Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

Hands Across The Sands: A Jedediah adventure

                                                                                                                      — Heather Conn photos

Four kayaking companions and I, camped on Jedediah Island on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast,  joined the June 26 global event Hands Across the Sand  to protest offshore oil drilling. From our low-tide beach at Home Bay, we gathered around noon and stretched our hands across a shoreline to support clean energy choices. Like thousands of others around the world, we took this symbolic gesture to draw a line in the sand against the threat that oil drilling poses to coastal economies and the marine environment.


The Hands Across the Sand movement, founded by U.S. resident Dave Rauschkolb, began in Florida on Feb. 13 this year. Thousands of residents across the state, representing 60 towns and cities and more than 90 beaches, joined hands to protest attempts by the Florida and the U.S. governments to lift the ban on oil drilling near and off the state’s shores. The movement created partnerships with major environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and Audubon.


The impetus for the June Hands Across the Sand event, which involved 860 locations, came from the environmental devastation of the ongoing British Petroleum oil spill. The mission of Hands Across the Sand is to draw attention to our global dependence on fossil fuels and adopt policies that encourage renewable energy sources.


 At our  idyllic location on Jedediah, a marine provincial park, tiny crabs scrabbled in the shallows while dozens of live sand dollars wafted in low waters. By the thousands, oysters and periwinkles covered the sea bed, surrounded by thick clusters of mussels and barnacles on nearby rocks. At low tide, three raccoons hunted for food in the mud while red-footed oyster catchers flew past,  screeching like banshees. Ever-present seagulls dropped shellfish onto the beach to break open their food.


With such natural richness hinged to the sea, it was disturbing to imagine how an oil spill in these waters could easily destroy this abundance. While hundreds of thousands of barrels of BP oil continue to pour into the Gulf of Mexico,  Chevron is drilling underwater off Newfoundland at almost twice the depth as BP’s rig that blew out.


 Meanwhile, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell wants to drill oil off the northwest coast of the province, by the Queen Charlotte Islands. Along with the federal government and Enbridge, he’s poised to create an oil pipeline from Alberta’s Tar Sands to Kitimat, B.C. This would result in oil tankers traversing the province every day through fragile ecosystems and challenging waters in central and northern B.C. (For more details, see my archived feature “No oil tankers on the B.C. coast” posted Dec. 1, 2009 under “Environment.”)


On a more upbeat note, the abandoned wooden building in the background of this photo is the old homestead on Jedediah that once belonged to the Palmers. Mary and Al Palmer bought the island as a summer holiday destination in 1949, then became full-time residents in 1972. They both farmed the land and cherished the island’s 600 acres, which includes cedar, old-growth fir and arbutus, peaceful bays, and stunning views. Mary was determined to prevent any  development. (Palmer describes life on the island, complete with historic family photos, in her book Jedediah Days, a B.C. bestseller published by Harbour Publishing.)


The Palmers worked hard to preserve the island, helped by a province-wide fundraising campaign, started by the late Dan Culver’s Follow Your Dream Foundation. Many groups rallied to raise money to create a park, including Friends of Jedediah, the Marine Parks Forever Society, and the Nature Trust of B.C. Countless individuals and organizations provided financial support, which included $1.1 million from Culver’s estate. The B.C. government donated millions more and the Palmers agreed to sell the island for $4.2 million, far less than its market value. Thanks to their generosity and the dedication of so many donors and volunteer fundraisers, Jedediah Island became a provincial park in 1995.


Now thousands of people can enjoy this unsullied spot every year. A flock of wild sheep still roams the island and several dozen mountain goats, said to be descendants of those left by Spanish explorers, can peer down at you from rocky bluffs. The island has four registered archaeological sites, including a First Nations fish weir.


 I took the photo above from Gibraltar, a rocky viewpoint towards the north-central part of the island. A cairn of stones marks the spot with a heavy plastic tube that contains scribbled notes from hikers over the years. Of course, I added a message from our group. Towards the centre of the island, we wandered through forests pastoral and open, without tangles of thick underbrush. We saw the grave of the Palmers’ beloved horse Will, which bears visitors’ strange offerings and detritus from the sea, from a toy car and flattened soccer ball to a plastic marine float. Elsewhere, the island’s open meadows, pungent with mint-like scent, are still home to neglected fruit trees.


 Jedediah has frequent patches of startling green moss and clusters of yellow wild flowers. It was wonderful to explore this island and see only a handful of people over several days. Thanks to the Palmers’ vision and commitment to conservation, this quiet wilderness sanctuary will never see development . . .and hopefully, oil will never tarnish its shores.


June 29, 2010 at 2:28 pm Comment (1)

A bear in the back seat

A ggggrrrrrr in the glove compartment. A bear in bucket seats.  What would you do if momma bear hunkered down in your car’s front seat and decided: Hmmm, this one feels just right?


In my nearby town of Gibsons, BC, Canada, a mother bear recently found herself locked inside a resident’s car. Somehow, she figured out how to open the unlocked vehicle with her teeth and decided to get in for a sniff. Trapped with the door shut, she couldn’t get out but faced another, more serious problem: her cub was left alone outside, terrified.


The mother bear proceeded to tear up the interior of the car, probably frantic in her attempts to get to her cub. The publisher of one of our weeklies, The Local, wrote about the incident: “The bear was gingerly released from the car and joined her cub up the nearest tree.” I am not sure how to interpret that statement, although I can easily picture some cowering driver slowly opening the car door and hiding behind its glass and metal for protection.


I guess squatter’s rights don’t apply here. No one was hurt and the displaced momma was reunited with her treed offspring. However, the same bear apparently entered two other vehicles after this event. That’ll teach the owners to keep their car doors unlocked.


I’ve always been a huge bear fan and have photographed the rare kermode bear and grizzly bears in the wild in British Columbia. A bear has crashed through our wooden fence, knocked out the vertical slats in our gate, taken down our bird feeders, gotten into our garbage, and torn a slit in our soft-top Mazda convertible, but I still love the big critters. They’re so wrongly maligned and misrepresented, especially the grizzly.


Humans need to stay bear aware and follow simple rules:

  • Keep your garbage in bear-safe containers. If your trash contains meat, don’t put it out until the last minute.
  • Pick fruit readily from your trees so that it doesn’t entice bears.
  • Keep your bird feeders high and out of reach of bears. Use feeders only in the winter, when bears are hibernating.
  • Respect bears as smart creatures. Once they’ve discovered a food source, they will return to the same spot for years.


To read and see photos about a truly remarkable bond between a human and bear, click here.

June 22, 2010 at 4:48 pm Comments (0)

Walk in peace

For years, I’ve wanted to hike the El Camino trail in France and Spain as my own form of spiritual pilgrimage. But every year, work or something else seems to intervene. As someone who does walking meditations and loves labyrinths, I acknowledge the grace and power of walking with slow, intentional steps, observing breath and thoughts. Joseph Campbell says: “Pilgrimage is poetry in motion . . .a winding road to meaning.”


An informal group on the Sunshine Coast, the Peace Walker Society, leads 10-day trips on the El Camino. I like their purpose and stated aims: “The Peace Walker Society is a group of concerted, committed citizens who recognize that peace is a process, an exquisite journey of enriching ourselves and giving back to the planet we live on. For us, there is no final destination.


“Our ongoing journey promotes unity and reconciliation, which transcend past conflicts and support the development of a sustainable future. Along the way, we hope to rediscover the “true self,” for in order to change the world, we must begin with ourselves.”


I’m currently writing a book about my seven months of solo travel in India, living out my own version of Heal Yourself, Heal the World. I’ve long admired the now-deceased woman known as Peace Pilgrim, who gave up all possessions and committed herself to walking the earth to promote peace. She refused to accept any money and survived solely on others’ offers of food and shelter.


Peace Pilgrim displayed tremendous trust in life and commitment to her cause, speaking informally to groups, media, and anyone who stopped their car along her path to chat. She died in 1981 — ironically, as a passenger in a car — but her spirit and vision live on through an organization dedicated to her memory and goals of peace.


Satish Kumar, the editor of Resurgence magazine, did an 8,000-mile peace pilgrimage in 1962, inspired by Bertrand Russell’s civil disobedience against the atomic bomb. Without any money, he dedicated himself to a peace walk from Bangalore, India to the four capitals of the nuclear world: Moscow, Paris, London, and the U.S.


After settling in Devon England, Kumar did another pilgrimage when  he turned fifty. Again, for this walk, he carried no money. (I would love to know his secret.) He visited the holy places of Britain, including Glastonbury, Canterbury, Lindisfarne, and Iona.


Kumar wrote of his travels in his 1978 autobiography No Destination; Green Books has since published an updated edition. I recommend his book to anyone who enjoys contemplative journeys and spiritual reflection. Throughout his life, Kumar has aimed to promote Gandhi’s values of peaceful coexistence and land reform. In 2001, he received the Jamnalal Bajaj International Award for Promoting Gandhian Values Abroad.


I wish that we had more grassroots people and leaders who incorporated peaceful and spiritual values into their advocacy and activism. Although it would be great to have more more Peace Pilgrims and Satish Kumars, we can all create greater peace every day through loving thoughts and actions. Are you up for the challenge?

June 14, 2010 at 3:40 pm Comment (1)

A bird in the house: love not tragedy

A rufous hummingbird recently flew through an open window into our house, buzzing around in multi-directions. It wound up beating against an interior window, flying up and down in a vertical line, while giving its characteristic chirp. Wanting  to help without terrifying this wee orange flash of a creature, I slid the window across to create a space for it to escape, but the tiny bird continued its up-and-down motion, flapping its wings against the glass. Its deep red neck told me that it was a male.


At one point, the bird stopped and tucked its body into the bottom of the window frame. I thought it might have died from shock since it appeared completely motionless. Then I noticed its minute eyelids blinking every few seconds. I debated whether to scoop up its fragile form but decided that the resulting scare might kill it. (A birding-expert friend later told me that this would have been fine.)


I ended up grabbing a small rectangle of cardboard and aimed it horizontally towards the bird’s feet. Surprisingly, the little winged being climbed onto the edge of my offering and stayed there. I lifted the cardboard into the air, the hummingbird remained on it, and I quickly put them both out the open window. The now-liberated bird flew off. All of this took about two minutes.


Relieved that the bird was free again, I felt delighted to have shared some inter-species cooperation. I didn’t want to think about the symbolism of a bird in the house, as referenced in Margaret Laurence’s book of short stories A Bird in the House. According to this notable piece of Canadian fiction, having a bird fly into a home means that someone dwelling there will soon die.


I prefer to think of the hummingbird as a symbol of joy, magic, and a loving heart. According to the book Medicine Cards, people have used hummingbird feathers for centuries in making love charms; this bird conjures love and opens the heart. Two decades ago, while in Mexico, I remember a Mexican man giving one of my female companions a dried hummingbird as a love token. We laughed at the time, but I was touched by his gesture.


If you’d like to see a short video of a hummingbird mom and eggs with time-lapse footage of her babies growing up and leaving the nest, click here.

June 4, 2010 at 9:38 am Comments (2)