Monthly Archives: October 2021

Public Service Announcement: Commissions

It’s nearly impossible to to avoid the ongoing news about issues with supply chains and imports, and the Triffid Ranch is just as effected as everyone else. Because of this, it’s time to make the uncomfortable but necessary announcement that anyone seeking a carnivorous plant enclosure commission needs to make plans to discuss the design as quickly as possible, just to make sure that the desired size enclosure and plant can be available in time. Likewise, as of now, any commission requested after November 28 cannot be guaranteed to be completed in time for the holidays. I apologize for the inconvenience, but if you plan to give a gift of a custom Triffid Ranch enclosure, get in your request NOW to guarantee that a construction spot is available. (If it doesn’t need to be a commission, a wide range of carnivore enclosures are already available at the gallery for purchase or rental.)

The Aftermath: The Last October Open House of 2021

After the events of the last two months, it would have been completely reasonable to assume that we needed a break and scheduled the next Triffid Ranch event later in the year. That said, being able to open up helped with a lot of issues, and a lot of new faces helped even more. Many thanks to everyone who came out this last weekend, because your presence really helped out.

This time around, carnivorous plants weren’t the only options, and a plan to add hot peppers to the mix almost didn’t happen. (A Day Job trip to New Jersey delayed getting pepper seeds started at the beginning of February, and any seedlings started then would have died in the Great Icepocalypse of 2021. Everything worked out.) This year, the idea was to start off with dark peppers: the USDA-developed “Black Pearl” (black fruit when unripe, ruby red when ripe) and the Chili Pepper Institute-developed “Numex Halloween” (black fruit when unripe, orange when ripe), both recommended for your next batch of goth salsa. The initial experiment worked exceedingly well, and the plan is to move to several new varieties in 2022 to spice things up (huhr huhr)

Besides the peppers, the feeling was a little bittersweet, and only because of the shortening days. Right now, both Venus flytraps and North American pitcher plants are at their height, both physically and figuratively, but this won’t last long. The next open house on November 6 will be the last time in 2021 where either flytraps or Sarracenia pitcher plants will be available, as both (along with several species of sundew and triggerplant) slip into a very necessary winter dormancy in November. They’ll be back, but not until April, when they wake up, start growing new traps, and hopefully bloom.

As for the next open house, we’re trying several different options. Firstly, because the heat is no longer an issue, the next open house on November 6, 2021 starts at noon and runs until 5:00 pm, and this will be the default for the foreseeable future. Will this change? That depends upon other events, such as collaborations with other galleries, and will be advertised well in advance. What we can tell you for sure is that this should apply through the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open houses starting in December, and we’re currently discussing having one last event on Friday, December 24 for everyone stuck until the last minute on gift options. Either way, keep checking back for more information.

Have a Safe Weekend

The penultimate weekend before Halloween, and we have plans, Specifically, this weekend’s Porch Sale (most likely held indoors just because of the unnaturally warm weather this weekend, just to make sure) is going to happen if it kills us, which it just might. (Unfortunately, because two of our best friends are getting married on Halloween weekend, don’t expect any Triffid Ranch events then, but we’ll have one last big event on November 6, and then we have to go quiet in order to get everything ready for the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas events happening every Saturday starting December 4.) As always, admission is free, masks are mandatory, and I’m bringing doughnuts just in case Pete Freedman of Central Track comes out to visit. See you then.

Enclosures: “The Lungs of Hell” (2021)

Throughout most of known reality, evil is an abstract. It has no weight, no mass, no volume, and cannot be measured on a quantitative basis. One can feel overwhelming evil, but no scale exists in our realm to weigh it. The atmosphere of the moon is crushing by comparison.

This is true for our realm, but evil has a mass. If evil is best described as “the decay of virtue,” it flows like compost tea from a dead garden, like random fluids from an abandoned cemetery trickling into the groundwater, Eventually, it seeps and slides in the cracks between realities, lubricating the movement of the celestial spheres, and eventually dripping down…below.

Eventually, it collects far below. Below any concept of Hell, Mictlan, or other afterlife, enough to where it can be measured. Its miasma is an odor of which no human can conceive, its heft nothing a human could experience. Any being contacting compressed and supersaturated evil becomes a quantum event, simultaneously ceasing to exist in that second and undergoing a truly eternal torment. That being, no matter how perfect or divine, becomes part of the ocean, with absolutely no chance of rescue or escape. Sometimes, that metaphysical ocean of evil, stretching across and through dimensions, is reasonably quiescent, not advancing or retreating. Sometimes the ocean breaks down a barrier to previously untouched realities, causing it to flow away for a short time and revealing…things previously hidden. Every once in a great while, a being sufficiently hubristic to think themselves immune will splash upon contact, and the waves create nightmares for billions of souls. And like any other liquid, the sheer weight corrupts and corrodes and distorts anything underneath it, and any flow downward is mitigated by the constant fall of new evil, like a fog not quite ready to be rain, replacing and replenishing the supply.

While the unsophisticated talk about “Hell” as the ultimate holding site for evil, know that what philosophers and the sensitive assume is that ultimate holding site is only the literal tip of the iceberg. The true rulers of Hell, as far away from the demons of the higher planes as moles and worms are above eagles, are the beings that prevent it from sinking into the depths. The bottom of Hell is lined with sigils and glyphs of power from the rest of reality, all attempting to keep it afloat. Even more keep channeling the miasma to locations where it can be concentrated and processed. Bloodstones made of the corpses of whole universes work to draw in the mist, and other, barely conceivable constructs trap it, like lungs full of volcanic ash. Eventually the sheer volume of evil collapses in on itself, leaving gigantic russet crystals, beautiful in their unnatural sheen, gradually eroding out and falling to the sides. New constructs grow in the place of old ones, pushing aside older crystals like glaciers moving boulders.

Unbeknownst to the rest of reality, those crystals are a terrible, unstable power. Removed from the presence of the glyphs, they gradually fall apart, evaporating under the heady thin atmosphere of virtue. Most evaporate, but some crystals are so unstable that their dissolution is explosive. This property has no effect on ambitions and plans for revenge from the true rulers of Hell, and kept just at the edge of Evilflow is a tremendous cache of blades carefully knapped and shaped over the millennia, awaiting an equally forged and formed army to take them up. These blades will not last long in the upper realms, but the plan is that they will last just long enough.

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

Plant: Nepenthes hamata x edwardsiana

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

Price: $700US

Shirt Price: $650US

The Aftermath: Armadillocon 2021 – 2

One of the biggest surprises about the dealer’s room at Armadillocon 2021 is how much things have changed since my last visit in 2000. For the longest time, the main dealer emphasis at litcons (conventions where the main emphasis was on printed fiction and nonfiction instead of other media) was on books and periodicals: back in 2000, convention dealers were the main access to rare or obscure books and almost the only way to learn more about up-and-coming magazines. Obviously, a lot has changed in the intervening two decades: book purchasing is a matter of a quick Amazon search, and the crash of both traditional magazine and zine distribution in the early Aughts is why so many new short fiction outlets are online-only, with the occasional hard-copy Kickstarter so the publisher isn’t stuck with cases of unsold copies. Both of these developments mean that the current dealer pivot is toward art, reference materials, and inspirations, and carnivorous plants seem to be quite the inspiration.

As to what the future holds, that’s a really good question. On an immediate level, everything with Armadillocon’s schedule depends upon availability of Austin hotels, which are apparently packed every weekend with football-obsessed alumni this time of the year. The general response to the Triffid Ranch table was overwhelmingly positive, but the biggest issue involves getting down to Austin in the first place: if subsequent shows are held in October, this isn’t a problem, but if the 2022 convention runs at the end of August, unfortunately the heat risk to the plants is far too high, We’ll figure it out.

In any case, many thanks are owed to the folks who came out to Armadillocon this time around, particularly longtime online cohorts who finally had the chance to make in-person acquaintanceships. Special thanks to Lillian Butler for making the dealer’s room situation happen, and now it’s just a matter of waiting for a final 2022 schedule. As far as other litcons are concerned, the schedule for 2022 in-person and virtual lectures and presentations is currently open, and for those who couldn’t make it this time, make plans for the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show at Palmer Event Center in downtown Austin on Thanksgiving weekend. And so it goes.

Fin.

The Aftermath: Armadillocon 2021 – 1

For those unfamiliar with driving in Texas, the phrase “What a trip” has multiple levels of meaning, even if that meaning only involves transportation. Many moons back, on a trip in Massachusetts to visit Black Jungle Terrarium Supply, I overshot a bit heading west from Boston. Exactly how far “a bit” was came up when the radio station started running ads for a show at SPAC, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, New York. Without intending to do so, I’d come within a couple of kilometers from the New York state border, so I turned around and retraced the route, eventually discovering that while the turnoff needed to get to Black Jungle was very well-labeled with appropriate signage when heading east, it had NOTHING on the west route. This led to terrified shrieking from my hosts when getting back: “You went across the whole state?”, and explaining “Aah, that’s nothing. I go further than that to trips to Houston.” This was absolutely true: hitting the Arkansas border from Dallas at Texarkana is a 6-hour drive, and hitting either the New Mexico border at El Paso or the Mexico border at Brownsville is eight to nine hours of hard driving. Only north is a relatively easy trip out of Texas: eight hours of driving north can get you to Kansas City, Missouri or even the outskirts of Denver.

Thankfully, Austin isn’t that far, but it’s still enough of a haul, especially with a van full of carnivorous plants, that it makes you realize exactly how far away everything was before the advent of motor vehicles. Dallas and Fort Worth are practically sister cities, but they’re still at least a day’s ride by horseback from each other. Austin is nearly five times that distance from Dallas, and it’s a rough trip in summer even with cruise control, air conditioning, and cold drinks.

(Also for those unfamiliar with Texas, the midway point between Dallas and Austin is the town of Waco. Officially, the name is pronounced “WAY-co,” but you’re forgiven for the more obvious pronunciation. In the last five years since the first gallery made regular plant shows in Austin and Houston a practical option, the highway I-35 that connects Duluth, Minnesota to Laredo, Texas is the only practical path between Austin and Dallas. In the last five years, I-35 has been under perpetual construction through the middle of Waco, it’s no closer to being completed now than it was in 2016, and it’ll probably still be under construction when dinosaurs return and duke it out with the cockroaches over who gets to rule Earth after humanity’s big extinction event. Suffice to say, that construction means that Waco has a perpetual traffic jam in most hours, and any time and fuel savings on the increased highway speeds in Texas Hill Country are completely eliminated by sitting in Waco for an hour to two hours at a time, waiting for people to stop texting and drive. Some people argue that the logjam is very deliberate: considering that Waco is home to Baylor University, they suspect that the motivation is “If we suffer, everybody suffers.”

(Anyway, the one upshot to realizing that there’s unused space in the van and leaving the gallery late in order to fill it is passing through Waco at the only time when it’s not suffering from vehicular constipation: after dark on a Thursday night. The day of the Armadillocon jaunt wasn’t particularly hot anyway, but this is essential knowledge for future trips.)

Another advantage to Armadillocon switching its scheduled date from August to October was that when the hotel couldn’t allow setup until Friday morning, the plants could set outside overnight without the surrounding van turning into a convection oven at dawn. This made setup particularly easy, and the plants themselves meant that hotel patrons tended to move out of the way in a manner usually reserved for fire and radioisotopes. Either way, by the time the convention doors officially opened at 2 pm, everything was ready for the rest of the weekend.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Armadillocon 2021 – Introduction

It’s been an interesting year for out-of-Dallas plant shows, what with last June’s Oddities & Curiosities Expo and the upcoming Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays in November, both in Austin. Considering the size and spread of both of these, the decision to crash a small literary convention like Armadillocon might seem a bit counterintuitive, but I had my reasons. The first was that with the last 18 months’ cancellations and delays, this was an October event that didn’t directly conflict with other events. The second was that Lillian, the dealer’s room director, asked nicely, and Lillian is one of those people who brings out the best in everyone. The third was that as opposed to its usual date over the last 25 years in the middle of August, its rescheduled weekend in October meant that bringing a van full of live plants into Austin equaled “LIVE plants” instead of “random chunks of steamed and broiled charcoal.” (Yes, Austin in August, especially during the afternoon and evening, is that bad.) The biggest, though, had to do with back history.

Longtime customers and visitors to the gallery might know about your humble proprietor’s previous career involving professional writing for various now-long-forgotten magazines and other publications, ranging from the beginning of 1989 to the middle of 2002. The unfortunate side effects involved three books, including one written about Armadillocon 13 in 1991 (illustrated by the one and only Ernest Hogan) that didn’t rest well with certain elements in science fiction fandom at the time. Two subsequent books, full of gibberish written before and during the early implementation and popularization of the Internet, came out in 2009 to much acclaim but precious little sales, and aside from a few relapses, that’s all anybody’s going to get. The biggest reason to come out, besides aggravating an increasingly small group still grumbling into their Metamucil (thus explaining the phrase “I feel like Anton LaVey getting an invitation to the Pope’s bat mitzvah”), was to get back in touch with a slew of former colleagues, compatriots, and fellow pains in the posterior whom I’d only see at conventions such as this. In that case, this whole gig worked even better than expected.

Being away for so long had its own Cinema Paradiso moments. The hotel in which the convention generally runs has a long history, starting with the completely random reservation getting the same exact room where I stayed with my best friend and then-girlfriend when crashing the convention in 1990. Some things have changed (the grand piano in the lobby was replaced with multiple flatscreens sometime after my last visit in 2000), and others. well, were pretty much encased in amber from the early 1990s. Not that this was a bad thing: the hotel fit the convention and the convention fit the hotel, and everyone was happy.

As far as the plants themselves were concerned, they made quite the impression. Many of those aforementioned old compatriots hadn’t been able to stay in touch since 2002, so they were delightfully surprised to see what had happened since then. Others who had kept up via online sources finally got the chance to see so many of them in person. Best of all, other attendees were drawn in: if next year’s Armadillocon runs in October again, then they’ll probably be waiting at the door to see what’s coming out of the truck this time. And then there were the people just wandering in as the convention was shutting down on Sunday, who really lost their minds at the idea of someone selling carnivorous plants next to the banquet room hosting friends’ weddings and the like.

To be continued…

State of the Gallery: October 2021

Austin, Texas – For as long as I can remember, October has been a month of transition. It’s not just because the relentless Texas summer heat finally breaks, allowing everything to scurry around in daylight hours without our brains boiling out of our heads. If big things happen in November, it’s because of all of the work completed in October to make those big things happen. Likewise, if anything was going to break because of summer stresses, it’s usually when the temperatures finally drop and thermal stress kicks in. October in Texas is a strange time, and because autumn runs in Dallas until the middle of December, Halloween isn’t the end of the season the way it is elsewhere.

That stress-testing continues here at the gallery: many thanks to everyone for their understanding over the last six weeks. (The reason why the newsletter is late is because, for someone who used to make something approximating a living from writing, writing a suitable tribute to my mother-in-law is harder than I ever imagined.) Even with such inscrutables as the weather, this October has been odd: after weeks of vague promise, we finally got a significant rain for the first time in nearly two months, which was enough to top off the rainwater tanks. Considering that we got close to 10 centimeters in a few hours, that was also enough to flood out multiple Sarracenia pools full of freshly repotted seedlings. As Kurt Vonnegut used to say, and so it goes.

Likewise, the aftermath of our current pandemic means that a lot of shows and events in which the Triffid Ranch would normally be involved are also being stress-tested by being dropped from a great height. Because venues tentatively started reopening for business toward the middle of the year, everybody has been rescheduling for September through December, and I mean EVERYBODY. Things should stabilize by next spring, but right now, so many great events are running over each other that if it’s hard for attendees to get out to everything, it’s nearly impossible for artists to hit them all. The only option to get caught up is to clone myself multiple times, and my wife will attest that this would be a VERY bad idea.

(Along that line, we’ll be ending the regularly scheduled Porch Sale events after the beginning of November, and not just because the Venus flytraps and Sarracenia pitcher plants will be going dormant shortly thereafter. Between intense shows and Day Job obligations, it’s becoming nearly impossible to restock plants in time for Saturday shows, at least ones held every week. Right now, we’re scheduling the last two Porch Sales for October 23 and November 7, and then we have to take a break before the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas events in December. Since nobody wants to share a vaccine for sleep, it’s about the only option.)

As far as future plans, the main focus is on getting caught up on enclosures, including a big commission for the Heard Museum in McKinney, and replacements for enclosures sold over the past few weeks. That starts right after we get back from Armadillocon in Austin (as of this writing, we’re on Day Two, and we’ll be out on Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm.) The only show outside of Dallas at which you’ll see the Triffid Ranch (unless my wife agrees to the cloning plan) will be the newly rescheduled Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show at the Palmer Event Center in Austin on Thanksgiving weekend. After that, well, we’re still trying to figure out the best use of vacation time.

In any case, after we get back from Austin (and anyone in Austin is welcome to stop by), it’s a matter of getting everything ready for the last October Porch Sale, scheduled for October 23 from 10 am to 3 pm. We’ll see you then.

Have a Safe Weekend

With October comes a nearly full plate of Triffid Ranch events, starting with a weekend of troublemaking at Armadillocon 43 in Austin (already in progress), and then it’s back to the gallery for one more Porch Sale on October 23. (Sadly, we won’t be at this year’s Aquashella on Halloween weekend, but the plan is to be there in 2022.) We hope to have some additional news to go with these that should make everyone exceedingly happy, so keep checking back.

I’m living in my own private Tanelorn

If any good came out of events on last Saturday, it was that respiratory arrest stopped by mid-afternoon, and we were healthy and active enough to consider going out for a special event at the Dinosaur Company in Allen, just north of the gallery. The Dinosaur Company specializes in both life-sized prehistoric animal reconstructions, both static and animatronic, as well as presentations and workshops on various topics. A dear friend has worked there for the last year, and when she noted a few weeks ago that the Allen facility was offering a date-night lecture on dinosaur reproduction and nesting, well, that was all of the excuse we needed. Loaded up on antihistamines and bringing out the requested picnic dinner, we both got a very, VERY up-to-date lecture on what’s currently known on dinosaur courtship, mating, nesting, and hatchling care, but we also got a tour of the back storage area, full of existing reconstructions awaiting repairs or reassignment.

The worst part about being in a huge warehouse full of life-sized dinosaurs and pterosaurs and giant-sized arthropods isn’t the realization as to exactly how big some of them are. The worst part is that you stare at them for a moment, and all sorts of smartaleck comments come up about expressions, colors, and placement. This isn’t to disparage the Dinosaur Company in any way, or to badmouth any of those constructs, because they’re absolutely beautiful. It’s just circumstances, you know?

“HOLD YOUR HORSES! Let me get dressed first!”

“Okay, in or out. I’m not holding the door open all night!”

“Oh, dear. I swear, there should be a law.”

“HOW much? For an OIL CHANGE?”

“Don’t give me that. You knew what I was like when you married me. All three times.”

(Any comment made is best said in the voices of Steve Martin and Bill Murray.)

Anyway, as far as the connection to the gallery, we’re in tentative talks about an upcoming paleobotany lecture, focusing on carnivorous plants and the tantalizing hints of their presence in the fossil record. Yes, there will be a lot of time set aside to talk about Australian pitcher plants.

Firing up the promo machine

Along with everything else coming down this weekend (and let me tell you, full-bore asthma fits at my age aren’t fun, and that’s on top of emergency greenhouse repairs), one of the issues resolved was discovering why a large mailing of posters, courtesy of Adeline Robinson Art, was returned “Insufficient Postage.” (Let’s just say that the automatic US Post Office kiosks offered to “expedite” mailings may only list “large envelope” categories, but the Post Office treats padded mailings as “packages.” And people wonder why I’m contemplating training carrier vultures to deliver the mail.) Well, that’s been resolved, and for those wondering why you have a Triffid Ranch poster in your mailbox this week, that’s why. For everyone else, should you know a reporter, freelancer, or other sculp[tor of the language arts who might need a poster, send their address this way. Send your address, too, while you’re at it: we have plenty.

Here we go again…

The last six weeks have been the most stressful in the gallery’s history, and thanks to yet more situations impossible to delay and unable to be predicted (which will be hysterically funny in retrospect) the October 9 Porch Sale has to be rescheduled again. Since the whole caboodle will be in Austin next weekend, this means that the next open house will be opening on Saturday, October 23, running from 10 am to 3 pm. Honest to Elvis, this next one will happen if it kills us, but not right now. Thank you very much for your understanding.

Have a Safe Weekend

Four years ago, the Triffid Ranch debuted in its current location, opening right when Dallas was overrun by shambling, mindless horrors. In 2021, the Triffid Ranch once again opens in time for the streets of downtown to run with margarita vomit and exclamations of “Look at that! They’ve got buildings THREE STORIES high! I bet they got indoor toilets, too!” And the visitors who went to Oklahoma State will be almost as bad, if nowhere near as arrogant and insecure. Hence, since we’ll be outnumbered 400,000 to one, the gallery opens on Saturday, October 23 from 10 am to 3 pm (those UT brats trying to get in early because “Facebook says you’re open now” will be solidly mocked), in the hopes of conditioning them, controlling them. We’ve got to do this: it’s our only hope.

EDIT: When it rains, it pours. Due to several situations completely out of our control, the Saturday Porch Sale is having to be rescheduled again, this time to Saturday, October 23. Thank you for your understanding: we’re going to have the October 23 Porch Sale if it kills us, which it just might.)

Review: Killer Plants by Molly Williams

(A bit of context. This blog features regular reviews of books, horticultural products, and interesting related items, under this proviso. All items reviewed will be purchased by the reviewer in advance, at full retail price, in order to prevent any conflict of interest. Information about upcoming releases is greatly appreciated, but receipt of advance copies or samples will be announced well in advance and will not influence the final review. The world has enough Jeff Craigs and Maria Salases as it is.)

Killer Plants: Growing and Caring for Flytraps, Pitcher Plants, and Other Deadly Flora by Molly Williams

ISBN-13: 9780762499250

Published: Running Press, 2020

Pages: 160

Language: English

Over about the last 15 years or so, the emphasis on carnivorous plant books has been on spectacular photography and intense detail on obscure species, to the point of where a typical book on the subject would be a danger to spectators below if it fell off the shelf. Consequently, most books for beginners have either gone out of print or been relegated to the “EVERYONE knows about this one” pile, right at a time when the sheer amount of carnivorous plant information online exploded. So much information and not enough time: what does a newbie do?

In many ways, Molly Williams’s Killer Plants is a throwback to the 1970s. It contains no photos, and its only illustrations are charming drawings by Marisol Ortega. Those illustrations and the text are in two colors and black, with an understanding that if the reader wants more detailed references, that’s what the Internet is for. Most importantly, Killer Plants is written for the city-dwelling carnivorous plant enthusiast, someone who might not have access to a greenhouse or elaborate growing facilities, and the thumbnail guide to making your own distilled water (a pot of simmering water, a container inside to catch the distillate, and a pot lid full of ice) wouldn’t have been out of place in a Euell Gibbons book 50 years ago. None of these are liabilities: if anything, it’s refreshing. Killer Plants is a quick read (I finished it on a puddlejumper flight out of Philadelphia), but it gives an excellent overview for anyone still vacillating between admiring carnivores and wanting to start growing them.

If I had any issues with the book, it’s more due to personal preferences and experiences (regular readers know my stance on trying to use carnivores to control insects inside and out), and anyone spending more than a year with carnivores knows that book advice isn’t absolute until we can teach the plants to read. These are really minor quibbles, though. For beginners and the carnivore-curious, Killer Plants is an excellent reference and waystation while searching for growers and further information (including an excellent Resources chapter that lists nurseries all over the world), and it’s small enough to slip into a pocket or backpack for offline reading. This one came out with very little fanfare in 2020 when the rest of the world was a bit more concerned with other issues, so it needs a boost. Very recommended.

Have a Safe Weekend

It’s October, so we’re simultaneously looking at the beginning of spooky season and the last big explosion in growth of temperate carnivorous plants (particularly Venus flytraps and Sarracenia pitcher plants) before they start to go dormant for the winter. Either way, we’ll see you on October 9 for the next big Triffid Ranch open house.