Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

When a tree falls in the forest, does anybody fear?

                                                                            — iPhone photos by Heather Conn

During this week’s thundering high winds, I came across a scary sight on Lower Road in Roberts Creek, just east of Joe Road. A tree about a foot in diameter had snapped off, just missing a car and driver. The front of the car ended up on top of the fallen portion of the tree.

A man at the scene said that if the driver had been only six feet farther ahead, she could easily have been killed. She was apparently okay, but understandably shaken up. The accident had occurred only 15 minutes before my arrival, by car, on the scene. Gulp.

This incident was a sobering reminder of how easily life can disappear or change monumentally in an instant. Insurance wise, I guess this would fall under “an act of God.” Some might call the driver who survived extremely lucky. Others could call it fate. Yet, on another level, any choice we make — how fast to drive, where to sit on a plane or train, whether to wear a seat belt, whether to use a hand-held device while driving — can decide whether we live or die.

I am indeed grateful that the driver was safe and that her car emerged with little damage. Only a few days before, I had thought that my husband was overreacting when he parked our car a fair distance away from tall trees that were bending dramatically in the forceful winds. He had assumed that they might snap off. Now I will give his concerns more credence.

January 28, 2012 at 2:00 pm Comment (1)

Utah needs to keep cougar

I usually support politically correct language but the recent decision by a Utah school district to forego the use of “cougar” as a mascot is too much. The district, based in Salt Lake City, thought that using a cougar mascot for a new high school would suggest unwanted connotations with the word’s other meaning: a forty-something woman who sleeps with younger men. Is there some adult projection going on here?

At least three schools in Utah, including Brigham Young University, already use a cougar as a mascot. If conservative Mormons find this acceptable, why can’t it work for a high school? Instead, the district has chosen the bland, more abstract term “Chargers.”

A concrete word like “cougar” carries far more evocative weight and cachet than “charger.” By not using “cougar,” the district is denying teens the opportunity to use the power and symbolism of a sleek and powerful hunter. What’s next? Will stories for young children no longer have a fairy godmother, because “fairy” is a derogatory term for a gay male?

Meanwhile, are there any cougars (the non-human kind) left in Utah?



January 23, 2012 at 3:01 pm Comments (2)

Oliver and the Northern Gateway hearings: arrogance trumps democratic process

During this first week of hearings regarding the Northern Gateway project in British Columbia, I won’t reiterate all of the passionate discourse and minutiae that have been shared regarding the oil pipeline that Enbridge wants to build.


The disdainful comments made by Joe Oliver, Canada’s federal minister of natural resources, in his open letter reflect a remarkable arrogance and disregard for the democratic process. They show who he is truly beholden to: the oil companies (those foreign influences!) rather than the public and the voters.


Oliver’s desire to speed up the hearings only shows the elitist presumption of Enbridge, Stephen Harper, and the Tories: in their minds, Northern Gateway is a go, it’s just a question of when. Why let the opinions of the people influence any decision? There’s been no effort made whatsoever to imply that majority views expressed against the project might cause Enbridge and our provincial and federal politicians to rethink it.  That’s because such consideration is not part of their agenda.


Meanwhile, no one has mentioned the potential impact of an earthquake on this pipeline, if it was built. It’s easy to imagine how many toxic chemicals would be released to the air, land, and waterways, if large sections of the pipeline cracked or broke apart.


Now look at sea travel on the Mediterranean and the jarring images of that cruise ship recently sunk off the Tuscany coast. Imagine a supertanker in its place and oil seeping around it for hundreds of kilometres of land and water.


Since we can never eliminate human error (let alone control Mother Nature), we can never guarantee that a pipeline won’t burst or a supertanker won’t run aground. As long as those risks exist, we can’t afford the possibility of allowing the resulting oil spills to wipe out the livelihood of generations of First Nations communities, or of destroying our valuable ecosystems and marine life.


Besides, in this era of peak oil, to invest heavily in oil and no alternative energy sources is ridiculously short-sighted and foolhardy. We can’t afford to maintain an economy dependent on oil production and export that helps China but not Canadians as a whole. Let’s think about our future, one that works for the majority of Canadians, for the earth, the seas, and their creatures.

Watch Pacific Wild’s excellent 16-minute documentary Oil in Eden to find out more about the potential impact of the Northern Gateway project on British Columbia.

January 15, 2012 at 6:04 pm Comment (1)

The spark of spiritual travel: find new connections

                                                                                       — photos by Lois Brassart

How does spiritual travel differ from regular travel? It can involve a pilgrimage or group meditation, a quest to find one’s inner self in a new environment, or a shared encounter of nature or beauty in a foreign country that opens a deeper gateway to your Soul.


Sometimes, a regular trip can open into a spiritual one through a simple question or casual discussion. A retiree friend of mine, Lois Brassart, was amazed at how one question inspired a whole new connection and relationship with a fellow traveller. Lois was recently in Turkey for “a few weeks of adventure” with a group of strangers as part of an amateur photography trip. On the last day, she was chatting with one of the other trip participants, Cheryl from Australia. Here’s how Lois explains what happened:


“My story starts with Cheryl’s prompt, ‘Talk to me about your spiritual life’ and ends 12 hours later with ‘Do you and Bruce have rituals?’ We [Cheryl and I] learnt more about each other in that one day than we did in the whole two weeks together. Cheryl has lived an amazing life. She has met Mother Teresa. She intentionally built a home with a labyrinth in her backyard and she meditates. She really knows how to connect with people. She walks the talk and believes that we are all amazing people.”

Cheryl’s one comment created a deep, new link to Lois, who shared her own spiritual yearnings and beliefs with her new friend. Without that mutual enquiry, they might never have discovered each other’s inner essence. In Lois’ words: “Cheryl is a woman of rituals, a woman with deep understanding of us humans. I’m a human learning my way, a human who recently joined the ritual, spiritual world after a long stint in corporate life. Meeting Cheryl has made me braver and more willing to take baby steps toward risk.”


After meeting this kindred spirit, Lois says that she and Cheryl opened their hearts to themselves and others, which broke through any language barrier with locals. Previously, their group had emphasized snapping the perfect photo, rather than getting to know each other or the Turkish people.


Cheryl acknowledges the openness that Lois shared in off-the-beaten-track Turkish villages, where their group was invited to share many cups of chai with the locals. She says: “Lois is REAL – what a gift to the world.  Turkish people recognized this fact and so did I.  We  learnt so much about these people with such generous hearts.  Lois would, without exception, touch them with her interest in their garden or their family and of course, she would make them laugh.


“One day, we sat in a bakery, a little cave where women made the most wonderful bread for the community. We simply hung out with three generations of women and girls, used sign language, and laughed.”

Lois says of her new friendship with Cheryl: “I wondered if this was a fleeting connection. No! We are on email at least three times a week. We share photos, including hers of bees sitting on lavender and of oh-so-cute baby ducks. We share her stories of summer at Christmas and battling 43-degree [Celsius] temperatures and me explaining that I don’t want to go out in the cold and take photos. But I do go out and send along photos of raindrops and reflections in puddles.”


Cheryl, in turn, says that Lois’s love of learning enables their conversations to go in many different directions. Like Lois, she wondered if their new friendship would survive the distance and demands of life, yet has discovered that their conversation has grown even richer.


Lois has shared many  resources with Cheryl, from the values and approach taken by local farmers’ markets, and a meditation for Thanksgiving, to  stories about group preparations prior to travel to South Africa, and, of course, photographs.


Cheryl says: “I get so excited when I see a message from Lois because I know I will be nurtured, stimulated, and learn something new.  I feel blessed to have found a kindred spirit and know that our connection will continue and our paths will cross again.”


The Internet allows Lois and Cheryl to deepen their connection despite the distance that separates them on different continents. Lois says: “We continue our relationship by keeping our hearts open to each other and sharing the beauty of our lives through photos taken miles and miles away, and through words of wonder.”


I experienced a similar connection with a New Delhi man, initially a stranger, while travelling in India for seven months. His one comment to me (an explanation about a photographic exhibition I was viewing) resulted in three hours of non-stop dialogue on a myriad of heartfelt topics. He was the first man, other than my spiritual mentor, with whom I shared my spiritual self.


We vowed that we would always remain in each other’s lives, and have maintained contact for 23 years between India and Canada. I’m writing about this relationship, and my path of personal discovery while travelling in India in my memoir No Letter in Your Pocket – Twenty Years Healing a Family Secret.

If you have a similar travel tale, please share it.

 Click here to see Lois’ photo gallery of her Turkey trip.


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January 15, 2012 at 5:13 pm Comments (3)

Still the Earth remains

About a year ago, I wrote the following  for a local chapbook that didn’t end up getting published and have decided to share it here instead.


In my dream, you were the same whale that I saw: that message was clear.

A whale in a night vision, some sources say, helps the dreamer overcome fear, especially of death. You, dad, came to me in silence, from the sea, that realm of dark depths that Jung called a vast swell of emotion. I understood. You had transformed.

In the week after you died, I dreamed of the grey whale, saw the large dorsal fin, a white triangle of barnacles, bobbing too close to the beach in Davis Bay. In daytime life, I had grumbled at the cars stopped bumper to bumper one August morning, clogging the bay, not knowing who was blocking traffic. Then I saw everyone staring, out to sea, in the same direction. Whale: the one I had never seen for months, while others gloated or exclaimed over their sightings. The whale was at Roberts Creek beach all day Sunday. You missed it. A friend in Halfmoon Bay on the phone: I can hear him. Oh, there he is right now.

At last, when I had my glimpse of the sea creature rocking slowly, its languid movements swishing the ocean surface into an oval of flat water, I stopped, parked, and crossed the road in Davis Bay to gawk. I didn’t even take out my camera. I wanted to witness it directly, without a barrier, to honour such animal presence without the capture-the-moment eye that distances and objectifies, to share an open gaze of respect for this rare beast for here.

In my dream, I wasn’t sure how to respond to your whale visit. With the slow thrust of a fin you were there, then gone. Was this image meant to reassure me? Beyond the sea, where did you come from?

I worried about the real whale. It stayed between the beach and the floating raft, only about five metres offshore, in such shallow water that I feared it would beach itself. Scientists say that when whales stay close to land, they are sick or dying.

While you lay dying, you spoke from fantasy worlds fuelled by pain medication. I tried to enter these realms by talking into them with you. You thought that you were a prisoner of war, about to get released. Three weeks before your death, you were ready to go, but I did not know then, even though I’d read a book on the symbolic language of the dying.

From the beach, I could share others’ excitement at seeing such a huge marine mammal, but still worried. Last year, more whales and dolphins visited our coast than in many decades past. The ocean waters are warming. Did climate change bring us this cytacean celebrity? In multiple cultures, a whale is a swimming library, keeper of the records and history of Mother Earth, the next sign of Earth changes.

I did not see the grey whale again. I looked for it and longed to view it, but like you, it had gone.

Now I mourn for the whale’s magnificence and you. You both came to me, free in a timeless, fluid mass. You have transformed. Where will the whale end up? Still the Earth remains.

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January 7, 2012 at 11:46 am Comments (2)

Here’s admiration to the brave souls in Syria

At the start of this new year, after we in the west have enjoyed restful holidays with loved ones, how many of us are thinking of the plight of those in Syria?


A few nights ago, my husband and I watched disturbing footage, posted on YouTube and shown on CNN, of two police officers, with guns, stuffing a man into the trunk of a car in daylight, in the middle of a street. Another man, presumably a friend, was trying to pull the man out of the trunk. This man, clad in white, had blood stains on his upper shoulder. About a dozen people were near the vehicle.


The footage, shot by a Syrian citizen from an overhead balcony, ended soon after. That image stayed with me for days. Did the man escape? Did his friend save him? Were both men detained and later killed? This image made me think of so many places where similar scenes have occurred under repression, from Latin America to elsewhere in the Middle East.


In Syria, the police are not only torturing and killing adults, but children too. Thousands of civilians risk their lives every day, facing police bullets and tear gas, to meet in public and demand democracy and an end to their government’s brutal rule. Many are doubly risking their lives by videotaping the horrors unfolding in the streets. Snipers have killed plenty of them.


On this first day of 2012, I want to express the utmost admiration for the people in Syria and elsewhere who are displaying tremendous courage every day. I think of the bravery of that man, trying to save the other at huge risk to himself, and of what love and friendship will compel us to do at such dangerous times. That willingness to risk life for that of another, even a stranger, is what gives me hope for the human race. That quality is what promotes peace.


Here, in a land where most of us take democracy for granted, even though it has eroded phenomenally in recent years, I salute those two primary qualities, so commodified since the 1960s: love and peace. Let’s see more of both this year. They start with each of us.

January 1, 2012 at 11:09 am Comments (0)