Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

A neighbourhood grieves this week: two eagles lose their home and family

This has been a sad week for some of us on Lower Road in Roberts Creek. Some dear neighbours across the street, a bald eagle pair, lost their home and family due to Wednesday’s storm winds.


Their large stick nest, tucked between two vertical branches at the top of a 46-metre (150-foot) dead balsam fir, came crashing down April 10 close to the ocean, just east of Roberts Creek Road. The tree fell victim to northwest winds that gusted as high as 70 km/h; the same storm blew out power for many homes in Vancouver.

                                              — Jane Covernton photo

 The remains of the tree limbs    

Local news of the demise of the nest and its contents—my husband Frank and I had already started watching mamma eagle sit on her eggs—appeared quickly. After email and Facebook notifications came out, visitors and locals alike appeared on Lower Road to take pictures in front of where the nest used to be.


After the nest and tree limbs fell to the ground, the two eagles kept circling close to the site of their former home, alighting on a nearby branch. They stayed silent for hours. The following day, both sat next to each other on the same branch for almost the whole day. They were homeless, no longer parents.  


Everyone who knew the eagles and the nest was grieving the loss.


For more than a decade, I have watched these two eagles build or expand their nest each year and take turns sitting on eggs. Like anxious relatives, my husband and I have waited to see the new youngsters; through a monocular, we gauge their progress. First, their gawky heads poke above the top of the nest. Then they begin to flap their wings and more of them appears. Gradually, they grow big enough to squat on the top of the nest and hop from side to side, while still squawking for food.


Often, the eaglets—sometimes there’s only one—spend days or a week perched on the nest, staring down, as if trying to gain the nerve to try and fly. Finally, they lift off and for the first time, catch their own food. It’s exhilarating to witness the slow growth of such vulnerable creatures into self-sufficient, wild beings. From parental care, they’re nurtured into independent freedom.


And now the nest and eggs are gone.


We hope that the eagles choose to stay in our neighbourhood, where the ocean offers lots of salmon. Perhaps they’ll choose a nearby tree, one that still affords an unobstructed view of Roberts Creek Beach and beyond.


Thankfully, the limbs that landed in our neighbours’ yard damaged only part of their garden, not them, their home or car.

For past posts about these eagles, see “The fear of risk: Eagles wait to soar” or “Goo-goo ga-ga: Raptors make great neighbours.”


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April 13, 2013 at 3:08 pm Comments (2)

Proposed clearcuts threaten high-use Day Road forest

A woman riding English saddle on a sleek, tall horse stops on a forest path and waits for our group of about 20 to enter the woods before she proceeds. We’re making her horse nervous. Elphinstone Logging Focus (ELF) has invited us here, into the Day Road forest in Roberts Creek, B.C., to see what could soon be gone due to logging.


This heavily used recreational area, part of Island Timberlands’ (IT) private forest, is the northern section of a 120-hectare (300-parcel) parcel already logged by IT. Part of district lot 2674, it is an important wildlife corridor, containing patches of old forest, a network of high-value trails and a gorgeous waterfall. I am amazed at how serene and pristine the forest entrance and the woods itself look and feel, only a few kilometres north of Highway 101.

Some might argue that since this is private land, Island Timberlands has a right to do what it wants with this piece of forest. But Elphinstone Logging Focus sees it as part of a community legacy, an opportunity for sustainable, rather than clearcut logging. This informal conservation group is calling on Island Timberlands to donate this parcel to the Crown, to be added to an expanded Mount Elphinstone Provincial Park.


“You can see in one section where it was selectively logged in the early nineties,” says ELF president Ross Muirhead. “There’s a lush underground of salal, the hydrology is controlled. It looks like a European eco-forest.”

Muirhead, who has spent years lobbying passionately to stop clearcut logging on Mount Elphinstone, emphasizes that if IT chooses to log in the Day Road forest, he would like to see the parcel, as a compromise,  selectively logged, leaving old-growth timber, and only the trees that are ready for harvesting taken. He emphasizes that the Roberts Creek Official Community Plan calls for selective logging, but no clearcuts.

Island Timberlands’ plans to clearcut the Day Road forest contravene a community agreement made with MacMillan Bloedel, who previously held the timber licence to this parcel, says Muirhead. Following a roadblock in March 1997, MacMillan Bloedel agreed to a selective harvesting plan. Logging was done off the main trail network so that the forest maintained a balance between cut areas and intact forest.

We stop and admire a tall red cedar, which has a series of high scrape marks caused by cougar claws. It’s the animals’ marking tree, the same one used repeatedly.


With the waterfall as their backdrop, a visiting couple poses for a photo on a high point on the steep trail. We discover that they were married in this exact spot roughly a year ago; they have returned, from off-coast, to revisit the beauty. An activist woman in our group tears up when recounting how much this forest means to people; she sees this couple’s anniversary gesture as a poignant symbol of that.

Our group ends up at the “knitted trees” (I had thought it meant intertwined tree trunks), where community members have decorated trees with colourful yarn-bombing. (For more on yarn-bombing and its origins, see my archived blog post “Woolly public art: better than tea-cosies” I decide that I like this form of human demarcation, admittedly quirky and funky, a lot more than clearcut destruction.


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May 7, 2012 at 9:25 am Comments (0)

Does Harper leave us room for hope?

Rachel Carson

If Rachel Carson, a biologist and author of Silent Spring, were alive today, she’d likely be one of those people that federal natural resources minister Joe Oliver would condemn as a “radical environmentalist” with “a radical ideological agenda.”


In her compelling book, published in 1962 by Houghton Mifflin, Carson warned of the deadly impact that DDT and other chemicals had on the food chain, from insects and birds to fish, the earth, and humanity itself. Her book produced a firestorm of contempt and anger from scientists, academics, and politicians. She was dismissed as an ignorant female, a fear mongerer, and someone guilty of misguided science. Yet, her vision of how toxins affect the interconnectedness of life – a concept rarely mentioned in public at the time – proved prescient and correct. Her book helped lead to the banning of DDT in North America.


A half-century later, today’s environmentalists face similar vicious bite-back and dismissal for their concern about the Northern Gateway pipeline and the potential impact of oil supertankers on the B.C. coast. How truly insulting to have politicians such as Oliver and prime minister Harper, who are supposed to be looking after the people’s interests,  demonize those who simply care about the planet’s future, fish and wildlife, and the livelihood of those who depend on both. Shame on them both.


Even our local Tory MP, John Weston, dismissed local Sunshine Coast residents who criticized the policies of Harper and the Conservative party at his recent public meeting in Sechelt. He said that these meetings attract “negative elements.” In that statement, he has shown that he holds little interest in truly listening to his voters, the community that he is supposed to represent. He has minimized the voices of concerned seniors, teens, and those of all ages in between. Shame on him.


Harper’s government repeatedly demonstrates what little value it places on the power of democracy and the value of a healthy environment. Oliver has said that only those directly affected by the Enbridge pipeline should be allowed to speak at the current National Energy Board hearings. That eliminates the voices of hundreds of citizens (and voters). He might as well say: The vote of person A is worth more than the vote of person B.


Oliver continues to strive to speed up the hearings and strip the federal Fisheries Act of regulatory teeth while Harper nuzzles closer to more oil and trade deals with China and Japan. They both make heroes of those who care about oil profits, and villains of those who want to ensure a healthy, sustainable planet. (Like the F.B.I., who harassed anti-war groups in the 1960s and 1970s, Harper is investigating environmental groups for their “foreign” support. Yet he seeks and extols the “foreign support” of Chinese investors and oil companies in Alberta’s tar sands.)


Life, the earth, and its people are far more multi-layered than the prime minister’s simplistic, dualistic model of good versus evil. Overall, Harper is a threat to democratic principles and needs to be removed from office through a vote of non-confidence.


Two days ago, at Earth Day celebrations in Roberts Creek, Donna Shugar, director of the Sunshine Coast Regional District, mentioned how challenging it is to feel hopeful in today’s environmental climate. I agree. Yet as long as people continue to speak out, protest collectively, choose to consume less and grow more organic food, exercise their vote, and support groups that work to protect our planet, we still have room for hope.

We need to take back the right to choose what is in B.C.’s public interest. Take action by writing a letter to Premier Clark (premier@gov.bc.ca), with a cc to your MLA, asking for her to take Northern Gateway off the list of projects under the Equivalency Agreement.  Once the National Energy Board submits its findings, we will have bound ourselves to it. We already know what the federal government has decided.

(Kudos to the students at Windermere High School in east Vancouver who hosted an interactive program on Earth Day.  They set up a 3-D walking course, made to scale in the same representation as some of B.C.’s coastline, and had participants, who “wore” boxes as if they were oil tankers, try to navigate the route. What a great way to bring home a message!)

For more on this subject, I heartily recommend reading Open Letter to Premier Christy Clark by Robyn Allan, posted on April 19, 2012. Allan is a former CEO and president of the Insurance Corporation of B.C.


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April 24, 2012 at 9:19 am Comments (0)

Anti-bullying Day: How much do we value women and children?

I never thought that I’d write a post that promotes Lady Gaga, but I love the dance that Sunshine Coast elementary students did this week to her song Born This Way. (Click here to see it on YouTube.) What a tremendous way for kids to learn self-acceptance and to celebrate Anti-bullying Day!


More than a hundred children from Roberts Creek Elementary, Churchill and David Lloyd George schools gathered at the mandala at Roberts Creek pier in a choreographed dance, wearing T-shirts that read “ACCEPTANCE Born This Way.”


With the youngest kids in front, the group giggled and gyrated, arms skyward and hips jiggling, to lyrics like


Don’t hide yourself in regret

Just love yourself and you’re set . . .


In the religion of the insecure

I must be myself, respect my youth . . .


Whether you’re broke or evergreen

You’re black, white, beige, chola descent

You’re Lebanese, You’re orient

Whether life’s disabilities

Left you outcast, bullied or teased

Rejoice and love yourself today

’Cause baby you were born this way

Lesbian, transgendered life

I’m on the right track baby

I was born to survive


Whether you think Lady Gaga is an appropriate role model or not, you can’t argue the overwhelming impact that today’s popular culture has on young minds. This song and its message will reach far more children than any self-help book or class on self-esteem. Yet every effort, big or small, that gives kids the sense that they’re lovable and worthy just the way they are is invaluable.


Where has childhood gone in today’s world? Bullied kids, gay or straight, are committing suicide. Mothers are pushing their tots to compete as mini-sexpots in so-called beauty and talent pageants. Advertising is sexualizing young girls as more and more get anorexia at a younger age and struggle with a poor sense of body image. Increasingly, children must face their self-esteem issues on their own, as their parents bow to the influences of sex-sells media, the image-is-everything credo, and neoconservative, traditional values that make being gay or “different” an abomination.


At the extreme, we face the exploitation of children across the globe, including in North America, as sex and domestic slaves, child brides, and prostitutes. Whether they’re waving weapons, ordered to kill or maim their loved ones to prove their loyalty to sadistic ethnic and rebel causes, or facing death and torture as helpless pawns in the political wars of adult greed and power, children need the support of healthy and courageous adults who will help them thrive and survive, not suffer and die. They need to feel valued and loved, as we all do. (Groups such as Free the Children and Me to We are serving a vital role of support in this area across the globe. I’m not going to get into the recent Invisible Children debate.)


Children around the world are dying without access to basic medical care. Here in B.C., with the highest child poverty rate in Canada, we have kids going hungry and getting sick in families who can’t afford specialized medical or dental care. We have babies born with AIDS and fetal alcohol syndrome. How much do we really value children in the West?


Originally, I was going to write this week about International Women’s Day and the attempt by neocon yahoos like Rush Limbaugh and U.S. Republican candidates like Rick Santorum to keep women in domestic slave status. Their efforts to thwart women’s self-determination regarding birth control, reproductive rights, family and career roles are truly appalling. How far have we truly come in a half-century, since feminism gained a popular voice in the late 1960s?


Then I realized that the power and rights of women and children are deeply interconnected. As long as patriarchal values and controls determine laws and social customs at all levels, from the family to the world, the rights of women and children will remain devalued. Heck, it’s been 83 years since women were legally declared people in Canada. How long will it take before they have true equality with men, and most adults recognize children as our future, worthy in their own right? The young and the female have stayed invisible and silent for too long.


I’m glad that in Roberts Creek this week, at least, educators and parents gave children a public voice.



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March 11, 2012 at 2:43 pm Comments (0)

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)

The Writers’ Hub: Local authors share their words


  — Linda Williams photo                                                       — Hugh Macauley photo

Gracie & I at the Arts Crawl                Part of my first audience for a Gracie mini-reading

                                                                                                             — Heather Conn photos

I had fun last weekend introducing Gracie the goldfish, the star of my new children’s book, Gracie’s Got a Secret, at the 2011 Sunshine Coast Arts Crawl in British Columbia, Canada. I was one of 15 local authors who was on hand at The Gumboot Café in Roberts Creek to chat with both residents and tourists, give mini-readings, and sell books, of course.

 Shelley Leedahl gives a mini-reading

I enjoyed reading the first few pages of my book to young readers who sat on the steps in front of me at the microphone. Since this is my first children’s book, this is a whole new audience for me to reach. Shelley Leedahl, a poet, fiction, and creative nonfiction author newly moved to the Coast from Saskatchewan, also read from her delightful children’s book The Bone Talker. Published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside in 2005, and with images by Bill Slavin, one of Canada’s top book illustrators, this poignant story has won the Saskatchewan Book of the Year Award.

Michael Maser, author of Learn Your Way!

Our Writers’ Hub event, organized by Creek author Jane Covernton, featured the “soft” or unofficial launch of three local books: Gracie’s Got a Secret, Jane’s own Healing Herbs to Know and Grow, and Michael Maser’s Learn Your Way! The published works of these additional local writers were also available: Terry Barker; Shelley Harrison-Rae; Gillian Kydd; George Payerle; Dorothy Riddle; David Roche; Andreas Schroeder; Dot Scott; Marina Sonkina; and Susan Telfer. I shared a table with volunteers from the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association, who were selling their book The People’s Water, and their photographic calendar.

 Jane Covernton reads her poetry, with her new herb book, visible to her right.

From poetry and prose, to self-published work and books of international acclaim, this two-day literary event celebrated the voices of independent publishers and the power of meeting and hearing authors in person – fresh and first-hand storytelling, rather than just reading a tale on a screen. Besides locals and friends, we had visitors from California and Seattle. Collectively, we sold 92 books over two days, from display tables available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Thanks, Jane, for all of your hard work in organizing and setting up such a successful event. Since writing can often be a lonely pursuit, it was wonderful to connect with other scribes and share our written words with others.


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October 29, 2011 at 4:29 pm Comment (1)