Monthly Archives: June 2021

Enclosures: “Timeheist” (2021)

(Backstory dedicated to Mark Finn.)

Time paradoxes come in two flavors: perceptive and blatant. Perceptive paradoxes, the most common, involve changes to a particular timestream that affect the perceptions of the participants therein. Most attempts by temporal marauders to modify or arrest their future change it to the point where they go along with the flow, with maybe a small nagging intuition that things should be different. Blatant paradoxes are ones that practically revel in their impossibility: incredibly rare, they become noted because of their obviousness. The Excelsus Heist wasn’t just a matter of rubbing the entire timestream’s nose in the resultant mess: it was so carefully planned that one chronicle of the situation described it as “befouling a punchbowl with the total contents of the Augean Stables, horses included, mixed with metallic sodium and a Twenty-second Century depth charge on top.”

The paradox started with Dr. Gideon Marsh, xenoarchaeologist attached to a survey of the J0240 star system comprised of a white dwarf and red giant referred to as a “cataclysmic variable.” Based on initial studies of the remnant of a planetary body on the edge of the system’s gravity well, Marsh determined that J0240 had at least seen an established interstellar civilization before the system started violently blasting mass from the red giant out into space, and that said civilization left at least one major archive on that world before either migrating or dying. He further located the archive, codenamed “Excelsus,” and started excavations before the next catastrophic incident. Within days, his team cleared debris and lava from the front of a gigantic alloy door, and the team planned an opening event to be broadcast via light and gravitic wave across the galaxy. By all indications, the door hadn’t been opened in just a little less than one billion years, and based on the door design and hints in the surrounding structural remnants in the surrounding area, anything inside would be unique among sentients living or dead.

At least, that was the idea. When Marsh personally disengaged the niobium clamps and swung the doorway open, the viewdrones captured….nothing. Well, nothing but a series of printouts on aluminum plates of the fantastic discoveries Marsh had made on that day, as well as listings of Marsh’s honoraria for his work on understanding those fantastic discoveries, and a sidenote of his having stolen credit from a research assistant involving his greatest and most famous interpretation. Other than those, Excelsus was stripped clean, with not so much as a spare dust particle on the floors.

As Dr. Marsh looked over what would have been his supreme moment, the rest of the galaxy saw the simultaneous release of thousands of pieces of alien technology, all seemingly from the Excelsus dig, even including field notes from team members who most assuredly had never seen the items in question. One last clue came from one very deliberately left fingerprint in the middle of the item the description of which Marsh allegedly plagiarized. DNA analysis suggested a match both with the field assistant, Sarah Myers, and a jumpship navigator named Robin Elyard. As part of the final investigation of Excelsus, all evidence pointed to the heist being organized by a daughter of Myers and Elyard, a fact corroborated by video of the individual sales and donations of the Excelsus contents. The problem was that Myers was 24 at that time, had no children, and had no contact with Elyard. Elyard was even more confusing, as his jumpship had disintegrated with all hands almost exactly three years before.

By the time the final investigation was complete, all evidence pointed to the Myers/Elyard daughter organizing what to this date qualifies as the greatest bank heist in history. The vault was cleared out shortly after it was sealed, one billion years before the organizer was born, and filled with news printouts intended to endure through that time. Better, those printouts dated to some 30 years after the Excelsus opening, from at least two newsfeeds that did not exist at that time. The galaxy was then flooded with advanced alien tech, requiring at least five years of organization to get it all in place, and either sold or given away to interests directly in conflict with Dr. Marsh. By the time he died, bitter and broken, Marsh was an intergalactic punchline, especially when he realized that he met his tormentor once, when he was five. Other than these, the mysterious person involved had left no trace, and apparently evaporated in the aftermath of the massive paradox. To this date, no other preemptive robbery anywhere within this corner of the universe had been noticed or chronicled, but several researchers involved with study of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti are said to be extremely nervous.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes “St. Gaya”

Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: Commission

Shirt Price: Commission

The Aftermath: June Porch Sale (June 13, 2021)

An ongoing joke for anyone living in Texas for more than a year involves the utter shock among other residents about the arrival of summer in the state. Mid-June to July, by the time outside temperatures reach blood temperatures, there’s always someone shrieking “But-but-but it’s not supposed to get THIS hot so early!” It’s not just the longtimers laughing in their faces, having seen that magical period of nearing 100 degrees F/37.77 degrees C land anywhere between the end of May and the middle of July. The newbies laugh even harder: they learned the hard way that no matter how prepared they thought they were for summer, there’s a big difference between preparing for it and experiencing it.

(The reality was that for all of the other nightmares in 2020, last summer wasn’t all that bad. Yes, we got hot in July and August, but it wasn’t a repeat of 1980 or 2011, and North Texas isn’t in drought yet. With the torrential rains of the first half of June, some of us were hoping for a repeat of 2007 or 1982, with the rains continuing to wash through. What 2021 brings, I have no idea, but I’ll just be happy for a lack of catastrophic storms and tornadoes as in 2019.)

Regardless of the scheduling, the June 13 Porch Sale coincided with the hottest day of 2021 so far, and it’s not going to get cooler for a while. We have one more Porch Sale scheduled for June 27 on the normal hours, but after the beginning of July, either they’re getting moved to much earlier in the day or they’re moving inside. I may be bicycling to and from the gallery, but not everyone is as acclimated to the ongoing heat.

The bad news for this coming Sunday: no Porch Sale, if only because the Triffid Ranch hits the road for the Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo on June 19. However, it’s coming back on June 27 from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, followed by another two-day Carnivorous Plant Weekend on July 3 and 4. And now to get everything packed up for Austin.

Have a Safe Weekend

It’s going to be a busy weekend: Saturday is dedicated to heading west to Cross Plains for Robert Howard Days to see an old friend while there’s the chance, and then Sunday is all about this weekend’s Porch Sale. After that, it’s time for a road trip to Austin for the Oddities & Curiosities Expo at the Palmer Convention Center. I’ve heard about this thing called “sleep,” and I really hope it doesn’t catch on.

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale – #26

(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 #26: “Correlation and Causation Sitting In A Tree”

Most people salivate in anticipation of the traditional November/December holiday season, and others for the beginning of their favorite sportsball season. Out here at the Triffid Ranch, the year really only gets going in May. In Texas, we’re absolutely past the last chance of needing a jacket or winter coat, the worst of the early spring allergens have already blown on the south wind to Nebraska, and every other plant in the area is already waking up and blooming. We still have wildflowers, or at least until the heat really kicks in around Memorial Day, and the days are long enough that all of those essential activities that require daylight have a chance to get done. At night, it’s all about running around under clear skies with the windows down, as well as spotting the occasional bat or silk moth. Yes, the summer heat will start getting oppressive soon, but not now, and there’s so much to do before the heat drives us all inside.

This May, though, is full of anniversaries. The month of May is always full of anniversaries (high school graduation, divorce, quitting pro writing), but these are big milestones. In fact, most of these are the anniversaries that led to the Triffid Ranch happening in the first place. For example, 45 years ago this month, the whole journey started when my father accepted a position with the long-defunct company General Foods as a packaging engineer, which required a move from Michigan to upstate New York. Ten years later, the balance scale between staying in Wisconsin for a second horrendous winter and moving back to Texas after nine months away was dependent upon someone who is still very important to me, and her decision led to packing up everything that could be shoved into a Greyhound bus and spending the next 28 hours on the road. Ten years after THAT, right on the edge of the dotcom boom, the option was between staying in an increasingly hidebound and threadbare Dallas and packing a now-ex-wife, three cats, a savannah monitor, and a grapefruit tree into a rental truck for a high-speed blast to Portland, Oregon for a new job and new life. (While I loathed Portland at that time and escaped 18 months later, that was a fateful trip, as it allowed me to see my first carnivorous plants, the famed cobra plant Darlingtonia, up close. Five years later, that would be a catalyst to events that changed the rest of my life.)

A lot of anniversaries involved stresses that were particularly rough at the time, but turned out to be classic adventures in bullet-dodging. 30 years ago, I was called into my supervisor’s cube at Texas Instruments and informed that I was being laid off: the immediate financial and social stresses were ones that scarred for years, but I also escaped just before Texas Instruments sold its entire Defense Electronics Group division and shut down everything I’d been doing for the previous four years, and five years before the company’s CEO was scheduled to testify before Congress as to why the missile system on which I spent 60-hour weeks a year before didn’t work as advertised. Ten years later, the same thing happened with a contract position with Southwest Airlines, just before 9/11 crippled the entire US airline industry.

On a carnivorous plant level, this year is my lucky 13: for several years, I had been a booth babe for manga artist Lea Seidman at a Free Comic Book Day outdoor event in Dallas called CAPE, and started bringing various carnivores to let people know what I was doing in lieu of writing for science fiction magazines. That culminated with the CAPE organizers offering a table space to show and sell carnivores, and the Texas Triffid Ranch went from abstract to concrete. To this day, that’s why I refer comics enthusiasts to Zeus Comics, because their starting and running CAPE started a debt I cannot hope to repay. 

And so it goes to the present day. Looking back on those anniversaries is like looking back on a trail of shed snakeskins: if any had been left anywhere else, there’s no guarantee that the final output would have been anywhere near the same. It’s been a strange trip, and some of those snakeskins had more of an effect on me than on the people responsible for helping to peel them off, as it should be.

Other News

With the previous discussion of anniversaries, it’s necessary to mention the recent death of Michael G. Adkisson, the editor of the science fiction zine New Pathways from 1986 to 1992. The only thing that could be said is that if not for Adkisson and magazine editors and publishers just like him, I’d currently be a mediocre science fiction movie critic right now. And so it goes.

Shameless Plugs

It’s a matter of time before it’s safe enough to open the gallery to vaccinated individuals (probably following in the tradition of the great Dallas goth club Panoptikon on admission being dependent on an official vaccination record), so it’ll be time to bring out food and drink. Let me introduce you to The Homicidal Homemaker, with lots of possibilities perfect for Triffid Ranch events for the rest of the year. And oh yes, I have ideas far beyond making more prickly pear sorbet.

Recommended Reading

Two books coming across the desk at the same time that directly apply to future plans at the gallery, but you’d never think it. The first is The Art of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge by Amy Ratcliffe, and the second is Footprints: In Search of Future Fossils by David Farrier. If you keep checking back on future enclosures, you’ll understand why.

Music

Another one of the advantages to the current overload on streaming music services is coming across people that never, EVER would have shown up on Dallas radio, and probably never will. Add Danielle Dax to the list: there’s always more room in the rotating music list when working in the gallery.

Enclosures: “Miss Tempest” (2021)

In tribute to Carolyn Sherwin Bailey.

Miss Tempest wasn’t the only inhabitant of the little corner garden in that little corner house, but she was definitely the longest. Miss Carolyn, the owner of that little corner house, knew that the little alcove in the back between the side door and the garage wouldn’t work as a full garden, so she decorated it with all sorts of surprises found and purchased. Miss Tempest arrived one day after Miss Carolyn found her at a crafts show, where she joined the assemblage of repurposed toys and curios who watched over the side door. She went in the back between the Barbie Triplets and the Bauble Witch, part of an ongoing and growing entourage regularly updated as previous inhabitants succumbed to the elements or walked off with interlopers both human and animal. Miss Carolyn didn’t mind: particularly after seeing a neighbor child playing with one of the Barbie Triplets, completely enthralled, she kept the space well-stocked for just such visits.

Miss Tempest understood that her name was an in-joke, as Miss Carolyn always chuckled about it as she walked by on errands or to tidy up the back yard space. She may have been half teacup, but otherwise she had nothing in common with her name: she was perfectly happy observing the world from an alcove underneath the house’s roof. Plants came and went over the years, and she paid them little notice, as there were always new plants. New denizens came and went, what with the crows drawn to pulling off the mirrored decorations of the Bauble Witch until she was a wire skeleton. The only thing that really caught her attention was the sky, and while the other garden denizens dozed and dreamed at night, Miss Tempest stared up at the stars she could see, keeping track as their positions changed across the seasons. She was so dedicated that she didn’t notice that Miss Carolyn’s regular visits became more sporadic, then stopped, the weeds in the garden grew to tremendous heights, and that her compatriots weren’t replaced or repaired any more.

One day, though, she noticed. That came when strangers came barrelling through the side door and came around the side yard with wheelbarrows and tools, dismantling a garden shed just out of range of Miss Tempest’s vision. The strangers only avoided squashing the garden flat because of its location, and if she could, Miss Tempest would have moved closer to the house. The Bauble Witch was squashed flat by one inattentive stranger, and a more attentive one picked through the garden denizens, looking for a while at Miss Tempest before deciding to leave her there. Behind her, she heard other strangers rustling and banging through the house, but try as she could, she didn’t hear anything from Miss Carolyn.

Finally, the activity slowed, with one woman looking over the garden while talking about “closing on the house as-is.” By this point, the garden was nearly unrecognizable. Most of the garden denizens were crushed, cracked, or taken, and all but Miss Tempest buried by a stranger dumping out an old aquarium full of soil in the space. Every night that she would have spent staring at the stars, she instead asked herself the same thing over and over: “What happens next?”

“Next” was a matter of perspective. She stayed underneath the overhang, protected from rain and snow, and about once a week, yet another stranger came by the side door to mow in the back. She could hear him mowing in front, and occasionally she could hear others gathering in the front or occasionally inside, talking about “necessary renovations” and “no next of kin.” After a time, she went back to staring back at the stars, the one thing that made sense any more.

That lasted until after the winter was over. By this time, the pile of soil before her had flattened and settled from autumn and winter rains, with bits of debris that used to be her neighbors peeking out in places. Then over the space of a few days, something else peeked out, and Miss Tempest beheld a plant unlike anything else she’d ever seen before. It was so strange, so different, that she did something she’d never done in her time in the garden. She tried to speak.

“Um…hello?”

The plant answered back. who.

“Nobody has ever asked me that. I’m called ‘Miss Tempest.'”

hello.

“Do you have a name?”

no.

sleep.

long time.

“Do you know how long?”

no.

“Well, we’re not going anywhere. Are you all right?”

yes.

still waking up.

when rain?

“That’s a good question. I never paid attention before now.”

rain good. thirsty.

Later that evening, it started to rain. The plant sighed and settled in. At that moment, Miss Tempest didn’t know what the future entailed, or if either of them had a future, but for the first time in her existence, she looked forward to sharing it with someone. They had time.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 13″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 33.02 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant: Cephalotus follicularis “Elizabeth

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, found items.

Price: Commission

Shirt Price: Commission

The Aftermath: June Porch Sale (June 6, 2021)

As opposed to Memorial Day Weekend, this last weekend was best described as “moist.” Nearly daily rain was capped on Sunday morning with a tremendous downpour impressive even by Dallas standards, leaving us invoking New Orleans or Tallahassee instead. Flash flood warnings and airport weather advisories finally receded later on Sunday morning, leaving the city with a barely moving humid atmosphere best described as “too thick to breathe, too thin to waterski on.” Between this and an ever-fluctuating chance of further thunderstorms throughout the day, the decision was to move inside.

As it turned out, things were slow, but more than compensated with grand conversation and intriguing discussion. Between recovery from last weekend and the oppressive atmosphere, most Dallas folks were staying home, not that anybody could blame them. That said, thanks to everyone who came out: as always, opening up the gallery is a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

And so it continues: the gallery opens again next Sunday from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, and then the Triffid Ranch hits the road, heading to Austin for the Oddities & Curiosities Expo at Palmer Convention Center in downtown. With luck, the trip will be much less eventful than the wall-to-wall traffic jam along I-35 during the 2019 Expo, and I’m looking forward to seeing longtimers and new folks then. See you then.

Have a Safe Weekend

The Sunday Porch Sales continue with a slight time change: starting June 6, we’re open on Sundays from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, with everything moving inside if the rains on Sunday are as bad as currently predicted. We’ll see what happens.

The Aftermath: Memorial Day Carnivorous Plant Weekend 2021

It’s been nearly six years since the Triffid Ranch first opened in the old Valley View Center location, and in that time, we’ve never had the opportunity to have a full weekend show. Most of this is due to the day job schedule, and part of it was due to having the room and time to work on enclosures and general maintenance or conduct shows, but not both. Between regular practice with Porch Sales over the last year, though, as well as having several new enclosures to debut, made for a perfect opportunity to try a two-day event. And so Carnivorous Plant Weekend was born.

Oh, there were the rough starts: one whole enclosure backdrop ruined by too much sun and heat (yet another reason why painting and finishing are best done at night through the North Texas summer), and having plenty of time to finish cleanup and organizing until there wasn’t. That said, though, a great time was had by all, and spreading things out for two days meant that a lot of people who couldn’t make the Sunday Porch Sales now had an opportunity to wander around. As it should be.

As always, many thanks to everyone who came out, and I hope we didn’t disappoint. For those who couldn’t, the Porch Sales return nearly every Sunday in June (the only exception is June 20, because I’ll be driving back from the Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo on June 19), and then we’re going to try another Carnivorous Plant Weekend on July 3 and 4, details to follow. My, it’s busy around here this year, isn’t it?