Canada Will Be Okay


When Justin Trudeau’s Liberals started election night by first sweeping the East Coast and then into Ontario and Quebec, my youngest daughter, just turned 18 and a first-time voter, sent me a text.


I laughed out loud. And then I realized that actually, for her, it was. Her immigrant Opa and Oma always talked about the open and inclusive country they came to 65 years ago, and I have always extolled the virtues of Canada’s place in the world. But how to reconcile our words with what she has witnessed since she was old enough to be conscious of politics; bullying in Parliament, muzzling of scientists, attacks not only on the public broadcaster that gave her Mr. Dressup, but also aimed at the Supreme Court and all the institutions even a child can sense are important to a functioning democracy. And greater still a growing recognition that the Canadian flag on a back-pack no longer made us candidates for an instant welcome abroad.

The divergence of what we believed of Canada, and what was happening in the halls of power was bound to create a kind of fear of the future, and not the fear Harper was talking about. The thought of ‘another four years’ made my daughter anxious, physically anxious. I think most of the ‘progressive’ population felt that same gut deep terror that the country was at a kind of tipping point from which we could not return.

When the Liberal majority was declared, I received another text.


As were we all. I don’t think it mattered if you voted Liberal or NDP, there was a collective and visceral sense of relief at that moment. And when the analysts began to wonder about how Tom Mulcair’s NDP fell from the good graces of the anti-Harper vote, I didn’t have to look any further than my young adult kids. While the young and the ‘change’ people wanted progressive policies, I believe they were yearning even more for progressive politics. So when Mulcair’s reaction to his party’s drop in the polls was to climb into the pigpen with Harper and start flinging mud with the hope some of it would stick and make him look better than the other guy — well — the ‘change’ vote took one look at the two old guys wallowing down there in the same old shit, and went for the guy who rose above the fray.

Ironically, it was Justin Trudeau who channeled Jack Layton’s message of hope and optimism. It was Justin Trudeau who correctly read the zeitgeist and understood that for many Canadians this election was about so much more than taxes, security or even the environment. It was about who we are. About who we want to be at home and how we want to be perceived abroad. About being a Canada that is bigger than the sum of its geographical and political parts, a Canada that proudly recognizes its unique success as a truly multicultural society and recognizes also the challenges of keeping it so, and a Canada that is a bit of conscience in the larger world.

No matter a citizen’s political stripe, I think that Justin Trudeau’s speech at the end of a long campaign and a long night was a proud moment for this country. He made us all remember what my Mom and Dad felt when they first arrived in this country; that all is possible, that instead of spouting the hyperbole of fear we can speak with both the courage and the compassion that confidence allows, that we as citizens are able always to shape Canada into its best self.

At the end of his speech, I received one last text from that girl of mine.

“CANADA WILL BE OKAY (smiley face).”




An Editor’s Choosing

What a joy to read and help select the short fiction included in the most recent edition of Grain, magazine: Passing Signs/ New Fields. A joy and a challenge. Quite frankly a huge challenge.  Editor Jesse Archibald-Barber was wonderful to work with and did the bulk of the legwork, pouring through almost 90 submissions of fiction alone. HeGrain Cover 42 4 o narrowed those to twenty. From there I was asked, as Associate Fiction Editor for this summer 2015 edition, to select eight or nine, five of which you will find scattered amidst fabulous poetry and creative non-fiction and behind the intriguing artwork of Tara Krebs. There was a lot of fine writing in the hundreds of pages we read, good story-telling, engaging characters. So how to choose.

Something visceral happens when a story gets you in its grip. An opening sentence might tickle, a first paragraph flabbergast, or a long thread of scenes build into anger. Or. Laughter. Or tears. I don’t necessarily have to ‘get’ it, or even like it, as in it’s not the kind of thing I usually read. But characters that stay with me after the last sentence, a story that surprises or enlightens with its particularly unique turns, and writing that fills me up as my eyes eat words used with such clarity that no one else could say exactly that thing in that way — yeah, that’s the hook.

As you can imagine, I learned some things about my own efforts at short fiction from this difficult process of choosing.  The obvious: there’s a lot of good writing out there and it’s hard to get published. But also the ways in which a story stands out. Or not. Mistakes to be avoided that even the most published of us make: tense changes, unintended POV shifts, murky details. I know I have to work harder. I have to make my stories what I wanted to see in all those submissions that didn’t quite make it. I have to edit, edit, edit…..

So, to all the writers whose stories I read, thanks for the chance to read your work. Thanks to Jesse and all the people at Grain for this opportunity.

And, of course, to the readers. As Jesse writes in his Editor’s Note to the edition, “In this shared process of selecting and editing, I am made keenly aware of how this work reaches out to a readership still hungry for art. You, the readers, are part of this process and the work now falls to your hands.”


Grain can be ordered through their website at GRAINMAGAZINE.CA, or found in good bookstores everywhere in the magazines section. Enjoy!

Eulogy in Verse


We used to joke Jay was more mammoth than horse, his winter hair thick and warm.

We used to joke Jay was more mammoth than horse, his winter hair thick and warm.

The old paint ambles slowly to me 
as though I don’t really matter,
as though his nose doesn’t twitch
ears pin back and forth
at the sweet oat scent in the
coffee can he’ll rattle
from my hands with regal jaw,
then munch, slobbering, troubled
again by teeth worn to points.
I’ve come to him
through barbed wire, dead
grasses under my boots, duty
calling me back, finally
satiated, he has time for me
to speak to eyes that see
everything peripheral,
but never straight
ahead, just the right shade
of brown and empathy,
anger or condolence, whichever
suits my words.
Running cold hands through tangles
in a copper mane, I scratch
behind ears fuzzy with winter
hair, his eyes roll back their
ecstasy, move my palm down
muscled withers, deep into
where his hair coat is thick
and warm,
blanket warm,
soaked with sun stored
there for the relief of my
frigid fingers.
Side by side we stumble across
his wintry pasture to open
water, to drink before
crystallized edges meet
again, he nuzzles my shoulder,
a thick plug from his nose
staining a barn jacket
marked with his years, we
walk in silence, gaze
to distant fields stretched white
frosting, waiting for melt
and the choice to walk,
or maybe to run,
from barbed fences
and frozen lives.
                -Anne Lazurko
Jay in his younger days.

Jay in his younger days.

My Jay was not a pet. Never that. The benevolence of a 1200 pound prey animal in allowing a 130 pound woman to ride him is not about obedience or even loyalty. It is about trust. You guide him through the simplest situations that might otherwise terrify him, you show him he will be okay, that you won’t let him get into trouble. And he trusts you. But in return, you trust him. It is a remarkable and beautiful thing.I rode Jay across sun-soaked fields, through the glory of the hills and draws of the Big Muddy Valley, and in mostly failed efforts to round up cows.  I rode Jay because he made a choice to trust me, and I respected him. He was a good and faithful companion.

Last week we had Jay put down. Creaking with arthritis, he’d been retired to the pasture a few years ago. He’s had Cushings disease for a long time, lost much weight recently and just last week became profoundly lame. He was 30 years old. Ancient for a horse.

I am grateful to have shared almost half my life with him. And I will miss him.


Get Home

Some writers create a playlist to inspire, reflect or accompany the writing they are doing at any given moment. In my case, I don’t have the technical patience to do a list; for me one song is enough, and Get Home, by Bastille is the song that speaks to, or for, my writing at present.

“How am I gonna get myself back home?”; the ultimate question for more than one character in my new work, Mengeti. 

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard both my parents talk about the importance of being ‘home’ during the occupation of Holland in WWII. A teenager at the time, my Mom insisted on riding her bike to her babysitting job, but could think only of home when she found herself in a crowded basement, cradling the toddler she was charged with keeping, huddled there with others while planes dropped bombs over their heads. She was safe there, but she ran out of that basement and crawled along the ditches, toddler in tow until she got away from the shelling and could run home because that is simply where she needed to be to feel truly safe.

My Dad, who was eventually picked up by the Germans and interned in a camp, then sent to work on a German farm, recalls his own trek home. He didn’t even know the war was over, was simply told by the farm woman to go home. So he did. Walking across a bombed out Germany to get there, ‘borrowing’ a German horse and cart, simply going home. He was eighteen. He speaks of another young friend who did the same. Sick, wasted away with disease, starvation and the effects of being worked nearly to death, this friend too, walked hundreds of kilometres to Limburg to be home. And promptly died. But he died at home.

Later on my Dad was a soldier himself, sent by the Dutch to Indonesia to reclaim the colony. Home never left him, but I wonder if his sense of it changed because of what he learned about himself over time and as a man who held a gun. Soldiers from all the wars, the ‘greatest pretenders”, their faces brave, their hearts needing home. Perhaps?

“We are the last people standing

     at the end of the night.

We are the greatest pretenders

      in the cold morning light.”……….


“The birds are mocking me

     they call to be heard.

The birds are mocking me

     they curse my return.”

What is this drive, this need for home? What indeed, is home? And why, always, do we want to get there? I know Bastille’s song is about the band keeping their sense of themselves, who they are, their metaphorical ‘home’. But I guess that’s what people in war are trying to do as well. Enjoy.




What the Bison Man Knows

Wes Olson, Grasslands National Park

Wes Olson, Grasslands National Park

(This is the first installment in my series: Things Canadians Should Care About)

Wes Olson pokes the spaces between the rocks on the grassy hillside, checking for rattlesnakes, before letting us sit down. With that potential threat out of the way, he warns us about the bison. There are a few standing a good half mile away and the massive beasts are not likely to run you down for no good reason. But Wes tells us a good rule of thumb, literally, is to hold that digit out in front of you, look at it through one eye, and if any bison parts are visible on either side of your thumb, YOU ARE TOO CLOSE! Bison are deceptively fast, and given their size, well you just don’t want to be in the way.

He looks like his name sounds. Wes Olson: tall, rugged, sun-baked and mustached. I suppose that could also describe an outlaw, but his quiet and intelligent confidence speak to a character comfortable in his own skin and his own knowledge, and mostly at home in the nature that surrounds him. He is very, very wise and speaks of the bison as an elder might, with wisdom and grace. I have a sense that if he were to get a chance to actually talk to the politicians who decided not to replace him when he retired from Grasslands National Park in 2012, he would simply shake his head in wonder at the ignorance of humankind.

Bison, Grasslands National Park

Bison, Grasslands National Park

Because Wes knows bison. After thirty years of working with these ungulates in various parks across Canada, he’s come to understand and admire the bison in a way only someone truly in tune with them can. Their mating rituals; how their habit of constantly moving while grazing maintains native prairie grasses; how a bison’s skeletal structure supports its massive head and chest while giving it lightning speed; the ways in which bison manure supports dung beetles which in turn support bird species; that bison hair is the second warmest fibre in North America and is also water repellant; how the unique olfactory masking of this hair used in bird nests enhances chick survival from predators. These are just a few of the facts he shares with our eclectic group which includes authors, ranchers, scientists, and environmentalists, all interested in preserving grasslands and the species they support both within and outside the park.

Along with other senior staff in the park, the position Wes left was not filled. He has no one to pass his wisdom to, no one to care, in a single-minded way, about the bison which were re-introduced to the park in 2006. At that point there were 71 bison. In 2013 the total numbers were at 344, according to Wes. The objective was to hit 350 and study their effect on the native grasses in the park, how their grazing habits might help sustain pristine native prairie that is vital habitat to a multitude of species-at-risk. But this year there will be few park staff to watch, to count or to care.

IMG_3435 - CopyGrasslands is a long way from anywhere. It’s one of few dark sky preserves in the world. It’s a huge expanse of hills and draws covered in grasses and shrubs and lichens and wildflowers whose numbers I can’t begin to count. There are more than 12,000 archeological sites in the area, including teepee rings, effigies and burial sites. It is wondrous place, impossible, really, to comprehend. But that’s the point. It is only when you look out over the vista and then get up close and personal with the bison through the knowledge Wes offers, that somehow you too can feel it, just a little. A sense of history that remains little marked by the present, a feeling that here we have something awesome in the truest sense of that over-used word, a national treasure.

Much as Wes Olson is. More than one of the group referred to him as such, their faces crumbling in despair at the thought his knowledge and skill will be lost. But apparently if you live in a place isolated by geography, a national treasure means little and the bison he watched over even less. It is worth the trip to the grasslands of Southwest Saskatchewan to see and judge for yourself; see the animals, listen to the birds, touch the grasses and the flowers. They will make your heart sing. And when you’re inclined to dance to the rhythm, remember to let others know and to insist an apprentice is hired for Wes to mentor, and to understand that we are all responsible for the protection of those things worthy of preservation.

When Two Novels Meet

joint email header (3)So excited to be reading with Lauren. At first blush, it might seem you couldn’t find two more disparate novels to put together for a reading. Swarm is a dystopian story about what happens when the oil runs out, about what survival might look like in such a world. (And it’s a fantastic read!) Dollybird  is historical fiction, pre -oil and industry, very much rooted in the agrarian, hard-working, weather bound past.

But look again. The two stories come full circle toward each other; the start of settlement and industry and then the end of what was built, brought on by the success of that very civilization. Both examine the forces of nature and what survival looks like in life-changing circumstances, while revealing what is at the core of our humanity.

They are stories of women, of love and longing, loss and triumph, of stripping away to what is most human and becoming better.

So, I think, in fact, this is a great pairing. And I am so looking forward to the conversation!

Carter Lazurko AP 03 2014 MRB Saskatoon


Writing Characters into History

Dutch girlsThis photo was taken in Holland in September 1944 by the US army just before the end of World War II.  Young women hanging about, smoking (we might cringe now, but cigarettes were one small hard-to-find pleasure through the war), chatting, a picture of normal.

Perhaps the smiling blonde in the foreground just heard a small witticism to respond with such a grin. The girl seated next to her, less amused, more calculating, sardonic. And what of the young thing standing in the middle? Hand to mouth, nervous it seems, searching the open face of her friend who seems to see something the others do not. What are their individual and collective stories? Where is this room? And why are they gathered?

Perhaps equally important is who stands outside the photograph, in the doorway, or commanding attention at the head of the table. A headmaster, a potential lover, another woman?

This is a snapshot in time, a glimpse into the lives of six young women who might have just survived the ‘hunger winter’ of 1944 in Northern Holland just before liberation. Maybe they’ve all enrolled in nurses’ training, able at last to envision a future in a context other than war. Or perhaps they’ve simply gathered to meet with friends, or boys, or family, because they can. Because the war is ending.

Historical ‘truth’ is, I’m finding, a rather malleable concept dependent on context and viewpoint. The date a bomb was dropped or a treaty signed is not disputed. Whether the Jews were murdered or the Poles besieged is not up for debate (at least not to any reasonably thinking person).

 But what of the nature of collaboration or resistance? The fine lines between survival and treason?

I ask because the truth of this picture is that each of these girls is accused of sleeping with the enemy. And every girl here is about to have her head shaved and painted orange and then will be paraded through the streets of Amsterdam, or Utrecht, or Eindhoven as a symbol. Of what? Victory perhaps. Vengeance. Or some other incalculable need to prove strength where none had existed only days earlier. This is not a judgment on my part of either the girls or their fate at the hands of their neighbours, and sometimes their own families. It’s simply an observation about the nature of being human, motivations, what a person might do to survive their circumstances, how others perceive those actions.

And so these girls. What if the blonde slept with a German soldier to ensure the safety of her family? Or the nervous girl had sex with the enemy so her mother might have an extra loaf of bread to feed six children? What if the girl with the open face is openly defiant because she truly loved that German boy, and they were all just boys, and she won’t be convinced it was treason?

This is where the stories are for me. Where the truth lies. And the place from which historical fiction comes. Because if we can explore a living, breathing character and how his or her historical context shapes thought and action and fate, we can think and feel beyond dates and facts to where human nature, and choices, and life itself, begins. And ends.

 To be continued….

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