sunny, you better get out and take

advantage because the next day very

well could be rainy, frigid, swampy hot

or just so intensely pollinated you

can’t bear to go outside. Sometimes, we

manage to fit in elements of all four

seasons in the course of one week, much

to the dismay (or delight?) of local

weather forecasters.

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But during the spring, the sunny days are truly

beautiful. The lilies and tulips have bloomed,

leaving bursts of color everywhere you turn. The

weather is pristine – not too hot and not too cool

– just the perfect temperature to relax outside.

And we have plenty of wonderful options to

explore the area as a family. So, grab your nasal

spray and let’s go!

3

The Falls of the Ohio State Park (201 W.

Riverside Drive, Clarksville) is a fantastic place

to spend a nice day. My five-year-old Daniel is

obsessed with dinosaurs, so he loves climbing

over the huge rocks and discovering fossils among

the fossil beds. The park hosts many events with

experts who will guide you through the park and

educate you about things you probably wouldn’t

have noticed. After exploring the park, you can see

several exhibits in the air-conditioned interpretive

center. There are many perfect places to enjoy a

picnic overlooking the Ohio river nearby.

The Widow’s Walk (415 E. Riverside Drive,

Clarksville) is a beautiful Victorian mansion along

the Ohio River overlooking the Louisville skyline.

The Widow’s Walk has an ice creamery, coffee

shop and offers bicycle rentals. You can enjoy

your treats on the gorgeous porch overlooking

the river or explore the beautiful courtyards on

site. They also offer very reasonably priced kidfriendly

lunch items like corn dogs and chicken

nuggets. The bicycle rentals include tandem bikes

and bikes with child carriers attached. The Ohio

River Scenic Byway is right next to the Widow’s

Walk and is a great area to ride.

The Big Four Bridge in Jeffersonville is a

renovated railroad bridge that is open exclusively

to pedestrians. It’s the perfect length for a nice

family stroll with breaks to view the Ohio River,

spotting barges and steamboats. Once you reach

the Kentucky side, the kids can play at one of the

many nearby playgrounds. If you head back to

the Indiana side, there is a plethora of wonderful

restaurants within a short walking distance of

the bridge.

Perrin Family Park (Perrin Lane,

Jeffersonville) is a privately-owned park that is

well maintained and perfect for a family with

young children to explore. A paved walking path

surrounds a lake and is the ideal distance (just one

mile) for a leisurely walk that young children can

handle. At the dock, children can feed the ducks

and geese. There are plenty of picnic tables to enjoy

lunch shaded by the many surrounding trees.

The Farmer’s Market (202 E. Market St.,

New Albany) is open Saturday mornings from

10 a.m. until noon, until the second weekend in

May through October, the hours are extended to

8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The farmer’s market has tons

of unique items and tasty food you can’t just find

at your nearby grocer. They have local butchers,

hand crafted items, seasonal veggies, baked goods,

jams, and more. Located in the city center, you’re

in the perfect location to grab brunch at one of

the many delicious spots nearby.

Clifty Falls State Park (1501 Green Road,

Madison) is a beautiful, scenic park with gorgeous

waterfalls. The park has many hiking and walking

trails, some are easily accessible for small children

and some are better suited for experienced hikers.

Since the park is so large, you can easily find

a peaceful and quiet place to have a picnic or

just enjoy nature. There are campgrounds and

inns nearby if you’d prefer to stay overnight and

thoroughly experience the park.

The Historic District (Madison) along the

First, Second and Third Streets downtown contain

many of the town’s restored homes of the pre-

Civil War era. The area is simply charming and a

really lovely place to stroll and site-see. You can

pop in an antique shop, burger joint, boutique,

or just admire the historical buildings. Just a few

blocks away, you can walk along the banks of

the Ohio River.

Deam Lake State Recreation Area (1217

Deam Lake Road, Borden) is a spacious, wooded

park with many activities. The park offers fishing,

boating, and swimming. If you’re looking to spend

the night or weekend, there are campgrounds

available. There are many hiking trails of varying

difficulty levels available. Whether you’re making a

weekend of it or just spending the day, Deam Lake

is a great escape into nature not far from home.


If it’s sunny, you

better get out

and take advantage

because the next

day very well

could be rainy,

frigid, swampy hot…


Hidden Hill (1011 Utica Charlestown Road,

Jeffersonville) is a beautiful, sprawling botanical

garden featuring unique art sculptures owned by

local gardening guru Bob Hill. It’s a whimsical

place to walk around, explore and children will

love spotting the variety of flowers and looking for

monarch butterflies. Plus, the gardens provide an

incredible backdrop for photos of your kids! My

sister-in-law and photographer Valerie Johnson

loves going to Hidden Hill to take stunning photos

of my niece, Piper.

After so many days and weekends spent cooped

up in the house during the long winter, It’s such

a treat to get outside, expose yourself to some

fresh air and enjoy one of the many scenic areas

we have to enjoy both nature and time with your family.

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Extra Credit | Linda DeRungs: A Story Three Decades in The Making

PHOTO & STORY BY MIRANDA MCDONALD

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IT’S WARM OUTSIDE. So warm, in fact, that the first thing Linda DeRungs, a former educator at New Albany High School, offers me is a glass of chilled wine as we walk through her Victorian-era home in the Highlands in Louisville. As we make our way out to the patio space that overlooks her beautiful garden, I notice several boxes are stacked haphazardly in a corner by a fireplace that sits at the bottom of the staircase in her home. DeRungs and her husband are moving to California in the coming weeks. After spending 33 years as the director of choral music at New Albany High School, DeRungs is retiring and starting an entirely new chapter of her life.

“My garden has been a work in progress for many years,” Linda states as she walks me over to the hibiscus tree that serves as the primary provider of shade in the backyard.

Just like with the assortment of plants in her garden, DeRungs has meticulously aided the growth of her students for several decades.

“I always knew I wanted to teach,” the educator explains as we sit down at the glass table on her patio.

I notice that DeRungs takes a deliberate pause before proceeding to her next statement.

“Teenagers are very entertaining, in spite of the challenge. Most of the time, teaching them and interacting with them was fun. My primary goal was to have some sort of positive impact on their futures- musically, behaviorally or emotionally.”

However, DeRungs contributed more to New Albany High School than teaching music theory and piano lab. She also served as a fine arts department chair for several years and directed over 70 department musicals. Eight of these musicals were chosen to be main-stage productions at the Thespian Summer Conference. Being chosen as one of these productions is one of the highest honors any high school can attain. Her dedication to making sure her students succeed even gained her a substantial amount of international attention throughout her career. DeRungs and her students were filmed for a documentary titled, Guys ‘n’ Divas: Battle of the High School Musicals in 2009. She was also featured solo in a piece for The New York Times in 2005.

The list of accomplishments for DeRungs is a long one, but when I ask her about her favorite collaboration as a teacher, she quickly responds: “My choir was invited to perform with The Dallas Brass at the Ogle Center, and I was also asked to provide suggestions for the repertoire. I had the honor of conducting John Rutter’s work, Gloria, with a world-class brass ensemble. It was an amazing experience.”

The students of DeRungs have also gained their own national recognition and international attention. Joshua Dallas, a former student at New Albany High School, went on to star in the ABC television series, Once Upon a Time. The teacher also guided the early career of the German-based opera and orchestra conductor, Karen Kamensek, who is the former music director and chief conductor at the Staatsoper Hannover. She will make her Metropolitan Opera debut in New York next year as a conductor.

“As I think back, I never really made some big decision. I just knew I wanted to teach,” says DeRungs. “There was no agonizing or indecision. I had one great role model: Mr. Echols, my art teacher. So, I had a positive outlook about teaching.”

This positive outlook helped DeRungs understand the true impact a teacher can have on their students’ lives. “I’m old fashioned, and I believe that a competent and devoted teacher can make a huge impact.”

DeRungs was already named New Albany Teacher of the Year in 1999 and the Arts Council of Southern Indiana Arts Educator of the Year in 2006. However, perhaps her biggest honor was being inducted into the New Albany High School Hall of Fame in September. Even though the honor is well-deserved, she is still humbled by such an acknowledgement.

“This award means a lot to me,” DeRungs admits. “I spent 33 of my 38 years teaching at New Albany High School. I have been an avid goodwill ambassador for what all the teachers and administrators do there for the students. It was an honor and a privilege to teach there. “

After conversing with DeRungs for some time about everything from her Willow Pattern China (a prized possession for the educator) to her thoughts on the current state of education, I feel compelled to inquire about what she will do next. “I am going to cook, garden and read,” she says. I have even looked into being an adjunct professor. Who knows? … The possibilities are endless. That is really the exciting part!”

“I’m old fashioned, and I believe that a competent and devoted teacher can make a huge impact.” 

–Linda DeRungs

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Bill Shannon: The Most Interested Man in the World?

by Grant Vance | Photos by Danny Alexander

A priest and company walk into a bar. It’s a classic setup. To transcend cliché, let’s say it’s a pastor, painter, actor, spelunker, bird-watcher, philosopher and writer – in a coffee shop.

The writer introduces himself, prompting and establishing the interview for these prolific characters. He asks his first question, anxiously avoiding excluding anyone from his inquiry. Something simple but refined, a real knockout opener.

“Could we start with names?”

Nailed it.

The pastor, painter, actor, spelunker, bird watcher and philosopher warmly acknowledge the writer’s efforts and respond.

“Bill Shannon,” they say simultaneously. “It’s nice to meet you.”

The joke here is that this is hardly a joke at all. Slightly fictionalized for the sake of bs1story-telling, sure. But Bill Shannon, although one person and not several, encompasses all of these titles, not to mention those of husband, father, grandfather and storyteller. All that’s missing is tinker, tailor, soldier, spy. But who knows, they may be next.

What’s certainly not missing in Shannon is a love for people and nature, and the desire to learn everything about each, respectively, while also impacting the likes of each as positively as he possibly can.

He’s not only interesting—he’s interested. “None of us are getting out of here alive,” he laughed. “What kind of impact can I have when I’m alive that will have a positive influence on people?”

This is an underlying theme throughout Shannon’s actions and artistic tendencies. bs2Creating art out of nature, using art as a distraction to the darker shades of life.

“I do a lot of communicating with community members and parishioners on Facebook,” he said.

“I try to counteract the hatred and division and bitterness by giving something nice to look at. Take them out of the world we live in and give them something they can look at and say ‘Oh, isn’t that neat.’”

Some examples of this include extreme close-ups of snowflakes, documentation of tadpoles – which Shannon saved from the wild and then re-released – evolving into frogs, footage of a snail eating an oyster “through the sand like a monster,” as well as videos of his dramatic reenactments of sermons.

“When I was in high school I won state awards in acting. … (I) won gold for Death of a Salesman,” Shannon said. “I love to act.”

bs4Acting is one of Shannon’s many artistic talents that lend themselves to story-telling, another outlet of “bringing joy to people’s lives,” he said. “My grandson, he and I have a thing going. He’s 12, and whenever he visits he’ll say, ‘Tell me a Virginia story’—Virginia was my grandmother’s name—and I’ll tell him a story about her life,” Shannon said.

“Or he’d ask for an Eileen story—my mother. Now he knows these people; their names and their lives. And, you know, I embellish a little bit.

“It’s a legacy thing. Will my grandson tell stories to his kids? His grandkids? Well, he’s already a storyteller.”

The legacy and power of storytelling is something that Shannon accounts for in not only his family and hopes of spreading joy, but also into his ideals of faith as a pastor.

“The storytelling aspect is part of the faith. (Scriptures) weren’t recorded—they were told,” he said.

“It’s not about the minute details of every word, it’s the story. This is the story, this is who we are. … It’s part of the human condition: sitting around a campfire telling the story of how Great Grandpa Olaf got that bear.” A pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church for seven years, faith and its connection to the human condition is important to Shannon and the grounding platform for his religious ideals.bs5

“God sent his son and not a committee because God wanted a relationship, not a committee,” Shannon laughed. “Institutionalized religion is the dark. … (I teach) it’s about relating and feeling comfortable with God.”

Shannon’s beliefs are reinforced by his upbringing as a pastor. He described the social climate of his origins 46 years ago, when he was a 20-year-old, self-proclaimed “hippy-ish Jesus freak. In 1968, people weren’t trusting institutions,” he recalled. “Boundaries were starting to be crossed.”

Shannon set the scene for an anecdote from his youth, calling a girl to ask her on a date only to be rejected by her father for his Irish last name. Their family Methodist, they assumed “Shannon” to be Roman Catholic. This was not considered acceptable at the time.

“These boundaries are being erased, and that’s a good thing,” he said. Insight into this perspective comes from Shannon’s experience in travel. He’s been all around the world, including notably much of Europe and the Middle East. He cited his love of people as a significant contributing factor as to why he enjoys it so much, describing his youngest son’s own life changing with other-worldly perspective gained through their travels together.

bs6“He said ‘Dad, they’ve got the same hopes and dreams I do,’ and they do,” he said. “The very next day we were in the store and there was this beautiful little 16-year-old, and she’s all excited and filled with enthusiasm because she got her license that day and her dad got her a VW Beetle.

“This was in Downtown Jerusalem and I said to my son, ‘What were you like when you got your driver’s license?

“It’s human condition to have hopes and dreams. It doesn’t matter where you’re from.”

When traveling, Shannon likes to talk with the “everyday people” and get to know them better; “sit down with them, break the language barrier. I know enough Hebrew to be dangerous. … I’m in love with people.”

He recalled a specific memory of a friend he met and was invited to have dinner with in Bethlehem.

“I had dinner with him in April (and we discussed) growing up in Bethlehem, (what it was like) to live in Bethlehem,” he recalled. “When I was there in the fall I was walking down the street and this car speeds by and (a man) starts yelling ‘Bill! Bill! Bill!’ and it was this guy I had supper with. If you make a friend, you have a friend for life.”

Aside from acting and storytelling, some of Shannon’s other hobbies are bird watching and spelunking, among other naturalistic hobbies that lend themselves to “exploring nature and how it works. I’m a naturalist. I want to know more about where I am.”

He loves birds, recreating them in beautiful paintings. His favorite a Carolina Wren known for being “just like a clown.”

As for spelunking, Shannon is enamored with the idea of exploring somewhere that has the potential of being untouched. He directed a caving camp for 10 years to “help give kids an adventure” and enjoys taking his own kids.bs3

“(My oldest son and I) explored a cave we had never been to before. … I sent him up what’s called a chimney. … He’s small so I sent him, you know. Sacrificial kid,” Shannon laughed. “(He called to me), so I slithered up, and at the top of this crevasse was a pool of calcite as white as paper and the water in it was clear as crystal, and it was full of salamander babies.”

Describing the scene, Shannon encapsulates the true nature of his artistry and wonder, seguing with a connective thread his love of people and nature alike. “What a thrill it is, a gift. It’s for the adventure, and that adventure goes outside of nature to people, too.”