Well, the inevitable finally happened: it got hot in North Texas. Don’t you dare laugh at me: two things get us through July in Dallas: the possibility that for the first time since the Pleistocene, we’ll get through a whole summer without a solid month of monotonous hot-‘n-sunny every day, and the opening of Spirit Halloween popup stores in long-dead strip mall spaces. (Well, for me, it’s the arrival of the first Spooky Town decorations at Michael’s stores, but you take your joy where you find it.) The fact that the heat finally hit at the end of July wasn’t unexpected, but we all enjoyed the delay for as long as we had it.
As to be expected this time of the year, this Porch Sale was more an opportunity of exploration, mostly to see either if enclosures could fit into a particular space or to see what options were available for outdoor plants. No big deal: that’s what we’re here for. I’m just glad that we didn’t NEED to be outside when the worst of the hot southern wind hit on Sunday afternoon, because that’s not fit weather for plants or people.
Anyway, as mentioned last week, we’re continuing to shake things up on the schedule, so the next Porch Sale is this coming Saturday (July 31) from 10 am to 3 pm Central Time, for those whose schedules preclude coming out on Sundays. After that, the Triffid Ranch moves to Curious Garden near White Rock Lake for a carnivorous plant workshop on August 7, so no Porch Sale that weekend. After that, we’re still working out the particulars, so keep checking back.
Because the July heat set in, and because reasons going back to December 1991, I’m not saying that you HAVE to nominate the Triffid Ranch for the upcoming Dallas Morning News Best in DFW Awards. I’m not saying that there aren’t plenty of categories in which the gallery would qualify. I’m certainly not asking anyone to vote as often as allowable under ballot rules. However, if you vote, you have until midnight on Wednesday, July 28, 2021 to get your nominations in. If you’re undecided, then feel free to come out to either of our two Porch Sales this week, either on Sunday, July 25 or on Saturday, July 31, both from 10 am to 3 pm, to look around. And thank you in advance.
While not as hot as in previous summers (compared to 2011 or 1980, North Texas is almost chilly), the heat and humidity were oppressive enough to consider moving the traditional Porch Sale inside, so that’s what we did. We also shifted the schedule from Sunday morning to Saturday evening, giving opportunities for those having other obligations on Sunday to wander about and take everything in. It definitely worked: the gallery had an audience that would have been shocking during the Valley View days.
And that’s part of the discussion on plans for the near future: through August, just to stir things up, we’ve been contemplating alternating between Friday nights, Saturday mornings and nights, and Sunday mornings for Porch Sales, even when it’s cool enough to move the show outside again. We’re also contemplating inviting other vendors when the outdoor Porch Sales start again (probably in mid-September), but that’s a little ways off. Either way, things are getting busy all the way to the end of the year and beyond.
And on the subject of schedules, the Porch Sales continue through July, starting with Sunday, July 25 from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, and then again on Saturday, July 31, also from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. After that, the Porch Sales get delayed to make room for the Attack of the Carnivorous Plant Workshop at Curious Garden on August 7, and then we go back to it. As the schedule changes, you’ll know about it first.
Six years ago this month, things changed drastically for the Triffid Ranch. That was when we signed the lease for what turned out to be the first gallery space, out at what was Valley View Center in North Dallas, and started to put together the first gallery. It took a while – nobody expects the effort necessary to get set up from scratch until they get started, which might help explain why so many art galleries shut down within their first year – but we went live two months later, and never looked back. Now, just over four years in our current location, things are busier that we ever could have predicted back in 2015, and the rest of the year is going to get even weirder.
To start, after years of only being able to squeeze one event per month due to day job schedules and learning curves on enclosure construction, we’re now at the point of having regular weekly events, which is about as much as anybody can handle. (Having the gallery open on a daily basis simply isn’t an option right now, both between day job demands and customer interest, but we have PLANS.) The Porch Sales that started last year have become so popular that we (that is, both the Triffid Ranch and Caroline Crawford Originals in the front) kept them going, and now they’re moving inside for the duration of the summer. Keep checking the schedule for all of the details, but through the rest of the month, based on customers asking for non-Sunday events due to work schedules, we’re alternating back and forth between Saturday and Sunday open houses. This culminates with the Carnivorous Plant Weekend on September 4 and 5: holding these on holiday weekends has been enough of a hit that they’re going to keep going through the rest of the year and beyond.
In slightly related news, thanks to a very considerate series of contributors, a brand new custom Nepenthes enclosure is going in at the Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary in McKinney, and attendees at weekend events get to watch its construction in progress over the next few weeks before it debuts. It’s simultaneously a brand new construction challenge and a concept that’s been rattling around in my head for the last three decades, and it should surprise everyone once it’s complete.
And then we have the traveling lectures. After discussing this with owner Jason Cohen (and boy howdy, is he regretting not killing me when he had the chance when we first met 30 years ago this October), we’re going to try another run of the popular Carnivorous Plant Workshops at Curious Garden near White Rock Lake. The first will be a limited run on August 7 (contact Curious Garden about reservations), and then we’ll attempt more through the rest of the year, schedules and COVID-19 willing. Keep checking back for particulars. (This is in addition to the DFW Tap Talks lecture on August 20: that really will be on the gallery’s sixth anniversary and two weeks after Caroline’s birthday, so we have to plan something impressive.)
As for going on the road, things are tightening up for the upcoming Texas Frightmare Weekend on the weekend of September 10, and I didn’t realize how many people needed Frightmare this year until it came out over and over at the last Carnivorous Plant Weekend. Well, we’re going to be out there, along with several new enclosures debuting for the show (including one specifically intended to horrify planned guests Clive Barker and David Cronenberg, both of whom unfortunately had to cancel due to other issues), and a lot of Sarracenia starting to produce their fall pitchers. TFW has always run in the end of April/beginning of May for the last 12 years the Triffid Ranch has had a booth out there, so this should be intriguing.
Speaking of returns to old friends, the forms are filled out, the booth fees paid, and plans made for a return of the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays two-day weekend in Austin on November 20 and 21. Three trips to Austin in a single year: maybe it’s time to try setting up a show outside of Texas for the first time…um, before the Chicago Worldcon in September 2022, anyway.
And now the last bit of news, which was only confirmed today. People who remember my sad excuse for a literary career between 1989 and 2002 have reason to chuckle about my getting confirmation as a vendor at Armadillocon 43 in Austin: most use the term “Anton LaVey getting an invitation to the Pope’s bat mitzvah” when they aren’t laugh-crying about the hotel room. Well, it was a request by an old and dear friend planning to revitalize a longrunning literary convention getting everything in stride after its forced shutdown last year, and it’s also an opportunity to get back in touch with old friends in the science fiction literature community who lost touch after I quit pro writing. Yeah, and it’s also an excuse to show off plants and enclosures and talk everyone to death about carnivores, so it’s time to pull ALL of the stops. Best of all, this is scheduled for October 15 through 17, when Austin is at its most comfortable before the blue northers start blasting through in November, and I’ve desperately missed the days of October Armadillocons for precisely that reason. (Well, that, and a lot of people who couldn’t attend for business or health reasons when Armadillocon would run in the middle of August, the weekend before classes started at UT-Austin, now have an opportunity to come out for the first time in decades. We’re going to boogie ’til we puke.)
No events this weekend: this weekend is dedicated toward essential work at the gallery, and that precludes opening it to the public. However, the rest of July and the beginning of August have plans, including a couple of surprises, and more as we nail down a schedule for August, September, and October.
“No, I don’t mean ‘standing on the other side and knocking. Well, maybe, but that depends upon how you define ‘the other side.’
“Okay, backtrack. We know it’s a mechanism of some sort. We’ve known that for years. The radio signals coming off it were how we picked it up, 5 light-years out. The problem is what kind of mechanism. X-rays, laser spectroscopes…the thing repels neutrinos. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was immune to gravitic wave resonation.
“That just means you don’t want to have your ear next to it the next time a black hole and neutron star collide with each other in the vicinity. You’ll probably have other concerns.
“As to what it does, we don’t know. We know that it absorbs energy from all across the spectrum. We used to think of it as a conduit to the core of the planet, but it’s not taking energy from the planet, and it isn’t adding to that energy, either. Right now, it’s quiet, but based on effects that it’s had on surrounding rock, it’s withdrawn a lot of energy from the vicinity. at least 5 times in the last 30,000 years. At least enough to freeze half the planet. At LEAST.
“I wish I knew where that energy is going. The radio waves it puts out don’t coincide with the energy it takes in. The weird part is that I don’t think that this signal is coming from it at all. The radio waves are, but the content in the signal is coming from somewhere else.
“That’s a good question, and if anyone ever comes up with an answer, buy them a beer. But I have a suspicion, and it’s a weird one. I think this thing is unique, all of them.
“Hey, you knew I was like this when you married me. What I mean is that this thing is absolutely unique, and so is the thing on the other side of whereever. They’re quantum entangled, so if something happens to one, it happens to them all. Of course, that means that if you try to destroy one, the others are entangled with it and they’re not being destroyed, so nothing happens to the one you’re shooting at.
“Well, that’s the weird part. If they’re quantum entangled, you could knock on one and the vibrations would pass through the others with no time delay. One of the survey team accidentally hit it with a vibration hammer, and we got a responding knock. About five minutes later.
“As I said, that’s the weird part. No matter how quickly we receive a response, it’s always five minutes, to the microsecond. We’ve taken into account the communication methods and possible language of the knocker. We call it ‘Dave,’ by the way. We know that Dave depends upon sleep or some other form of rest, because he’ll go quiet for hours, and based on when he starts and stops, we suspect that the world he’s on has a rotation period of a little over 23 hours. We know that he’s hearing air vibrations because the knocks won’t transmit if something is touching the face of the device, so you have to stop and listen to hear anything. We also know he’s dedicated. Dave makes an attempt to knock every day, at different times every day, but he’s not there all day. That means it’s just one Dave, and that Dave isn’t truly solitary, because he has to break away to do other things.
“Well, it’s like this. We’re trying some of the same things on both sides, like getting across mathematics. Dave is pretty good at basic math, by the way. It’s just that tapping out messages without a common language is just so slow. I mean, what good is Morse code if the only person hearing it has only spoken Japanese all their life? We’re trying to go for more complex codes, but I don’t think Dave has access to computers or anything like that. If he has any way to store information, it could be something like an Incan quipu, but he doesn’t have anything to translate, say, binary code into something he could understand.
“And that’s the problem. We’re going to stay here and keep going, because Dave is trying his best. We don’t know where in the universe he is, and we definitely don’t know when, but we’ll keep going until we stop getting knocks back.
Strictly speaking, the classic definition of a Dyson sphere is “an artificial shell intended to capture all energy emitted by a star,” and of the known artificial worlds in our galaxy, most are intended just to capture energy. By the time a civilization becomes advanced enough that a Dyson sphere becomes a necessity, it is also advanced enough that it has ways to get around having to live on or in the structure so constructed. Of 87 Dyson spheres and 7 Alderson discs so far known, 70 of the Dyson spheres are the sole province of the AllEnders, who use that truly stunning amount of captured energy to maintain a pocket universe lovingly modified to their specifications and special needs. (60 stars are for the pocket universe maintenance, and ten for the equally mind-shaking amounts of energy needed just for wormholes to pass information between their universe and ours.) While theoretically a Dyson sphere has the potential for the interior surface area equal to roughly a billion Earths, without finicky and energy-hungry gravitic generation to keep people and fixtures with their feet in the right direction, setting up homesteads on the interior surface is problematic. Only two Dyson spheres known rotate to produce enough centrifugal force to simulate Earth-typical gravity, which means their atmospheres coalesce around the spheres’ equators and leave the rest of the spheres in low-gee or zero-gee vacuum. Only one produces an atmosphere safe for oxygen-breathing lifeforms (the other is a toxic smog of nitrogen compounds and methane, used as a reservoir for industry), and its maintenance is an example to the rest of the galaxy on maintaining their own atmospheres.
When creating an Earthlike biosphere within an artificial construct, it’s not enough to build a rock and soil substrate on which to grow plants and their analogues for oxygen production. The obvious issue with that substrate is that wind and precipitation break down rock and move soil, eventually leaving it all in the lowest portions of the sphere’s rotational area. The less obvious issue is that during erosion and deposition, sediments and solutions react with available oxygen, producing carbonates, silicates, and oxides. After enough time, without a way to break these down, any available oxygen finds itself bound within rocks and rust, and the atmosphere thins accordingly. On worlds with tectonic plate subduction or comparable processes, those rocks and rusts are shoved into the mantle of the planet, where they melt and outgas via volcanic outlets. On a world where the available rocks lie on a relatively thin layer of base construction material, those volcanic outlets could never form on their own, so they have to be created.
Dyson Sphere 10 was either abandoned approximately 2 million years ago or never inhabited by its builders in the first place, but it has a habitable zone roughly comparable in surface area to 2 million Earths. Instead of having rivers and oceans carved into the shell, the whole zone is a series of rock flows like glaciers, all gradually sliding via erosion and gravity toward the equator. There, self-repairing machinery gather and grind rock, soil, artifacts, and anything else sliding that far, transport the debris to the edges of the habitable zone, and melt it and extrude it into gigantic piles that repeat the process. The resultant gases are then gradually released into the atmosphere, keeping up a nitrogen/oxygen/carbon dioxide/water cycle that might require an addition of supplemental material to replace that lost into its star or through airlocks…in about 300 million years.
The gas vents and extruders themselves aren’t concealed or hidden in any way: apparently the sphere’s designers preferred to remind all as to the tremendous efforts made to make such a world as gentle as it is. Because of that, and the missing designers, the habitable zone is home to at least 30 sentient species, three of whom only known from this Dyson sphere. While the sphere’s rock reclamation system is nearly foolproof, it requires occasional maintenance, and the efforts by all 30 species to work together to do so is without compare within the known universe.
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)
Plant:Nepenthes ventricosa x hamata
Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.
This time of the year, the weather in Texas can be wildly variable: it’s still possible to get rain, or we can fall right into a summer inferno that doesn’t relent until October. This time, July 4 weekend in Dallas coincided with some of the coolest and rainiest weather seen in decades, which definitely made the first July Carnivorous Plant Weekend all sorts of special. Of course, this means that we’ll be getting the same temperatures Portland and Seattle had last week, but here that’s expected.
With impending and expected heat, things may change with the Porch Sales compared to last year. All through 2020, the idea was to have SOMEthing open and outside to help relieve the monotony of quarantine: between masks and vaccines, it’s now safe enough to avoid the worst of July and August and move everything inside for the summer. We’ll probably go back to outdoor events in September and October when the air stops smelling of burning flint, but for right now, both plants and attendees probably appreciate access to air conditioning.
Another major change instigated by the Carnivorous Plant Weekend is that we’re going to try stirring up the schedule a bit. In 2020, Sunday was the default day of the week, mostly for the severe cabin fever cases, but now a lot of people can’t attend because they work Sundays. Hence, we’re still trying to nail down the whens and wherefores, but the idea is to alternate between Saturday and Sunday mornings for the rest of the year, only interrupted by outside events. (For instance, anyone coming by the gallery the weekend of September 10 is going to be horribly disappointed, because both people and plants will be set up at Texas Frightmare Weekend.) This way, since having the gallery open every day isn’t an option, most folks will have an opportunity on one day or the other.
As for next weekend, the secret words are “rest,” “recuperate,” and “restock, so look for us the weekend of July 17. Until then, keep your eye out for more enclosure debuts and backstories.
With the extended weekend (at least in the States) comes a new ongoing Carnivorous Plant Weekend, starting from 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm on Saturday, July 3 and continuing on July 4 from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for some creative destruction in the gallery.
Approximately 30 million Earth years ago, a vast civilization known today as the Catesby Hegemony dominated a significant portion of what is now called The Broken Galaxy, an irregular galaxy orbiting the edges of Andromeda. Getting its name because stellar movements within the cluster could not be explained by standard celestial mechanics, analysis of the current positions of stars within the cluster suggests that the stars within were held under a very tight control for millions of years, both in position and in star stability. For a period of approximately three million years, the cluster had no novas, no supernovae, no cepheid variables, and not so much as an unstable stellar interloper. Then something happened that ended that regime of stability, tearing stars large and small out of the cluster, causing some to collide and others to eject themselves from the cluster entirely. A few are still in the gulfs between galaxies and on their way to our galaxy, with the first arriving in approximately 40 million years, suggesting that the process that produced the Broken Galaxy also produced incredible gravitational stresses if it could fling systems at that velocity.
Aside from radio archaeology that mapped its outer extent and confirmed when the Broken Galaxy incident occurred, almost nothing was known about the Catesby Hegemony. The name was coined after one of its most dedicated students, the first to realize the exact extent and shape of the pre-incident cluster: to this day, nobody knows exactly what the people of this civilization called themselves. While geniuses at stellar manipulation, they apparently had no interest in spreading out further, and the incident that ripped the galaxy apart also removed every possible planet or construct upon which the residents had been living. Some archaeologists suggested searching for wandering exoplanets outside of the Broken Galaxy, and others managed to get the funding to search for them, but the few that met the criteria were blasted and stripped, with only radioisotope dating of the strata at the surface showing a connection to the Hegemony. And so the research ended.
That remained the case until after a breakthrough in a star within Andromeda itself. Around this unassuming yellow dwarf star on the rim of Andromeda orbited five worlds, all rocky. One had its own indigenous life, and as such held a successful research station, while the other four had strange incisions across their surface and deep into the planets’ bodies, like the foundations to unknown and unknowable mechanisms that ranged across their surfaces. The lifebearing one , Kocak III, seemed to be completely untouched, but this was before the discovery of the Obsidian Gel.
The Gel kept piling on mystery after mystery. It was composed of a material resembling obsidian, but that gave slightly under pressure and was otherwise unbreakable with any current technology. Inside its body appeared to be stars and galaxies suspended therein, with some moving slowly over months and years. Much was made about this being a possible starmap, until the most elaborate pattern recognition software ever developed found no connection between current stars and galaxies within 100 million light-years of Kocak III, nor with any time in the past or future for an estimated 5 billion years in either temporal direction. The breakthrough came with the xenoarchaeologist Madelyn Catesby, working on a completely unrelated issue before discovering that the Obsidian Gel emitted a very tight-beam microwave transmission from the center of its main face, apparently intended for machinery gone for millions of years. This led to decipherment of the tiny bits of information coming from the Gel, and discovering that the “stars” in the Gel were representations of data stored within. Only about 3 percent of the total information storage in the Gel has been retrieved and deciphered, but that should keep spare computer cycles throughout four galaxies busy for decades.
The connection between the Obsidian Gel and the Broken Galaxy revealed itself suddenly, upon discovering that the Gel was originally the processing center for a wildly complex and advanced net of dark matter wormholes and gravitic generators intended to keep the Broken Galaxy in its original pristine state. The Gel was just one of seven storage stations for the incredibly elaborate algorithms needed to keep the galaxy in position, with the other worlds containing gravitic generators , and the Gel’s storage gives hints as to the spectacle it must have been at its height.
As to what happened, whether by sabotage or incompetence, the Gel was being used on the side for ongoing equations intended to track bits of data and encrypt their whereabouts. This was used to lock down chunks of cultural detritus, the equivalent of cat videos and contemporary memes, and one day the computations on those equations overwhelmed the incoming buffers. Suddenly the algorithms were wiped out with storage for Catesbian knock-knock jokes, and a whole galaxy ate itself over the space of a year as the mechanisms maintaining a galactic stellar artwork were coopted for their versions of webcomics. Two years later, the Broken Galaxy lived up to its name, the whole of the Catesby Hegemony was completely stripped of life and mechanics, and all that was left was one storage device packed to the limits with convergently evolved versions of “I Can Has Cheezburger” and the occasional Goatse.
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)
Plant:Nepenthes x hookeriana (rafflesiana x ampullaria)
Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.