Daily Archives: August 29, 2012

Introducing Didelphis virginiana, a.k.a. “Harold”

Cat Found

For the last few years, friends have been posting a “Found Cat” flyer that continues to crack me up. I don’t know why, but the “I think he might be scared” comment gets me every time.

Well, I have great news. On my way to the Day Job, I found that kitty again. Yes, I think he might be scared.

Harold the Opossum

For folks outside of North America, this is Didelphis virginiana, the Virginia opossum. Besides being the only indigenous marsupial in the United States and Canada (which is why I nickname the resident opossum “Harold”, after the nephew of Canada’s answer to Doctor Who), opossums also qualify as one of the native mammals that I’m glad to see in the back yard. Between their personalities and their eating habits, raccoons are hipsters with fur. Armadillos are both dumb as posts and likely to jump at the slightest noise, and one nearly knocked out my front teeth the first time I encountered one. Skunks are best viewed from a distance, and that can be doubled for coyotes and bobcats. Comparatively, if I find a possum waddling across the back yard in the middle of the night, he’s comparatively welcome, even if he does look like a half-drowned rat.

Harold closeup

Sadly, all of the possums in the vicinity of the Triffid Ranch are nicknamed “Harold”, and not just because they tend to look alike. The best natural lifespan for D. virginiana is about two years, with owls and early-rising hawks getting the ones that aren’t killed by cars, coyotes, or dogs. This little guy was apparently checking out the tree for edible fruit or flowers, found himself trapped by encroaching humanity, and figured that he’d just hold still until we all went away. After all, if the motto “Quando omni flunkus, moritati” worked for the fictional Harold, why shouldn’t it work for the real one?

A Pressing Need For Transport

So far, 2012 has been the busiest year yet for the Triffid Ranch, and 2013 may get to be even more extreme. All of this year’s shows as well as the Bram Stoker Awards Weekend in New Orleans, as well as a few one-day shows, and the rough edges of a classic nugget of business advice keep poking me in the back. Namely, “never buy when you can rent, until you lose money by renting instead of buying.” When it comes to transport, the Triffid Ranch is hitting that wall.

Running a very small nursery means avoiding a lot of aggravations faced by larger nurseries. Sticking to complete arrangements and full display solutions means leaving mail order to good friends who already do it much better, as well as my being able to sell larger plants than what can be shipped at a feasible price. However, those plants still need to get to their markets, at an affordable price, and the number of shows and the volume of plants at them means that it’s time to move past rental trucks. The day when the Triffid Ranch needs a 24-foot box truck is still a few years away, and then there are the ancillary issues.

To start, the transport vehicle needs to do its stated job and do it well. It needs to have a few absolutely essential traits, such as having exceptional suspension (I lost several beautiful arrangements in 2010 after being unable to avoid a bad bump in a 12-foot cube truck) and plenty of storage space for tools that doesn’t require having to crawl over plant racks to get at them. It needs to seat at least two, with the possible option of seating for a third. During the summer, air conditioning is essential, and “summer” in Texas and other environs at this latitude means “everything from the end of April to the middle of October.” Having something with reasonably decent gas mileage would be nice as well, with an option of using alternate fuels such as ethanol or biodiesel. (Again, this isn’t a hippie dippie requirement. This is just good old-fashioned Scottish frugality kicking in, especially with the number of farmers in Texas moving toward converting their spare cotton seed or excess sorghum into biodiesel. We’ll only see more of it if industrial hemp production finally gets legalized in the US.) It has to park well, have decent clearance for most bridges, and be able to get into hotel parking garages. Oh, and did I mention that the inside being able to be hosed or squeegeed clean would be a plus?

Then there’s the image that the Triffid Ranch is trying to impart with its transport. There’s nothing wrong with standard cargo vans: the Ford E-Series van is a U-Haul workhorse for a reason. As interesting as the Ford Transit Connects are, they’re just a little too small. Nissan’s NV3500 HD high roof might make the most sense of all, as far as a new vehicle is concerned, but I haven’t heard enough about their longterm dependability yet. However, there’s something missing.

That “something missing”, by the way, is NOT in a hearse. When I first started the hunt for a new vehicle, plenty of well-meaning friends figured “Man, dragging carnivorous plants to a show in a hearse would be COOL!” Well, not really. The Czarina did a lot of research into hearses when she was younger (and I emphasize the “youngER”), during her band days. Firstly, hearses are designed for transporting one sort of payload. Yes, they have great suspension, but that suspension tends to blow out at the worst possible time. The gas mileage is terrible, especially for cross-country trips. Pulling racks and tubs full of plants out of a hearse is a great way to help a lower back specialist pay for her son’s new braces. The low ceiling means a limit on the size of the biggest item being moved. Oh, yeah, and with big windows, leaving it in the sun even for a few minutes with the AC off is problematic. They’re great for the relatively short trips for which they’re designed, but you do NOT want to have one break down in an area where the nearest hearse mechanic may be two days away.

So this isn’t something that would be on the road incessantly, but that requires experts for when it does need TLC. High ceilings, doors at the side and back, and auxiliary storage accessible from outside the vehicle. Good presence, good handling, and an interior that could be sprayed down. Oh, and an exterior that could be given a perfectly appropriate paint job. What’s wrong with buying a used ambulance?