And it’s October 1, meaning that it’s no longer considered unusual by average people to watch this clip over and over, the way I have since this approximate date in 1976…
And it’s October 1, meaning that it’s no longer considered unusual by average people to watch this clip over and over, the way I have since this approximate date in 1976…
Another shameless plug: in the decade since I first moved to Garland, Texas, every Sunday morning of a Triffid Ranch show involves a trip to Donut Palace, without fail. Not only is it one of the best donut shops in the Dallas area, with exemplary kolaches for those who need something with more protein than sugar, but the crew there makes sure to take care of everybody, no matter how large or small the order. (For those familiar with Texas Frightmare Weekend, I’ve made a point of bringing donuts for the Frightmare staff on Sunday mornings since the first show at DFW Airport in 2012, and Donut Palace is where I get enough donuts to feed that mob.) It may be superstitious, but I’ve never had a bad show after making a stop there on Sunday morning, and any excuse to grab four or five jalapeno bacon kolaches on a September morning is always a good one.
One final image to sum up the weekend: while getting set up on Sunday morning, one of the ball python breeders at the show asked me if I happened to see a loose snake in my booth. (Escapees are very rare, but sometimes it happens.) I answered completely truthfully that I hadn’t seen so much as a cricket, and continued on with my prep. You can imagine my surprise when I finished my breakdown on Sunday afternoon by flipping a table over to fold it up and get it into the truck, and this little character was curled around one of the table leg supports. Well, we were both surprised. A little coaxing to get him off the support, a little reassurance to let him know he was safe, a little help from a fellow vendor in finding his home, and he was safe and secure. Thankfully, that breeder hadn’t left the convention center yet: as much as I love snakes, I don’t have time to care for one now, and in no way would I have taken someone else’s without paying for it. However, holding this beauty was a great way to end the show, and I hope whomever gets him appreciates him as much as I did.
As an interlude, in the nearly 15 years that I have been attending the NARBC Arlington reptile and amphibian shows, one of the simple pleasures is walking off the convention center parking lot to gaze over the lake separating the convention center from the now-defunct Ballpark. The real draw, of course, are the cormorants that flock here for most of the year, gorging on bluegill and other small fish and then basking on any available human-free area. Half of the fun involves a flood drain at one end, which is a little too small for all of the cormorants who want to bask and dry off. You think penguins are bad about knocking each other into the water for an advantage? Penguins are champions of Marquis of Queensbury sparring rules compared to cormorants.
The problem with being a vendor instead of an attendee at an NARBC show: cormorants don’t bask first thing in the morning. No cormorants this trip: just one particularly determined heron.
To be continued…
Today’s shameless plug, thanks to NARBC Arlington attendees asking about where I got it: this carnivorous plant rancher is modeling a Dunkleosteus mask from the Alaska paleoartist Scott Elyard, thereby demonstrating that wearing a reconstruction of a Devonian armored predator is still less scary than having passersby see his unmasked smile. This one should be on driver’s licenses, too.
To be continued…
As with everyone else, 2020 has been an interesting year for the Triffid Ranch, in the old sense. The original business plan for 2020 was to expand the previous range and scope of touring shows, even down to the first shows outside of Texas since the first show in 2008. Well, we all know how well that went: after last March’s Nosferatu Festival in Austin, every event, expo, fair, and gathering planned for this year has been rescheduled for 2021, tentatively rescheduled for 2022, or point-blank cancelled. Worse, thanks to COVID-19 resurgences, cities that planned to reopen for large gatherings reconsidered those strategies, and even more shut down in the last couple of months. Last week, the Aquashella Dallas aquarium show announced that it was rescheduling for 2021, leaving one show still on the register: the North American Reptile Breeders Conference Arlington show, running on September 26 and 27.
To give credit to the NARBC staff and the crew at the recently renamed eSports Expo Center (formerly the Arlington Convention Center), the NARBC staff mandated masks and cleanings, hand sanitizer stations were spread throughout the area, and everyone at least tried to encourage social distancing and basic hygiene. Even so, there were just enough attendees who promptly ripped their masks off as soon as they entered, as well as arguing that “masks don’t work,” that things remained more than a little uncomfortable through the weekend. Barring more stringent ordinances in Arlington requiring mask use, this is probably the best that it’s going to get: subsequent NARBC shows, either as a vendor or as an attendee, are going to be contingent upon an effective COVID-19 vaccine.
Even with all of that, the overwhelming majority of NARBC attendees were as usual: unfailingly polite, curious, and friendly, with a lot of really thoughtful questions and suggestions, and I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t miss that interaction. It was obvious that they missed it, too, especially based on the response to news about the Sunday morning porch sales at the gallery through October. And this, friends, is why I do this.
There was one other bright side to all of this: it was a matter of discovering that even with six months between shows, the porch sales kept the organizing juices flowing, so setup and breakdown was much easier than it was with the NARBC spring show last February. Of course, being in the middle of a simply glorious Sarracenia season didn’t hurt, so those who wondered about the lack of pitcher plants and Venus flytraps at the last show were dutifully impressed. Best of all, even with a sudden return of hot and sunny weather that OF COURSE came over the weekend, the weather was cool and clement enough that everything was exploding with new growth. A lot of new people went home with new plants, and this is hopefully a harbinger for the October Porch Sales as well.
And finally, a shoutout to Adeline Robinson, the artist responsible for the new Triffid Ranch poster on display at 2020 events, whom I finally met in real life this weekend. Among other things, I ransacked her selection of herp-themed stickers, so now I could tell my wife Caroline that I was coming home with a crocodile monitor and she couldn’t do anything about it. Adeline was also responsible for the design for the NARBC Tinsley Park shirt, which you should snag at the first available opportunity.
To be continued…
One more time: no Sunday morning Porch Sale this weekend, because the Triffid Ranch will be out at the NARBC Arlington reptile and amphibian show, so look for the new banners. Bring your masks and hand sanitizer, because it promises to be a hoot.
Well, it’s been interesting. Six months into a pandemic, and we’re not all dead yet. Pining for the fijords, maybe, but at least we aren’t at the “have a drink and walk around, I’ve got a lot to think about” stage yet. At least we haven’t hit the “Aside from THAT, Mrs. Kennedy, what do you think of Dallas?” stage of denial, for which we should all be exceedingly thankful. It’s all about the little things.
To start, it’s been really rough for carnivorous plant growers and sellers over the last two years, so please offer solidarity and respect to Sarracenia Northwest, which had to evacuate the wildfires tearing up Oregon east of Portland. Both Jacob and Jeff are fine, and they’re trying to get caught up on back orders, so please feel free to show them more love. (Both of them were very patient and considerate with me when I was first getting into carnivores, so I owe them a debt I simply cannot repay. Seriously: they’re good folks.
On the gallery side, the renovation continues, if only as a demonstration that Tetris games are much more fun on the other side of the screen. For those who missed the previous update, the current final liquidation sale of the Pier 1 chain gave an opportunity to revamp and update the shelving in the gallery, as the Lundia modular shelving used by Pier 1 was both easier to modify and adjust and more tolerant of the, erm, impressive weight of some of the larger enclosures. This, of course, meant clearing off the existing shelf units, finding places for everything in the interim, sealing and finishing the new shelves, putting the shelves together (much more difficult than originally thought), and moving plant enclosures back onto the new arrangements. Even small changes led to massive cascades as far as improvements in storage and rearrangement of assets, so what was intended to be a quick one-week switchout turned into something that should be complete and ready to be viewed by the middle of October. I now have nothing but respect for museums needing to reorganize their stored collections, because it just grows.
On the subject of shows and outside events, after the weekend of September 26, we’ve got nothing. We just got word today that the aquarium trade show Aquashella cancelled all of its events for 2020 due to COVID-19 safety concerns, including the planned Halloween Weekend show in Dallas, and pretty much everything scheduled for November and December has been delayed until 2021. To date, the only remaining show for 2020 is the NARBC Arlington reptile and amphibian show on September 26 and 27, and that one is only continuing because of a recent upgrade of the Arlington Convention Center’s air filtration system, limits on the number of people in the convention center at any given time, and mandatory mask compliance. If there’s any good out of this, it’s that a lot of 2021 events are already prepaid, with the presumption that this won’t be ongoing through then, too. (And boy howdy, am I glad that the Triffid Ranch was considered too small-potatoes for the Dallas Art Fair, because to be caught in that mess…)
(As an aside, the official schedule for the Oddities & Curiosities Expos, including Dallas’s and Austin’s shows, comes out on Halloween. 2021 probably won’t be the year the Triffid Ranch appears at shows outside of Texas, but the intent is there.)
With the implosion of the local and out-of-town show community, the focus for the rest of the year will be on gallery events, both inside and outside. What makes October particularly bittersweet is that our neighbor, Visions of Venice, is moving out on Halloween weekend for a larger, more accessible locale in Dallas’s Design District, and it wouldn’t be right not to have one final sendoff before Stefano sets up in his new location. Details will follow, not just for a limited-engagement indoor event in mid-October, but for a freshly available outdoor event on Halloween Day thanks to the Aquashella cancellation. As always, the Sunday Morning Porch Sales run through the whole of October: we currently have tentative plans for similar events in November, but that also is up in the air.
Other than that, things go well, and with impending weather weather, expect a lot of new enclosures and enclosure concepts. See you around.
For those who didn’t get up on Sunday morning until the clock officially read “afternoon,” September 20 was a sterling example of why so many Dallasites tolerate our brutal summers. After months and months of running from the rising sun like the characters in the classic Ray Bradbury story “Frost and Fire,” there’s nothing that compares to the feeling of standing outside on a cool September morning in direct sun without burning the first four layers of skin clean off. Best of all, this morning also meant a cavalcade of plants.
The only downside to the end of September is the excess of riches. Dallas was already famous for its explosion of outdoor events in September and October, even before outdoor events became a near-necessity for safety and sanity, and we’re currently looking at an outdoor exposition explosion that’s simply unprecedented in the city’s history. This isn’t a complaint about how people have so many options and limited weekend time: this is a complaint that I can’t be in 18 places at once on a Sunday morning. We should all have it this rough.
Just as a reminder, September 27 won’t have a Sunday Porch Sale: the whole schmeal is moving to the NARBC Arlington reptile and amphibian show on September 26 and 27, complete with masks and lots of hand sanitizer. However, they’re coming back in October, with a vengeance, so make plans now.
A little resurfacing between gallery renovations and preparations for this coming weekend’s show at NARBC Arlington: no Porch Sale on September 27, but the details for the October Porch Sales are now live. After that, both impending winter dormancy for about half of the carnivores and rapidly declining weather conditions in the Dallas area mean that outdoor events will have to wait until 2021. Spread the word.
Well, this weekend is going to be considerably more quiet than last: no interviews, no movie commentary, and just the last of the Sunday morning Porch Sales for September (on September 26 and 27, the Triffid Ranch will be at the NARBC Arlington reptile and amphibian show). The Porch Sales will continue through October; no word about subsequent interviews, but if they happen, I might tell the story of how I got my record with the FBI.
New week, new challenges for the Sunday Porch Sales. New tent, new neighbors (in particular, the owner/proprietor of Caroline Crawford Originals), and a spectacularly beautiful day in which to throw a gathering. Combine that with returning customers, new ideas for a brand new enclosure commission, and a pair of dear friends who haven’t been out since the lockdown started, and it couldn’t have been a better day.
Not only did doubling the tent space work out, but this is going to be the ongoing trend for the rest of the season. I won’t be out for the Porch Sale on September 27 (that weekend is reserved for the NARBC Arlington reptile and amphibian show, barring a last-minute cancellation and rescheduling), but the Porch Sales will continue through October, and we’re definitely repeating the fun on September 20.
For those contemplating coming out in the near future, the next Porch Sale runs on September 20: you don’t have to sign up for tickets to attend (the Eventbrite listing is to make sure that the Porch Sales get picked up by various news venues through the greater Dallas area), and it’ll run its usual 7:00 am to noon schedule. See you then.
In the middle of a pandemic, and right in the middle of a much-needed gallery renovation, there’s still more than enough time to hang out with Loyd and Charles of Texas Frightmare Weekend and talk up carnivorous plants. Sadly, the planned Twitch Prime showing of Annihilation didn’t happen because Amazon removed it from Prime streaming just that day, but we still had a lot of fun with Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things. (Right now, we’re talking about doing this again in the future, and I’m going to recommend the best documentary on maintaining and cultivating heirloom roses ever made.)
And it’s a busy safe weekend: Friday belongs to gallery renovation and new shelf installation, Saturday belongs to Frightmare HQ video (an interview at 2:00 pm Central and a guest host for a Twitch Prime Watch Party screening of Annihilation at 7:00 pm Central), and Sunday to this week’s Porch Sale. To paraphrase one of of great philosophers of the Twentieth Century, Paul says check it out.
The Triffid Ranch Porch Sales have now run for long enough that new folks arriving ask about some of the Triffid Ranch standards, and one of those is asking about the Shirt Price specials. Since outside temperatures are dropping enough that bringing out more enclosures is a reasonable option, and because people take a look at the Larry Carey original on the banners in front and back and ask “Where can I get one of these?”, it’s time for reminder.
The Shirt Price option is really quite easy. All you have to do is wear a Triffid Ranch garment to any event (Porch Sale, outdoor event, indoor event, or open house), and you automatically qualify for a discount. Enclosures display both the standard price and Porch Sale price, and everything else gets at least $5 off the standard price. The garment doesn’t matter (T-shirt, sweat shirt, tote bag, hoodie, tank top: they all qualify), but buying it and then letting it sit at home doesn’t cut it: the Shirt Price discount only applies if you’re wearing it to an event. (Sadly, it’s also not cumulative: wearing a shirt, hoodie, and hat won’t increase the discount, although you WILL get accolades for your fashion sense and your enthusiasm.) Even better, for those who really like the pattern, the store also offers posters, stickers, stationery, and laptop sleeves: feel free to put a little Larry Carey all over the place.
As to what I get out of it: not a thing, other than satisfaction. Larry is a dear friend and former boss, and our morning work break discussion sessions were instrumental in inspiring a lot of the enclosures seen at the gallery today. He’s no longer in Dallas (he moved to Eugene, Oregon for a new job about two years ago), but since he refused to take payment for the original poster design, the Shirt Price program both guarantees that he gets payment off every purchase (any shirts I sell at shows and events are ones bought directly from his Redbubble store) and exposes others to his work. While it won’t give you a discount with the Triffid Ranch, take a look at the rest of his Redbubble shop: the odds are pretty good that you’ll find something suitable for family and school reunions, baby showers, tailgate parties, job interviews, and any other situation where, to steal from Bill Griffith, “if you can’t say something nice, say something surrealistic.”
Since the weather and the lineup keep surprising, the Triffid Ranch Porch Sales continue through September 20: the only reason one isn’t running on September 27 is because the whole kit and kaboodle will be out at the NARBC Arlington reptile and amphibian sale at the Arlington Convention Center that weekend. (If the NARBC show is cancelled between now and then, the Porch Sale is on for the 27th.) As for October, the plan now is to keep them going through the whole of the month: after that, we’ll figure out options, as it’ll just be too cold in the morning for tropical plants and too late in the season for the plants requiring a winter dormancy. It’ll all work out.
Sunday morning, it’s the Triffid Ranch Porch Sale. Friday night, though, take the time to hook up the Panoptikon DJ streams, in fond reminiscence of when Labor Day weekend always marked the beginning of Happy Goth Season in Dallas.
One of the first Texasisms I was taught upon first moving to the Dallas area in 1979 was “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” Especially in North Texas, this understates the situation. While the summer so far has been remarkably mild, on a par with 1987, the last two weeks were as if someone decided “Wait a minute. This is TEXAS. We’ve got to get in a whole summer before Labor Day!” That’s pretty much what we got: hot and sunny every day, with a south wind that dropped relative humidity through the floor and sucked the moisture out of everything it caressed. The finale was on August 29, where the Dallas area broke a heat record last set when my in-laws were newlyweds and the famed Dallas “drought of record” was still raging. That Saturday night wasn’t much better: grass crunched under feet, opening the greenhouse door caused half the plants to wilt because of the oppressively low humidity, and the air was full of the smell of burning flint.
That was Saturday. Sunday started off with roiling thunderclouds and lots of flashing, but we get a lot of false alarms about rain in the summer. About an hour before opening the Porch Sale, though, I looked off to the west and thought “Hmmm, we have a wall of water coming right for us.” That wall of water hit, and kept coming, and kept coming, for the next three hours. The parking lot in front of the gallery became a kayak course, and it kept coming. The shrubbery and grassy medians in the industrial park started turning green again, and it kept coming. Honestly, it got so bad that I expected my sister to arrive and yell “For he IS the Kwizach Haderach!” For three solid hours, the rain kept coming, and then we got what we always get when a gullywasher storm hits. That is, full sun, light breezes, and that strange hum that we get at the end of every summer, where the earth slurps up every last drop of moisture and realizes that there’s still plenty of room for more.
The better news on all of this is that we’re going to have a stranger September than previously expected. For those outside of the Dallas area, the end of summer is a matter of perspective out here, because it ends when it ends. Normally, what most people call “summer” ends in the last week of September to the first two weeks of October, when we finally get rain, and the first day that might actually justify pulling out jackets and sweaters hits in the second to third week of October. (This doesn’t always hold true: November 2017 was best remembered for temperatures more suited for June, as I discovered the hard way upon having a gallery in a dying shopping mall where the owner didn’t want to fix the air conditioning system.) This Sunday, though, even though much cooler than the last several weekends, promises to be the last day for the foreseeable future with anything approximating average temperatures, and that first jacket day is supposed to hit this coming Wednesday. Both the plants and I can’t wait.
Anyway, the Porch Sales continue through September, and because the weather promises to be so much better than the usual Labor Day weekend conditions, this means a lot of new surprises. First and foremost is that this coming weekend, the Triffid Ranch tent is joined by Caroline Crawford Originals: it’s not quite the reopening of show season that we hoped to get in September, but it’s close enough. As always, masks are mandatory for everybody’s safety, and we’ll see you on Sunday morning at 7:00.
The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale is a regular Email newsletter, with archives available on the main TTR site at least a month after first publication. To receive the latest newsletters, please subscribe.)
Originally published on July 17, 2020.
Installment #19: “A Little Deluge Will Do Ya”
July in Texas, to folks who don’t live here, brings up one impression: blasting heat. After 38 of my last 40 summers in Dallas (two were spent trapped in Portland, Oregon, which has its own summer weather issues), it’s hard to argue with that impression, because that pretty much sums up July…about half of the time. Figuring out which half, though, is the fun of it, because you won’t find any hints as to how a summer is going to proceed until about two-thirds of the way through.
For those outside of North Texas, we may not have the same plant diversity as the famed fynbos of South Africa, but we have a lot of the same climate. Although it may not appear so when you’re on it, but the northwest portion of the state is at an incline, and one that you can’t appreciate until you try driving a big truck toward Amarillo and realize that the aforementioned incline requires slipping into lower and lower gears. That incline, the Edwards Plateau, is a little show of plate tectonics, as the irresistible force of the expansion of the Atlantic Ocean and the immovable object of the great Pacific Plate mean that everything to the west of Dallas is gradually crumpling and buckling. Meanwhile, the Great Plains to the north constantly heat up this time of the year, setting off winds that are fed by the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, leading to a constant south wind through Dallas for about nine months of the year. The sun goes down and the south wind usually dissipates, only to start up the blast furnace shortly after sunrise.
What does this mean? It means that you should buy cookies and beer for every Dallas-based meteorologist you ever meet, whenever they need it, which is all of the time. With precious little warning, cold fronts bracketed by the Rockies pass down past the Texas-Oklahoma border, only to run into that south wind coming up from the Gulf. They don’t just release gentle rains, either: the collisions usually produce huge waves of small but intense storms that rip through the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex like a shotgun blast through tulle. Ten to 30 minutes of intense rain, and then the south wind cuts through and sucks out every last drop of moisture out of the area. When the winds stop after dark, the local humidity rises a bit, and we may even get enough clouds to hint at rain. As soon as the sun comes up, though, it’s back to hot, sunny, and dry enough to make every breath feel like concrete aerosol.
Oh, but the fun comes when you make the assumption that this will continue. The end of July is always hot and dry, unless a cold front passes through for a week and makes everything cool and rainy. It’s always the same through the day, until you see a storm front coming out of the west dropping so much rain that it looks like a wall of water coming at you. That rain is always diffuse, until you’re standing on one side of a street under a full sun watching the other side of the street drown under the onslaught. That rain is always coming, until you look at weather radar and watch as the storm that just pummeled Fort Worth evaporates halfway to Dallas. Oh, and those storms always rush out of the west, until they suddenly come steamrollering in from the Louisiana border. The one absolute is that we haven’t seen snow flurries in July since the mid-Pleistocene, but grapefruit-sized hail is just as much fun, especially for pedestrians and cyclists without easy access to shelter.
And what does all of this have to do with carnivorous plants? It means that you need to have pity on all of your outdoor plants, and not just the carnivores. You can move out of the way of Texas weather. They’re kinda stuck.
Welp, since Texas Governor Greg Abbott keeps plagiarizing his COVID-19 policies from an obscure 1974 teleplay (and I suspect that life will again imitate art when his supporters decide that he’s insufficiently ideologically pure), shows and events keeps getting cancelled because nobody can guarantee the safety of attendees and vendors. The latest casualties are the rescheduling of the New Orleans Oddities & Curiosities Expo previously set for August 29, and the Houston Horror Film Festival previously set for the subsequent Labor Day weekend. Unfortunately, their new dates for 2021 are the same weekend, and that weekend is the weekend after the rescheduled Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo, so I’m having to delay New Orleans and Houston for 2021. Please: if you’re interested in either, please don’t stop planning to attend when it’s safe to do so. Until I’m able to be in three places at once, though, it’s just not an option for this little carnivorous plant gallery.
As for everything else scheduled for 2020, it’s a wait-and-see schedule right now. NARBC Arlington is still on for September as of this writing, and AquaShella Dallas is still on for Halloween weekend, so keep checking back for details. We’ll have a Triffid Ranch show sometime between now and when the Dallas Cowboys finally win a shutout World Series pennant: I promise.
This time on Shameless Plugs, it’s time to hype up a longtime vital service while everyone is refocusing on cooking on their own. As an enthusiastic lover of spice that ranges from “medium hot” to “that salsa just peeled the enamel off my teeth in big floppy strips,” I’d be remiss in not mentioning that the crew at Defcon Sauces has been experimenting with a lot of new rubs, sauces, and powders, and the Defcon Malum allium garlic powder is now an essential spice at the gallery for lunch breaks. (I bow to nobody in my appreciation for the Defcon Habby Horse hot habanero/horseradish sauce, so the Malum Allium was a very welcome surprise for roasted vegetables and other dishes that could use a bit of a kick.) Edgar Harris says “check it out.”
As an additional recurring plug, the Dallas goth club Panoptikon already has a special place with the Triffid Ranch (co-owner Jiri forgets more about carnivorous plants in his sleep than I’ll ever be able to learn), and the ongoing shutdown has hit it as hard as every other club in the area. That said, the crew has become very proactive with regular Friday and Saturday night events via Twitch, and the Friday night streams are now essential listening while I’m working at the gallery. And now you know why it’s been a little while since the last Triffid Ranch Twitch event: no way am I interrupting their show for any reason.
They were delayed for a while due to printing issues, but the reprint of Redfern Natural History’s Drosera of the World just arrived, and each volume is potentially dangerous if falling from even from a moderate height onto an unsuspecting bystander’s head. All three of them together could kill a moose, and the interiors are just as lethal to anyone wanting light reading. All three are beautiful volumes of the world’s known sundew species, with the stunning color photos we’ve come to expect from Redfern. When they’re sold out, the odds are pretty good that the only place you’ll be able to get them is at an estate sale, so get your order in before they’re completely gone, and don’t worry about the price. If anything, they’re underpriced for the value.
Regular newsletter readers may already know how much of the Triffid Ranch gallery soundtrack consists of entries from Austin’s One Eyed Doll, and singer/guitarist Kimberly Freeman has been busy during the pandemic. She currently has a large selection of new songs and covers in the Kimberly’s Quarantine Playlist on YouTube and elsewhere, including the only cover of John Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels” I’ve heard that’s worthy of the time. Go give them all a listen, and join me in looking forward to new entries as events keep grinding on.
The last of the Sunday morning Porch Sales for August runs this weekend, and the schedule for September is now up. (Because the NARBC reptile and amphibian show in Arlington is still on, there’s no Porch Sale for September 27.) After that, August 31 is celebrated the way it has been every year for the last 35: a big pile of barbecue, a lack of prior commitments, and the annual viewing of one of my all-time favorite films. And so it goes.
By best estimates, what humans call the Milky Way Galaxy contains approximately six billion worlds roughly similar in diameter and density as their homeworld, with approximately one-third of these mapped by direct survey or indirect observation via flyby automation or gravitic lensing. Of those six billion worlds, at least half are inappropriate for any life utilizing carbon-based biochemistry, being either sulfuric acid-misted hothouses or methane ice-wrapped wanderers in interstellar space. Others may have been paradise gardens before the planet’s plate tectonics ended and its water cycle crashed, and others thrived before their stars expanded into red giants, they fell into gas giant companions in erratic orbits, they had the misfortune to be far too close to a neighboring supernova, or passing black holes shredded their entire systems. This still leaves approximately two billion worlds in one thoroughly average spiral galaxy, and about a billion worlds in its two main satellite galaxies, that currently have or recently had the capacity to support carbon-based life (with many expanding into silicon-based life, either biological or synthetic). One-thousandth of those had a long enough lifespan or proper conditions to encourage intelligent life, and a thousandth of that managed to get sentient life with the capability, ability, or motivation to leave their birth systems. Even with these numbers, considering the age of this galaxy, this led to a lot of mysteries, anomalies, curiosities, and annoyances from intelligences that otherwise left no trace.
Compounding those annoyances are the ones left by an obviously highly advanced civilization that wasn’t native to the planet on which they were found. The planet Agosto on the outer rim of the galaxy was nobody’s idea of a vacation world: about half of its global sea was covered with a thick algal mat that offered a platform for various filter-feeding animals and plants and choked out just about everything else, and the sole continent was gradually colonized by a unique group of plant-animal mashups attempting to get out of the ocean before the algal mat choked out everything. Worse, the algae fed on high levels of sulfur compounds in the ocean, thanks to extensive undersea volcanism, and excreted hydrogen sulfide as a waste product instead of oxygen as on most other known worlds, making visiting Agosto a dangerous proposition even in pressure suits and habitation domes. The fact that Agosto is visited constantly, by a significant number of the spacefaring races of the galaxy, is due to one confounding artifact found on a southern peninsula.
By first appearances, the apparatus appears ridiculously primitive: a single flat face with a clock-like dial and a series of pointers, surrounded by four chambers packed with what appear to be metal gears. Appearances in this case are nearly dangerously deceiving. The whole of the apparatus is no more than about 30 meters thick, with no sign of internal structure other than what appears on the outside, The dial rotates randomly back and forth, and the pointers highlighting individual segments on the dial’s face, both with no schedule or pattern that has been ascertained from at least a century’s study. Likewise, the gears within the chambers seem to show no inherent purpose: some rotate constantly, while others have not moved since the apparatus’s discovery. Even the two guardian sculptures in front of the apparatus are deceiving: what superficially appears to be jade or serpentine is actually an artificially strengthened nanomaterial that constantly heals damage from sun and atmosphere, and they emit beams of high-speed particles at seemingly random intervals, spreading out through deep space. Several of those beams were picked up simultaneously by at least three species, and their duly appointed representatives oversee all operations on Agosto, including who can arrive and who can leave.
While the apparatus appears simple and shallow, researchers have discovered that it is the anchor for literally billions of either eddies in hyperspace or pocket universes, depending upon the researcher desperately trying to make sense of the phenomenon with completely inadequate tools and theories. At random times, the face will reach a particular configuration, some gears will spin, others will stop, and a container materializes at the apparatus’s base. Equally randomly, that container will allow some to open it and refuse others, but all supplicants succeeding at opening it have to deposit an item within. If the item is accepted, it disappears, only to be replaced with something else. Often, the container takes random junk and trades for absolute marvels, but just as often, it takes valuables and offers junk. Or, at least, that is what it appears to be at first: many items appear to have been caught in stasis for millions or sometimes billions of years, but occasionally something comes through that gives every indication that it came from the far future. Sometimes, very rarely, the item offered is living, and once, it was sentient. The assemblage of weapons surrounding the apparatus, constantly operated by trained operators from across the galaxy, hints as to how much firepower was necessary to stop it once it was free, and the determination to make sure that any brethren still catalogued within the apparatus remain there.
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)
Plant: Nepenthes boschiana
Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.
Shirt Price: $250