Monthly Archives: December 2020

Have a Safe New Year

Establishing the tone for 2021…

2020: The Year That Stretches

Among the more chronologically pedantic, December 31, 2020 isn’t just the end of a particular year in the Gregorian calendar, but also the end of a particular decade. Working on the idea that the calendar had no Year Zero, the Twenty-Teens didn’t end when the last few seconds of 2019 rolled through the clock. No, what we get is Year Zero at the end of each decade, where everything is in flux, neither caterpillar nor butterfly, and the actions in that year help determine what the next decade are going to be like. Think of it like a cloned cat: the reason why you can’t make an exact clone of a beloved cat is because so many of the factors that made that cat unique happened in the womb. Change the food, change the stressors the mother cat had during gestation, change any number of a multitude of factors that might cause a particular gene expression, and you have a clone that’s a genetic copy of the original, but otherwise looks and acts nothing like its progenitor.

With that concept in mind, the way 2020 went, we’re going to start out with a cat genome and get the cutest, cuddliest 40-foot Gila monster with bat wings and laser beam eyes that you’ve ever seen. For some of us, this is a feature, not a bug.

The last thing to be said about 2020, from the Triffid Ranch’s perspective? This was a year to change plans, to pivot away from video (kindasorta), and to get ready for new weirdness. If you think the gallery has changed from where it was five years ago, back in the old Valley View locale, that original gallery was such a huge jump from where things were at the end of 2010. The phrase “quantum leap” is horribly overused by half-bright marketing majors whose grasp of the concept is exceeded by the coliform bacteria in their guts, but that’s pretty much what happened over the last ten years, and now it’s a matter of seeing if this trend continues for the rest of the coming decade. Until we have a better idea of what to expect, and whether that involves blasting Harkun troop carriers out of the sky as they try to take back their former planet, take care of yourselves, and keep watching for new developments. There are still a lot of enclosures to build and stories to tell.

I’m Living In My Own Private Tanelorn, the Anniversary Edition

It finally happened. This week marks 18 years since the lovely Caroline of Caroline Crawford Originals decided to throw away all decorum and common sense and marry a former science fiction essayist, meaning that I’ve been married to someone willing to put up with my shenanigans for a solid third of my life. We ascribe many things to that longevity, besides beating the deadpool bets that the marriage would last 1/36 of that duration. Separate work areas and home bathrooms, for instance. One of the biggest, though, is having traditions tied to goals, and that’s where the annual Anniversary Spare Change Road Race comes in.

Art credit: Amanda “Shinga” Bussell

Back when we first married, our financial situation was somewhere around “grim.” The job that almost moved us to Tallahassee in 2002 (and inadvertently exposed me to the wonderful world of carnivorous plants) cratered, as my company decided that the massive software upgrade for which I was hired to write documentation just simply wasn’t going to happen. Three days before Christmas and six days before the wedding, I’m looking at moving back to Dallas and wondering what we were going to do next. At the end of 2003, I finally found gainful employ, and the next year meant finally getting ourselves back onto rather shaky financial feet. At the end of of 2004, we didn’t have enough in our bank accounts, after paying bills, to do anything for our anniversary, so we raided our respective collections of spare change, cashed them in, and bought dinner that night.

Since then, we’ve worked out a basic system that works extremely well. All through a calendar year, we collect change in one spot or another. Mine goes mostly into this ridiculously cheery Monoclonius bank purchased in the mid-1990s. At the end of the year, on our anniversary or as close to it as we can manage, we clear out our banks, head out to the nearest Coinstar machine, and cash in said change. Any coins that aren’t scanned, and a lot slip through that are perfectly good legal tender, go back into the pile for the next year. We then compare our totals, and the winner buys dinner. We then start it all over again over the next year. Just as with shows where we have adjoining booths, there’s no real rivalry here: nobody is trying to beat the other, which seriously confuses friends when they expect me to lose it when Caroline has a better show than I do. (There’s a very friendly rivalry in one case: in the last decade, Caroline has always made more than me at Texas Frightmare Weekend, and I’ve sworn that one day, I’ll beat her in gross sales. Considering that I not only need a big truck and two booth spaces to come close to the amount of inventory necessary to do so, this may be a loooooong while.)

(Yes, this bank is seriously obnoxious, but there’s a backstory. We Gen Xers remember all through the 1970s the emphasis on novelty banks of all sorts: combination vaults, Crayola crayons, and even Gum Grabbers. It says a lot about post-1980s sensibilities that by the early 1990s, toy stores were bereft of banks, even novelty ones, and this one turned up only after months of searching for something with a decent volume. Yes, it’s garish. Yes, it’s obnoxious. However, it still holds a ridiculous amount of coinage, and it’s still going strong after over a quarter-century.)

In retrospect, everything that happened in 2020 can probably be laid at our feet, because we got busy at the end of 2019. I was focused on turning the gallery into a fulltime venue and Caroline was focused on holiday shows, and we were so tired by our anniversary that we just looked at each other and said “We’ll cash in everything in January.” By mid-March, we figured that we’d just roll over everything for the next anniversary, and we know what happened mid-March 2020. I still kept collecting change, though: since the Triffid Ranch started up, the tradition was to give change in US dollar coins, and after a show or open house, loose coins went into the Monoclonius. Lunch at the gallery usually consisted of pasta or ramen, with the extra money going into the dinosaur. Even after the crash of the show circuit after state and county lockdowns, the popularity of last summer’s Porch Sales meant that the dinosaur kept getting heavier: by November, it was almost too heavy to lift with one hand, and emptying it on Tuesday took over 20 minutes. Carrying the Readercon bag that held that loot left me listing to one side, and I had only one thought: “Am I going to have to rent a handcart to move Caroline’s haul?”

Now, I understand that the fees on change machines such as CoinStar units is a bit ridiculous: in most years, even a 10 percent fee didn’t make that much of a difference, but this time would be different. The cost, though, was worth being able to watch the exact breakdown of individual coins as we waited for the final count. Caroline went first, and had an impressive final tally considering the rough year we had. Then it was mine, and I beat her total within the first big load of change in the hopper.

The final tally? I have to thank all of the Triffid Ranch regulars and new customers over 2019 and 2020, because without your assistance in the great change chase, Caroline wouldn’t have had as wonderful an anniversary dinner as she had. (For very special occasions, she asks for sushi from Hana in Garland, and being married to her for a third of my life qualified as a very special occasion.) The rest goes back into the gallery, mostly in stocking up on plants for the new year. Now the challenge is for Caroline to nearly beat me in 2021, if only because if she wins and has to buy dinner, she knows that I’ll ask for pizza.

2021: “And So It Begins…”

Okay, so you were kept up all Saturday night with a spectacular toothache, and the only option for a remedy involves visiting an emergency dentist first thing on a Sunday morning. Anaesthetics work, kindasorta, and the assessment recommends an immediate root canal if there’s any hope of saving the bicuspid. While trying to distract yourself from the sound of the drilling gear used to dig the Chunnel (and the desperate hope that, unlike the Chunnel, one drill isn’t left behind in the tooth) and the smell of burning indricothere bone, which half-heard phrase suddenly bolts you into full consciousness with a desperate search for a mirror to look for the eyebrows that buried themselves in the wall: “That’s a lot more pus than I was expecting” or “You know, we still have three days left on 2020”?

Don’t worry: I kid. Bring on the pus, now in a handy fire hose. Better that the whole office look like a set for an early Peter Jackson film than to have 2020 go on one more day than it has to.

The good news, besides 2020 going to that pit in which 2001, 1996, and 1973 belong, is that the new year is coming, complete with plans for future Triffid Ranch events. We’re currently shooting for Weekend Plant Tours on January 24 and February 14, both running from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, and expect news on other events very shortly. In the meantime, it’s time to get back into the gallery and get to work.

Triffid Ranch Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours: December 27, 2020

And just like that, the holiday season is done. It’s been a long, unsure season within a very long, unsure year, but we’ve passed through to the other side, and now it’s time to get everything ready for the next one. And so it goes.

At this point, I would be remiss in not thanking everyone who came out to the gallery in 2020 for doing so: in a year as rough as this one, your coming by and validating the concept behind the Triffid Ranch is incredibly appreciated. Now it’s time to get back into the workshop and justify your returning.

As for new events, keep an eye open: right now, our main focus is going to be on taking care of some essential housekeeping before the end of the year, but we’ve also deliberated on what sort of events and when they’ll happen. Until then, stay well, stay safe, and we’ll see you in 2021.

The Aftermath: Christmas Carnivorous Plant Nightmares at the Texas Triffid Ranch 2020

After five years of trying to organize Christmas Eve events at the gallery and having everything fall through, things worked out. For a holiday eve in a pandemic, we had an enthusiastic audience, including a very dear old friend who finally got the chance to see the new gallery, and a very excited family toward the end of the night. For a town that pretty much shuts down on December 24 after 5:00 or so, it was a great way to finish off the season.

After this, it’s time to get back into the workshop for new enclosures. In particular, keep an eye open for a surprise involving a Nepenthes diabolica, a new species previously thought to be a color variation of the notorious Nepenthes hamata.

For those who missed out on this run, and for those who want a touch of post-Christmas green, the last of 2020’s Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours starts on Sunday, December 27 at 10:00 am, and shuts down at 4:00 pm. After that, we’re still trying to figure out plans for 2021, but we have ideas. Terrible, beautiful ideas.

Have a Safe Weekend

Finishing up 2020 with double events on December 24 and December 27, while celebrating a Christmas classic from the Euclidean ideal of a heavy metal band. (Here’s also a fond memory of bassist Colin Grigson before his tragic overdose on jenkem in 2014. Rock and roll just hasn’t been the same without you, buddy.)

Triffid Ranch Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours: December 20, 2020

Less than two weeks before the end of the most intense year in memory, and things continue to get interesting. The gallery debuted two new Nepenthes hybrids which will probably be very popular beginner plants over 2021, and it’s time to expand the diversity of bladderwort species in the gallery as well. If not for this pandemic thing, we’d probably do even more.

As a sidenote, the hope is to finish at least one more enclosure by the end of the year, thereby bringing the total constructed this year to at least 21. “20 in 2020” is just a little too weird.

And for those wanting one last dose for the year, the gallery will be open on Thursday, December 24 from 2:00 to 7:00 pm for last-minute shopping, and then again on Sunday, December 27 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm for post-holiday opportunities. Since we can’t have an anniversary party this year (and I’m pretty sure nobody bet on “18 years” in the Paul/Caroline marriage deadpool), this will have to do. See you then.

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 7

Curious about what this is all about? Go back to the beginning.

Listing holiday shopping options wouldn’t be complete without a shameless plug for the other half of the gallery, Caroline Crawford Originals. Many visitors to the gallery bypass the jewelry to get to the plants, but the wise ones take the time to stop and see what Caroline has to offer. Alternately, she has her own show and event schedule separate from Triffid Ranch events: last weekend was a little too cold for the plants at the Frightmare Collectibles Christmas Horror Market, but jewelry never sleeps.

For those wanting to see more, both the jewelry and plants will be open on December 24 from 2:00 pm to 7:00 Central time, and we’ll reopen for the post-holiday crowd for the last Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tour of 2020 on December 27 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Admission is free and masks are mandatory. And yes, there will be a LOT more jewelry on display at both.

“It’s ours this time…”

The plan was to remain open by appointment all week, and then the phone blew up this morning. To take care of last-minute shopping needs, as well as offer a quiet space for those already done with shopping, the Texas Triffid Ranch, in conjunction with Caroline Crawford Originals, is hosting the Christmas Carnivorous Plant Nightmares tour on December 24, 2020, from 2:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Admission is free, masks are mandatory, and those who can’t make it are always welcome to come out on December 27 for the last of the 2020 Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours.

Please note: to be preemptive, while a large selection of beginner plants will be available, Venus flytraps are currently in winter dormancy and won’t be available until March. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 6

Curious about what this is all about? Go back to the beginning.

So now it’s down to the wire. Thanks to the previous year making every day a holiday shopping day as far as shipping volume is concerned, every online store worth its salt refuses to make any promises as to whether any purchase will arrive before December 25. Here in the States, the screaming in UPS and FedEx locations is positively deafening, because recent efforts to scuttle the US Post Office mean that both UPS and FedEx are trying to pick up the slack. If it’s not local, you’re probably not going to get it.

It’s at times like these where the default response is, indeed, “buy local.” That’s completely fair, but this also depends upon discovering what’s available. For the vast majority of the Twentieth Century, this would involve some heavily overworked Arts & Leisure section writer at the local newspaper deliberating between legitimate local treasures and what family friend of the editor or publisher needed a holiday bailout and didn’t want to have to pay for advertising. Today, the raw information is available, but the old “I didn’t know what I was looking for before I saw it” phenomenon is more pronounced than ever, and that section writer was laid off about four years ago to preserve the publisher’s holiday bonus. Thankfully, you have a terminally embittered former weekly newspaper writer turned carnivorous plant rancher more than willing to help carry some of the slack.

The only issue with “local” is “whose local?” Sadly, this means that this list is going to be horribly Dallas-centric, but this has two effects. The first is that for those already living in the vicinity of the Triffid Ranch, you have options for gift shopping that you might not have had before. The second is that for those who don’t live in the area, you now have additional pressure to do so. You’re welcome. Even if all you want to do is visit, when it’s safe to do so, now you have options on what to see besides South Fork (hopelessly dated), Jack Ruby’s nightclub (demolished decades ago), or the Texas School Book Depository (only interesting when a lone woman, answering to “Missy,” walks by once a year in November to look up wistfully at the sixth floor windows). I mean, don’t let that stop you from doing that anyway: if you go by the Book Depository, just tell Missy that her grandson says hello, okay?

Numero uno, as Dallas’s greatest superhero would put it, a little goes a long way, and Dallas’s restaurant scene is so much more vital and varied than it was, say, 20 years ago. It’s also in a particularly precarious situation because of COVID-19, and without eternal vigilance, it could be overrun with Applebee’s and Twin Peaks and the whole city becomes indistinguishable from Lewisville. Thanks to the wonders of modern point-of-sale processing, so many good restaurants offer both hard plastic and electronic gift cards, and you know at least one person who is going to NEED a dinner cooked by someone else in the next month. This means hopping on that phone and talking to the crews at Blu’s BBQ (Texas and Memphis barbecue), Flying Fish (Cajun seafood), Bistro B (Vietnamese), Tasty Tails (New Orleans seafood), Maple Leaf Diner (Canadian), Sababa (Middle Eastern), Chubby’s (classic comfort food, with the best strawberry cheesecake in the city), JC’s Burger House (burgers), or Del’s Burgers (more burgers, as well as excellent homemade root beer) about your efforts to spread the wealth.

Numero two-o, all that food means having something to read while eating, and while most people are perfectly happy to slog through Facebook, the idea is to amp up your experiences. The first, most obvious choice is Interabang Books, survivor of both bookstore wars and the tornadoes that hit North Dallas in 2019, as the best choice in the area for new books. Equally important for those looking for more graphic persuasions, I’ve been friends with Keith Colvin of Keith’s Comics for half of my life, and part of the reason why Keith’s Comics stores are going strong while other deeper-pocketed competitors blew up and scattered on the wind a decade ago is because of each store’s wide selection of graphic novels. (I highly recommend asking for a copy of Evan Dorkin’s Eltingville Club collection from Dark Horse Comics; for most, it’s a source of entertainment, but for others, it’s a source of never-ending self-aware horror.)

Numero three-o, you may or may not be surprised by the recommendation of the holistic health and wellness studio HeyyHealer, but there’s a specific reason. Namely, Triffid Ranch regulars may remember Christian “Doc” Cooper at various events, particularly the last Midtown ArtWalk at the old Valley View location before everybody in the mall got our eviction notices. Well, Doc has been busy with succulents, particularly red and yellow dragonfruit cactus, and his succulent arrangements are exclusively available through HeyyHealer. It’s all about taking care of your friends, coming and going, and if you’ve seen some of Doc’s arrangements, you’ll get that extra joy of having it all to yourself before you pass it on.

Have a Safe Weekend

The holiday vortex is producing its own event horizon, and we’re slipping into the maelstrom. This weekend is a busy one: on Saturday, weather permitting, look for Caroline and me out at the Frightmare Collectibles Horror Christmas Market in Justin from noon to 8:00 pm: I won’t have any plants as it’s an outdoor event, but look for the Caroline Crawford Originals tent for Triffid Ranch posters while supplies last. Sunday, we’re back at the gallery for the second-to-last Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tour of 2020, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. If you can’t make it then, we’re reprising the Plant Tour on December 27, for everyone who wanted plant enclosures but couldn’t figure out where to put them before then. Friday, though, is clear for the moment.

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale – #21

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale is a regular Email newsletter, with archives available on the main TTR site at least a month after first publication. To receive the latest newsletters, please subscribe.)

Installment #21: “The Saga of Simon”

With the end of November comes the end of the main growing season. The Venus flytraps and North American pitcher plants are snug in their beds and going dormant, the lights in the gallery were just switched to the winter schedule so as to encourage blooming in the spring (that’s a surefire way to get blooming in Heliamphora, especially since the gallery has no outside light to interfere with their photoperiods), and with the approach of what Dallas calls winter weather (we might actually go below freezing this week), it’s time to rest for a minute. That is, if Simon will allow it.


For those who missed the news, Simon is the new cat. We adopted him a little over a year ago, shortly after Leiber died. With him in the household, we now have two black cats, which makes my wife Caroline exceedingly happy. Alexandria, our other cat, enjoys having someone to roughhouse with, as Leiber wasn’t up for much of anything besides sleeping in his last year, and she now has a partner with whom to explore the garage when we’re home for the night. He’s a perfect little companion, and would be even better if he were a cat. Instead, I’m certain we adopted a seriously mislabeled black Labrador.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Simon is dumb or anything. As much as I miss him, I was the first to acknowledge that Leiber was so unlike his namesake that if he got any dopier, I was going to rename him “Doctorow.” Simon doesn’t trip on the carpet pattern or forget which end goes into the food and which end goes into the litter box. No, the adjective that best describes Simon is “goofy.” “Fall off the scratching post” is typical for cats. Simon is “forgetting that he has retractile claws and falling off the side of the bed” goofy. “Beg for human food and then remember that he doesn’t like human food” goofy. “Run in front of his humans in the dark and then flop to be scritched in the dark” goofy. “Figure out how to get into the attic and then howl like a basset hound because he doesn’t want to have to go back down the way he came in, and then hide under the roof supports out of range when we go up to rescue him” goofy. Oh, and then there’s “going berserk when opossums wander up onto the back porch because he wants to chase them” goofy. He’s not dumb, but he doesn’t act like a cat. Acknowledge that he’s just a dog with a bad label, and suddenly his habit of being unable to be pet because he so desperately wants to lick the petter’s hand suddenly makes sense.

Now, Simon is in fine company. Janit Calvo of Two Green Thumbs Miniature Gardens is known just as much for her dog Kitty as for her miniature garden guides. Amanda Thomsen of Kiss My Aster has constant stories involving her multiple critters. The Sarracenia Northwest newsletter has regular updates on their Sarracenia Pup. Jeff VanderMeer‘s cat Neo has a larger fan base than he does, and will probably get a deal with Netflix sooner, too. Everyone who meets Simon loves him. It’s just that the people who know and love dogs particularly fall in love with him, and Caroline gets grumpy when they note that he’s the most doglike cat they’ve ever met.

Me, I just acknowledge that Simon is a dog and leave it at that. Whether he’s fetching or wanting to go for a run (he loves surfing rugs so much that our next house may have to have hardwood floors just for him), he’s typical Simon, so I just encourage him to be who he is. Caroline, though, has issues with my encouraging him with “good puppy.”

“Simon is not a dog. He’s a KITTY.”
“Sorry, but he’s a dog. He gets into the garage and climbs into the car because he wants to go for a drive.”
“HE’S A KITTY.”
“What’s so bad about his being a puppy? Are you trying to tell your son that he can’t be his own person, and he has to go with what you say he is?”
“Do you want to give him a neurosis? He’s a KITTY.”
“Okay, then.” (Look over at Simon.) Okay, Simon, what do have to say about this?”
“Woof.”

Other News

Other News

In barely related news, exactly a year and a day after the last one, your humble chronicler has a new day job. The particularly good news is that this shouldn’t affect the gallery in the slightest, and the gallery shouldn’t affect the day job, either. That said, expect a lot of new projects: it’s amazing how many ideas get doodled out during staff meetings.

Shameless Plugs

I’ve plugged the considerable talents and tastes of my Canadian little sister Tristan Riskseveral times, but for those looking for something whimsical with which to get the taste of 2020 out of their mouths, I’d like to recommend giving her new Nonesuch figure line a viewing. Caroline proudly displays her Nonesuch in her studio, and I suspect that she may need another, because.

Recommended Reading

I should be saving this for the ongoing Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions guides, but it’s no surprise that the late Ray Harryhausen was a major influence upon Triffid Ranch enclosures, and Ray was one of the many childhood heroes I accidentally and inadvertently scared the hell out of (a list that included Stephen Jay Gould, Carl Sagan, Harlan Ellison, and Johnny Rotten) in my sordid youth. If you can get to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art to view the Ray Harryhausen: Titan of Cinema exhibition, do so, but if you can’t, the accompanying catalog of Harryhausen artifacts, full of anecdotes from his daughter Vanessa, is essential reading.

Music
Long nights in the gallery require lots of music, and due to an odd form of aphasia, I have a much better time concentrating on certain tasks with music with no lyrics whatsoever. That’s why the music of Peter Roe gets regular play on weeknights, and why his album Time Traveller hasn’t become the basis for a whole movie is beyond me. Go load up via your favorite streaming service, and thank him for me if you know him.

State of the Gallery: December 2020

Well. Two weeks out before the end of 2020, a year deserving of many descriptions, and a few of those not being profanities. Depending upon who’s asking, this is either the last year of the last decade or the first year of the new; based on hard experience, years in the Gregorian calendar ending with “0” are generally ones of transition, a chronal chrysalis where the old decade is digested in order to set the form for the next. What sort of strange butterfly bursts free is a good question, because we usually don’t get an idea of what escaped until about halfway through the decade, and by then it’s too late to shove it back into the cocoon and let it cook for a while longer or set the cocoon on fire.

As to what the shiny new 2020s is going to bring the gallery, we’re in strange seas. Ten years ago, the gallery didn’t exist, and even five years ago, it was going through its own strange birth pains. Nearly four years ago, the whole shabeen moved to its present location, and it’s still undergoing reorganization and reevaluation to best utilize the space. That continues: this last summer’s massive renovation was just one stage, and those who remember the gallery back when it was still part of the Galleries at Midtown wouldn’t recognize it. This, of course, is a good thing.

One of the biggest changes in the last month, of course, is that your humble gallery operator just started a new day job. This honestly made gallery work much more productive, and the time spent every evening in the gallery gives spice to the next day’s work. As 2021 progresses, that should continue, especially as temperatures warm and the temperate carnivores start waking up.

As far as special gallery events and functions are concerned, everything right now depends both on the current onslaught of COVID-19 and the effectiveness of the currently approved vaccines intended to get it under control. Both the porch sales of last summer and autumn and the recent Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours allowed safe and secure events to be an option, and while we’re not sure exactly when events start again in January, rest assured that the break after December 27’s tour will be short and succinct.

Otherwise, this sounds like broken vinyl considering circumstances over the last few years, but it’s time to gear up for the new year. If — IF — vaccine use breaks the back of COVID-19, the show and event schedule won’t be as packed as the original plan for 2020, but it will definitely be more active than 2019. To that end, besides bringing in a whole new series of beginner Nepenthes hybrids (including the delightful hybrids “St. Gaya” and “Rebecca Soper,” the latter being the absolute purplish Nepenthes since the “Bill Bailey”), it’s time to get back to offering hot pepper bonsai again, as well as expanding gallery space to a new collection of butterwort, bladderwort, and sundew enclosures. The real vaccine we all need is one for sleep, because that’s the one thing getting in the way of new projects.

And one last note: this installment is dedicated to the memory of my uncle Charles “Corky” Graham, a huge influence on my sordid youth and a quiet reminder of humility and peace in adulthood. If you want to respect his memory, get any kid in your life a Spirograph: my memories of practicing with one, with his help, are memories I’ll cherish for the rest of my days. Hail and farewell.

Triffid Ranch Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours: December 13, 2020

We’re in the home stretch now. Nearly halfway through the month, at the end of the year, arguably at the end of an extremely tumultuous decade. Certainly, had you told 2010 Me that regular weekly carnivorous events would be both possible and popular, the look of disbelief would have been worthy of a greeting card. But there we go.

This weekend’s show was like most events in Dallas in December when torrential rains hit: rather slow at first, and then cabin fever overtakes the aggravation of driving in the rain. It ultimately led to quite a cross-section of first-time visitors, including a last-minute rush of viewers after the rain finally stopped.

The rest of the schedule for 2020 gets a bit interesting. Before the next gallery Plant Tour on December 20, it’s time for a sidetrip for the Frightmare Collectibles Christmas Horror Market in Justin on December 20, from 12 noon to 8:00 pm. (No plants because this is an outside show, and the emphasis will be on jewelry from Caroline Crawford Originals, but I will be out with Triffid Ranch posters for those asking for one, and everyone is welcome to come out to the Plant Tour on Sunday.) After that, the gallery will be open by appointment only during the week, but we’ll reopen for the last Plant Tour of the year on December 27. (Incidentally, this will also be a lowkey celebration of our 18th wedding anniversary: isn’t it amazing that I haven’t been turned into a bog mummy by now?) As for 2021, well, we’re still working on that.

Have a Safe Weekend

We’re now nearly halfway through December, 10 days away from the winter solstice, and 20 days away from the end of the Gregorian calendar year. We’re also two days away from the next Triffid Ranch Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tour, starting at 10:00 am and ending at 4:00 pm. Either way, it may stop, but it never ends.

Enclosures: “Bat God” (2020)

Of all of the mammals, the bats are the most egalitarian when it comes to their government. Dogs are too tempted by autocrats. Cats are too averse to leaders. The elephants live so long that they constantly second-guess longterm plans, and the shrews live such short lives that they reinvent their entire society over a summer. The whales and dolphins constantly reinforce their society by turning abstracts into instantly identifiable memes disseminated by sonar and long-distance call; rodents are lucky to hold family groups together with pheromones. The ungulates mistake individual reaction to stimuli for decisive collective action, and the primates are too busy shrieking for attention to pay attention to anything else. Only the chiropterans, one of the oldest mammal families and certainly the most prolific, have the time and the wherewithal to create their own gods at their own pace.

Insects, fish, fruit, blood, nectar. The bats continued their ancestors’ war against the dinosaurs, both based on total numbers and on their diets. They migrated to better feeding grounds and hibernated to wait for better feeding, hiding from the daystar in caves, tree hollows, primate shelters, under leaves, in pitcher plant traps. They never conquered the land or the ocean, and why should they? What was the point of conquest when the wind was free?

Even so, all thinking beings make gods when administrative tasks become too onerous, and bats make theirs for their purposes. The difference between them and all other mammals is that instead of creating a noble template of what they could accomplish, they elevate one of their own with the understanding that this is transitory. For one full year, one bat becomes the archetype for all chiropterans: that year counts not against the bat’s average lifespan, and it neither feeds nor needs to fear predators. Instead, it bathes in the collective wants and needs of bats across the world, gliding on now-invisible wings to every enclave of its order, examining changes in the world and plotting strategy to allow the bats to utilize those changes. At the end of the year, it spreads its observations and solutions across all batkind before reentering the world as just one among many. That bat’s successor as the one Bat God had no advance warning that it would be chosen, and no previous Bat God would ever be chosen again. Nothing could improve an individual bat’s chances, and so no bat strove to do so. The chosen Bat God also could not retain its memories of that experience, which was probably for the best for all. Power, ambition, the desire for conquest or control: this was alien to bats, and each Bat God made certain during their tenure that this continued.

This was a system that worked for millions of years, as other mammal groups rose and fell forever, and the Bat God took the lessons from those others and memorialized them. In millions more years, their world would be consumed as the daystar expanded and swallowed everything within its range, and the bats would look to their god and murmur “Good job. We did well.”

Original vampire bat design by Monica “Monarobot” Robles Corso.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 36″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 91.44 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes hemsleyana

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, acrylic sheet, fancy stone.

Price: $400

Shirt Price: $350

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 5

Considering that 2020 for so many people has been less about “I wish I’d lived in a cave all this time” than “that nuclear waste dump is seeping into my perfectly pristine prehistoric cavern and poisoning all of my dinosaurs,” the constant requests to help others outside of immediate family can be rough when you don’t know if you’re going to need assistance yourself in a few weeks. It’s even harder when we’re watching cultural anchors such as restaurants and nightspaces collapsing through no fault of their own other than “it’s dangerous to gather in large groups and socialize,” especially with those where video streams and takeout simply aren’t an option. If you’re in that situation or bumped up against it, no pressure whatsoever: I’ve been there so many times that all anyone has to do is mention the years 1986, 1991, or 2001 and watch me twitch. This week’s Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions guide is for those with the means to help out, big or small, and who want additional options.

Firstly, if you want to go big to tackle the biggest need, contributing money to your local food bank is a great place to start. Right off the bat, considering the number of people unemployed or underemployed since last March for whom food security is a real issue, even a tiny amount makes a huge difference to an individual or a family that otherwise would go hungry. Dedicated newsfeed doomscrollers might have caught the coverage of the tremendous lines in Dallas waiting for their individual turns for help from the North Texas Food Bank, and many of us immediately turned around and donated what we could. With the likelihood that anything approximating a downturn in COVID-19 cases may not happen until next March, and that so many businesses can’t even consider reopening until after those cases are under control, that’s where Triffid Ranch money left over from paying bills has been going. Having been there, I want to make sure that anybody needing a hand up has it now.

Feeding our own is a priority, but then there are others. Donations to local animal shelters are just as important, even with the increased numbers of adoptions from stay-at-home workers, because the bills have to be paid after the adoptees leave. That goes double for zoos and aquariums where animals can’t go home with the keepers to save on maintenance costs. From Dallas, consider a contribution to the Dallas Zoo Annual Fund, especially to assist with animal care and keeper pay at the Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park. (On a personal note, the plan back in January was to make a contribution to the Annual Fund to cover food costs for the Dallas Zoo’s crocodile monitor. Now, though, with the Children’s Aquarium shut down for the duration, caring for the Aquarium’s albino alligator, Australian lungfish, and one of the largest alligator snapping turtles in captivity is just as important.)

For the last decade, Triffid Ranch shows and events have flyers from Bat World Sanctuary to highlight one of Texas’s gems, and things are getting tight for the sanctuary crew, too. With the impending release of a new Nepenthes enclosure intended to highlight bats’ contributions to carnivorous plant lore, it’s time to up the contributions there, too. We’re all in this together.

One of the things that’s hurt the most about 2020 wasn’t just the collapse of Triffid Ranch shows, but also the opportunity to bring plants to schools and museums to share with folks whose sole exposure to carnivores is online. Skype a Scientist is a new organization intending to take advantage of technology: it connects virtual classrooms with a serious need for new stimulation with scientists happy to lecture on their specialties, with an emphasis on classrooms where the funding might not be available otherwise. If any one organization makes me giggle “I love living in the future,” Skype a Scientist is it, because I would have done just about anything to have had access to this sort of resource when I was in school.

Finally, while it may be obvious, the International Carnivorous Plant Society not only keeps members of the carnivorous plant community connected and informed, but its efforts to protect carnivorous plant habitat and genetic diversity are needed especially now. (As an extra for those of us having to make lots of PayPal payments, the ICPS may be chosen as a preferred PayPal charity, with 1% of sales going to the ICPS for its education programs. Considering how much glassware I purchase annually, I’m hoping that this helps, and there’s no reason why more people can’t do it, too.)

As always, if it’s just not possible to contribute to these or any other charity, don’t sweat it: times are rough for everybody, and this is not about guilt. The important part is that we’re all in this together.

Next week: Buying (Dallas) Local

I’m living in my own private Tanelorn

Right now, the greater Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex is in our default December weather system: generally sunny and mild, with temperatures at dawn flirting with freezing and temps at dusk considerably higher, with very good chances for surprise frost, snow, and even sleet. Because of that, many of our native plants and the best-adapted of our introduced species base their winter dormancy on photoperiod instead of temperature. A lot of people here do the same thing the closer we get to the winter solstice. Not everything follows that schedule, and for a few, it can be lethal.

The character shown above is a Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis), a very common lizard ranging through most of the southern United States, with Dallas and Fort Worth marking the western edge of its range. Besides its fame for changing its skin color between brilliant green to deep brown, thus its common name “American chameleon,” Carolina anoles are also famed for their refusal to drink water from standing sources, preferring to lap dew and condensation from leaves and just about any other available surface. In the Dallas area, even considering their intense territoriality, they tend to collect in surprising numbers, and they’re out on any day warm enough to allow them to move in the afternoon. Not only are they adept vine and bush climbers, but thanks to lamellar pads on their toes like those of geckos, they also skitter across vertical wood, brick, and even glass. If they can get a purchase, they’re extremely hard to catch, which is why I don’t catch them: half of the fun with the anoles in and around the greenhouse is getting them trusting enough that I can get close enough to touch, and one big male that loves camping in a potted grapefruit tree has a thing about puffing up his dewlap and challenging me when I’m using the hose, solely so I’ll set the hose sprayer to “mist” and soak him down so he can get an evening drink.

While their climbing skills are legendary, apparently they have limits. For reasons related elsewhere, Venus flytraps in the Dallas area are best grown in glass globes, brandy snifters, vases, and other tall glass containers so they get the high sunlight, high humidity, and good air circulation they crave. Those glass globes tend to create a pitfall trap for them: either due to the angle, the temperature, or both, anoles this time of the year have a problem with climbing into glass containers and being unable to climb out, especially when chasing the same insects that the flytraps already attract. In busier times, this wouldn’t be an issue, between regular waterings twice a week in the summer and the regular Porch Sales, any trapped anole might spend hours inside a globe before being rescued. This time of the year, though, with the flytraps going dormant and checkups every week, a trapped anole could be injured or even killed by remaining in a plant globe, especially if nighttime temperatures went to or below freezing. The odds of this one ending up in another globe are pretty poor (unlike many people, anoles tend to learn from their mistakes), but that’s no guarantee that it won’t happen to another.

With this in mind, it’s time for a homework assignment. As mentioned before, anoles are exemplary climbers, but they need something to climb other than the underside interior of a glass globe. Lots of objects qualify, so long as they neither contaminate the soil inside the container, block off light to the flytrap, nor spread diseases. In this particular case, all of the globes waiting for spring now have a sprig of bamboo rising above the lip, just in case. It’s not much to do, but it should be enough to save anoles, jumping spiders, and the occasional mouse from a slow and undignified death. For those with Triffid Ranch flytraps, and for those just following my growing recommendations, consider doing something similar, just in case. And so it goes.

And now it’s time for rentals

It’s been months in the making. (The original plan was to announce it in mid-March, at the beginning of show season, but we know how that turned out.) It’s been delayed by developments and put off due to priorities, but now it’s time to bring up that Triffid Ranch enclosures are now available for rental. Details here.