Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

When someone draws lines in the sand — walk them


                                                                                                                     — Heather Conn photos

                                Sand mandala creator Les Blydo at Spanish Banks in Vancouver

Walking in someone else’s footsteps, literally, inside a sand labyrinth on a sunny, windy day, is a glorious meditation in nature. I loved it. Recently, I had the opportunity to try this out for the first time at low tide in Spanish Banks in Vancouver, BC.

With each step, my feet touched wavy ridges and ripples of sand, etched by the receding ocean. I walked over open, splayed clam shells, crunchy and purple, and bypassed a discarded crab shell. The footprints of previous walkers had left deep imprints and outlines in the sand and my own feet slid into these shallows. Wind sent my hair into a flurry as I gazed at the gorgeous sea of blue calm, the panoramic stretch of Coast Mountains, freighters, and the city skyline.

Vancouverite Les Blydo, trained in the art of labyrinths by Lauren Artress of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, likes to create 11-circuit sand labyrinths in an expanded version of the same pattern as the indoor one at Grace Cathedral and Chartres in France. He invites the public to walk inside his sand labyrinths for free at two-hour stretches as  an invitation to commune with one’s spirit and senses. Like the outdoor creations of artist Andy Goldworthy, of Rivers and Tides fame, his efforts disappear once the tide comes in.


To draw his circular lines, which form an image roughly 80 feet (24.4 metres) wide, Les uses the end of a hard, wide piece of hollow bamboo; it takes him about an hour and a half to create a sand labyrinth. To keep the width of each circuit fairly uniform (about two feet), he stretches out a piece of pre-measured string. He lines up the opening of the labyrinth with a landmark, such as the tower of the downtown Shangri La Hotel, or a tall buoy at sea.

Les, who works as a psychiatric nurse and maintains the blog Walking a Labyrinth, says he likes to think of a labyrinth as a place to explore “liminal space: a ‘betwixt and between’ place.” I walked his labyrinth two days after co-hosting an indoor labyrinth and SoulCollage workshop with Diana Ng (“The Labyrinth Lady”) at St. Paul’s Church in Vancouver. (See my website Sunshine Coast SoulCollage for more details.) It was wonderful to combine both forms of labyrinth-walking in one weekend. I’ve been a lover of labyrinths for a long time and even got married in an outdoor, 11-circuit one.

Les will be hosting a sand labyrinth at Spanish Banks on May 7 to celebrate World Wide Labyrinth Day, organized by the Labyrinth Society. For more details, see his blog Walking a Labyrinth.

April 27, 2011 at 2:39 pm Comments (2)

Every day is Earth Day

Two days after Earth Day, birds are chasing each other in my trees while a male robin puffs out his chest, looking for a mate. He makes me think of a strutting general, laden with medals. (I’m told that they do this because they’re cold, but I prefer to think it’s a form of flirtation.) For weeks, the male red-headed sapsucker has been tapping on our metal downspout, trying to attract a female. (Poor guy — I guess persistence works.) I heard the buzzing whir of a hummingbird yesterday, my first of the season. Time to put up the feeder.

Spring is my favorite time of year. I love the smell of hyacinths in our garden, the yellow splash of daffodils, and the blossom colours on streets here and in Vancouver: bursting branches of apple, cherry, and magnolia petals. It’s a glorious time of new buds, fresh dark soil, and clearing out dried old leaves and underbrush.

David Suzuki says that every day is Earth Day, and I agree. Having special days of ritual are important to celebrate Mother Earth and draw attention to her plight, but circumstances don’t change the next day. Global warming still remains, as does the need for all of us to conserve energy and tread more lightly on the planet.

Let’s keep spring — and all seasons — a time of magic. Think of the Earth when you’re making choices about transportation and travel, buying products from dish soap to a car, and who to vote for. Your decisions now can make a difference.

April 24, 2011 at 11:50 am Comments (0)

Bring it on — and they did — at the Bootleggers’ Ball


                                                                                                       — all photography by Jun Ying

My hubby, Frank, and I take a subtle stance outside the Biltmore Cabaret in Vancouver.

They put the fun into flappers, the glitz into gangsters, the va-va-voom into vaudeville. And ah yes, the gin into bathtubs.

The Bootleggers’ Ball, a 25th-anniversary fundraiser for the Vancouver Police Museum, did a great job Friday night of evoking the speakeasy era (not that I’m old enough to remember that), complete with cheeky, Depression-era burlesque and a raid by a  pretend vice squad in fedoras. 


Chris Mathieson, the museum’s executive director, and his creative crew offered a quirky line-up of offbeat entertainment, including The Vaudevillians, a troupe of singing and dancing seniors. I liked their deadpan emcee, in white top hat and tails, who told us that their oldest member was in his nineties and that two others recently married at 81. Good for them.


It was heartening to see women in their mid-seventies tap dance, do the can-can, and other routines, and I liked the group’s overall campy style. But some of their traditional jokes, many decades old, should have stayed back in their original era. As their announcer explained, these performers were used to doing shows at seniors’ centres, not at a bar full of youngish drinkers. Some of their material was too worn and outdated for this edgy, urban crowd. (I’ve never seen so many tattoos on women in a crowd anywhere, except at Burning Man.  Most female attendees came wearing a great range of flapper gear, truly providing oodles of atmosphere.)


A singing act from The Vaudevillians

My fave entertainment of the night was burlesque dancer Lola Frost. Woweee. Did she ever own that stage! Talk about sensual power and keeping an audience mesmerized. Female attendees, in particular, were giving loud hoots of appreciation for her show. She reminded me of a shit-stompin’ version of Catherine Zeta-Jones in Cabaret, except with far more erotic oomph and classic, gritty grinds.


Costume contest judges included Chris Mathieson (left) and Lola Frost (centre) and several others. The woman on the right won the competition. Frank and I were among the finalists.

As a feminist, I feel compelled to defend my viewing of these burlesque entertainers. All three acts — the other two were Darla DeVine and Lacey L’Amour — were performed in classic period style, with no total nudity or toplessness. They were campy, classy, and seemed a fun form of self-empowerment and creative self-expression. And the women in the crowd sure loved them. Were their shows exploitative? I didn’t think so.


The evening featured an excellent silent auction, with offerings from Grouse Mountain and Trialto Wines to Bard on the Beach and Granville Island Beer.

The finale act was the musical group The Creaking Planks (love the name), a bizarre klezmer concoction that had my friends and I scratching our heads. The lead singer’s version of The Police’s Roxanne,  sounded like it was sung by the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street, in a strange, gravelly growl. I’m a big fan of eccentric alternative bands, but this one, which bills itself as “the jugband of the damned”, was offkey and seemed out of whack.. My friends, eager to dance, left after the first few songs, which brought no one to the dance floor.


The Creaking Planks in action

Our middle-aged gang left not long after The Creaking Planks started to play, but we must have missed the good dancing tunes because people packed the dance floor by the second set. Oh well. Our timing stunk.


Overall, I loved seeing so many women sashaying around with fringe, boas, and stoles, getting into the flavor of the 20s to 40s. The early mix of recorded music, including Glenn Miller’s In the Mood,  set a stimulating mood of nostalgic rhythms.


It was a fun, theme event, emceed by Chris Coburn, the morning show host of The Peak 100.5 FM. I was glad to give money to the Museum through my ticket purchase; the evening raised almost $10,000. I appreciate their effort to save and revive intriguing slices of Vancouver history. I’ve attended one of their forensics evenings and want to join one of their Sins of the City walking tours.


My husband and I had a wonderful time. He rented his costume from BooLaLa in North Vancouver and I highly recommend them. They have a fantastic collection of every imaginable outfit and accessory. I could spend hours in their store. I put together my whole outfit, thanks to Value Village, Dressew, and the costume odds and ends I keep on hand. BooLaLa provided my stylish cigarette holder. (No, I don’t smoke — it was just a prop.)


Thanks for an evening of creative and historic zest. We need more of ’em.

.             .                  .                .                       .              .                 .              .                 .               .

Good-bye to an old gal

An historic afternote: While all of this Vancouver vaudeville celebration was happening, the city was preparing to demolish its oldest vaudeville/movie house, The Pantages Theatre.

Unfortunately, this once-glorious venue at 144-150 East Hastings near Main suffered too much rot and damage to be revived affordably, after sitting vacant since 1994. With rich stage curtains of billowy red, a salmon-pink arch over its proscenium, and gilt decor, The Pantages, built in 1907-08, symbolized Vancouver’s early desire to create a downtown mecca of enviable construction and cultural hotspots. Alas, another slice of our city’s history is gone.

April 10, 2011 at 3:52 pm Comment (1)

What’s in a head? A typo of privilege

As an editor, I find it hard to turn off the part of me that zooms in on a typo in anything from a menu to a marquee. Well, I spotted a whopper a few weeks ago in a full-page ad in The Vancouver Sun, which left me shocked at its size and brazen irony.

The four-colour advertisement, by Polygon Homes, featured a sexy young couple, dressed in black attire, as if for an upscale soiree. They stood poised between two fancy, black, wrought-iron gates, which opened onto an immaculate lawn, trimmed hedges and trees, suggesting the entrance to a palatial estate.

The ad was promoting a new real estate development, Mayfair Place, in Richmond, BC as “a collection of Georgian-inspired apartment homes.” The ad copy read that these new homes were “evoking the sophistication of London’s prestigious Mayfair district, in a sought-after location that’s just minutes from hundreds of popular shops and services.”

Okay, I get the message: these places are supposed to be classy, trendy, and full of status power. Well, guess what? Having money and a position doesn’t mean that you’re literate.  (Just ask George W. Bush.) The ad’s bold headline, which appears in at least 48-point type (about a half-inch high), reads “A Priviledged Place.”

When I first read the head, I thought that maybe they were doing a deliberate play on words but no, it’s one giant — and expensive — boo-boo. How many people looked at that ad before it went to print and never spotted this large spelling mistake, exposed in three words on a single line? So much for the power of suave images. The two models in the photo might as well have eggs dripping off their chins onto their polished attire. 

We all make mistakes, I know, but some are bigger, and more public, than others. I wonder what Michael Audain, the boss of Polygon Homes and an art collector who sits on the board of the Vancouver Art Gallery, thought when he saw this all-too-obvious error.

I love the irony of this goof, because it reduces the impact of the ad almost to a spoof, making a complete mockery of its attempt to promote wealth and success.

April 3, 2011 at 6:00 pm Comment (1)