Monthly Archives: June 2021

The Aftermath: June Porch Sale (June 27, 2021)

And now we hit the end of June, with the real summer heat still to come. Unlike last year, the outdoor events may have to come to an end for a while, or at least move inside, just because this summer could go in any number of directions, and “dangerous levels of heat by 3:00 pm” is usually at the top of the menu. That’s not to say that we’re stopping: it’s just to say that customer safety and gallery owner safety are very tight Venn diagrams.

If we needed a swan song and separation layer between “beginning of the year” and “end of the year” Porch Sales, June 27 summed it up. Thanks to unusual but not completely unheard-of rainy weather, the air was best described as “too thick to breathe, too thin to waterski on,” and getting close to optimal hot tub temperatures by the end of the day. That didn’t keep people from coming out to visit, but it definitely made the bicycle trip to the gallery that morning just a little less effortless.

It may have been hot and sticky for humans, but the plants seemed to love it. Compared to the usual Dallas blast furnace, a bit of Tallahassee crock pot was exactly what they needed. Right about now, the Sarracenia will slow down on growth and get ready for an explosion of new pitchers when things start cooling off in October, and that’s worth the wait.

Anyway, time to get back to the linen mines: the rest of the week is dedicated to getting everything ready for this weekend’s Carnivorous Plant Weekend event, starting on Saturday, July 3 from 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm and continuing on Sunday, July 4 from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. After that, the subsequent weekend is one for resting, recharging, and repotting, so keep an eye on the schedule for announcements on new events. And after THAT? Let’s just say that September, October, and November are already booked.

Have a Safe Weekend

Last weekend in June, and would you believe a chance of rain through Dallas all next week? Like anyone’s complaining. The last Porch Sale of the month runs Sunday, from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, and all of that is preparation for the Carnivorous Plant Weekend running July 3 and 4. (And for the record, this marks just over 2000 posts on this silly site over the last 10 years. Since nobody’s going to give me a cookie, I’m buying my own.)

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2021 – 5

Come into the story midway? Try starting at the beginning.

And in the end, the Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo was over. Eight hours after the doors opened, the gigantic crowds finally trickled out, and all of the vendors took assessment of what we had left and what we had to replace before our next shows. I just looked at one neighbor and said “If I’d sold just a little bit more, I could leave the van and fly home.” Slight exaggeration, but it came close.

Obviously, everyone who came out was VERY happy. It wasn’t just a matter of people wanting to get out of the house: The Expos keep proving that not only is there a market for the macabre in Texas, but that audience keeps growing. Between these and Texas Frightmare Weekend, Halloween really will be that day when we let the amateurs have their fun. As someone who took decades of grief over “why can’t you just be normal?”, vindication is sweet, especially when it’s shared with friends, cohorts, and fellow unindicted coconspirators.

With such a massive show, many thanks are in order. Obviously, the crew behind every Oddities & Curiosities Expo deserves accolades for pulling off such massive shows without so much as a hiccup, but the fellow vendors do as well. (A tip: go check out Nicole Pangas Ceramics not just because her work is fascinating, but because we Michigan kids stick together. Meanwhile, I’ll always plug The Curiositeer because you always take care of your little sister, even if neither of you share common DNA.) An additional plug for Green Mesquite BBQ on Barton Springs: I only survived breakdown on Saturday evening because I knew I had a few kilos of sausage and pork ribs waiting for me at the hotel once I was done. Most of all, thanks to everyone who came out, whether or not you bought anything, because your interesting and unexpected questions are why this whole shebeen goes on tour. Now to get back to work and finish restocking, I haven’t come back from a show with so little since Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018, and this was after just one day, not three. I don’t think any of us would have survived if the Expo had run on Sunday as well, although I’m willing to test that in Dallas next year.

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2021 – 4

Come into the story midway? Try starting at the beginning.

Visitors to Texas in May and June might notice what appears to be snow accumulating in random spots, particularly in places near water. No, this is not snow, and natives and longtime residents will scream that fact with an underlying cosmic horror. THIS IS NOT SNOW. What you’re witnessing, as I personally experienced when stepping outside my hotel room for the Oddities & Curiosities Expo in Austin, is the reproductive cycle of what could qualify as the most typically Texan lifeform in existence, the cottonwood tree (Populus deltoides).

Most residents have a decided love-hate relationship with cottonwood trees, and take great pains to relate the “hate” part. P. deltoides is found all over Texas and New Mexico, usually concentrated around water in otherwise dry areas. They’ve found a second life as opportunists in urban and suburban areas, where their roots head straight for the nearest water, gumming up sewer and drainage lines. The trees themselves are very short-lived on average, and tend to drop large branches during storms, usually directly atop houses. The “fluff” transports seeds long distances, and after the seeds drop off in gardens and on the edges of ponds and streams, the fluff clogs air conditioner vents and car air filters. The fluff also sets off allergies and contact dermatitis among those sensitive to such things, and most summers are spent fighting horrendous itches that only get worse after a shower or swim. The wood is so lightweight that downed branches make poor firewood, and burning green cottonwood makes everything smell like cat urine and/or an anime convention. They choke out other trees, destroy sidewalks and driveways, and cut off light to gardens. Worst of all, they grow so rapidly that someone who accidentally lets one grow next to their house finds out the hard way exactly how expensive they are to remove, especially when grafted into a sewer line or (worse) septic tank.

And then there are the positives. Yes, cottonwoods are very short-lived, but in the process, they produce valuable habitat for everything from beetles to raccoons, through all stages of their life cycle. The seeds borne on the fluff are a valuable food source in summer for birds and ants, and many late-nesting birds use the fluff for nesting material. The trees provide shade without killing the grasses and bushes underneath, and usually come back from storm damage faster than introduced trees. They take in tremendous amounts of water, but through transpiration create microclimates for other organisms that otherwise couldn’t handle Texas summers. The wood that’s so terrible for firewood makes great habitat for everything living and growing around a decaying log, and ultimately breaks up Texas clay and chalk and produces increasingly rich soil in the end. The Spanish word for cottonwood is “alamo,” and many Texas cities started around missions and villages founded around the water sources that the cottonwoods revealed. (As palaeontologists are sick of repeating, the titanosaur Alamosaurus wasn’t named after THE Alamo, but after Ojo Alamo in New Mexico, which translates to “Cottonwood Spring.”) Yes, they’re cantankerous and annoying, but ultimately they do good, like so many of the humans here. I just wish the fluff wasn’t so ridiculously itchy.

To be continued

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2021 – 3

Come into the story midway? Try starting at the beginning.

There’s a lot of good things to be said about the general organization of the touring Oddities & Curiosities Expo shows from an attendee’s POV, but most people don’t have a perspective from the vendor’s side. There’s a lot to be said about the professionalism and efficiency of the Oddities crew from setup to final breakdown, but they do one thing I’d love to see at other events, all over the place.

Complimentary cart service.

You see, Oddities & Curiosities vendors carry all sorts of interesting stuff. Besides the narcissistic jerkwad with the carnivorous plants at the Texas shows, you have everything from ceramics to vintage taxidermy, and not all of it is easy to move. Unless you came prepared with a cart, this is a major problem for a lot of customers, where they’d love to get something nice and hefty but don’t have any easy way to get it to their cars, and it’s way too heavy to carry. The vendors would love to help, but between surging crowds and only having one person to watch the booth, the only option is to arrange pickup after the room closes for the day. If that’s not an option, then the customer walks away from something they really want, the vendor watches a sale walk away, and nobody’s happy. This is especially bad at events such as reptile and amphibian shows, where the critters aren’t anywhere near as heavy as new cages and accessories. The world for a handcart and someone to hold open doors.

That’s where the Oddities & Curiosities crew particularly excels. As I watched, several members patrolled the aisles with handcarts and blankets, ready to move someone’s new purchase out front so it could be picked up and taken home with a minimum of aggravation. This was particularly pertinent to a neighbor at the Austin show, who had an absolutely beautiful hippopotamus skull for purchase but no way to break free to move it for a buyer. The Oddities crew was right on it, with everyone happy, and a crowd of interested passersby turning the trip to the front doors into an impromptu parade.

Because of the sheer glee of customers happy with their purchases, I’d like to see more of this at other shows. Speaking from experience, I’d like to see a cart rental service at ZestFest alone: you have no idea how much just “a few” barbecue sauce and salsa containers weigh until one arm is permanently longer than the other and you’re walking like a Japanese waltzing mouse for two hours after the show.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2021 – 2

Come into the story midway? Try starting at the beginning.

Even with longtime and native residents, there’s always something about Texas summers that brings out the desperate optimist. It won’t be that bad this time. June will be nice, and the real heat won’t hit until July. Oh, we’re going to get a break in August. No, really: we’ll finally start cooling off in November. You know, New Zealand, South Africa, and Antarctica are really nice this time of the year. My first summer here was during the Heat Wave of 1980, which set records only exceeded in 2011, so after that trauma, it’s hard not to engage in magical thinking and see all sorts of hints that yes, it won’t be that bad.

That magical thinking doubles when traveling between cities, as with the trek between Citadel and the Bullet Farm, erm, I mean, between Dallas and Austin for the Oddities & Curiosities Expo on June 19. The trip always takes longer than predicted because the midway point runs through the town of Waco (contrary to popular perception, the town’s name is pronounced WAY-co), and any time gained from an otherwise clear highway the rest of the way is burned off from the perpetual hours-long traffic jam passing by Baylor College. Then there’s the fun of having a van full of live plants and glass, stuck in motionless traffic as the van’s thermometer keeps reminding you that the hoped-for cool temperatures for that Friday are turning back into pumpkins and mice. By the time the perpetual traffic jam in downtown Austin let up enough to allow traffic off the highway and into downtown proper, those “unseasonably cool temperatures” teased the previous Monday hit 106F (40C), and with maybe 15 minutes to unload the truck at the Palmer Event Center before they had to kick everyone out for the night. Ah, Waco. Is there anything you can’t do?

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2021 – 1

Come into the story midway? Try starting at the beginning.

Much is made about the perceived rivalry between Austin and Dallas, but both cities share one very important common trait: dust. Oh so much DUST. Most of the year, the southern wind that blows across the center of Texas from the Gulf of Mexico picks up untold tons of dust from the Austin area. It’s mostly carbonate rock dust, both from natural erosion of limestone and chalk deposits in Central Texas (there’s a reason why one of the major rock formations in the state is called “the Austin Chalk”) and from incessant construction, and it’s supplemented by passing over the cement kilns that make up the main tourist attraction for the town of Midlothian, which swears that the kilns no longer use toxic and/or low-level radioactive waste as fuel. It comes down in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and lingers like a hipster houseguest, working its way into eyes and throats, gumming up lubricated surfaces, and making Dyson vacuum cleaners and air filters work for their living. We get revenge, though: starting in October, the winds shift and start blasting out of the north, and all of that dust that accumulated on every surface all summer long blows right back to Austin. Enough remains, though, to remind us: when it finally gets cool enough in autumn to justify turning on heaters in Dallas, the accumulated eight months or so on heater coils burns off, and the whole city smells a little like Austin for a day or so.

All things considered, we could have worse things than dust. There’s the distinctive chemical plant fug of Manistee, Michigan, or the burned green bean aroma of the multitude of microbreweries in Portland, Oregon. We SAY this, and then we make road trips in either direction, get out of our vehicles, and spend the next six hours washing off, brushing off, or vacuuming off what was once Cretaceous seabed mixed with bits of dinosaur dung. Yeah, and it tastes like it, too.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2021- Introduction

With the gradual reopening of venues and events closed for the last year, one of the bigger surprises has been the rebirth of the touring Oddities & Curiosities Expo shows. Completely unknown in Texas three years ago, the Expo set up shop in Dallas in March 2019, with a subsequent event in Austin in August, and took both places by storm. Specializing in the exotic and the macabre, it was a natural for a Triffid Ranch show, and both shows in 2019 were so successful that 2020 looked like an even bigger year. In fact, because of the Austin 2020 show being scheduled for June instead of August, the plan as of February 2020 was to do shows in Austin and Houston in June, and then take a big leap with the first-ever Triffid Ranch event outside of Texas, at the New Orleans Oddities & Curiosities show at the end of August. Well, we know how 2020 turned out.

As COVID-19 vaccination rates increase, so do crowds wanting to get back out and do something, ANYTHING, far away from a computer screen. When the Oddities & Curiosities crew announced that they had worked out a post-COVID arrangement with the city of Austin and were reviving the show for June, there was no way I’d pass that up. Little did I know that a significant portion of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and New Mexico felt the same way.

To be continued…

State of the Gallery: June 2021

And here’s where it gets interesting. Got a few minutes? Well, let’s compare notes.

To start off, as mentioned a little while back, May 2021 was the busiest month for the gallery since the Triffid Ranch first put down roots back in 2015. June already exceeded that, and we still have a week and change to go. It’s been a blowout month for commissions, the Porch Sales have been a hit, and now that outside shows are starting up again, things are getting intense. Last weekend’s Oddities & Curiosities Expo show in Austin not only was the biggest one-day show since this little carnivorous plant gallery started up, but it was the first time nearly EVERYTHING sold at a show since the first trip to Texas Frightmare Weekend in 2009. As I joked with fellow Expo vendors in the same situation, a few more enclosures go home with people, and I’d be able to fly back.

Not that June is over: aside from appointments to schedule commissions, we still have the June 27 Porch Sale to consider, taking advantage of unusually (for North Texas in summer) cool and cloudy weather this coming weekend. I can also assure new and established customers that nearly everything you see will be new, because just about everything sold last weekend and it’s time to restock. After that, it’s a matter of getting ready for the July Carnivorous Plant Weekend on July 3 (4:00 pm to 9:00 pm) and July 4 (10:00 am to 3:00 pm).

Not that everything is smooth: the Thursday evening Twitch installments will have to be delayed for a while in order to work out technical issues with the gallery’s Internet connection. (It’s the same situation at home, but here, I suspect that someone’s porn download habit exceeds everyone else’s total wireless consumption by about 5 to 1, especially in the early hours before dawn,) Once the wonderful folks at AT&T figure out why the wireless connection keeps cutting out every ten seconds during a stream, it’ll be back.

Another issue involves the Day Job, that which guarantees both regular income to keep the gallery going through lean times and job benefits. The schedule is up in the air at the moment, but trips to the East Coast might be necessary through July and August, directly affecting gallery events. Because of this, July and August might be a little quiet, but that should be rectified through the rest of the year, especially when things start cooling off.

As for outside events, the sixth anniversary of the gallery’s opening coincides with the revival of DFW Tap Talks, science lectures in a bar environment, and that first event features your humble gallery owner discussing “Insects: They’ve Got What Plants Crave!” at Rohr & Sons in Fort Worth. Naturally, as they expand events into Dallas, we’ll be trying those, too.

Otherwise, with things reopening again, it’s time to go back to old friends, which is why the Triffid Ranch returns once again to Austin for Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays 7, as if they could keep me away. Since two years have elapsed since the last one, expect a lot of new surprises, and not just because of the improved venue.

And one last bit. I can’t talk about particulars just yet because it hasn’t been hammered down yet, but something big, on a personal level, is coming up in October. Let’s just say that it involves a road trip from 30 years ago, an opportunity to meet old friends and annoy old aggravations, and introduce a whole new crew to the joys of carnivorous plants. Let’s also say that when I got the offer, the last time I used the phrase “I feel like Anton LaVey getting an invitation to the Pope’s bat mitzvah,” this was during my writing days when I received a critic’s preview invitation to see Star Wars: Episode One in 1999. When I can talk about it further, people who knew me back then will boogie ‘til they puke, and those who only know me as a gentle purveyor of carnivorous plants will get to see a whole new world. Details will follow.

Well, enough of that. Time to get get back to editing the photos from the Oddities & Curiosities Expo, of which there are SO MANY. Talk to you soon.

Have a Safe Weekend

By the time you read this, the Triffid Ranch will be decamped and moved to Austin, in order to set up for the Oddities & Curiosities Expo at Palmer Convention Center in downtown Austin. If you don’t already have tickets, get them now, because the Oddities crew won’t have them available at the door. Otherwise, this will be the only trip outside of Dallas until November 21, when it’s time to haul everything back to Austin for the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays 7 show. Either way, no Porch Sale this weekend, because I’ll be dealing with the horrors of Interstate Highway 35 on a Sunday right when the Porch Sales normally happen. If I don’t see you in Austin this Saturday, I’ll definitely see you at the next Porch Sale on June 27.

Enclosures: “Memewar” (2021)

Do you remember?

Do you?

Do you really remember what happened, or are you remembering what IT wants you to remember?

No, I’m not being difficult. It’s just that when IT isn’t on, it’s still hard to tell the difference. Memory’s like that. It’s already so easy to make false memories all on your own, but when they’re pumped in…well. You know.

Do you remember your real name? Not the name of the guy in the new Lexus in the ad that’s broadcast at 7:30. Yeah, you know what time it’s on, even if you’re unconscious. Can you imagine being in a coma right now, someplace that still has power for life support, and still having Lexus and microwave popcorn and erectile dysfunction drug ads pumped through your skull? Maybe it would be better if you weren’t. In a place with power. IT turns on right when you’re fixing a generator or splicing a cable, and for the next six hours, you’re caught up in a fully sponsored Friends reunion. The sponsors are all dead, and so is the cast, but nobody’s told IT that, so IT keeps going. The people that designed IT wanted to make sure IT couldn’t be turned off, so IT has a perfect power grid and backup solar arrays spread over an entire continent and emergency defense memes that make anybody trying to damage IT puke for the next hour. And then the memes implant a need to buy Pepto-Bismol.

When everything was ready to turn on, they kept saying that about five percent of the population wouldn’t be able to pick up memes. There was something wrong with our heads. That’s why, when IT turned on accidentally at 500 percent power, we could still move when everyone else just lay there. My wife just laid there, eyes closed, Rapid Eye Movement going full tilt. You’d have thought she was just dreaming, until you couldn’t get her to drink because she had no swallow reflex. Five days later, we were the only ones left, getting blasted with reminders at 3 am that Chili’s was open late until midnight and that baby back ribs were a perfect way to satisfy those late-night cravings. Oh, there were plenty of baby back ribs lying around for a few days, if you didn’t get hit with an advertorial while you were trying to cook. After two weeks, you didn’t feel like eating.

So here’s the plan. We know where IT is located. IT can’t be reached by ground, but IT’s vulnerable from the air. We managed to get a small private jet up and working again, and even found enough fuel for one run. We know you were enough of a pilot to get it in the air and get it to IT, then you bail out and let the plane do the rest. We have a two-hour gap: it’s mostly light toilet paper ads, but you have to be out of the plane and in the ground before IT starts broadcasting Christmas specials. The Zingers ads are intense.

No, we’re not going to let you die. Aim and bail. You’ve got a parachute, and if everything works and IT stops, we can come get you. All you need to do is…

Wait. You’re not a pilot.

You just play one on TV.

GREAT.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12″ x 18″ x 12″ (30.48 cm x 45.72 cm x30.48 cm)

Plants: Heliamphora x minor

Construction: Plastic fixtures, polystyrene foam, resin, epoxy putty, found items.

Price: $175US

Shirt Price: $150US

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?