And so we come to the end of the 2019 carnivorous plant growing season. (Cue the national anthem.) The cold front that whipped through the Dallas area early Halloween morning saw to that: right now, the Venus flytraps and Sarracenia pitcher plants are already preparing for winter dormancy, and a few days of warmer temperatures in November won’t stop their normal progression thanks to shorter days and longer, cooler nights. Even in the gallery, it’s time to switch to winter hours: all of the timers need to be reset anyway due to the end of Daylight Savings Time, so they’re all being set for about ten hours of light per day so they get a good rest, too. (In March, when the indoor and outdoor photoperiods go back to longer days, we’ll all be glad of it, as the blooming response should be phenomenal, especially with the sundews and bladderworts.) The flytraps and Sarracenia are the big ones to worry about, though: if they don’t get a proper dormancy, they’ll eventually wear out and die, and our freezing temperatures at Halloween just bumped their naptime ahead by about three weeks.
Now, you’d think that with the arrival of dormancy season, everything would shut down over at the gallery. Anything but. The only time this place will be more busy than in November and December will be in January and February. The show schedule definitely doesn’t let up in November: there’s the Deep Ellum Creative Market in Dallas the weekend of November 9 and the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show in Austin on November 23 and 24. The real fun, as it has for the last four years, starts the first Saturday after American Thanksgiving, with the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas gallery open houses starting on November 30 and continuing through December 7, 14, and 21. (November 30 and December 1 are doubly auspicious, as these mark the fortieth anniversary of my first moving to Texas and meeting my best friend Paul Mears for the first time, respectively. For four decades, he’s referred to December as “a day that will live forever in infamy” on a personal level, and, well, he’s not wrong about that assessment.) After that, it’s a matter of spending January and February constructing new enclosures, working out the logistics on new shows, and generally getting everything ready for when the flytraps and Sarracenia wake up again.
And speaking of new shows, news that’s had to be held in confidence since the end of August: the Triffid Ranch has three new shows in 2020 through the Oddities & Curiosities Expo folks. Besides the Dallas show on March 28 and the Austin show on June 20, it’s time to hop state borders and bring the Triffid Ranch to New Orleans on August 29. The New Orleans show is going to be the biggest test of event logistics yet: if this works out and I kill neither myself nor plants, then it’s time to try spreading the wealth to new cities outside of Texas. If it doesn’t, at least I’ll have the opportunity to visit with old and dear friends, including many whom I haven’t seen in person since the late, lamented Exoticons imploded at the end of 2000. Win/win. (The date on the Austin show is particularly auspicious, even if it means heading right back out after returning from the Houston Horror Film Festival the weekend before. 2019’s show was impressive but not as packed as 2018, a factor commonly attributed both to the soul-withering heat of Central Texas in mid-August and to classes at the University of Texas starting up the next week. June is much better: as with Dallas, it might even mean that we get a bit of rain that weekend before the summer blast furnace starts in earnest in July.)
Other than that, it’s back to commissions and new enclosures to replace those sold over the summer: keep checking back for new enclosure details. Among many other things, 2019 is the year that I finally enter enclosure photos for the Spectrum Awards. (I know I have no chance in hell of winning an award, but getting stomped and pantsed by the best artists in the field of fantastic art is also an inducement to keep working toward winning.) In addition, keep an eye open for some extra backstory on new and old enclosures: no more details until it’s done, but those familiar with the works of Harlan Ellison may recognize the concept.
As always, the gallery endures: for those coming in late, it’s open by appointment or at regular open houses. If you have particular demands for custom enclosures intended as holiday gifts, get your appointment in NOW. By the time the Nightmare Weekends start, getting additional commissions may be problematic before the middle of January.
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Posted onOctober 25, 2019|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Oak Cliff Gardeners Halloween Party at the Texas Theatre 2019
For all of my efforts to encourage friends and cohorts to come to Dallas for entertainment options (and something other than the greatest documentary about 1980s-era Dallas ever made), I am ashamed to admit that until two weeks ago, I had never been to the famed Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff. Long a focus for JFK assassination buffs, the Texas is also a perfect venue for all sorts of gonzo film, as I discovered when Caroline , our friend Jon Feldman, and I drove out to see Memory: The Origins of Alien about two weeks ago. The theater is almost exactly on the opposite side of Dallas from the gallery, but you know what? When the much-hyped alternative hasn’t played an alternative film in a decade, and seems to think that a healthy midnight movie selection consists of incessant repeat showings of The Goonies, the drive is worth it.
Being invited to a movie theater to show plants isn’t new, but doing so for the Oak Cliff Gardeners Group was definitely a first, particularly since the group was combining an afternoon showing of Little Shop of Horrors (musical with happy ending) with a Halloween costume competition. Oh, and did I mention that the theater has an exceptional bar offering a show special of grasshoppers? And did I mention that one of the costume competition prizes was offered by Byron and Jiri, the two owners of the outstanding goth club Panoptikon? Yeah, it was that much fun.
Combine all of this with the Texas Theatre being the one movie theater in Dallas selling copies of the newly revived Horror magazine Fangoria, and this little albino duck is a fan for life. There WILL be other events over here if I have any say in the matter.
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Posted onOctober 25, 2019|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Carnivorous Plant Workshop 2019(2) at Curious Garden
Some people ask why I do so many carnivorous plant workshops at Curious Garden near White Rock Lake in Dallas. A lot of reasons present themselves: Curious Garden is the sort of store I’d want to run myself if the carnivores didn’t rule my life. Its clientele consists of the same sort of people I welcome with open arms at the gallery. It’s a short distance from the gallery. I have a lot of fun reassuring participants that many carnivores are easy to raise, and they shouldn’t be afraid to delve into carnivore culture just because that half-dead Venus flytrap purchased for them when they were five didn’t make it. All of these are valid, but that’s not the real reason.
No, the real reason I drop everything when co-owner Jason Cohen asks “Do you want to do another workshop?” is because of a decades-long debt. Nearly 30 years ago, Jason was my neighbor when we both lived in Exposition Park near Dallas’s Fair Park, and he also had to deal with me when he started a coffeeshop/bookstore in Expo Park in 1992. Since I was considerably less cultured and sedate than I am today, the current efforts are to thank him for not drowning me in the gutter out front when he had the chance. (Let’s put it this way: back then, I was chugging ginseng soda in order to mellow out and focus. You’d contemplate suffocation via gutter slime, too. I extend the same considerations to three ex-girlfriends for the same reasons.)
This time around, the emphasis was on extra-easy, so everyone went through step-by-step in learning how to set up a spoonleaf sundew (Datura spatulata) enclosure and the whys of each component. Right now, Jason and I are making plans, probably in January, for a more advanced class involving Nepenthes hybrids, and details will be available soon. After all, I still have a longstanding debt to repay.
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There’s usually nothing quite like the Monday after a big show, and with two shows this last weekend, I was expecting a humdinger of a Monday morning. I had no idea. For those catching the news, the north Dallas area was hit by multiple tornadoes on Sunday night, and the damage is still being assessed. To cut to the chase, the gallery was fine: aside from a power outage, everything was in good shape after a quick morning inspection. (People regularly ask about the odd electric clock running in the gallery that still lists the date as sometime within 2000. This is my blackout clock. It’s an easy way both to tell that the gallery was hit with a power outage and to determine how long it’s been back on. After last April’s horrendous storm and subsequent power outage, I’m seriously thinking about getting an emergency generator, just for the freezer.)
The rest of the area, though, isn’t as lucky. The big tornado tore a divot through residential and business areas just south of the gallery, running roughly parallel to LBJ Freeway. Apparently the neighborhood in which I lived at the end of the last century was hit very hard, as was the shopping plaza where I had my old mail drop between 1997 and 2012. North Haven Gardens came pretty close to being wiped off the map, and the main tornado then hopped Central Expressway and took out the gallery’s local Home Depot. Another tornado touched down just east of the gallery, disintegrating both a train crossing and all of the trees in the immediate vicinity. It’ll probably be a few days before anybody gets a good assessment of the damage, but the good news is that tornado sirens and phone alerts worked and no fatalities were reported.
(One aside: not only are we fine, but thanks to the City of Garland keeping up proactive maintenance on power lines, we kept power all through this. The only scary moment came after returning the rental truck for last weekend’s shows: this marks two times in my life that I’ve viewed a funnel cloud from the underside, and it’s a phenomenon I’d be very happy to leave to experts.)
In the meantime, if things go quiet, it’s mostly from helping friends and neighbors dig out from the mess. Thank you for understanding, and normal snarkiness will resume shortly.
Posted onOctober 17, 2019|Comments Off on The Aftermath: 2019 Autumn Extravaganza and Open House
Four years since the original gallery opened at Valley View Center and two years since the current gallery opened for business, and we’ve reached a wonderful equilibrium between shows, lectures, and open houses. Four years ago, the thought of holding an open house the day after a big out-of-town presentation would have started a few hours of panic screaming. Now, it’s just a matter of sweeping up, putting the construction materials and the airbrush away and unlocking the door. Holding October’s open house during Texas/OU Weekend worked out perfectly: not only did it give an opportunity for those who wanted to avoid the drunken nightmare of downtown Dallas, but between cooler temperatures and the full moon, the timing was exquisite. As always, thanks to everyone who came out: at the rate things are going, this will become a fulltime venture before you know it.
Because of next month’s show schedule, the next open house is tentatively scheduled for November 30. The good news is that November 30 marks the beginning of the annual Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas, where the Triffid Ranch is open every Saturday after American Thanksgiving until December 21. See you then.
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Posted onOctober 16, 2019|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Spooky Science on Tap 2019 at the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History
Remember my mentioning earlier in the year that 2019 was going to be the big year for the Triffid Ranch stretching its legs? Well, an opportunity presented itself at almost the literal last minute, as with the Perot Museum in Dallas, the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History hosts regular after-hours adults-only events, and its Spooky Science on Tap costume event had room for a certain carnivorous plant rancher to show off representative genera all night. Before you knew it, I had a space on the second floor next to a model of Sputnik, and the rest of the night belonged to patrons wanting to know more about the differing pit traps with each pitcher plant genus and explanations on how flytrap traps reopen after capturing prey.
All told, the whole show was a resounding hit, and after quick talks with the FWMSH crew, I’m keeping the calendar open for their events. I’m particularly hopeful for events in mid-April, as the Manchester United Flower Show could always use a larger audience.And the only problem? The FWMSH has featured a life-sized Acrocanthosaurus model out front for decades, just begging for it to participate in the pre-Halloween shenanigans. Why some enterprising museum volunteer didn’t fit it with a speaker playing “This Is Halloween” is beyond me.(And one advantage to firing blind with a phone camera after everyone else went home and I was preparing for the long drive back to Dallas. Even in daylight, most people wouldn’t have noticed the dragonfly sleeping on the model’s nose. Since it was beyond dark that night until the moon rose, it was just one more surprise discovered after I got home.)
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Contrary to popular perception, most doomsday devices don’t start out as such. A nuclear battery stored long enough invariably starts to leak radiation, which may or may not be detectable from outside its storage container. In cases like these, the best thing to do is leave them closed and forgotten, which would work if the lock wasn’t so easy to disengage.
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12″ x 18″ x 12″ (30.48 cm x 45.72 cm x30.48 cm)
Plant:Nepenthes“Bill Bailey” hybrid
Construction:Polystyrene foam, polyethylene, epoxy putty, found items.
A little side-project tied to the October gallery open house this weekend: with the exceptions of side-trips to Tallahassee, Portland, and northeast Wisconsin, next December marks 40 years in North Texas. In that time, I haven’t done a lot of things either expected of me or intimated that it might be in my best interest. I’ve never been to South Fork or the 6th Floor Museum, I haven’t been to Six Flags Over Texas since 1982, I haven’t gone to a high school football game, and I have yet to come across a rattlesnake in the wild. (I had to go to Tallahassee for that.) One of the things I’ve wanted to do besides come across a seven-foot Western diamondback, though, was to eat prickly pear cactus fruit until I fell over, and that’s now checked off the bucket list.
The prickly pear (Opuntia spp.) is a regular component of the Texas experience. Technically, the Dallas area isn’t the eastern edge of its range (Opuntia is found growing along the Gulf Coast into the western coast of Florida, often growing in the crooks of mangrove trees), but Dallas marks where the pine trees of East Texas are supplanted by cactus. In our area, they tend to show up in poor, well-drained areas such as along culverts and bridges, and they’re just cold-tolerant enough to survive most Dallas winters. The cactus has not only been a food source for humans for centuries (the pads and fruit are referred to in Spanish as nopales and tuna respectively), but if you’re lucky, you’ll see little tufts of what look like white cotton lint on the pads. Those tufts are camouflage for the cochineal bug (Dactylopius coccus), the source for the cloth and food dye carmine. (That little bug is the main reason why prickly pear was a major invasive pest in Australia, but that’s a story for later.)
Anyway, prickly pear fruit is much like apples: just because it looks ripe doesn’t mean that it is. I’d been watching a lone cactus clump near the bike path I take to the gallery, telling myself that this would be the year that I harvested that patch. In 2017 and 2018, someone else harvested the whole lot in early September, probably realizing afterwards that nice purple tuna had all of the flavor and consistency of aquarium gravel at that point. This year, though, they stayed until mid-October, and a preliminary test suggested that the whole clump was ready. Tuna don’t have the vicious spines that the pads do, but they’re still covered with irritating hairs to dissuade cattle and other big herbivores, so it was time to go out with kitchen tongs and a big bag.
Now remember those irritating hairs I mentioned? Those need to be removed before eating. The traditional way was to burn them off, either in a campfire or in the flames of a gas stove, but silicone hot mitts also work very well in removing hairs without getting a handful. (Trust me: you do NOT want these hairs stuck in your skin, as they can take days or even weeks to pull free, and tweezers tend to break them.) Whichever you choose to clean them, a good rinse with water, and they’re ready for processing.
A lot of recipes are available for prickly pear fruit, but I knew exactly what their fate was going to be: sorbet. After coming across a good recipe, the next trick was to puree them, as the skin adheres to the pulp when they’re this ripe. Even in the initial testing with a smoothie maker, the juice was flavorful enough that it would have made a great breakfast juice. The plan, though, was to go further.
The final juicing yielded about four liters of liquefied fruit, and then came the real joy: straining. Prickly pear seeds never stop tasting like aquarium gravel, and they’re packed in enough that they’re a threat to the teeth. This meant that a new colander got quite a workout. (Friendly warning: not only will prickly pear fruit juice stain just about anything it touches, but expect at least some seeds to get through unless you’re straining through cheesecloth. Just be prepared for that.)
The next stage started after the juice chilled in the refrigerator for 24 hours, and that involved an ice cream maker. Some enthusiasts prefer making a prickly pear sorbet at relatively warm temperatures to keep up the consistency: others recommend freezing it hard so a spoon takes off shavings. However you want to do it, make sure your ice cream maker is well-cleaned, check it regularly if it’s electric, and make sure it has plenty of ice in the bucket.
The end result? Well, the end result went into ramekins and then into the freezer, and those attending this weekend’s open house gets to try it firsthand. It’s not as outré as horse crippler cactus ice cream, but if it’s popular enough, this may have to be a regular addition to the October open houses. That is, if I don’t eat it all myself.
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