Unfortunately, the Triffid Ranch Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas don’t start this weekend, nor is the gallery participating in Small Business Saturday. There’s a good reason for it, though. The Triffid Ranch goes abroad this weekend, setting up on Friday for the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays showcase at Palmer Event Center in Austin on Saturday and Sunday, November 27 and 28. In the meantime, solidarity with friends and cohorts in retail, and the usual suggestion on an addition to the incessant Christmas music playlists:
One issue with raising carnivores that doesn’t get as much coverage is the issue with weeds. Since almost all carnivores need moist and acidic conditions, that means that the overwhelming choice for potting mixes involves peat. Whether it’s long-fiber sphagnum for top dressing or milled spaghnum for large pots, even ostensibly sterilized sphagnum has unavoidable seeds and spores, sometimes ones preserved within the peat for decades or even centuries. Give them the right conditions and they’ll come right up, and if not kept under control, they’ll take over and choke out the carnivores with whom they share space.
Exactly what comes up depends upon the source and the general conditions. For instance, most sphagnum has plenty of sphagnum spores, and if cared for, this can be a dependable source for live sphagnum moss. Likewise, in indoor enclosures, the main invasives are ferns, which are either cosmopolitan species whose spores moved on the wind or ones endemic to the area in which the sphagnum was collected. (Because of years of use of New Zealand long-fiber sphagnum, Triffid Ranch enclosures tend to get a wide range of native New Zealand ferns sprouting at odd times.) Outdoors, the main pests are marsh grasses, which attempt to produce large root mats on the bottom of pools and pots. Some of the invasives can even be other carnivores: sundews are famed for spreading seeds far and wide, and some people complain about the number of bladderworts that take over carnivore collections. (SOME people. Others look at it as getting two carnivores for the price of one, especially when the bladderworts bloom in spring.) Most aren’t a particular problem, but many varieties of invasive marsh grass need to be cut back before they’re impossible to remove.
As mentioned before, the biggest problem with grasses and ferns is the root system. Especially when they circle the interior of a pot, they form impenetrable webs that can’t be unraveled easily, and they flow out the bottom of the container if given the opportunity and spread. They’re also extremely tough, and attempting to tear off root balls like the one above is more likely to damage the plant you want to save. Worse, simply pulling the top growth on the plant just encourages new growth from the roots, so the roots need to go.
This sort of work requires a knife or other cutting device, and preferably one with serrated edges to rasp through especially tough roots. In this case, my best friend gave me a very nice Hokuru hori hori knife as a best man present at his wedding, and this beast is even better than the hori hori knife I’ve sworn by for nearly two decades. This one has a stainless steel blade that dulls much more slowly than the carbon-steel blade of my old knife, and it comes with both straight and serrated cutting edges. Suffice to say, the neighbors started to worry about the screams of “Sap and rhizomes for my lord Arioch!” coming from the greenhouse, and Mournblade here was a big factor. (If you don’t want a big knife like this, can’t grip a big knife like this, or want something that fits into smaller spaces, pretty much any serrated knife will get the job done. Spare steak knives at thrift stores are a great option, just so long as you aren’t expecting to use them for steak in the future.)
I imagine that this blade cuts through Pan Tang hunting tigers and Elenoin as well as it does through grass root balls, but that’s not something that’s going to be tested soon. Alas.
With a combination of slicing and pulling, the interior of the root ball is now exposed, and once the roots have been peeled from about half of the root ball, the flytrap inside is easily liberated and repotted. The rest can go into the compost pile or just on the lawn to be chopped up with the next mowing. Just beware if the removed plant has flowers or seed pods, and make sure to dump them well away from your carnivores unless you want to risk it happening again. Oh, it’ll probably happen again, at the worst possible time, but the idea here is to keep things to a dull roar so greenhouse collection cleanup is measured in minutes instead of days. As for sterilizing the sphagnum so it doesn’t happen again at all…well, do you have a spare thermonuclear device that isn’t working hard?
One of the best things about cleaning up the greenhouse in November is the color. Dallas isn’t known for brilliant fall foliage colors: with the exception of the occasional crape myrtle going red or purple, most of our tree colors range toward pastels. Carnivores, not being from the area, aren’t subject to the pastel rule, and occasionally go wild with late autumn color, as these Venus flytrap “Aki Ryu” cultivars demonstrate.
It’s not only flytraps going for brilliant color, either. The Sarracenia outside are also going into winter dormancy, and the S. leucophylla and its hybrids aren’t shy about brilliant patches of color as they’re shutting down. It certainly makes up for the temperate carnivores whose dormancy habits consist of going brown and shriveled in a week.
Every temperate carnivore shown at Triffid Ranch events has an ID tag that includes common name, Latin name, light requirements, a notice stating “Rainwater or distilled water ONLY,” and a second notice reading “Put into dormancy in winter.” The first question is always “so how do I put it into dormancy in winter? Do I put it in the garage?”
For the most part, in most places in North Texas, you can leave flytraps in dormancy in the same places that they frequented in summer. They still need full sun for at least 6 hours every day, and they still require rainwater or distilled water. They don’t need to stand in water, and in fact that’s a good way to kill them, so if you move your flytrap, move it to a place where its container won’t fill up with water during the inevitable winter rains. Otherwise, leave them outside: if temperatures threaten to get really cold, such as below 15F (-9.4C), move them to a place where they’ll be protected from wind, such as a covered porch, but otherwise leave them alone. Flytraps are mostly found in northern North Carolina (with patches in South Carolina and the Florida panhandle), so they’re adapted toward surviving rougher winters than anything we’ll see in North Texas more than once every 30 years or so. Whatever you do, don’t bring them inside for the winter: that winter dormancy is so essential for storing energy for spring that most temperate carnivores can survive a winter without that dormancy, but they generally won’t survive two winters.
The second question asked about dormancy is “how can you tell it’s gone dormant?” With most temperate carnivores, that’s easy: they stop growing and most of their trapping structures die off. Flytraps are a little more subtle, but just as fascinating.
The image above is of a clutch of the “King Henry” flytrap cultivar. “King Henry” is one of the largest available flytraps cultivars, and it’s specifically bred to produce oversized traps, usually at least twice the size of “typical” flytraps. During the summer, flytraps produce both short-stemmed traps that remain close to the ground and long-stemmed summer traps that raise well off the ground, and “King Henry” summer traps are some of the longest ones available. By the end of October in the Northern Hemisphere, the summer traps start dying off and shriveling up, and they won’t be back until the middle of May.
The summer traps may be collapsing, about now, but the traps around the crown of the plant are still growing for as long as temperatures allow. Even this late in the season, the traps may catch an occasional bug, but those bugs are going to be rare, and the trap may not get enough light to digest any prey that’s caught. All too soon, though, those traps will be there for nothing other than catching light, and older traps will even curl outward to maximize the amount of surface area able to intercept sunlight. Younger traps may still be able to close when stimulated, but usually no force on Earth will get a flytrap trap to close in the dead of winter, and you shouldn’t try, either. Even in winters so cold that the smaller traps die off, the crown of the plant remains green and continues with the mission of harvesting light.
About four months from now, we get to find out how successful dormancy was. This usually starts with new traps growing from the center of each plant, with older traps gradually dying off as they’re replaced by a new generation. If you’re really lucky, you may see a strange shoot coming from the center: these generally grow about a foot (about 30 1/2cm) high and then open tiny white flowers at the tip. Now you have something else to look forward to seeing in spring.
Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the days are shorter, the light is more diffuse, and the daily temperatures steadily head toward their average low, which means for most temperate carnivorous plants, it’s dormancy season. For American audiences, a good thumbnail for the duration of that dormancy is “from Thanksgiving to St. Patrick’s Day”: for everyone else, generally winter dormancy in the Dallas area is between the last weekend in November to the middle of March. Between that time, flytraps, North American pitcher plants, cobra plants, and temperate sundews, butterworts, and bladderworts slow down, die back, and otherwise settle in for a long winter nap. They don’t completely die back: most at least keep a few leaves in order to photosynthesize all winter, but they’re not bothering to attempt to capture prey because there’s little to no prey for them to capture, and the expenditure of energy on trap growth and digestive enzymes is more than what they’d get from converting water and carbon dioxide into sugar and oxygen.
Because of their slowing growth, winter is an excellent time to get temperate carnivores in order. Snipping off dead leaves to discourage animal pests is an obvious one, and if temperatures dropped early, as they did in Dallas this autumn, repotting and weeding is another. It’s also an excellent time to evaluate how the plant will get through the winter. If it’s in a pot that wouldn’t survive a hard freeze such as with our weeklong blizzard in February, now is a great time to move it out of said pot and into temporary accommodations that can handle a week or more of freeze stress. (Toward the beginning of March, when we’re reasonably sure that we aren’t getting a major storm, it can go back into the pot, with new potting medium, while it’s still dormant.)
Late autumn is also an excellent time to assess summer damage. The 2021 summer in North Texas was relatively mild and mellow until the beginning of September, when we had a combination of temperatures more typical for August and six weeks of strong winds and sunny skies, meaning that local humidity dropped through the floor until nearly Halloween. If we got rain, it was very quick, as in over and done in less than five minutes, so patchy as to be completely unpredictable, and rapidly evaporated in the south wind. Because of all of this, several flats of Venus flytraps intended for next year’s shows were badly burnt in mid-September, and they weren’t expected to live. The plan in November was to go through them all, toss pots where the flytraps were expired, and try to nurse the survivors so they’d get through the winter. Considering the damage, I expected maybe one pot out of every ten might be salvageable.
Well, in a classic example of “don’t throw out your plants until you KNOW they’re dead,” most of those burned flytraps came back. Flytraps and their sundew cousins regularly produce new plants from offshoots from their roots, and while the main plants burned off in September, their roots survived and came back. Fully eight of every ten not only recovered but produced whole clumps of tiny flytraps, happily catching as much light as they could.
The real surprise was the size: most of these could have passed for seedlings. Since they’re already established, though, most of these will reach full size by next summer, and let’s see what happens after that.
As for the greenhouse, it’s now full of a wide variety of Venus flytrap cultivars. I may need to schedule more shows to find homes for them all.
It’s nearing the end of November, and it’s coming up on the 57th anniversary of THAT day. No, not the “back and to the left” day, although you’d think it was a holiday in Dallas. Maybe the next time Dallas gives itself a new holiday, we might involve a few more Cybermen and Silurians, just to be a little different?
Next on the refurbishing: the Nepenthes hemsleyana enclosure “Bat God.” When completed last year, the hemsleyana in it went into replanting shock for a short time, but then exploded with new growth. Over the last 11 months, it made up for its lost time, to the point where it’s starting to overtake the enclosure. The only problem with this: for some reason, new leaves grow and extend well-formed ribs to support new pitchers…but the pitchers aren’t growing. Changes in humidity, temperature, and air circulation all do the same thing: nothing.
With many plants, the best option for dealing with a lack of blooms or other structures is to cut the plant way back and watch it regrow. With Nepenthes pitcher plants, the best option from personal experience is to wait until the plant produces basal shoots, often simply called “basals,” off the roots or from the lower portions of the stem. The actual process is a bit more complex, but the idea is to cut the stem right above the basal and let the basal grow to full size. If the basals also don’t produce pitchers, then the problem lies elsewhere.
All of this gets tested in the next week, as a new basal sprouted early this week and promptly started growing as enthusiastically as the main vine. The plan is to remove the vine and let the basal grow on their own, take cuttings from the vine, get those rooted, and see how many of them succeed. If things work well, this not only means that “Bat God” has a hemsleyana with big prominent lower and upper pitchers so visitors can see the famed bat-attracting pitchers, but rerooted cuttings should be established and ready to be transplanted in time for the big Triffid Ranch event at Texas Frightmare Weekend next April.
Any way this works out, the renovations and updates on available Triffid Ranch enclosures continue, as well as maintenance on previously purchased enclosures. It’s going to be a busy winter.
As mentioned last week, the relative free time opened up by the end of outdoor show season and the Venus flytraps and Sarracenia pitcher plants going into dormancy meant an opportunity to go back and renovate enclosures that needed a bit of restoration work. The combination of high humidity, high light, and motion from displaying it in multiple exhibitions meant that the centerpiece for the enclosure “Antarctica In Decline” needed to be completely redone, as the adhesive that held it together went incredibly brittle and fragile in only a few years. In addition to rebuilding and resheathing the main piece, a glass-encrusted resin Cryolophosaurus skull, the base needed some augmentation as well. It was still in very good condition for its original purpose, supporting the weight of the skull, but it needed something more.
Most of the time spent on this restoration was less on the actual construction and more on selecting the individual fragments of tumbled glass to be used: because of the vagaries of tumbling, as well as in breaking up the glass in the first place (the preferred method being putting a large rock in a bucket with bottles, putting on a stout lid, and then shaking it furiously for about five minutes), there’s no telling what will come out of the tumbler and if it can be used for a particular application. To add further interest, souvenirs from the old Valley View gallery came out of storage: a combination of sparkling wine bottles from the original gallery opening and soft drink bottles from the long nights getting ready added a contrasting green to stand out from the blue-green of the main glass being utilized for the skull.
Not that this is completely finished, either. It still needs some further touchup, particularly along the lower jaw. It also needs internal support so all of the weight no longer rests on the jaw hinge: this much glass is HEAVY, and much of the failure of the original centerpiece was due to pressure of the jaw hinge failing and distorting. These, however, will only take about an hour or so to finish, and then the final centerpiece is ready to be returned to its enclosure.
The rest of the enclosure needs renovation, too, mostly to clear out ferns growing in inappropriate places and to clean out dead pitchers on the Cephalotus growing inside. That said, feel free to come out for the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open houses in December to see the whole ensemble. Those who remember this enclosure from previous events won’t recognize it.
As of the end of the month, it’s been two years since the Triffid Ranch moved to its next stage, and nearly two years since lockdown shut down that next stage and caused everyone to regroup. Two years later, we’re still dealing with some of the shakeout, and we’re making multiple plans to minimize the damage, to everyone, if lockdown has to happen again. It’s been two years of learning the people you can absolutely depend upon, the people who know how and when to move out of the way, and the people as dependable as a two-dollar phone. All of that is preamble, and the plan is to gather it together and really get going in 2022.
A lot has happened over the last month, and we now have a little over six weeks until everyone starts screaming “Happy New Year!” and puking on each other. Currently, the gallery is on temporary hiatus for the rest of this week and the first half of the next, just to get everything ready and get several new enclosures ready for their debut. Everything starts up with a road trip to Austin to show off new enclosures at the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show at Palmer Event Center on November 27 and 28, with this as much an opportunity to talk with people about the possibility of a touring Triffid Ranch exhibition as anything else. (When working with living organisms, the logistics of where, when, and how to move enclosures takes on a special focus.) This will be the last show outside of Dallas in 2021, as well as the last show in Austin (so far) until June 2022.
After getting back and unloading, it’s a matter of getting ready for December fun. As in years past, the gallery will be open for the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open houses on December 4, 11, and 18, from 12 noon to 5:00 pm. In years past, we had requests to open on the evening of Christmas Eve where the requestors ghosted, but we also have plenty of potential attendees who can’t come out because they normally work weekends, so we’ll also open the gallery on December 24 from noon until 5:00 pm. (After that, it’s time to head back home and watch the best documentary about Dallas retail ever made with friends.) Expect a lot of surprises during the Nightmare Weekends, as the idea is to reveal new enclosures at each open house, and there’s a lot of enclosure ideas currently on standby.
After that, the beginning of 2022 won’t be a slack period, either. We just finished a major upgrade to wireless connectivity to allow better streaming video options, so the Twitch videos should start up again, and it’s time to start lecture events again, both at the Heard Museum and with DFW Tap Talks. This is on top of talking with other galleries through Texas about exhibitions and curated shows. Oh, it’s going to be an interesting year.
It’s been a long roundabout trip over the last few months, but the future palaeontology-themed enclosure “Lagerstätte” arrived at the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary in McKinney, Texas on Sunday, where it will have a long and successful life introducing Heard visitors to Nepenthes pitcher plants. This, of course, is only the start of the fun: to offer context, the Heard also gets a poster explaining the difference between the different plants commonly called “pitcher plants,” as soon as I have it finished. Even without the context, the new enclosure was already a hit among a crowd of visitors arriving early that day, and it may have to be part of a series. (Researching future fossils and what little would remain of our civilization 50 million years from now leads to a lot of intriguing ideas for future enclosures and arrangements, and those are all burning holes in my brain in their attempts to escape. Such is the life of an artist.)
For those unfamiliar with the Heard, the Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, and offers both indoor exhibits and activities and a series of trails through its wildlife sanctuary. I may be particularly biased, though: the Dinosaurs Live! outdoor tour is something I’ve wanted to visit for years, and now setting aside time to visit is a priority.
The various aspects behind the construction of a typical Triffid Ranch carnivore enclosure encompasses a lot of different disciplines, including museum exhibit design, bonsai maintenance, and zoo enclosure construction. Since each enclosure is intended to be as much of an art piece as a structure containing live plants, a lot of issues only make themselves noticeable after years of constant exposure to heat and moisture, and sometimes they blow up in a really good way. Today’s refurbishing/materials object lesson involves the Australian pitcher plant enclosure “Antarctica In Decline”(2018)
While “Antarctica In Decline” was a fabulously popular enclosure, it had a few issues that begged for a revamp. The centerpiece (above) was a combination of tumbled bottle glass (Topo Chico bottles, specifically, which produce a beautiful lake-ice effect when tumbled for a week) and fiber-optic cabochons for eyes over a resin Cryolophosaurus skull. As originally chosen, the yes were a color that blended in with the surrounding glass, making it hard to see exactly where the eyes began. In addition, the whole construction was done with what glass I had available at the time of construction, which wasn’t much. Another year of glass tumbling produced considerably more, of a wide variety of shapes and general sizes, which allowed a renovation that combined the feel of the feathers that were probably on a living Cryolophosaurus face with that of freshwater ice. In addition, the base on which the completed centerpiece sat was supposed to be lighted, but the LED lights installed inside never worked as expected. It was time to tear it apart and start fresh.
The real problem, though, lay less with the glass than with the adhesive used to keep the glass together. Traditionally, this sort of aquarium-safe construction requires use of either silicone, which has to be done all at once because cured silicone generally won’t adhere to itself, or epoxy, which has a short time in which to apply it and major problems with outgassing while it cures. The first time around, the idea was to use a supposedly water-safe cyanoacrylate supeglue, and that glue was definitely strong enough to hold everything together. The problem was that its manufacturers had no information on longterm exposure to heat and moisture, and water’s unique properties include the ability to get into microscopic cracks and expand them into larger and larger cracks. The upshot was picking up the centerpiece when conducting enclosure maintenance and having the glass shell peel free from the skull core and collapse like a stale tortilla chip. It’s definitely time to tear it apart and start fresh.
And that’s what’s going right now., New contrasting eyes. A drastically different adhesive, with probably a light coat of thinned epoxy to help keep everything together. A revised arrangement of glass pieces on the whole sculpture to make the final face more streamlined and recognizable as a dinosaur. (I loved the number of people who saw it as a dragon, but they always got defensive when they learned about the Cryolophosaurus connection.) In addition, it was time to update the base as well, with different colors and shapes of glass so it stood out.
In any case, for those wondering why the gallery isn’t open this weekend, it’s because all day Saturday and most of Sunday belongs to restoring an old friend to new glory. When the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open houses start on December 4, you’ll be able to see for yourself whether it worked.
Regular visitors at the gallery might note that the space’s break room is a bit loaded with, erm, interesting decor. Ever since the traveling show days, friends have gifted me with all sorts of plant-related toys and accoutrements, all of which are now up on a series of shelves circling the ceiling of the break room. It’s loaded with all sorts of cultural detritus: Monster High Venus McFlytrap, Swamp Thing, Man-Thing, Groot, Treebeard, Zhaan, Medphyll (still my favorite Green Lantern after the obvious contender), and I’m trying to figure out how to get a Pink Bunkadoo seed up there. The overwhelming favorite, though, involves one Dr. Pamela Iseley, former botanist in Gotham City and currently married to one Harleen Quinzell.
And the collection keeps building for various reasons, but the Poison Ivy figures, toys, Lego playsets, and other petrochemical recreations have one aspect that appeals to a carnivorous plant rancher. As opposed to the default, Poison Ivy figures don’t automatically come with Venus flytrap-inspired accessories. In fact, what surprised me was finding a spare McDonald’s Happy Meal figure from 1993 that featured Ivy in a vegetation-festooned car that had not a flytrap-inspired claw, but a carnivorous bloom. Honestly, I couldn’t have been more surprised if it had a working triggerplant bloom on the front.
And how does this work? Well, a lot better than many toys from that time. (Please excuse the squeaking: I’m now exactly twice the age of this toy, and I squeak and rasp when I move too much these days, too.)
A little penetrating oil (something that won’t attack aged plastic), and this goes up on the shelves, next to the ever-increasing collection of DC Bombshells Ivy figures. Now I’m looking for a figure of (extremely NSFW) Frank, but only if it comes with a voice chip.
It was quiet, and it was concise. The beginning of November is always a relatively quiet time, when cooler weather encourages everyone to stay in and bolster themselves before the holiday season starts. As such, the last autumn open house for 2021 went without major issue, and now it’s time to get everything ready for winter.
The main upshot of last weekend’s show is that Venus flytrap and North American pitcher plant season is now over. Between shorter days and cooler temperatures, these, temperate sundews, and the Australian triggerplants are going into winter dormancy, so they’ll be missing from Triffid Ranch shows until the beginning of April. The good news is that with a long winter nap, all of these are more likely to have a good blooming season in spring, so keep an eye open for the 2022 Manchester United Flower Show toward the middle of spring.
As for upcoming events, the next two weekends are going into a massive gallery renovation and rearrangement, including preparation of a slew of new enclosures that will be ongoing through the end of the year. The weekend of November 27, the Triffid Ranch makes its last road trip of 2021 to show plants at the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show at Palmer Event Center in Austin, and then everything comes home starting on December 4 for the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open house series. (By request, since Christmas itself falls on a Saturday, we’ll be opening the gallery on December 24 from noon until 5:00 for everyone who either has the day off or who wants to come out during lunch breaks if they’re working. Besides, December 24 is also Fritz Leiber‘s 111th birthday, and I imagine he’d have loved a party full of carnivorous plants.)
If you’re in a need for green, the last open house of autumn is coming up on Saturday, from noon until 5:00 pm. Better get scooting, though: this will be the last open house until the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open houses start up on December 3. That’s the explanation for the break: it’s a matter of being ready for both these and the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show in Austin on November 27 and 28. You understand, don’t you?
After writing about carnivorous plant issues on this site for the last decade, it’s always funny when unrelated discussions lead right back to the subject at hand. A week ago, the subject was on bee burn, where Sarracenia pitcher plants catch more stinging insects than the plant can digest, particularly at the end of the growing season. A little trip to the Texas Hill Country, specifically to the town of Wimberley, independently demonstrated why.
Shortly after the actual wedding ceremony was over, when everyone sat down with beverages of their choice, we found ourselves surrounded by paper wasps. They weren’t aggressive, but they were persistent, and gentle shooing didn’t do much to convince them to go elsewhere. They weren’t just going for open drinks, either: they were going for particular pieces of clothing or jewelry, and even particular shades of lipstick. After a few minutes of consideration, Caroline of Caroline Crawford Originals, official wedding jeweler and spouse of nearly 19 years to your humble chronicler, discovered that all we needed to do was set out a spare glass full of something sweet at each table, and the wasps left us alone to get a good drink of margarita sugar syrup or Sprite. In the process, we were making our own artificial Sarracenia without realizing it.
The explanation for the wasp invasion was easy. While larval wasps are enthusiastic carnivores, adults are nearly invariably sweet-tooth acolytes, with a diet mostly made up of nectar, honeydew from aphids and scale insects, and whatever other sugary treasures they can find. (That attraction to sweets applies also to more derived wasps such as bees and ants, which explains how you get ants.) To this end, the members of the angiosperms, the plant order comprising flowering plants, that don’t depend upon wind for pollination depend upon insects, and nectar is an extremely effective way to employ insects’ services. Between sugar and bright patterns visible under ultraviolet light, we have approximately 90 million years of co-evolution between insects and angiosperms, and all of the pitfall carnivorous plants use one or both to capture prey.
What’s going on now is the end of the wasps’ life cycle, at least involving these. Most paper wasps designate one female as a queen, and she promptly finds a spot in a woodpile or compost pile to spend the winter before reemerging in spring. The others keep going on as long as they can find food, but with local flowers fading for the year, the competition with solitary and gregarious bees and the occasional indigenous hummingbird gets intense. By the end of October in Texas, the few paper wasps that haven’t become food for birds, spiders, or praying mantises are desperate for any available food source, which is why they come running to uncovered soda, wine, or mead. Since wasps see mostly in ultraviolet light, they’ll also check out any item that fluoresces under UV in the hope of catching a spare bit of nectar missed by everything else, and most humans would be amazed at how many items of clothing, jewelry, or makeup pop under UV. Eventually, that runs out, and the few wasps that don’t die of starvation will die with the first serious cold snap. That cold snap arrives in Wimberley this week: the odds are really good that these wasps will be dead by the weekend, but as the political writer Charles Pierce says every Friday about dinosaurs, they lived then to make us happy now. And so it goes.
On a recent trip to Wimberley, Texas, you’d think there would be a lot of time to photograph Texas flora, and that would be true if there wasn’t a wedding going on. There was still time for a few snaps, but a more extensive look at the plants of the Hill Country requires more time, preferably during blooming season in spring. Even so, there was plenty to see.
Mangueys aren’t necessarily native to the area, but they grow extremely well in Central Texas. Not only are they impressive additions to rock gardens, but their tough leaves and sharp spines discourage everyone but humans from messing with them.
Want a touch of international floral history? Here’s why prickly pear cactus were introduced to Australia: members of the genus Opuntia are hosts for the cochineal bug, the source for the colorant carmine. Said bugs produce a white fluffy camouflage to protect against wasps and other predators and parasites, and by the end of the growing season, it can get a little thick.
Wimberley may be in the middle of semi-desert, but with suitable water harvesting capacity, it can be awfully friendly to other tropicals. This little pond at the wedding site both utilizes local limestone (usually so festooned with holes and small tunnels that it’s often sold in aquarium shops as “holey rock”) and just the right amount of water lilies and papyrus to make it magical both during the day and when lit at night.
While one of Texas’s many clichés involves it being covered with cactus (particularly the saguaro, which is only found in Arizona), cactus is just part of the wide range of trees, shrubs, grasses, and herbs growing in the state’s desert and semidesert regions. Most cactus spread their seeds via fruit-eating birds, and sometimes there’s no telling what will show up where. This little one was underneath a combination of “cedar” (actually Ashe’s juniper, Juniperus ashei, the source of winter allergies throughout the state) and mesquite, so it might not last long, but it just might if the area around it is cleared by fire or human action. Either way, good luck to it.
Okay, so last weekend, two of my best friends got married. They’d been connected via a wide net of mutual friends and acquaintances for the last three decades, but they first met in person while attending the very first Triffid Ranch open house in 2015, and it’s all been downhill from there. They eventually set a time and a place for a wedding celebration, and the time was the one time where the place was at its absolute best. The place was the town of Wimberley, Texas, due west of San Marcos, south of Austin, and right in the middle of the famed Texas Hill Country in the center of the state.
This wasn’t the first time I’d been to Wimberley, but it had been, erm, a little bit of time since the last visit. Wimberley was on the map for decades due to its art galleries, particularly those showcasing its glass artists, as well as its bonsai nursery. The last reason I’d had to be in Wimberley in the last third of a century, though, was for the long-defunct Wimberley Hillacious bicycle race, competing through the 1980s as a worthy competitor for the Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred bike race in Wichita Falls. (The Wimberley race was in October, thereby bypassing both the brutal heat of summer and the equally brutal cedar allergy season of December and January. However, it was a bit more of a challenge both because of its impressive hills and the equally impressive headwinds, and a 10-mile race in Wimberley was as much of a workout as the 50-mile in Wichita Falls.) Let’s just say that Wimberley has changed just a little bit since then.
In the last 33 years, Wimberley became a lot less isolated, particularly as far as Austin gentrifiers were concerned. (As we discovered on our second night in town, when the wine mom getaway contingent in the adjoining lodge room decided to climb atop the building and stomp across the roof at midnight. The next morning, they gave every indication that “being so hung over that they couldn’t remember their names when checking out of the hotel” was a default state.) Back in 2011, the area was hit particularly hard by the last big statewide drought, with water having to be shipped in by truck to keep people from dying, so most new businesses and subdivisions had extensive water harvesting towers, as did schools and hotels. Likewise, highways and sideroads were recently expanded as much as possible to handle the increased traffic, giving Wimberley the same general vibe as areas around Dallas in the Eighties. On top of everything was the realization that the gap between the usual summer heat and the influx of cold winter weather was going to be extremely short in 2021, and the Halloween festivities in town gave a note of fervency, because the period between needing sunscreen and hats and needing heavy jackets and gloves wasn’t going to last for long.
To cut to the punchline, the wedding went through without problems, from the bagpiper opening everything to most of the guests coming in costume because of the season. (The bride was so far away from being a Bridezilla that we all joked about asking the piper if he could play an appropriate theme for her arrival.) Yeah, the best man looked as if he stole Boris Johnson’s toupee, but that couldn’t be helped thanks to the lack of humidity. 10/10; would attend again.
Incoming: Report from the Archaeologist Guild, 91198312-1145
Abstract: Description of a uniquely preserved fossil bed dating approximately 65 million years before the present
Details: While the fact that our planet once had an extensive civilization across all major landmasses has been established for at least 60 years, that civilization is still poorly understood. Due to extensive chemical weathering of the surface, the traces of what is commonly referred to as “Civilization Q” consist predominately of metal oxides and a layer of microplastics found on the same bedding horizon in both land and ocean tectonic plates and cratons. This has changed significantly with the discovery of a large fossil bed found at coordinates (redacted), dated to within twenty years of the most recent microplastics deposits known. The bed preserves significant examples of noncontemporary plastics, glasses, and metals, including the earliest known examples of silicones, exceptionally well-preserved iron and aluminum alloys, and traces of artificially produced radioisotopes including uranium, cesium, and plutonium. Most surprisingly, the deposit includes both preserved machine components and structural frameworks of now-extinct organic forms, both sessile and motile examples, preserved either as impression molds or as silica replacement of empty molds.
The main deposit is one slab, detached from a higher layer on cliffs at (redacted), which appears to be a sudden accumulation of materials from a sudden event such as a flood or avalanche. The majority of the fossils in this slab are relatively unweathered plastics, mostly nylon and polyethylenes, but a significant number of unweathered metals including copper, gold, iron, aluminum, tungsten, and neodymium-boron composites. Glasses are relatively rare but exist both as shaped and amorphous pieces. Most of the fossils are disassociated forms, but some show examples of early articulation and control structures, as well as traces of power systems. Reconstruction of the original forms is necessarily speculative due to extensive damage to structures before preservation, but some structures suggest final constructs of extensive size, something that was not suspected previously at such an early stage.
The blend of synthetic and organic fossils was also surprising: most fossil beds from that general time period are comprised completely of organic forms. Most interestingly, strata immediately above this bed preserve examples of early machines dating to shortly after both sessile and motile organic forms had become extinct, and no examples of organic forms are known in more recent fossil beds. This site may possibly not only include information on Civilization Q, but on the early evolution and development of mechanical and electronic life on this planet, including our own. Our only hope for more clarification on our early history comes from finding more sites such as this, as rare as they may be.
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 36″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 91.44 cm x 45.72 cm)
Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, found items.
The official announcement came out today, so it’s time to note that the Texas Triffid Ranch returns to the Oddities & Curiosities Expo in 2022: Dallas at Fair Park on March 26, and the Palmer Event Center on June 18. And now to start getting ready.
As appropriate as it would be to have a gallery event on Halloween weekend, the gallery goes quiet this weekend in order for your hardworking proprietors to attend the wedding of two of our best and oldest friends. Don’t worry, though: we’ll be back. We always come back.
For those with Sarracenia pitcher plants in the Dallas area, we’re rapidly coming up on that time of the year where the plants start slowing down and slipping into winter dormancy. In the meantime, though, the plants take advantage of the light, warm temperatures, and available insects as much as they can. Autumn is traditionally when Sarracenia plants produce their largest, brightest and most vibrant pitchers, and this coincides with many prey insects needing to finish their life cycles before impending cold kills them. Alternately, many insects, such as paper wasps, are now at loose ends: their nests have produced all of the new wasps that they’re going to produce, and one or two of those wasps will find a good spot in a woodpile or compost pile to hibernate and perpetuate the species. The rest, though, will wander off from the nest in search of food. Adult paper wasps predominately feed on nectar and other sweets, and they face increasing competition from moths, bees, flies, and every other insect facing starvation as flowers die off or go to seed. As October ends, the voluminous nectar produced by Sarracenia becomes about the only source of nectar in the area, and many insects that would otherwise stay away find themselves caught at the bottom of a pitcher, buried among both the still-living and the dead.
A point of further research on Sarracenia growth is exactly how much additional nitrogen and phosphorus plants get from insects caught at the end of autumn. While many of the pitchers grown the previous spring die off when the plant goes into dormancy, the autumn pitchers may look a bit ragged over the winter, but they still remain green into the next spring. This is a vital part of that dormancy: every last photon those pitchers can catch over the winter contributes to a storage of starch in the plant’s rhizomes, allowing enough energy to bloom once winter is over and then produce the first spring pitchers. The surprising part isn’t that they stay green even in remarkably cold weather: during last February’s week-long Icepocalypse, temperatures that killed so many other plants freezerburned the tops of pitchers at the Triffid Ranch growing area but left everything below them intact. What’s surprising is how, well, juicy those pitchers were. When trimming back severely damaged fall pitchers at different times over the winter, not only were so many of those pitchers completely packed with trapped insect corpses, but they dripped impressive amounts of what could be called either “compost tea” or “insect broth” out of the cut ends, A note to grad students seeking a research paper topic: check exactly how much of this carnivore compost tea is produced over a winter, how much nitrogen and phosphorus is in that digested soup, and how much of a difference in growth this makes to the parent plant in spring.
As mentioned before, the main insects trapped are nectar-eaters: bees, wasps, flies, moths (much more so with Sarracenia leucophylla pitchers, because of their fluorescence under moonlight), male and female mosquitoes, and ladybugs. (Some may have issues with ladybugs and other beneficial-to-humans insects being caught by pitcher plants, but the overwhelming majority seen on an anecdotal basis in Dallas-area pitchers are of the Asian lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis, which are an invasive pest. And so it goes.) It stands to reason that the nectar would attract other animals attracted to sweets, limited only by the size and diameter of the pitcher attracting them. And when the pitcher is large enough to handle really large prey, things get interesting.
Over the last few weeks, a Sarracenia leucophylla hybrid intended for upcoming plant shows started producing really impressively sized pitchers, with one pitcher with a mouth nearly two inches (5.08 cm) across. That pitcher opened approximately two weeks ago, and then bent in half and fell over in a storm. The cause of that failure was from what I euphemistically call “bee burn,” In native environments, Sarracenia process trapped prey by drawing up water in their pitchers both to drown prey and to encourage bacterial action that digests the insects and allows the residue to be absorbed through digestive glands on the inside of pitcher. When the humidity is extremely low, as tends to be a problem in North Texas in October, the plant cannot draw up enough water to process trapped prey, meaning that it rots and kills off portions of the pitcher wall. (I call it “bee burn” not only because the main causes are from collections of bees or wasps caught all at once, but because bees and wasps have strong enough jaws to tear a hole through the damaged pitcher wall and escape. This can make displaying plants at events extremely entertaining.) A quick observation confirmed that the pitcher failure was caused by just that.
The surprising part was that the pitcher wall had actually ruptured when it folded over, revealing the exoskeleton of the insect causing that case of bee burn. As opposed to the expected large wasp, a glint of metallic green peeked out. What had this pitcher caught that contributed to its failure?
Whatever it was, it was big, at least in comparison to most of the insects caught by a typical Sarracenia pitcher.
At this point, both the corpse and the surrounding pitcher wall had dried to the point where a dissection of the pitcher side was easy, and most of the corpse popped out.
The victim wasn’t immediately obvious to most, but it was one I recognized. It was a particularly large Cotinis mutabilis, a local scarab also known as “peach beetle,” “green June bug,” and “figeater beetle”, the first and last common names coming from its attracting to ripe or overripe fruit. This last summer, because of the unusual rains in August in particular, was a good one for a lot of fruit trees, especially peaches, and a neighbor’s peach tree became quite the target for local squirrels. Since the squirrels are really good about plucking a fruit, taking three bites out of it, dropping it, and getting another, this brought out a following wave of peach beetles to clean up the mess. A few turned up in raincatcher meshes after heavy rains in August, suggesting that they had as good a year as the peach trees, and apparently one laggard in October decided to check out the sweet scents coming from this pitcher and trapped itself.
The good news is that the beetle turned to soup, but not before its decomposition damaged the pitcher plant. The better news is that at least it was a peach beetle and not one of the local ox beetles. Considering a typical ox beetle’s strength, I’d be surprised if even a late-season pitcher would be strong enough to contain it.
Posted onOctober 27, 2021|Comments Off on The Next Triffid Ranch Open House: November 6, 2021
Momentary resurfacing: because of shifting schedules and upcoming developments, the next Triffid Ranch gallery open house is now scheduled for Saturday, November 6, 2021, running from noon to 5:00 pm. (Now that the risk of extreme heat is gone for maybe the next five months, there’s no especial reason to open in the early morning, and the later hours give more opportunities for people constrained by work schedules.) Admission is still free and masks are still mandatory: those factors haven’t changed.
So why the doughnuts? It’s a challenge to friend and Central Track founder Pete Freedman. Pete recently handed over daily operations of Central Track to a new crew in order to focus on a new job: I’ve been nagging him for five years to come out to an open house, and between schedules and pandemic, he’s never had the opportunity. The doughnuts are because at the roughest point in last year’s lockdown, Pete was having to lay off staff and shut down nonvital operations, and I asked if there was anything I could do to help out. “Send doughnuts,” he said, so I picked up a dozen and drove out to his apartment, donned a mask, and delivered them personally. The hope is that he’ll be tempted by the best from Donut Palace, the best doughnut shop on the east side of Dallas (and regular supplier for the crew at Texas Frightmare Weekend on Sunday mornings) and come out to say hello. Alas, it didn’t work at the last open house, so here’s hoping he’ll come out of his burrow like a bearded Gila monster and investigate further. And if any other members of the working press want to beat Pete to the doughnuts, well, that’s why I’m bringing enough for everybody.
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Posted onOctober 26, 2021|Comments Off on Public Service Announcement: Commissions
It’s nearly impossible to to avoid the ongoing news about issues with supply chains and imports, and the Triffid Ranch is just as effected as everyone else. Because of this, it’s time to make the uncomfortable but necessary announcement that anyone seeking a carnivorous plant enclosure commission needs to make plans to discuss the design as quickly as possible, just to make sure that the desired size enclosure and plant can be available in time. Likewise, as of now, any commission requested after November 28 cannot be guaranteed to be completed in time for the holidays. I apologize for the inconvenience, but if you plan to give a gift of a custom Triffid Ranch enclosure, get in your request NOW to guarantee that a construction spot is available. (If it doesn’t need to be a commission, a wide range of carnivore enclosures are already available at the gallery for purchase or rental.)
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Posted onOctober 25, 2021|Comments Off on The Aftermath: The Last October Open House of 2021
After the events of the last two months, it would have been completely reasonable to assume that we needed a break and scheduled the next Triffid Ranch event later in the year. That said, being able to open up helped with a lot of issues, and a lot of new faces helped even more. Many thanks to everyone who came out this last weekend, because your presence really helped out.
This time around, carnivorous plants weren’t the only options, and a plan to add hot peppers to the mix almost didn’t happen. (A Day Job trip to New Jersey delayed getting pepper seeds started at the beginning of February, and any seedlings started then would have died in the Great Icepocalypse of 2021. Everything worked out.) This year, the idea was to start off with dark peppers: the USDA-developed “Black Pearl” (black fruit when unripe, ruby red when ripe) and the Chili Pepper Institute-developed “Numex Halloween” (black fruit when unripe, orange when ripe), both recommended for your next batch of goth salsa. The initial experiment worked exceedingly well, and the plan is to move to several new varieties in 2022 to spice things up (huhr huhr)
Besides the peppers, the feeling was a little bittersweet, and only because of the shortening days. Right now, both Venus flytraps and North American pitcher plants are at their height, both physically and figuratively, but this won’t last long. The next open house on November 6 will be the last time in 2021 where either flytraps or Sarracenia pitcher plants will be available, as both (along with several species of sundew and triggerplant) slip into a very necessary winter dormancy in November. They’ll be back, but not until April, when they wake up, start growing new traps, and hopefully bloom.
As for the next open house, we’re trying several different options. Firstly, because the heat is no longer an issue, the next open house on November 6, 2021 starts at noon and runs until 5:00 pm, and this will be the default for the foreseeable future. Will this change? That depends upon other events, such as collaborations with other galleries, and will be advertised well in advance. What we can tell you for sure is that this should apply through the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open houses starting in December, and we’re currently discussing having one last event on Friday, December 24 for everyone stuck until the last minute on gift options. Either way, keep checking back for more information.
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The penultimate weekend before Halloween, and we have plans, Specifically, this weekend’s Porch Sale (most likely held indoors just because of the unnaturally warm weather this weekend, just to make sure) is going to happen if it kills us, which it just might. (Unfortunately, because two of our best friends are getting married on Halloween weekend, don’t expect any Triffid Ranch events then, but we’ll have one last big event on November 6, and then we have to go quiet in order to get everything ready for the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas events happening every Saturday starting December 4.) As always, admission is free, masks are mandatory, and I’m bringing doughnuts just in case Pete Freedman of Central Track comes out to visit. See you then.
Posted onOctober 21, 2021|Comments Off on Enclosures: “The Lungs of Hell” (2021)
Throughout most of known reality, evil is an abstract. It has no weight, no mass, no volume, and cannot be measured on a quantitative basis. One can feel overwhelming evil, but no scale exists in our realm to weigh it. The atmosphere of the moon is crushing by comparison.
This is true for our realm, but evil has a mass. If evil is best described as “the decay of virtue,” it flows like compost tea from a dead garden, like random fluids from an abandoned cemetery trickling into the groundwater, Eventually, it seeps and slides in the cracks between realities, lubricating the movement of the celestial spheres, and eventually dripping down…below.
Eventually, it collects far below. Below any concept of Hell, Mictlan, or other afterlife, enough to where it can be measured. Its miasma is an odor of which no human can conceive, its heft nothing a human could experience. Any being contacting compressed and supersaturated evil becomes a quantum event, simultaneously ceasing to exist in that second and undergoing a truly eternal torment. That being, no matter how perfect or divine, becomes part of the ocean, with absolutely no chance of rescue or escape. Sometimes, that metaphysical ocean of evil, stretching across and through dimensions, is reasonably quiescent, not advancing or retreating. Sometimes the ocean breaks down a barrier to previously untouched realities, causing it to flow away for a short time and revealing…things previously hidden. Every once in a great while, a being sufficiently hubristic to think themselves immune will splash upon contact, and the waves create nightmares for billions of souls. And like any other liquid, the sheer weight corrupts and corrodes and distorts anything underneath it, and any flow downward is mitigated by the constant fall of new evil, like a fog not quite ready to be rain, replacing and replenishing the supply.
While the unsophisticated talk about “Hell” as the ultimate holding site for evil, know that what philosophers and the sensitive assume is that ultimate holding site is only the literal tip of the iceberg. The true rulers of Hell, as far away from the demons of the higher planes as moles and worms are above eagles, are the beings that prevent it from sinking into the depths. The bottom of Hell is lined with sigils and glyphs of power from the rest of reality, all attempting to keep it afloat. Even more keep channeling the miasma to locations where it can be concentrated and processed. Bloodstones made of the corpses of whole universes work to draw in the mist, and other, barely conceivable constructs trap it, like lungs full of volcanic ash. Eventually the sheer volume of evil collapses in on itself, leaving gigantic russet crystals, beautiful in their unnatural sheen, gradually eroding out and falling to the sides. New constructs grow in the place of old ones, pushing aside older crystals like glaciers moving boulders.
Unbeknownst to the rest of reality, those crystals are a terrible, unstable power. Removed from the presence of the glyphs, they gradually fall apart, evaporating under the heady thin atmosphere of virtue. Most evaporate, but some crystals are so unstable that their dissolution is explosive. This property has no effect on ambitions and plans for revenge from the true rulers of Hell, and kept just at the edge of Evilflow is a tremendous cache of blades carefully knapped and shaped over the millennia, awaiting an equally forged and formed army to take them up. These blades will not last long in the upper realms, but the plan is that they will last just long enough.
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)
Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.
One of the biggest surprises about the dealer’s room at Armadillocon 2021 is how much things have changed since my last visit in 2000. For the longest time, the main dealer emphasis at litcons (conventions where the main emphasis was on printed fiction and nonfiction instead of other media) was on books and periodicals: back in 2000, convention dealers were the main access to rare or obscure books and almost the only way to learn more about up-and-coming magazines. Obviously, a lot has changed in the intervening two decades: book purchasing is a matter of a quick Amazon search, and the crash of both traditional magazine and zine distribution in the early Aughts is why so many new short fiction outlets are online-only, with the occasional hard-copy Kickstarter so the publisher isn’t stuck with cases of unsold copies. Both of these developments mean that the current dealer pivot is toward art, reference materials, and inspirations, and carnivorous plants seem to be quite the inspiration.
As to what the future holds, that’s a really good question. On an immediate level, everything with Armadillocon’s schedule depends upon availability of Austin hotels, which are apparently packed every weekend with football-obsessed alumni this time of the year. The general response to the Triffid Ranch table was overwhelmingly positive, but the biggest issue involves getting down to Austin in the first place: if subsequent shows are held in October, this isn’t a problem, but if the 2022 convention runs at the end of August, unfortunately the heat risk to the plants is far too high, We’ll figure it out.
In any case, many thanks are owed to the folks who came out to Armadillocon this time around, particularly longtime online cohorts who finally had the chance to make in-person acquaintanceships. Special thanks to Lillian Butler for making the dealer’s room situation happen, and now it’s just a matter of waiting for a final 2022 schedule. As far as other litcons are concerned, the schedule for 2022 in-person and virtual lectures and presentations is currently open, and for those who couldn’t make it this time, make plans for the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show at Palmer Event Center in downtown Austin on Thanksgiving weekend. And so it goes.
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For those unfamiliar with driving in Texas, the phrase “What a trip” has multiple levels of meaning, even if that meaning only involves transportation. Many moons back, on a trip in Massachusetts to visit Black Jungle Terrarium Supply, I overshot a bit heading west from Boston. Exactly how far “a bit” was came up when the radio station started running ads for a show at SPAC, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, New York. Without intending to do so, I’d come within a couple of kilometers from the New York state border, so I turned around and retraced the route, eventually discovering that while the turnoff needed to get to Black Jungle was very well-labeled with appropriate signage when heading east, it had NOTHING on the west route. This led to terrified shrieking from my hosts when getting back: “You went across the whole state?”, and explaining “Aah, that’s nothing. I go further than that to trips to Houston.” This was absolutely true: hitting the Arkansas border from Dallas at Texarkana is a 6-hour drive, and hitting either the New Mexico border at El Paso or the Mexico border at Brownsville is eight to nine hours of hard driving. Only north is a relatively easy trip out of Texas: eight hours of driving north can get you to Kansas City, Missouri or even the outskirts of Denver.
Thankfully, Austin isn’t that far, but it’s still enough of a haul, especially with a van full of carnivorous plants, that it makes you realize exactly how far away everything was before the advent of motor vehicles. Dallas and Fort Worth are practically sister cities, but they’re still at least a day’s ride by horseback from each other. Austin is nearly five times that distance from Dallas, and it’s a rough trip in summer even with cruise control, air conditioning, and cold drinks.
(Also for those unfamiliar with Texas, the midway point between Dallas and Austin is the town of Waco. Officially, the name is pronounced “WAY-co,” but you’re forgiven for the more obvious pronunciation. In the last five years since the first gallery made regular plant shows in Austin and Houston a practical option, the highway I-35 that connects Duluth, Minnesota to Laredo, Texas is the only practical path between Austin and Dallas. In the last five years, I-35 has been under perpetual construction through the middle of Waco, it’s no closer to being completed now than it was in 2016, and it’ll probably still be under construction when dinosaurs return and duke it out with the cockroaches over who gets to rule Earth after humanity’s big extinction event. Suffice to say, that construction means that Waco has a perpetual traffic jam in most hours, and any time and fuel savings on the increased highway speeds in Texas Hill Country are completely eliminated by sitting in Waco for an hour to two hours at a time, waiting for people to stop texting and drive. Some people argue that the logjam is very deliberate: considering that Waco is home to Baylor University, they suspect that the motivation is “If we suffer, everybody suffers.”
(Anyway, the one upshot to realizing that there’s unused space in the van and leaving the gallery late in order to fill it is passing through Waco at the only time when it’s not suffering from vehicular constipation: after dark on a Thursday night. The day of the Armadillocon jaunt wasn’t particularly hot anyway, but this is essential knowledge for future trips.)
Another advantage to Armadillocon switching its scheduled date from August to October was that when the hotel couldn’t allow setup until Friday morning, the plants could set outside overnight without the surrounding van turning into a convection oven at dawn. This made setup particularly easy, and the plants themselves meant that hotel patrons tended to move out of the way in a manner usually reserved for fire and radioisotopes. Either way, by the time the convention doors officially opened at 2 pm, everything was ready for the rest of the weekend.
To be continued…
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Posted onOctober 20, 2021|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Armadillocon 2021 – Introduction
It’s been an interesting year for out-of-Dallas plant shows, what with last June’s Oddities & Curiosities Expo and the upcoming Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays in November, both in Austin. Considering the size and spread of both of these, the decision to crash a small literary convention like Armadillocon might seem a bit counterintuitive, but I had my reasons. The first was that with the last 18 months’ cancellations and delays, this was an October event that didn’t directly conflict with other events. The second was that Lillian, the dealer’s room director, asked nicely, and Lillian is one of those people who brings out the best in everyone. The third was that as opposed to its usual date over the last 25 years in the middle of August, its rescheduled weekend in October meant that bringing a van full of live plants into Austin equaled “LIVE plants” instead of “random chunks of steamed and broiled charcoal.” (Yes, Austin in August, especially during the afternoon and evening, is that bad.) The biggest, though, had to do with back history.
Longtime customers and visitors to the gallery might know about your humble proprietor’s previous career involving professional writing for various now-long-forgotten magazines and other publications, ranging from the beginning of 1989 to the middle of 2002. The unfortunate side effects involved three books, including one written about Armadillocon 13 in 1991 (illustrated by the one and only Ernest Hogan) that didn’t rest well with certain elements in science fiction fandom at the time. Two subsequent books, full of gibberish written before and during the early implementation and popularization of the Internet, came out in 2009 to much acclaim but precious little sales, and aside from a few relapses, that’s all anybody’s going to get. The biggest reason to come out, besides aggravating an increasingly small group still grumbling into their Metamucil (thus explaining the phrase “I feel like Anton LaVey getting an invitation to the Pope’s bat mitzvah”), was to get back in touch with a slew of former colleagues, compatriots, and fellow pains in the posterior whom I’d only see at conventions such as this. In that case, this whole gig worked even better than expected.
Being away for so long had its own Cinema Paradiso moments. The hotel in which the convention generally runs has a long history, starting with the completely random reservation getting the same exact room where I stayed with my best friend and then-girlfriend when crashing the convention in 1990. Some things have changed (the grand piano in the lobby was replaced with multiple flatscreens sometime after my last visit in 2000), and others. well, were pretty much encased in amber from the early 1990s. Not that this was a bad thing: the hotel fit the convention and the convention fit the hotel, and everyone was happy.
As far as the plants themselves were concerned, they made quite the impression. Many of those aforementioned old compatriots hadn’t been able to stay in touch since 2002, so they were delightfully surprised to see what had happened since then. Others who had kept up via online sources finally got the chance to see so many of them in person. Best of all, other attendees were drawn in: if next year’s Armadillocon runs in October again, then they’ll probably be waiting at the door to see what’s coming out of the truck this time. And then there were the people just wandering in as the convention was shutting down on Sunday, who really lost their minds at the idea of someone selling carnivorous plants next to the banquet room hosting friends’ weddings and the like.
To be continued…
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Austin, Texas – For as long as I can remember, October has been a month of transition. It’s not just because the relentless Texas summer heat finally breaks, allowing everything to scurry around in daylight hours without our brains boiling out of our heads. If big things happen in November, it’s because of all of the work completed in October to make those big things happen. Likewise, if anything was going to break because of summer stresses, it’s usually when the temperatures finally drop and thermal stress kicks in. October in Texas is a strange time, and because autumn runs in Dallas until the middle of December, Halloween isn’t the end of the season the way it is elsewhere.
That stress-testing continues here at the gallery: many thanks to everyone for their understanding over the last six weeks. (The reason why the newsletter is late is because, for someone who used to make something approximating a living from writing, writing a suitable tribute to my mother-in-law is harder than I ever imagined.) Even with such inscrutables as the weather, this October has been odd: after weeks of vague promise, we finally got a significant rain for the first time in nearly two months, which was enough to top off the rainwater tanks. Considering that we got close to 10 centimeters in a few hours, that was also enough to flood out multiple Sarracenia pools full of freshly repotted seedlings. As Kurt Vonnegut used to say, and so it goes.
Likewise, the aftermath of our current pandemic means that a lot of shows and events in which the Triffid Ranch would normally be involved are also being stress-tested by being dropped from a great height. Because venues tentatively started reopening for business toward the middle of the year, everybody has been rescheduling for September through December, and I mean EVERYBODY. Things should stabilize by next spring, but right now, so many great events are running over each other that if it’s hard for attendees to get out to everything, it’s nearly impossible for artists to hit them all. The only option to get caught up is to clone myself multiple times, and my wife will attest that this would be a VERY bad idea.
(Along that line, we’ll be ending the regularly scheduled Porch Sale events after the beginning of November, and not just because the Venus flytraps and Sarracenia pitcher plants will be going dormant shortly thereafter. Between intense shows and Day Job obligations, it’s becoming nearly impossible to restock plants in time for Saturday shows, at least ones held every week. Right now, we’re scheduling the last two Porch Sales for October 23 and November 7, and then we have to take a break before the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas events in December. Since nobody wants to share a vaccine for sleep, it’s about the only option.)
As far as future plans, the main focus is on getting caught up on enclosures, including a big commission for the Heard Museum in McKinney, and replacements for enclosures sold over the past few weeks. That starts right after we get back from Armadillocon in Austin (as of this writing, we’re on Day Two, and we’ll be out on Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm.) The only show outside of Dallas at which you’ll see the Triffid Ranch (unless my wife agrees to the cloning plan) will be the newly rescheduled Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show at the Palmer Event Center in Austin on Thanksgiving weekend. After that, well, we’re still trying to figure out the best use of vacation time.
With October comes a nearly full plate of Triffid Ranch events, starting with a weekend of troublemaking at Armadillocon 43 in Austin (already in progress), and then it’s back to the gallery for one more Porch Sale on October 23. (Sadly, we won’t be at this year’s Aquashella on Halloween weekend, but the plan is to be there in 2022.) We hope to have some additional news to go with these that should make everyone exceedingly happy, so keep checking back.
If any good came out of events on last Saturday, it was that respiratory arrest stopped by mid-afternoon, and we were healthy and active enough to consider going out for a special event at the Dinosaur Company in Allen, just north of the gallery. The Dinosaur Company specializes in both life-sized prehistoric animal reconstructions, both static and animatronic, as well as presentations and workshops on various topics. A dear friend has worked there for the last year, and when she noted a few weeks ago that the Allen facility was offering a date-night lecture on dinosaur reproduction and nesting, well, that was all of the excuse we needed. Loaded up on antihistamines and bringing out the requested picnic dinner, we both got a very, VERY up-to-date lecture on what’s currently known on dinosaur courtship, mating, nesting, and hatchling care, but we also got a tour of the back storage area, full of existing reconstructions awaiting repairs or reassignment.
The worst part about being in a huge warehouse full of life-sized dinosaurs and pterosaurs and giant-sized arthropods isn’t the realization as to exactly how big some of them are. The worst part is that you stare at them for a moment, and all sorts of smartaleck comments come up about expressions, colors, and placement. This isn’t to disparage the Dinosaur Company in any way, or to badmouth any of those constructs, because they’re absolutely beautiful. It’s just circumstances, you know?
“HOLD YOUR HORSES! Let me get dressed first!”
“Okay, in or out. I’m not holding the door open all night!”
“Oh, dear. I swear, there should be a law.”
“HOW much? For an OIL CHANGE?”
“Don’t give me that. You knew what I was like when you married me. All three times.”
Anyway, as far as the connection to the gallery, we’re in tentative talks about an upcoming paleobotany lecture, focusing on carnivorous plants and the tantalizing hints of their presence in the fossil record. Yes, there will be a lot of time set aside to talk about Australian pitcher plants.
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Along with everything else coming down this weekend (and let me tell you, full-bore asthma fits at my age aren’t fun, and that’s on top of emergency greenhouse repairs), one of the issues resolved was discovering why a large mailing of posters, courtesy of Adeline Robinson Art, was returned “Insufficient Postage.” (Let’s just say that the automatic US Post Office kiosks offered to “expedite” mailings may only list “large envelope” categories, but the Post Office treats padded mailings as “packages.” And people wonder why I’m contemplating training carrier vultures to deliver the mail.) Well, that’s been resolved, and for those wondering why you have a Triffid Ranch poster in your mailbox this week, that’s why. For everyone else, should you know a reporter, freelancer, or other sculp[tor of the language arts who might need a poster, send their address this way. Send your address, too, while you’re at it: we have plenty.
The last six weeks have been the most stressful in the gallery’s history, and thanks to yet more situations impossible to delay and unable to be predicted (which will be hysterically funny in retrospect) the October 9 Porch Sale has to be rescheduled again. Since the whole caboodle will be in Austin next weekend, this means that the next open house will be opening on Saturday, October 23, running from 10 am to 3 pm. Honest to Elvis, this next one will happen if it kills us, but not right now. Thank you very much for your understanding.
Four years ago, the Triffid Ranch debuted in its current location, opening right when Dallas was overrun by shambling, mindless horrors. In 2021, the Triffid Ranch once again opens in time for the streets of downtown to run with margarita vomit and exclamations of “Look at that! They’ve got buildings THREE STORIES high! I bet they got indoor toilets, too!” And the visitors who went to Oklahoma State will be almost as bad, if nowhere near as arrogant and insecure. Hence, since we’ll be outnumbered 400,000 to one, the gallery opens on Saturday, October 23 from 10 am to 3 pm (those UT brats trying to get in early because “Facebook says you’re open now” will be solidly mocked), in the hopes of conditioning them, controlling them. We’ve got to do this: it’s our only hope.
EDIT: When it rains, it pours. Due to several situations completely out of our control, the Saturday Porch Sale is having to be rescheduled again, this time to Saturday, October 23. Thank you for your understanding: we’re going to have the October 23 Porch Sale if it kills us, which it just might.)
Posted onOctober 7, 2021|Comments Off on Review: Killer Plants by Molly Williams
(A bit of context. This blog features regular reviews of books, horticultural products, and interesting related items, under this proviso. All items reviewed will be purchased by the reviewer in advance, at full retail price, in order to prevent any conflict of interest. Information about upcoming releases is greatly appreciated, but receipt of advance copies or samples will be announced well in advance and will not influence the final review. The world has enough Jeff Craigs and Maria Salases as it is.)
Over about the last 15 years or so, the emphasis on carnivorous plant books has been on spectacular photography and intense detail on obscure species, to the point of where a typical book on the subject would be a danger to spectators below if it fell off the shelf. Consequently, most books for beginners have either gone out of print or been relegated to the “EVERYONE knows about this one” pile, right at a time when the sheer amount of carnivorous plant information online exploded. So much information and not enough time: what does a newbie do?
In many ways, Molly Williams’s Killer Plants is a throwback to the 1970s. It contains no photos, and its only illustrations are charming drawings by Marisol Ortega. Those illustrations and the text are in two colors and black, with an understanding that if the reader wants more detailed references, that’s what the Internet is for. Most importantly, Killer Plants is written for the city-dwelling carnivorous plant enthusiast, someone who might not have access to a greenhouse or elaborate growing facilities, and the thumbnail guide to making your own distilled water (a pot of simmering water, a container inside to catch the distillate, and a pot lid full of ice) wouldn’t have been out of place in a Euell Gibbons book 50 years ago. None of these are liabilities: if anything, it’s refreshing. Killer Plants is a quick read (I finished it on a puddlejumper flight out of Philadelphia), but it gives an excellent overview for anyone still vacillating between admiring carnivores and wanting to start growing them.
If I had any issues with the book, it’s more due to personal preferences and experiences (regular readers know my stance on trying to use carnivores to control insects inside and out), and anyone spending more than a year with carnivores knows that book advice isn’t absolute until we can teach the plants to read. These are really minor quibbles, though. For beginners and the carnivore-curious, Killer Plants is an excellent reference and waystation while searching for growers and further information (including an excellent Resources chapter that lists nurseries all over the world), and it’s small enough to slip into a pocket or backpack for offline reading. This one came out with very little fanfare in 2020 when the rest of the world was a bit more concerned with other issues, so it needs a boost. Very recommended.
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It’s October, so we’re simultaneously looking at the beginning of spooky season and the last big explosion in growth of temperate carnivorous plants (particularly Venus flytraps and Sarracenia pitcher plants) before they start to go dormant for the winter. Either way, we’ll see you on October 9 for the next big Triffid Ranch open house.
For those coming to the site via William Wadsack’s article in Community Impact, welcome, and rest assured that we’re having an open house on Saturday, October 9 if you’d like to stop by and view the gallery. (This weekend, the gallery will be closed for my mother-in-law’s memorial service.) For those coming from elsewhere and encountering the article, please forgive the fact that your host is one of the most unphotogenic individuals this species has ever produced: I give nobody any grief about this, because I don’t think Annie Leibovitz could take a positive photo of me. Now you understand why (a) there’s been a dearth of new videos on the site and (b) I make a point of staying on the other side of the camera whenever possible, if only to keep from scaring children and small animals. For everyone else, please carry on.
Okay, so having to make a business trip to New Jersey, by way of the Philadelphia airport, was reasonably easy. Getting to Philadelphia was reasonably uneventful, and time in New Jersey was, for the most part, delightful. Getting out of Philadelphia, though…
Time for elaboration. The original schedule was to arrive in Philadelphia on a Monday, travel directly to the job site, set up in a hotel, and work away until late Thursday morning. At that point, cohorts, manager, and I hopped into one of the only rental vehicles available in the Tri-State area that didn’t have “U-Haul” on the side (and speaking from experience, that wouldn’t have been an issue, either) and made a beeline for the Philadelphia airport. Unbeknownst to us or anybody else, a weather system built up just west of the airport, turning from “potential rain” to “definite rain” to “thunderstorm” to “Texas-level Wall O’ Water” within minutes, We only discovered this as our phones melted down halfway to the airport, informing us all that our existing flight had been cancelled and we were being rerouted. The others, besides the driver, immediately attempted to reschedule other flights: me, one of the many quirks I picked up from my mother’s side of the family was an inability to read in a car without getting carsick, so I figured “I’ll work it out when we actually get to the airport.” This, of course, is when God started laughing and didn’t stop for 12 hours.
Firstly, the phone meltdowns didn’t stop: the airline informed me that my flight had been rescheduled to a transfer to Hartford, Connecticut, and then the Wall O’ Water hit Connecticut. By this point, Philadelphia was halfway to being renamed “Atlantis”: not only could pilots not take off in the waves of rain, but since we couldn’t see planes from the gate windows, one can presume that the pilots couldn’t see the gates. Hartford signaled that nobody was getting there today, and then it kept bouncing. Cleveland. Pittsburgh, Detroit. The adventure started at Terminal A in Philadelphia, and it then went to Terminal F, at the other end of the surrealist praying mantis that is the Philadelphia airport. Every time anybody looked out the windows, we’d just shake our heads and hope that terminal seats could double as flotation devices as well. And the shiftaround kept coming.
Finally, another text: quick transfer of my flight to a puddlejumper flight to Cincinnati. At this point, I was expecting to find myself in Calgary if we didn’t wash into the Atlantic Ocean, so one more switch of a boarding pass and a mad rush in the one break in the storm, and I found myself airborne and on my way to…Ohio. As it turns out, the flight from Cincinnati to Dallas was switched twice while waiting there, and the informative text saying “your terminal has changed” came right as the call for final boarding came on the intercom, so staying overnight in a Cincinnati hotel wasn’t necessary. I was lucky: the rest of my work party had to spend the night in Philly, as all of their flights were grounded by the beginnings of the Tri-State Noachian Era, and fly back the next day when everything finally dried out enough to allow takeoffs.
Two things to be said about the CVG Airport: firstly, it’s one of the smallest airports I’ve seen in nearly 30 years. One end to the other is a brisk walk, and half of the restaurants and shops were already closed for the day by the time my flight arrived. The second was the discovery that the CMC Museum of Natural History & Science was undergoing an extensive renovation, leading to some escapees from the Ice Age Gallery being on display at the airport for the time being. Finding a flat-headed peccary (Platygonus compressus) skeletal mount right outside my arrival gate was neat enough, but it just kept getting better.
This was neat enough, but with nearly three hours until departure, and other displays further down, it was time to go exploring. Whoo boy.
And then a touch of American history to go with the natural history. American statesman and future third US President Thomas Jefferson had purchased fossil claws of what he believed to be of a giant lion, which he named Megalonyx, and his correspondence with French naturalist Georges Cuvier insisted that because the Almighty would never allow any creations to become extinct (a then-new idea promoted by Cuvier to explain why animals and plants known in the fossil record couldn’t be found alive today), the secret to finding Megalonyx was looking further afield. Hence, when sending off the famed Lewis & Clark Expedition to explore the American West, Jefferson advised them to keep an eye open for animals known to be extinct in the eastern part of the continent. Lewis and Clark never saw giant lions, and Jefferson later acknowledged similarities between those fossils and the bones of South American sloths, so he probably would have been just as disappointed in learning that he’d missed seeing his namesake Megalonyx jeffersonii by only about 9000 years.
Jefferson might have been slightly disappointed, but not I: I’d wanted to see a Megalonyx mount since I was seven years old, and a resin cast nearly fifty years late was more than good enough. Now to wait for the museum restoration to finish up, in order to see the rest of the collection.
Things have been a little quiet at the gallery over the past month or so, and not just because of the fall show season. Although the gallery is having its best year yet, it’s not quite to the point of paying all of the bills, so that’s what the Day Job is for. This works on multiple levels: it’s close enough to the gallery that after the workday ends, the bike ride is far enough to get a good relaxing workout before a few hours putting together enclosures, and just near enough that the trip isn’t an ordeal. The Day Job allows focus on gallery time, and gallery time allows a good decompression from the Day Job. It all evens out.
Besides considerably less stress than the previous Day Job (which was less a job than an experiment in how toxic a workplace could get before the Environmental Protection Agency declared it a Superfund site), one of the perks is travel. Yes, it’s risky in this day and age, but that travel also necessary for training and testing, and with a modicum of caution and a good set of masks for the plane, it offers all sorts of possibilities. Among many others, this trip was a perfect opportunity to view the East Coast of North America in that absolutely magical period where summer is over but where autumn cold hasn’t kicked in. That’s something I haven’t been able to do in over 40 years.
Not that this was a travel travel trip: between work needs and the absolute impossibility of getting a rental vehicle through most of the United States, most of the time spent in New Jersey was at work, the hotel, or spaces between. On the final full day before returning to Texas, though, cohorts and I stopped by a local farm, proudly announcing its presence since 1898, for a much-needed plant break.
Of course, it’s not just about the flowers and the squash. As opposed to Texas, which tends to have two distinctive seasons for honey (mesquite in the spring and everything else in the fall), most beekeepers get one good season toward the end of summer, and this year must have been a blowout for the bees. This meant lots of different varieties: Texas honey is predominately mesquite honey, which has a beautiful light color, comparable to corn syrup, and a delicate flavor, but it’s also a very uniform color and flavor over the majority of the state where it grows. I’ve looked for blueberry honey for years (considering that East Texas grows some of the best blueberries on the planet, you’d think that beekeepers here would be taking advantage of the extensive farms out near Athens), and to find blueberry AND cranberry honey in the same place?
And a promise for future trips. I’ve been fascinated with exploring New Jersey’s famed Pine Barrens since long before I discovered its collection of carnivorous and rare plants, and the batch of cranberry salsa I hauled back just guarantees that with the next training trip, I’m reserving a car. Or a bike. Or I’ll just stay a weekend and walk: my new hiking boots need breaking in, and wandering through the Barrens is a good way to do it. I mean, compared to Texas, it’s not THAT far a walk from Philadelphia, is it?
And we thought August was interesting, eh? (He wrote, currently staring down a dire wolf skeleton mount at the Cincinnati airport, where he was transferred from a trip to New Jersey because Philadelphia experiences Dallas-level thunderstorms, too.) While nothing is quite as exciting as this time last year, the gallery and environs have their own thrills this month, and it’ll keep going through the end of the year.
(To begin, a lot of people came out to the last big open house to remember Caroline’s mother Nancy, who made an impression every time she came out to the gallery and said hello. We won’t be having an open house on October 2 because of her memorial service the previous day, but anyone who wishes to remember her is welcome to gaze upon a red spider lily, her favorite flower and one she grew from her own mother’s bulbs, and give her the best tribute any of us could.)
As for gallery plans, right now, we’re plugging along. Even with that awfully hungry-looking dire wolf looking down the airport concourse, we’re making plans. Even after Texas Frightmare Weekend and the Day Job road trip, we’re still gunning for the last Triffid Ranch Porch Sale of the month, on September 25 from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, probably indoors so we can avoid the last of the seasonal heat.
After that, October should be much of the same. We’re still making the most plotted road trip of the year in October, to crash Armadillocon 43 in Austin on October 15 through 17, and that’s going to require a LOT of plants. We’re even plotting a pre-Halloween event the week before: since two dear friends are getting married on Halloween proper, that has to take precedence.
In related news, as expected, the Triffid Ranch didn’t make the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Awards in 2021, either in staffer-selected options or in the Reader’s Choice. No big deal, to be honest: we won in 2017, and that’s good enough. Next year, though.
And in final developments, now that things are starting to stabilize, it’s time to get back into local art shows and events, starting in November and December. What better time to get word out than when the dire wolves are on display and the Sarracenia are asleep for the season, eh?
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Posted onSeptember 16, 2021|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2021 – 5
While Texas Frightmare Weekend always starts off with the hope that it could go on longer, like for a week, the absolute reality is that by the time things close down on Sunday evening, we’re kaput. The staff has been running on pure adrenaline and doughnuts for the previous week, and that’s not talking about all of the prep necessary to get things organized in the first place. Some of the attendees stay for an extra day or so at the hotel, taking in the luxury and the company of fellow late-travelers, but the overwhelming majority have work, school, or other obligations on Monday, and they need a week to recuperate. The vendors…well, many of us have day jobs as well, others have to get going to get to their next show, and still others have to go back to workspaces to make more items for the rest of the season, as Frightmare patrons have cleared us out. With the Triffid Ranch, there’s the additional aspect of having to get remaining plants under lights, so Sunday evening after the vendors’ rooms close is a matter of packing up glass, plants, and water as best as possible, getting it loaded into the truck that brought everything out there, getting on the road east toward the gallery, and hoping that no idiot on the highway decides to check his brakes for no reason. The excitement doesn’t stop when the show’s over, and it’s only time to relax after the plants are loaded at the gallery, the truck gets returned, and the only vital activity remaining is to brush teeth and go to bed. Oh, and dream about plans for the next year.
The official announcement on the 2022 Texas Frightmare Weekend hasn’t been made yet, but all of us vendors are awaiting word to reserve our tables, and everyone else is making plans for accommodations and travel. Since TFW won’t be facing anywhere near so much competition for time next May, as so many other horror conventions will be spread out over the year instead of concentrated in September and October, expect a lot of old and new faces, and expect vendors pushing themselves to the limit to bring out the best they can get. At this end, this of course means lots of new plants (I’m waiting to see how Genlisea and Roridula seedlings turn out, and if we don’t get another massive freeze in February, expect a sideline of hot peppers), lots of new concepts, and a serious need to both wear myself out and recharge over those three days in April and May.
Finally, this proprietor wishes to thank everyone involved with Texas Frightmare Weekend and the Hyatt Regency DFW, particularly the security and support crew. You lot work harder than anyone else, and I’d bring steaks instead of doughnuts on Sunday morning if I thought any of you would take the time to eat. Take care, and we’ll see you next year.
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Posted onSeptember 16, 2021|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2021 – 4
Two stories to explain why Texas Frightmare Weekend works as well as it does, and one involves doughnuts. The other, more important story involved a remembrance. With Frightmare running for 15 years, it’s inevitable that attendees, guests, and staff would have died in that time, and Frightmare took the time to remember them. It wasn’t just about remembering big stars who died in the last decade, such as Angus Scrimm and George Romero, but everybody who was touched by Frightmare and in turn remain in our memories.
One of the most touching involved the first security chief Jeb Bartlett: Jeb was such an integral part of what made Frightmare work that when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2018, we all came running to help. The last time I saw him was at the 2019 Frightmare, still giving grief to those of us who deserved it (and he was one of those guys who ribbed the people he liked the most, and we all loved him because he kept us honest), but he would have wanted to have been involved with the proceedings in 2021. In a way, he was: some of his ashes were scattered around a tree outside the hotel where he could be found during his breaks, because it just isn’t a Frightmare without Jeb in it.
The other story is much more minor, but one in which I’m involved. The second year that Frightmare ran at the current hotel in DFW Airport, Caroline and I were picking up a few items in a grocery store on Sunday morning before heading out for the convention’s final push, and I noticed a big box of doughnuts lying next to the checkout where someone had discarded them. Instead of simply cursing out someone’s laziness in not returning them, I figured “I wonder if anybody at Frightmare needs breakfast” and bought them. As it turned out, several of our fellow vendors hadn’t had the chance to get breakfast, but the security crew really needed a boost, and that empty box was left spinning like something out of a Chuck Jones cartoon. From then on, the message was clear: “Bring doughnuts on Sunday, no matter what.”
2021’s last day started the way I had hoped 2020’s last day would have: an early trip to our favorite doughnut shop in Garland, picking up six dozen random doughnuts for the staff and a dozen for fellow vendors, and dragging them down to the lower level of the hotel to pass them out. You have no idea how much both newbies and experienced staffers looked forward to a bit of extra energy to get them through the day, and those doughnuts didn’t go to waste. Even at the end of the show, when everyone else went home and only we vendors working with glass or heavy gear or both were still breaking down, the support crew that came in to break down the pipe and drape cleared out what was left.
That’s what makes Texas Frightmare Weekend unique among Texas and particularly Dallas conventions: the sense of community. In nearly 40 years of Texas science fiction/fantasy/comic/horror conventions, I couldn’t think of another that would have gotten together for a tribute to absent friends, or at least a tribute without drama. So many of the attendees and vendors had been going long enough that we knew each other by first names, and legitimately worried if someone was all right if they didn’t show. Fall 2021 is full of horror conventions and shows in Texas and elsewhere trying to make up for lost time, but you didn’t hear complaints about vendors and guests having to cancel because they had other obligations elsewhere. (Or, if complaints were made, they weren’t made in public.) Instead, the general attitude was “Well, we’ll see them next time,” with a firm understanding that they were coming back at the first available opportunity. The overwhelming emotion at Texas Frightmare Weekend 2021 was of a big and scattered family that was just glad to be able to get together again, and hoping that this would be one of many.
As it turns out, while it’s not announced on the Web site yet, expect 2022’s Frightmare at its usual date of the first week of May. All of us are making plans, and there’s always room for new folks.
To be continued…
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Posted onSeptember 16, 2021|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2021 – 3
At my age, it’s always a little scary when something you love celebrates an anniversary in the double digits, because you’re always afraid that this might be the last one. That’s happened a lot in the last few years, especially in the last year. The very good news is that this isn’t happening with Texas Frightmare Weekend, either right away or in the foreseeable future. As someone with nearly 40 years of conventions and events under his belt, and someone who plans to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary in November of the one of the worst convention experiences I’ve ever endured, Frightmare is how you do it, folks. This is how you balance the needs of attendees, vendors, guests, staff, security, and hotel employees so everyone is happy, and any convention chair whose excuse for failure is “Well, at least we TRIED!” needs to talk to the Frightmare crew, at all levels, to rectify that or else have everyone assume that they like things broken and dysfunctional.
A discussion on why Frightmare works so well is upcoming, but the proof is in the pudding. At a time when many conventions, big or small, are lucky to celebrate three anniversaries, Frightmare reached 15 in 2021. Sure, it was a little late due to extenuating circumstances, but even during the worst of the lockdown, this was a convention that organized virtual events and outdoor events to keep up a lively and diverse community. When your weekly Twitch streams are so much more lively, friendly, and respectful than the 2020 Hugo Awards presentation, that’s a sign that you’re doing things right, and if conventions were run this well back in 1990, I would have spent my twenties being considerably less angry.
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Posted onSeptember 15, 2021|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2021 – 2
One really serendipitous situation with 2021’s Texas Frightmare Weekend being rescheduled for September? Most years, as much fun as the Sarracenia pitcher plants are, they’ve only just finished blooming (some years, because of late freezes, they’re still blooming when they arrive), and Sarracenia generally only start growing pitchers after they’ve finished blooming. Well, not all: Sarracenia flava tends to be an early bloomer than other species, and it usually has well-developed traps while other species still only has bloom spikes. This may be an adaptation to keep down hybridization: Sarracenia generally bloom first and then produce traps because their pollinators and their prey tend to be many of the same insects, and pollen is a good source of nitrogen, so flava catching insects loaded with other Sarracenia pollen has a dual benefit. S. flava’s early blooming offers one additional benefit at Frightmare: while other North American pitcher plants smell sweet, flava blooms smell like cat pee, and people attend Frightmare to get away from the smell of anime conventions.
The real benefit of a September Frightmare was that for the first time, attendees could see Sarracenia in their full late summer/early fall glory, instead of the botanical equivalent of bed head. This also led to object lessons, such as an attendee pointing out the caterpillar happily munching away on a young pitcher. Yes, it was hastily chucked down another pitcher, and the plant already had four new immature pitchers, but it’s the spirit of the thing. It may also be yet another sign of climate change: in their native habitat, Sarracenia are beset upon by a species of moth whose caterpillars eat young pitchers, climb into older pitchers, chew the inside so the top of the pitcher collapses, and then pupate in a handy new protective tube until emerging in spring. As if we don’t have enough to worry about.
To be continued…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2021 – 2
Posted onSeptember 14, 2021|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2021 – 1
I’d be remiss in not mentioning that Texas Frightmare Weekend shows are joint efforts, with the lovely and talented Caroline of Caroline Crawford Originals right next door. This comes in so handy for bathroom breaks, spare change, and potentially dangerous levels of snark. Every Frightmare, we have a friendly wager on who has a higher total when we finish adding up sales, and every Frightmare, she smokes me. Understandable, really: every Friday evening when the doors open for general admission Frightmare attendees, the ones running to the back to see her latest work discover the VIPs who arrived an hour earlier grabbing the newest necklaces and rings, because they know they won’t see them again except worn on someone else.
In some relationships, this sort of gentle wager might turn toxic, but it all evens out. There’s a reason why we also work the open houses together at the gallery: visitors with no interest in the plants tend to latch onto the jewelry, and vice versa. It definitely makes for interesting customer conversations.
To be continued…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2021 – 1