Daily Archives: June 7, 2012

Robert E. Howard Days in Cross Plains

Last year, my best friend Paul Mears and I did something that we’d been planning since we were freshmen in high school. Namely, we made a road trip across Texas to Cross Plains, in order to crash the Robert E. Howard Days celebration. For those unfamiliar with “Two-Gun Bob,” he was an extremely prolific pulp magazine writer of the 1930s: in many ways, he, H.P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith completely changed the face of American literature, particularly fantastic literature, through their mutual association via the magazine Weird Tales. In fact, a few of you may have seen a little movie called The Whole Wide World starring Vincent D’Onofrio and Renee Zellweger from about fifteen years ago:

Last year, the occasion was a bit somber, as the Saturday we arrived was the 75th anniversary of Howard’s suicide. That didn’t stop fans and enthusiasts from coming to the Robert E. Howard Museum from all over the planet.
Robert E. Howard Museum in Cross Plains

What’s funny is that while I was the person who introduced Mears to Howard’s work, he rapidly exceeded me in reading just about everything Howard ever wrote. In particular, he wanted to emulate a famous photo of Howard enjoying the loosening of Prohibition:

The best promo photo for Schlitz ever taken

The best promo photo for Aquafina ever taken

This is funny to me, of course, because Mears much more closely resembles a young H.P. Lovecraft.

As mentioned previously, this is a bit of an event for Howard enthusiasts, so we’re also going to hang out with friends. Well, when I say “hang out with friends,” what I really mean is “say hello to Mark Finn.” When I say “say hello to Mark Finn,” what I really mean is “make him regret bitterly not killing me when he had the chance.” Mark and I have been friends and fellow troublemakers for working on twenty years, and he’s blessedly one of the few writer friends from the old days who doesn’t nuhdz me about coming back to writing about science fiction. Part of that is because he secretly enjoys my gardening tirades whenever we get together, and part of that is because he knows and understands that my old science fiction writing sucked the farts from dead cats until their heads caved in. Either way, it’s a good reason to hang out with him, as he’s coming out with a big pile of copies of his book Blood and Thunder, and I’ve been requested by several Day Job friends to snag autographed copies. After that, we’re going to talk about local zoology and botany for a while, because I have an idea for a container garden project that absolutely needs his assistance.

Naturally, this won’t be just about pulp magazine nostalgia and a remembrance of a life cut far too short. This time last year, Cross Plains was at the beginning of a drought that exceeded that in North Texas, and the last time the area was hit so badly was when Howard was still alive. The rains returned this year, though, so I’m looking forward to getting photos of the Edwards Plateau flora. Among many others, I hope to get an identification of this bush on the REH Museum property, seeing as how everyone had left for the day by the time I saw it.
Mystery flower
As can be seen, much like the rest of Cross Plains, there’s a lot of beauty, so long as you can get out of the blasting sun to appreciate it.
Mystery flower

Anyway, Robert Howard Days runs this Friday and Saturday, so we’ll see you out there if you’re there and lament not being able to torment you mercilessly if you aren’t. See you then.

Thursday is Resource Day

Now here’s a brain-breaker for you: studying how the production of cocaine is different from that of its chemical cousin atropine, in order to show how tropane alkaloid production differs among the plant families that produce them. In related news, Southern Methodist University just announced the formation of its new horticulture department, answering directly to its business and journalism schools.

The joys of Texas meteorology

While nowhere near as bad as last summer, 2012’s weather continues its usual game of “Let’s Mess With Everyone’s Heads” in North Texas. Back in April, it was tornadoes and torrential rain, and then jack squat for a month. In our immediate area, we have a nearly incessant southerly wind that allegedly contains moisture coming up from the Gulf of Mexico. By the time it passes over San Antonio and Austin, it’s pretty much relieved of that excess. By the time it hits Waco, it’s empty. By the time it reaches Garland, the air is so dry that it could kill a silk ficus. Considering that the main focus of the Triffid Ranch is involved with raising and selling carnivores, which prefer high humidity, this little fact instigates a lot of oddball engineering.

To wit, the period between our tornado convention in April and today’s light rains was mostly dryer than Stephen Fry’s sense of humor. This naturally interfered with the laudable and reasonable intention of growing Sarracenia pitcher plants outdoors. Oh, they’d grow, but only a little, and they obviously fought between basic maintenance and growing enough traps to sustain themselves over the summer. By the beginning of May, the struggle became intense enough that I only had a few Sarracenia for Texas Frightmare Weekend that were a sellable quality. At that point, I realized that I needed to get a greenhouse, or at least some sort of wind shelter, for the Sarracenia. It was either that or moving to Galveston.

That’s when the Czarina chimed in. “You know,” she said, “the Harbor FreightTools is selling greenhouses for $300.”

I winced a little. Yes, it would get the job done for one small area, but I had plans for something just a smidgen larger. “Yeah, but I’d rather put in the money for a real one.”

She insisted. It wasn’t a bad deal as something to get me and the plants through the summer, until we could build a more permanent installation in the fall. Besides, she noted, she’d get it for me as an early birthday present. I relented, fearing her ever-sharp elbows if I kept arguing it, and we picked one up on sale. (I might note that because of confusion, I still ended up buying it myself, so this doesn’t qualify as a birthday present. This means that I get to torment her for the next three months by pricing crocodile monitor hatchlings and reminding her that she forced me to this situation. One day, she’ll actually agree to my getting a crocodile monitor, and then I’ll be stuck.)

Oh, let me tell you, putting together a kit greenhouse with only an hour or so available each day is entertaining. The instructions were complete enough, but sufficiently terse that I found myself repeatedly mumbling “If the Sontarans don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.” It’s doing so while working in the worst sort of twilight, as mosquitoes large enough to have in-air refueling ports tried to steal the tools out of my hands. As things got darker, the Mediterranean geckos and more unrecognizable things came out to watch, and I’m not sure if they looked at me as sustenance or a source of mirth. I’m pretty sure I heard gecko laughter at least twice as I was trying to find locking bolts that had fallen into the grass. I know the little vermin were snickering when the Czarina came out to assist with putting up the last braces.

And then there was the plan for the glazing. The idea was to use the greenhouse frame as a framework atop the old Sarracenia growing area, and extend it about eight feet or so due north with greenhouse film. Fair and good, but installing greenhouse film requires both good weather and good light, and those days that had the light also had winds threatening to blow me, the greenhouse, and the rest of the neighborhood to Oz. A couple of gusts would have overshot Oz and gone straight for Lankhmar. By this last weekend, the framework had glazing along the base, and I figured “Oh, I’ll put in the top next week. Besides, if it rains, the Sarracenia can catch the rain so I don’t have to water.”

And talk about dodging a bullet. Yesterday not only brought torrential rains to the entire Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, to the point where the National Weather Service issued airport weather advisories and warnings about river flooding. The warnings even included the term “gusty outflow winds,” which sounds more as if it belongs in a review of a chili cookoff than a weather report. The upshot is that we had, once again, the classic North Texas view of rain coming in just short of horizontal. Wind, even a bit of hail, too. Everyone in the area went to the window, gasped a bit at the carnage, and went back to work.

I did that, too, and went out to the growing area that evening after finishing with the Day Job. One of those gusty outflow winds brapped across the area, snapped off about 200 pounds of branch off a big silverleaf maple on the property, and then dropped it right atop the greenhouse frame. THe greenhouse frame has a dent on one side, and the entire ceiling brace is bent beyond repair. However, that giant collection of branches came down right where I was growing Sarracenia a week ago, and if that frame hadn’t been there, they would have been destroyed. Flattened. Turned to Sarracenia mush and a lot of splattered growing mix. I’m now certain that the greenhouse frame gave its life so that the pitcher plants would continue.

Because of this, I’ll no longer look askance at buying anything at Harbor Freight, or at any of the Czarina’s seemingly wacky ideas. I will, however, have grand fun messing with her on the selection of birthday presents.