Sunday, December 5, 2021

A Farewell to Cybernetic Arms (or So Long, Ogre)

Back in high school, another nerd and I (was it A.C.? perhaps...) sat down over a spare period or lunch hour to play a game he had brought to the cafeteria in his pocket: Steve Jackson's Ogre.

At this point I think I would have been familiar with a few different SJ games: the conspiratorial and satirical Illuminati, the evocative yet plodding Car Wars, and Melee and Wizard, which combined to make up The Fantasy Trip. A quick wargame carried in a pocket box was new enough, bit it was also my introduction to asymmetric gaming.

In Ogre, one player has a veritable army, around a dozen units or more as I recall, ranging from static howitzers through scrappy infantry teams, and ground effect vehicles and tanks filling in the gaps. Their job is to defend their command post against a singular opponent: a massive, cybernetically controlled tracked vehicle bristling with lasers, missiles and anti-personnel mines. Even completely disarmed, the relentless Ogre can still achieve victory by overrunning your command posted and crushing it beneath its treads. It is a fair fight, and a skilled opponent can make defending or attacking equally difficult.

But a poster-paper map and thin counters that you cut out yourself (not even die-cut? pfft...) didn't provide a lot of visual compulsion to play, and attempts to make versions with miniatures over the years have met with fairly limited success.

This is probably why I was so thrilled to find the Ogre Designer's Edition on such a good deal a few years ago on Boxing Day, and snapped it up. Beautiful boards, tons of thick, die-cut counters and best of all, 3D cardstock counters for the eponymous Ogres themselves. Not quite miniatures, but still a step in the right direction.

It looked great, had clear, well-written rules and one of the best-organized storage systems I have ever encountered, but there was only one problem: years later, Ogre had still not been played.

I would love to blame the pandemic for this, but the bigger problem is that it is a two-player game. My gaming time is limited enough that it is rare that I play games with a singular opponent, which is a bit ironic because the wargaming hobby is really built around such games.

Not all, but quite a few of my multi-player games work well with two players (Arena, Battletech, X-Com, Pandemic) and if I need a two-player experience I will typically reach for Hive (if I want a quick, abstract game) or Space Hulk (if I want something a bit more textured, tactile, and sharing Ogre's asymmetric slant). Or call up Totty for a long-overdue game of Battle of Britain.

The biggest issue though was one of size. The Designer's Edition box is a staggering 24 x 20 x 6 inches in size and uncharitably described as being larger than a child's coffin.  (Banana for scale.)

I don't think of myself as a hoarder, but I don't imagine most hoarders do, and this behemoth was taking up far too much space on my gaming shelves. With two other Kickstarted games inbound as well as a couple of batches of miniatures for D&D, something had to give, and this weekend I decided it was time to part ways with two and a half boxes of outdated and underplayed rulebooks and my Designer's Edition of Ogre. (Sigh.)

I listed it on Kijiji today for the same price I paid for it (half of SRP), but will probably take a little less if offered. And I hope it goes to someone else who has fond memories of bitterly fought conflicts between an inhuman mega-tank and a company of infantry, tanks and artillery on a cratered battlefield.

But if anyone comes over and wants a game between now and when it sells, I could certainly be talked into it, and we can roll off to see who gets the Ogre.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Geekqui-Not: The Dinner Party That Wasn't

One of the worst things about Alberta's current Covid-prevention policies and public health measures is that fully vaccinated folk can go out and eat at a restaurant, or see a movie, or go to a casino, and they may well run into people they know there, but visits to the home of another person are restricted to no more than two households at a time.

This is a real shame, because in addition to impacting things like playdates, in-person tabletop gaming groups and even family Thanksgiving dinners, it has really thrown a monkey-wrench into the semi-annual Geekquinox dinners we used to enjoy.

Pete used to host these brilliantly prepared and wonderfully themed meals close to the vernal and autumnal equinoxes but hasn't been able to do so since 2019's Blade Runner dinner

Amidst all the other wishes for a return to normalcy and safety are very real desires to be hospitable, or break bread together, or commune with dear friends or try new things together, but alas, the current rules make such gatherings impossible, and technically illegal.

It's a real shame, too, because I can only imagine the sort of spread The Rare Hipster would have laid out for us after a two-year hiatus. I mean, he almost certainly would have found a way to make the menu topical.

And his love of combining common appetizers with exotic ingredients means we could have counted on something like jalapeno duck poppers, cooked on his Big Green Egg. I can almost taste the smokiness of the bacon, the sharpness of the jalapenos and the smooth, zesty filling made with cream cheese and duck. No barbecue sauce like one might find with Atomic Buffalo Turds (another staple appy among the Egg-head set), but enough cayenne in the mixture to put a little steam in one's stride.

Then a turn towards something a little less meaty, like immense teriyaki marinated king oyster mushroom chunks skewered between slices of crispy bacon. The texture of mushrooms is not for everyone of course, but that same quality makes them succulent traps for the flavours for both teriyaki and bacon, as well as the charcoal smoke rising out of the Egg.

Then perhaps a relocation towards Persia, and joojeh kebabs made of succulent chicken morsels marinated in yogurt, onions, lemon juice and saffron, and served hot off the grill with saffron rice. It can be hard keeping the rice moist over a long dinner party, but the chicken is low maintenance, and (presumedly) extremely tasty!

Later in the evening, as a preamble to the main, perhaps ramekins of truffle macaroni and cheese might be served, taking a rich comfort food and elevating it even further with the addition of shaved truffles and the astonishing boost of umami they bring to the dish.

And if history serves as any guide, said main would be served close to the witching hour, with no complaints due to the quality and volume of food presented up to that point. 

After such a long break, a simple but enormous prime rib roast would seem to be an ideal choice - brilliantly seasoned and cooked at a low temperature for hours before searing the outside briefly at a temperature in excess of 500° Fahrenheit.

I can just picture it: medium-rare throughout, gloriously pink and soft enough for the generous slices to be cut through with the edge of one's fork if so desired. Lightly seasoned so as not to overpower the beef itself, and punched up by slivers of garlic cloves throughout the roast. 

Abetted by a rich oxtail and red wine gravy and accompanied by mashed potatoes and turnips, Yorkshire puddings would no doubt be on hand to satiate any remaining carb cravings, as well as serving as delivery vehicles for a delicious gravy warhead. Roasted Brussels sprouts would be a welcome side, if anyone had the time, inclination and energy left to prepare them.

And if anyone had any room left, I am certain a dessert of some fashion - perhaps a light and fluffy angel food cake as a counterpoint to the solidity and density of the beef, and frosted with a lemon Chantilly icing that is almost more aromatic than sweet.

And a rich red wine to accompany the prime rib goes without saying, given the oenophilic inclinations of our gracious host. But perhaps there would even be new cocktails on hand. I know our hosts' daughter Elizabeth had been dabbling in tropically-oriented concoctions a couple of summers ago, with tremendous results, but what would really hit the spot is a creamy aperitif made with iced coffee, to aid us demi-centenarians in staying up to the wee hours after a long period of boredom-induced bedtime regularity.

Even more importantly than expertly prepared food and delightful libations would be the chance to share them with other people though - fully vaccinated and conscientious folk desperate for contact outside their households, eager for the chance to embrace friends new and old, to reconnect and catch up, to hug and share stories, to laugh and commiserate about jobs and families and the state of the world. 

An opportunity to reflect on precisely how lucky we all are, despite everything.

Or, rather: how lucky we would be, if such a gathering were possible.

Ah, well; perhaps next year...

; )

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Indigenous Experiences

I remember learning a fair bit about the indigenous peoples of the plains when I was in elementary school, back when we referred to them as "aboriginal." How they were nomadic, resourceful, and far more concerned with survival than with establishing borders or acquiring property. But even this well-intentioned curriculum fell short in a couple of spectacular ways. 

First of all, it framed everything in the past tense, talking about the Cree and the Blackfoot in the same way one might discuss the passenger pigeon, overlooking the fact that First Nations exist across the entirety of the nation, both within and without reserves. 

Second of all, the tragic fate of the plains people was presented as though it was solely the result of economic fallout perpetuated by a greedy few. Why, if buffalo hides and beaver hats hadn't been so popular down East or across the ocean, who knows how differently things might have turned out? Who could have foreseen that practically eliminating the primary foodstuff of a nomadic people would have such devastating consequences!

And of course, this is in addition to the omission of key details like cultural genocide, residential schools, broken treaties, etc.

All in all, these failings make it a bitter pill to be revisited from the perspective of settler people and indigenous people alike. But there can be no looking forward without a bit more clarity on what has gone before, which is where opportunities like the Indigenous Peoples Experience come into play.

Recently opened as a part of Fort Edmonton Park, the Indigenous Peoples Experience is a top-notch state-of-the-art museum exhibition focusing on the history and culture of the first inhabitants of this region. Stepping in the door places you on top of an animated map projected on the floor. An interpreter explains what you see and takes you through the comings and goings of the people and animals that made this bend in the river their home, before overlaying it with the streets and roads that we know today.

From there you move on to a well-curated set of artifacts and recreations showing life on the plains both before and after the arrival of Europeans. Each panel is accompanied not only by names and labels, but also recollections from the more than 50 indigenous elders and authorities who were consulted during the creation of the exhibit. Anecdotes, quotes and reflections that range from nostalgic to embittered to joyous and everything in between underscore the importance of what you are looking at, making it far more personal than a cold description.

Taxidermied animals line the lodge poles and timbers placed throughout, while periodically animations are shown on the upper walls of the building as well as on the sides of the tipis set up there. Voices and music dramatize stories and legends while shadows and constellations act them out before your eyes.

And, there is bitterness in the later history, but joy and resilience as well. The Metis hall in particular shows how the rejection of exonyms like "half-breed" has led to the creation of a vibrant and distinct culture.

We visited the IPE with our dear friends from Camrose and their three children spanning grades one to nine. Even I had to admit there was enough reading to saturate me after a while and I look forward to returning to absorb the rest, but there was also enough to look at and look for and touch and push that the younger visitors weren't too bored before the end.

Of course, it was also pretty exciting to wander over to the fort and see Audrey's son Bryce giving his musket demo while decked out in his HBC "company man" kit!

I think the Indigenous Peoples Experience is a world-class exhibit and a real feather in the cap for the city and Fort Edmonton. Anyone who is a fan of art, culture, history, reconciliation, or just well-presented information should take it upon themselves to check it out. It is open Saturdays and Sundays from noon until 4 pm through December 19, and includes admission to the fort itself as well.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Change is Hard! - Marvel's Eternals, Reviewed

 A brief recap - defying expectations, Marvel Studios began slowly with Iron Man, slowly building an interwoven narrative of classic comic characters, expanding in scope and scale over two dozen films until it culminated after ten years with Avengers Endgame, a critical and commercial success that wrapped up a decade's worth of spectacle with sincere emotional heft. 

So, what do you do for an encore, Marvel? Got another one in ya?

Eternals might be the movie where we find out, but opinions really differ as to whether they are on the right path. For my money, I think they are.

More and more actors and directors outside the MCU seem to be airing their disappointment with Marvel movies, claiming they are formulaic, they have no soul, they rely too much on CGI, they are "just" entertainment. And while I can perhaps relate to the last two points (particularly with regards to masks - more practical effects here please!) and don't have a problem with movies that are entertaining, for my two cents the MCU has plenty of soul and the stories have included war films, caper films, comedies, science fiction, fantasy and more so I am not at all sure what 'formula' they are referring to.

But here in the embryonic stages of the MCU's Phase 4 and the beginning of their next multi-phase saga, I am grateful that Kevin Feige and his brain trust are daring to try doing things a little bit differently.

In some ways, I suppose they have no choice - despite being created by the legendary Jack Kirby and epitomizing his mythological take on superhumans, The Eternals are even less familiar to the general public than The Guardians of the Galaxy. So how do you establish a lesser-known team, while introducing a huge chronology and intergalactic creation story, and making sure you lay the groundwork for at least as big a story as the Thanos Saga, for an increasingly sophisticated and superhero-weary audience?

Well, for openers, you hire Oscar-winner Chloe Zhao (Nomadland) to direct and write it, giving you something that looks and feels like no other comic movie to date, and certainly no previous MCU entries.

You get an intensely diverse ensemble of actors from a variety of genres - costume pieces, drama, comedy, action - that reflect actual diversity that looks maybe a bit more like your global audience in terms of race, gender, physical ability and sexuality. Nine characters and only one straight white male? Frankly, this movie makes a lot of the right people intensely angry, which may well have played a role in my own enjoyment of it.

You lean into the Kirbyness of the source material - the costumes, the archetypes, the circles in the costumes and how the powers are depicted, but most importantly the scale. You carry the immensity of the spaceship, the incredible span of time the story transpires across, the size and truly alien nature of the ancient Celestials that powers the narrative.

But you also know when to step away from the original comics - Ikaris does not have to be a blond hothead eager to beat up everything he encounters. Sersi does not have to be a sexpot who exalts in her troublemaking. Maybe the character no one trusts in the comics isn't inevitably the one who betrays the others. You keep all the archetypes but change some of the interactions.

It is not all smooth sailing though. I don't expect extraterrestrial immortals to be immensely relatable, but some of the characters' motivations aren't always understandable. There are more than a few moments in the third act where it is not clear which of the many goals the good guys discussed are actually being pursued. 

But the central argument that threatens to divide the team in Eternals feels far more natural and relatable than the one presented in Civil War.

Like all Marvel films, there is never too long a wait for the next joke or action sequence, but unlike a lot of them, it doesn't feel like a linear race to find the bad guy and his army and beat them up. For openers, the story is not told in anything remotely like a linear fashion, and for another, the climax is more about an internal struggle than an external one. 

I thought the action sequences were thoroughly engaging and the depiction of powers was clear and creative. Aside from a few references, like one about the vacancy in Avengers leadership and the Blip resulting from Thanos's snap, there is not a lot of connective tissue to the current MCU. I am curious as to whether future movies will exist primarily on their own or incorporate other previously established characters or settings. Thankfully, Eternals doesn't require a lot of prior knowledge or injure itself trying to produce Easter eggs either - it works pretty independently, which is good, since the MCU is only about 18 years old (including the Blip), and this film covers about 7000 years of human history and prehistory.

In the end, Eternals is a movie about the many different ways people keep and lose faith, and how that faith can empower people, even immortal ones, to do both great and terrible things. It is not like anything Marvel has done before, and if you know that going in, I believe you have a much better chance of having a good time.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Generational Thinking

Audrey's father was born only four days later than my late father, which means they were both 13 at the end of WWII, but their experiences could not have been more different.

Dad grew up on a farm near a tiny town in southern Manitoba, hearing about the war, and seeing veterans of it, but never truly impacted by it.

Audrey's father lived on a farm too, but in Nazi-occupied Holland. His family struggled under actual oppression, and Gerrit's brother narrowly escaped being hauled off to a labour camp when his father told the Wehrmacht that he was needed on the farm. 661 men were taken from his hometown of Putten in October of 1944, and only 48 came back when it was all over. The town's name became so associated with this tragedy (a retaliation for the Dutch underground killing two German officers) that for years afterward, when people asked Gerrit where in the Netherlands he was from, he told them he was from the neighbouring town of Nijkerk, and not Putten.

Both our fathers were grateful for the sacrifices others made on their behalf. My father went on to spend ten years in the Canadian Armed Forces while Audrey's parents emigrated to Canada, bought a farm they expanded greatly and raised a family. 

Both our families instilled in their children a tremendous sense of gratitude and appreciation for the price paid for peace, and Audrey and I have passed that gratitude on to our children as well, expressing it publicly on Remembrance Day each year.

We have enjoyed peaceful lives, knowing of armed conflict as something that happens somewhere else, and I selfishly hope and pray that it remains that way, especially for my children. 

But there are days I worry that peace is perhaps fleeting, even here.

Last week, anti-Covid demonstrators left a noose outside the house of a UCP MLA painted with the message "END THE GOVT - NO TO MASKS - HANG EM ALL." 

Of course, there are those who say statements like this are not really threats, just empty hyperbole and the ragged edge of free speech. And I suppose this might be so. But my gut tells me that the burning of Black Wall Street in Tulsa and kristallnacht and every other angry mob started with one person saying, "y'know what we should do..." in order to see how people would react. If the quantity of shocked faces is outnumbered by nodding heads, you may have a problem on your hands - or perhaps a solution, depending on how you feel about mob justice as opposed to the rule of law.

Misinformation about the pandemic response is rampant, with some people convinced that masks and vaccines are the first slippery steps to a future of tyranny under a New World Order. Both Canada and the U.S. are now home to malcontent groups dissatisfied with the current order of things, and actively looking to promote conflict and agitation. Militias and paramilitaries train right here in Alberta, sometimes not just anticipating a race-based war, but taking action to make such a conflict more likely.

I keep thinking how frustrating this must be to Audrey's dad, who grew up under actual tyranny, not hypothetical. Or how my dad would have felt, growing up with rationing and rubber shortages, hearing people supposedly willing to fight the authorities instead of putting on a mask or proving their vaccination status.

How did we get here? How did we move from a society that was willing to sacrifice individually in order to make gains collectively, from willingly accepting blackout rules or opening our borders to "dispers" and boat people, to refusing to put a piece of fabric across our faces and sealing the border to people with different faiths than us?

Strangely enough, my feelings on this were stirred by a television science-fiction story.

The Expanse is set in a very plausible near-future where humanity has slowly begun leaving Earth and exploring the solar system. In addition to Earth, major human communities exist on the Moon, Mars, and in the Ceres asteroid belt. Earth struggles to support itself in the face of a global welfare state and rampant pollution, while Mars has begun a long and painful terraforming process, resenting Earth for squandering the fresh air and water Martians are working to create.

A diplomat approaching Mars from Earth following a brief but fierce armed conflict looks out the window of the luxurious spacecraft he is travelling in and reflects, "They made their own clouds... it brings to mind the people who built the great Gothic cathedrals. Knowing they’d be long dead before their work was finished, trusting their great-grandchildren would lay the final stones. We’ve lost that kind of generational thinking on Earth. Here, you see it in everything they do."

This show takes place in the 24th century, but I fear this fictional person's observation has already come to pass, reflected in people with no experience of war clamouring for it as a means to resolve conflict and assert their own philosophies on all for the greater good - and all in the name of freedom, ironically enough. Perhaps a more applicable quote is George Santayana's: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

I will not give up all my optimism for the future - after all, it is the place where I intend to spend a significant part of my existence! But because of that, and because I wonder and worry about the world my daughters will live in when I am gone, a peaceful future will be much on my mind, as will the experiences of my father and father-in-law as we observe Remembrance Day this Thursday.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Sand, Ships and Sounds - Dune, Reviewed

In 2017, I was very glad to discover that Denis Villeneuve, director of Arrival and Blade Runner: 2049, was going to be helming a new cinematic adaptation of the classic science-fiction novel Dune.

Adapting as beloved and thoughtful piece of work as Frank Herbert's novel, where the traditional sci-fi stalwarts of physics or engineering take a back seat to ecology and sociology, was never going to be easy - past adaptations and attempts can attest to that. But Villeneuve's love of the source material, and his reflective and insightful work on the two aforementioned films really made me hopeful that this Dune would show onscreen some semblance of the scenes constructed in my mind's eye many decades before.

And let me tell you, he is off to a wonderful start.

This is a very faithful interpretation of a story about the conflicts between powers - natural, familial, and emotional - in a world both like and very much unlike the one we live in.

Villeneuve brings an impressive sense of scale to almost every scene in the film, from the massive, skyscraper-sized spaceships with hundreds if not thousands of occupants paraded in front of it, to the arid and sandy landscapes of the titular planet named Arrakis. See this movie in IMAX if at all possible for the full (and often intimidating) effect!

The movie enjoys a distinct and palpable sense of elsewhere - despite the feudal trappings and historic influences in everything from sculptures and architecture we see, there is a sense that life more than 10,000 years in the future is very different from what we know. The exoticism and strangeness is enhanced by the various factions we encounter and their unfamiliar names, like the Bene Gesserit witches and inscrutable Spacers Guild that we glimpse only briefly at an early ceremony on the Atreides homeworld.

The costumes by Robert Morgan and Jacqueline West go a long way to establishing the unique feel of the film, making it seem wholly natural that Duke Leto Atreides and Gurney Halleck (Oscar Isaac and Josh Brolin) should wear futuristic plate mail made from some exotic material, while the mentat Thufir Hawat (Stephen Mckinley Henderson) wears a uniform that wouldn't look out of place in the People's Liberation Army of 1949. The ceremonial spacesuits obscuring the faces of the Spacers engender as much curiosity as fear at what may lay beneath, and the tall headpieces and trailing robes of the Bene Gesserit add both stature and menace to their presence.

But what makes Villeneuve a brilliant director is not just his ability to depict exotic dune seas and immense sandworms threatening mobile factories the size of a NASA crawler, but the skillful way in which he can pick out moments of intimacy and familiarity within such a tableau.

The moments between Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his father the Duke reveal a genuine familial affection that is complicated by duty and the demands of a dangerous and combative universe. Likewise the scenes featuring Paul and his mother Jthe Lady Jessica (a concubine rather than a wife, in a nod to the neo-feudalism that governs the major houses of the future), a woman contesting her love of family with the demands of the Bene Gesserit order she emerged from.

Even within the physical realm of sets and props, for every massive spaceship or walled city we encounter there is an ornate coffee service or fastener on a fremen stillsuit that must be checked and adjusted, or boots that are worn desert-style.

It is a lot to balance, but it all came across to my family clearly enough this past Monday when we watched Dune, and none of whom have read the novel. Villeneuve and screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth have wisely left out some of the minutiae that adds so much flavour to the novel (Suk conditioning, laser and shield reactions, etc.) but would have brought very little to the story onscreen.

The challenge is that with so much time to establish all these relationships and this future world of rival fiefdoms and modern-style commerce, after two-and-a-half hours we are barely at the midway point of the book. 

Unlike even The Fellowship of the Ring, there is no big climactic battle to round out the experience on a high note. Much of the story of Dune revolves around Paul's relationship with the desert-dwelling Fremen, who we barely see until the very end of the film. I worry that there is not enough happening to satisfy casual movie-goers expecting a bit more closure, even from a movie whose title screen calls itself "Dune - Part One."

But now that the studio has finally greenlit Part Two (with a release date only two years away, shockingly!) I can tell people who ask me that, yes, Dune is definitely a film worth seeing, provided you don't rest too much of your cinematic experience on closure or resolution. Dune involves an almost unprecedented amount of world-building and scene-setting, but provides an experience that is not only dramatic, but almost experiential, like travel (ah, remember travel?). There is an almost palpable sense of having been elsewhere when leaving the theatre, and I will be glad when October 2023 rolls around and we can once again return to Arrakis.

As Chani (Zendaya), the Fremen girl who haunts Paul's dreams, tells us in the trailer, "This is only the beginning."

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Canine Soliloquy

I am sorry if this is startling to you, but it is probably past time that you were made aware that your dog can speak, and it is certainly past time that we spoke.

Well, not speak, per se - it is actually a limited form of asynchronous thought-sharing that canines like myself can achieve upon sufficient exposure to another specific creature, even a biped, under certain special conditions.

No, not telepathy either. I am not able to read your thoughts and much of what you convey in other ways - vocal volume and pitch, mannerisms, body language, and scent - is completely unintelligible to me. Colour? Money? Delayed gratification? These concepts are a closed book to me and my kind.

But I saw you watching me this afternoon at the fenced dog meadow we go to on most days, and I thought you should know that you are correct: dogs can smell through time.

As you are no doubt aware, the canine sense of smell is not only astonishing in its sensitivity but also staggering in its scope. I mean, it only makes sense that a species such as mine, with both its body structure and brain oriented around its olfactory system as well as a predatory nature should excel at tracking other living things. Turning our preying instincts into a means of tracking shared food or human fugitives was a masterstroke of interspecies communication on the part of your kind! Moving from food and capture to the detection of illicit and bad-smelling substances is just grist for the mill at this point.

But if I understand correctly, you have only recently begun to explore how we can somehow detect unwanted malignancies that your tools and devices are unable to find. True, it is not easy or common, but if you were to suffer from the disease-that-eats, there is a good chance I would know - but I don't know that I could make you understand me. Death is also less critical of an event to me and my kind, except when it is actually happening, for reasons that are likely to become obvious.

Now, it is unknown if we smell the disease itself, or if its effects make it detectable in you somehow, or, as I have theorized, if we are able to detect the tragic shortening of time the eating disease causes.

We canines have a different sense of time altogether than you bipeds, experiencing it in a far more holistic and comprehensive fashion, and like most of our other perceptions, it is filtered first through our sense of smell. 

For instance, you live your day-to-day life on a knife-edge, balanced between memory and anticipation, often missing nuances or opportunities provided by your current situation. I would hesitate to call it zen, precisely, but we dogs do possess a focus on the "now" that you would be wise to emulate on occasion.

Dogs are aware that time, largely presumed to move unilaterally, does in fact travel omnidirectionally. Bits of time are carried forward and backward by tiny particles, impossible to see but discernible to a trained snout and a wary brain. [editor's note: is it my imagination or is this dog seriously describing tachyons?]

We smell the future and the past on every breeze and in every spot we encounter - what you sometimes no-doubt perceive as an infatuation with scents left by another animal (and I confess that yes, sometimes this is indeed the case) is more often a highly-enriched space for us, brimming with both recall and premonition.

Such it was in the park today, when you saw me sniffing this way and that as though looking for a predetermined spot. In a way I was; the scents told me then that at some point in the future I will have defecated in a spot near here and eventually I was able to determine the precise place. I did what I needed to do, right where I was meant to do it. 

The fact that I was able to do so at all after you came by so quickly afterward to collect it and put it in that freestanding collection vessel makes it a rather accomplished feat, if you ask me.

At any rate, when I saw you standing there, looking at me afterwards, your head cocked slightly to one side, I suspected you were gleaning more about the truth of the situation than many of your kind do, and wanted to confirm your suspicions.

I also wanted to take the time to let you know that although I miss the people I knew closely in my former life, I also have opportunities to experience them again in the past, when the wind is right. I am actually quite happy here with you and our family for the most part, and am also aware that this happiness will continue on for much of my life. I don't think about the future in a conscious manner the way you do (thank goodness - it seems quite worrisome at times), but have sureties of the future visited upon me from time to time via the scents I encounter.

At any rate, I can sense your primary brainwaves slowing [editor's note: can dogs sense alpha waves? sensorimotor rhythms?], so I think whatever rich-smelling fermented sugars were in that glass you had after supper must be wearing off, and that will bring our time of communion to an end, at least for now.

I'm glad we talked, and thank you again for all the belly rubs.