Monthly Archives: December 2021

Have a Safe New Year

Nothing going on at the Triffid Ranch today, other than lots of long-delayed cleaning and organizing (New Year’s Weekend is traditionally a weekend for cleaning, and the end of 2021 includes a lot of packing), and nothing planned until the next open house on January 15. Go have fun, by yourself or with a tested and masked group, and we’ll all see each other in 2022.

“Change, my dear, and it seems not a moment too soon.”

Because 2021 was a major year of transition, and because it’s high time for a major change, get ready for a new look for 2022 events and open houses. I already feel 20 years younger.

Triffid Ranch Preparations For 2022

After the last two years, the traditional resolutions and promises for the new year come off more as daredevil threats: “My plans for 2022…” is right up there with “There isn’t a pepper too hot for me to eat…” The mere fact that a carnivorous plant gallery can survive the last two years, in Dallas of all places, is amazing enough. Making grandiose plans for expansion or renovation is ignoring the voice in the back room, sounding amazingly like the late Bill Paxton, yelling “I’m telling ya, there’s something moving in here and it ain’t us!”

With Bill placated, though, we can talk about potential plans. As I like to tell people, though, I had plans at the beginning of 2020, and they were all going perfectly when I rolled into Austin for the first show of the year, stopped to get something to eat, and saw the announcement on the television at the back of the bar that SXSW was being cancelled. After that, any plans became moot. “Man plans, God laughs” pretty much sums up the last two years, and we can all hope that it’s just laughter and not laughing and pointing.

Firstly, the big emphasis on 2022 is going to be staying home. That is, now that the gallery and its location are established and city leaders are noting its presence, it’s a matter of utilizing the space more and not using it merely as a headquarters for shows outside the area. This doesn’t mean that outside shows will stop: anything but. It just means that given a choice between announcing an open house and hauling everything out for a five-hour show, the open house now makes so much more sense. 2022 will also see an expansion on the outdoor Porch Sales once the weather stabilizes in spring: those are always a lot of fun, and this understandably eases the minds of those a bit leery about indoor events.

Secondly, shows outside the gallery are going to have to be a bit, erm, larger. Just as the separation of the Triffid Ranch and Caroline Crawford Originals is happening at the gallery one bit at a time, the same is happening with our joint presence at shows and events. That was already happening anyway, what with changes with existing shows and audiences, but 2022 will probably be the last year we’ll be sharing space at Texas Frightmare Weekend. After that, the plan is to move to 10×10 spaces, because the plants are outgrowing (pun intended) the standard two tables at Frightmare, to the point where well-meaning friends admitted that they didn’t stop by because “you were just so crowded.” (This applies elsewhere, too: both the Oddities & Curiosities shows and the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays shows have already moved over to 10×10 spaces, and that’s about the only way to have enough plants on hand to make attendees happy. Sadly, that means that the little science fiction and fantasy conventions with which the Triffid Ranch started are no longer an option, but the way those have been changing, it’s for the best for everybody.

Thirdly, 2022 will be a year for telepresence. We just finished a major gallery renovation last year, and now it’s time for another. This time, the renovation is to make video streaming much easier, with the idea of regular events being run exclusively through Twitch and YouTube. The logistics on these are finally getting worked out, and the plan is to start toward the end of January. “I wish I could make an open house, but I live in Antarctica” is no longer an excuse.

Well, enough of that: with a promised thunderstorm followed by severe (for Dallas) cold this weekend, it’s time to batten down the hatches in preparation for the possibility of a white Dallas New Year. Go have fun, tell everyone about the next open house on January 15, and the plants and I will see you then. Go in peace.

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale – #28

For newcomers, this is a semi-regular newsletter from the Texas Triffid Ranch, Dallas’s pretty much only carnivorous plant gallery. Feel free to forward early and often, and to subscribe if you haven’t already.

Installment #28: Nancy Crawford (1933-2021)

My mother-in-law Nancy died in the early morning of August 29, the day before her 88th birthday. Considering her sense of humor, that was completely in character. She was the sort who loved to celebrate others’ birthdays but didn’t want any particular fussing about hers, which is one of the many reasons why we liked each other so much.

There’s so much to be said about Nancy that it’s taken nearly four months to get it out: without her kindness and encouragement, there wouldn’t be a Triffid Ranch today. Way back in 2003, right after I married her youngest daughter, my newfound fascination with carnivorous plants had expressed itself in buying a set of assorted carnivores at the local Home Depot while buying bookshelves, and that led to a vague discussion on the merest possibility of someday starting a store dedicated to carnivores. As opposed to the rest of the family , she didn’t rush for the holy water and silver bullets just right then. Instead, she wanted to know why I wanted to do something like this, and when I explained that this was something to work toward, slowly and carefully and never without a day job as a backup, she just said “All right.” If she’d said “Bless your heart,” a phrase full of misunderstandings and regrets among those who never grew up in Texas, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have heard the round that took me out, and I spent the rest of her life making sure that I never gave her reason to say it, jokingly or otherwise.

Nancy and I came from drastically different backgrounds, but we spent so much time comparing notes. She graduated from college at a time when graduating “with honors” actually meant something, and she came about as close as anybody could to crossing herself when I related how the Harvard Class of 2004 had 91 percent of its class graduate that way because of parental pressure. She and her husband Durwood had just married when the Texas Drought of Record of 1952-56 started, and she told me how Dallas was so close to being abandoned as the wells were running dry just as the rains returned. We talked about local soils and local geology, and she showed off the spider lilies in her back yard that her mother had given her when they first moved there, and we discussed planting her beloved wood ferns in the incredibly shady front yard, and we both gazed upon her flowering quince in awe and wonder every spring. 

Nancy made a point of giving moral support when Caroline started doing solo jewelry shows shortly after we got married, and really ramped things up when the two of us started doing shows together starting in 2009. After a while, if she wasn’t manning the booth if Caroline needed a break, she was hanging out front and greeting new customers, and rapidly it wasn’t a real party if she wasn’t there. In the days when most of our shows were science fiction and horror conventions, she didn’t quite get the passion other attendees had, but she respected them and treated them with a grace and charm so rarely seen any more. It got to the point where if she wasn’t at a show, everyone would ask about her, including the convention organizers, and she always blushed when we told her about her fan club contingent checking to see how she was doing.

When the gallery finally opened, after months of preparation, the old Valley View location was just up a distance from their house, so Nancy and Durwood made a point of coming out to the grand opening, just to see what we’d done with the place. Nancy was very familiar with Valley View, having watched it go up in the early 1970s (Caroline’s older sister Shari worked in the Spencer Gifts in Valley View, and even donated her old manager badge when we opened), and was thrilled to see the completed gallery and greet people whom she’d only met at traveling shows. She was even more thrilled when we moved in 2017 to the current location, and got to see a better idea of what we wanted to accomplish when we invited the whole family for a special opening. Even when she couldn’t make it to open houses, she always wanted to hear details on who showed up and what new items we had on display.

The last few years were rough, as she became more frail in the final stages of dementia, and as anybody else with family in a similar situation will tell you, Nancy had good days and bad days. One of the surefire ways to turn a bad day into a good day was to show her plants and to tell her about the last show, and with the Porch Sale events held at the gallery all through 2020, I had plenty to tell her when we would go to see her. Considering that she was one of the most gentle people you’d ever met, she always feigned shock when I’d refer to her walker as “the War Rig” or suggested that maybe she might be a little less rough with the rest of her roller derby team, but she was laughing about it as much as I was. It always came back to the plants, though: she had never encountered Sarracenia, or at least knew what they were, before 2003, but the only thing that thrilled her more than photos of leucophyllas were photos of their brilliant scarlet blooms, and I started the whole Manchester United Flower Show theme so she could see as many blooms of as many different types of carnivore as she could. When the first Heliamphora bloom opened in the gallery a few years back, I don’t know who gasped in wonder louder.

I wish there were gigantic monuments to Nancy all over Dallas, but sadly most of what made her happiest was gone. The buyer of her house claimed that they were buying it to restore it to its original late-Sixties glory, even asking us not to dig up the spider lilies or transplant the roses I grew from cuttings in the back yard. The whole property was razed almost immediately after its purchase to make room for yet another zero-lotline McMansion, and the only thing connecting the new house to the old was the street number painted on the curb out front. In the gallery, though, we have all sorts of items she gave us over the years, all displayed proudly, and she smiled when we both told her we put them specifically where she could see them when she came in. As long as the gallery remains, there’s always going to be a big piece of her in it, but it’s not anywhere near as big as the hole she left.

EDIT: The followup.

Other News

The Dallas Morning News Best In DFW Awards came back in the middle of November, and the Triffid Ranch got Bronze in “Best Art Gallery.” What that entails, other than entreaties to buy advertising to promote it, we’re still figuring out. The interview in Community Impact Richardson is a better opportunity for entertainment: the interview is great, and it comes with a photo that proves that even Annie Leibowitz couldn’t get a good photo of me. And now you know why you don’t see lots of selfies, and not just because my smile really makes people regret leaving Ripley and Parker to look for the ship’s cat.

Shameless Plugs

Yes, the independent bookstore is supposed to be dead, Just try telling Mark Ziesing Booksellers that. As of next year, I’ll have known Mark for a solid third of a century, and if you’re looking for gonzo print magazines from the Eighties and Nineties, he’s the best source around.

Recommended Reading

Quite literally, nobody publishes books like Molly Williams’s Killer Plants any more. More’s the pity: while it’s not packed with full-color illustrations, it’s also loaded with excellent advice on caring for carnivorous plants from an apartment dweller’s perspective. Go order lots of copies as last-minute gifts: speaking from personal experience, it’s just the right size for a thorough reading on a work-related plane trip.

Music

Par for the course: as soon as I discover the band Santa Hates You, I discover that the band is no more. Good thing it has quite the YouTube presence, eh?

The Aftermath: Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas 2021 #4

Since the gallery first opened in 2015, the Triffid Ranch has made at least some effort at being open on or very near to Christmas Eve for last-minute shopping opportunities. The first few times, this was in the evening: a few people make noises about needing the gallery open in the evening, but realistically everyone is home and unwilling to go out after dark. This year, it was a matter of keeping standard open house hours, noon to 5:00 pm, to make things easier for those off for Christmas Eve but not to get in the way of family obligations. Whether it was this, the recent interview in the Dallas Observer, or a general pent-up demand for carnivorous plants, the last Nightmare Weekend Before Christmas of 2021 was the best ever, and I thank everyone who showed up.

Among many other things, this show found homes for several enclosures designed and constructed during lockdown, along with others intended to be picked up after the holiday season. This, combined with a tentative rental situation throughout the Dallas area starting in 2022, means that if you haven’t been to an open house in a while, the lineup of enclosures has drastically changed. (This, incidentally, is why you won’t see another open house for a few weeks: constructing new enclosures takes time.)

Once again, many thanks to everyone who showed up, both purchasers and interested bystanders (the highest compliment anyone has paid in the last two years came from the very earnest and very considerate person who offered to make a donation for letting her come in, and I told her what I tell everyone: as much as it’s appreciated, getting the word out that the Triffid Ranch exists is a greater help), and I hope that the plants given as gifts made the recipients as happy as you were. For those who want to come back, as well as those who haven’t been here yet, the next open house is now scheduled for January 15, 2022, from noon until 5:00 pm. Feel free to spread the word.

Enclosures: “Professor Lindsay’s Amphibian Wedding Present” (2021)

Contrary to generally accepted wisdom, the first serious experiments in DNA manipulation and editing came not in the early part of the 21st Century, but in the latter half of the 19th. Professor Huxley Lindsay of Rice University in Texas never knew the word “deoxyribonucleic acid,” and would have taken a bullwhip to anyone trying to pass on the concepts of genes, chromosomes, or CRISPR editing, but he managed to tap all of these while experimenting with modifying “traits” in freshwater and saltwater fish. While his techniques are sadly lost with a massive house fire started by lightning, encouraged by freshly installed gas lighting, and facilitated by the entirety of his neighbors blocking fire wagons or offering to fill the wagons’ water pumps with kerosene, he succeeded in melding traits between his own children and their spouses and that of at least five species of freshwater fish and seven of saltwater. The freshwater Lindsays thrived for five years, until a heat wave demonstrated that Professor Lindsay had not included the ability to breathe air while in oxygen-deprived ponds and rivers, but the saltwater Lindsays thrived off the shores of Galveston and soon became one of the great political and social families of the greater Houston area.

Just as air-breathing Lindsays might have kept an aquarium to celebrate their aquatic relations, the water-breathing Lindsays started a trend in self-contained plant containers. Rated to depths of more than 200 feet, the first BathyBio container (registered trademark with one Cecil “Tuck” Kirby, an expert in keeping exotic animals and plants under strenuous conditions) was a wedding gift to Professor Lindsay’s granddaughter “Bubbles,” presented personally by the professor while in specially designed diving gear. Subsequent ones went to granddaughters “Angel” and “Betta,” and one especially large one was commissioned by a great-grandson, Hector “Discus” Fairfield, the first member of the Lindsays to return to land, in a reversed diving suit, in order to get his doctorate in mechanical engineering from Rice.

Sadly, while the Lindsays led massive movements in engineering, hydraulics, and social justice, nature stepped in. In the winter of 1983, a massive cold wave hit the majority of Texas, freezing Galveston Bay for the first time in recorded history. Among the millions of dead fish, all unused to such low temperatures, were all 2000 of the extended Lindsay clan, all frozen to death. To this day, questions as to whether they were delicious, and if police had apprehended one “Mrs. Paul,” are considered the height of bad taste in Galveston.

Dimensions (height/diameter): 25 1/2″ x 17″ diameter (64.77 cm x 43.18 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes spectrabilis x tenuis

Construction: Acrylic. Resin, stone, shells.

Price: $125US

Shirt Price: $100US

Important Announcement: A Major Change

There’s no easy way to bring it up, so it’s just a matter of getting it out: after 19 years, Caroline and I are filing for divorce. There’s no drama and no acrimony: after her mother’s death last August, she realized that we’re going in wildly divergent directions, and where she’s going is a place where I can’t follow. We still love each other and wish nothing but the best for each other, but we can’t continue with our career paths and remain married at the same time, so it’s time for a gentle and harmonious separation.

And how does that affect shows and gallery events? Not a bit. Caroline Crawford Originals will remain in the front of the gallery for the duration, and we’ll continue to have joint and separate open houses throughout 2022. We’ll also be working together on local shows throughout the year, particularly Texas Frightmare Weekend at the end of April. I’m currently looking for a new growing and greenhouse space, but will continue to host outdoor Porch Sales at the gallery on Saturdays in spring as the weather allows. Eventually, Caroline will pack up everything and move on, and that front area will probably become a showcase vestibule and client greeting area. We’ll see what happens. One way or another, the tentative plan is that we go through the lengthy and tedious process of separating our businesses, consolidate and copy legal and tax documents, and prepare the both of us for what comes next. After that, on what would have been our 20th anniversary at the end of 2022, it’s time for a big party, and possibly a mutual trip to New Zealand to take care of two chunks of titanium. Now to get to work.

Have a Safe Weekend

And now the final Nightmare Weekend Before Christmas open house is live today: since so many people have the day off, we’re going to be live from noon until 5:00 pm. After the holidays are over, we have a major announcement, but until then…

Enclosures:”Senseweb” (2021)

At first, they were found on old, dead worlds. Massive chrysalises by the hundreds, seemingly impervious to cutting tools, waiting in alcoves and caves, surrounded by metallic fibers that slowly waved as if in a light breeze, even if in total vacuum. When disturbed, the chrysalis cracked open, with the monstrosity inside attacking immediately. Worse, its awakening set off chrysalises in the vicinity, and an unwitting exploration team was suddenly not fighting one or five horrors, but dozens, then hundreds, and then then thousands. The only thing each one had in common was that their armor was as impregnable as their shells, and the only defense was flight. Worse, the gladiators and hunters eventually died off, but new chrysalises grew from the webs left behind as the previous sleepers fell, guaranteeing that the world infested with them was perpetually dangerous.

Within five years of the first discovery on Bolander’s Bane, the assumption that the webs and their horrible fruiting bodies only existed on dead worlds had to be thrown out. Before long, the webs were found on hundreds of worlds, from ones completely covered with liquid water to ones completely covered with frozen nitrogen. An active research colony on the fecund world Kristobal Muñeca set off a colony that forced the whole installation to evacuate within 48 hours, and then then the terraforming project by the famed Fronimos team stimulated another. As the webs were found on more worlds, two things stood out. The first was that different stimuli opened the chrysalises: on one world, here proximity to a strand of webbing could cause the whole planet to explode in buried warriors. On another, they were perfectly safe until exposed to a particular chemical or wavelength of light. In all cases, any attempt to remove a chrysalis or break its connection to its web led to an inevitable conclusion, and few such bold explorers survived to share the results.

Even worse, the webs started showing up on worlds that had been thoroughly explored and surveyed, in places where absolutely nothing had been before. That was when researchers realized that the webbing, which resisted efforts to classify it as a true life form or as a particularly sophisticated nanosynth, was spreading. Microshards, often too small to be found and removed with standard decontamination techniques, were being spread throughout this galaxy and three others via pressure suits, tools, and boots, where they would root and establish when encountering the right conditions. As with the factors that stimulated their killing response, though, the “right” growth conditions ranged far, with no common pattern spotted by organic or AI researchers. The efforts to find a pattern, and possibly a way to stunt or remove their growth, became particularly vital. Last week, the first web appeared on Earth.

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

Plant: Nepenthes rafflesiana x sibuyanensis BE 3819 “Suki”

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

Price: $250US

Shirt Price: $200US

The Aftermath: Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas 2021 #3

Well, Danny Gallagher’s interview in the Dallas Observer drew some attention, and the crowd coming out for the third Nightmare Weekend Before Christmas open house was quite lively. It was a nice mix between old friends and new people who knew nothing about the gallery before now, encouraged by the unseasonably warm weather last week finally breaking and making the place feel like a typical Dallas Christmas for a day. (Not that it’ll last: after Tuesday, we’re going right back to temperatures more suited for April than December, but it’s not like I get a say in the matter.)

As a little aside, because of the way the gallery is arranged to maximize available space, most of the enclosures are set on shelves to allow maximum enjoyment by people of “average” height. Because there’s no such thing as “average,” because I’m abnormally tall in an extremely short family, and kids are definitely outside of an “average” height range, the gallery offers several stepstools and ladders to allow better access to enclosure details. If you don’t see one, or if they’re all being used at an open house, please don’t hesitate to ask for one. (If nothing else came from a year of lockdown, at least a deep research dive into museum display design opened up a lot of considerations. Unfortunately, the front porch isn’t ADA-compliant yet, but it’s a matter of doing what can be done in the interim.)

As for remaining Nightmare Weekend events, since Christmas is on a Saturday this year, a lot of people will be off on Friday, so we’ll be open from noon until 5:00 pm for the last open house of 2021. After that, expect a big announcement on New Year’s Day, because things are changing very rapidly.

Have a Safe Weekend

Some of you may be making plans to come out to the gallery for the December 18 Nightmare Weekend Before Christmas, and some of you may be holding off until the open house on December 24, both running from noon until 5:00 pm. The rest of you are probably making plans for dinner next week, with or without family. It may be the traditional sharing for this time of the year, but the holiday season just isn’t the same without cooking tips from Canada’s answer to Doctor Who:

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2021 – 2

Okay, let’s be honest: it’s been a rough year all around, and most of us planning any kind of giftgiving looked at calendars this week and realized “You mean it’s NOT still August?” For everyone else, we’re looking at our list and figuring that lumps of coal might be seen as “ironic,” but we’re not quite ready to dump the litter box in their beds just yet. For you lot, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with purchasing things for yourselves, if only to take some of the stress off until spring. Either way, we’ve got you covered.

To begin, I was lucky enough to meet Nicole Pangas at the Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo show back last June, and we bonded on multiple levels during our short conversation. Firstly, we Michigan kids stick together, and secondly, her hand-thrown pottery has a decided charm that you aren’t going to find anywhere else. (An important consideration is that if you like something, snag it as soon as you can: she regularly announces online popup shows through her newsletter, and the items in the popups tend to disappear.)

Some of you may remember Scott Elyard from the big discussion on designer masks from last year, and his Dunkleosteus masks are still available in multiple colors. (And yes, I wear mine constantly.) The scary part is that his recent Advanced Dunkleosteus & Dragons T-shirt is such a bad pun that it inspired a new carnivore enclosure. Go buy the shirt: I’ll pay him royalties from the concept myself.

Another crew met in travels to Austin is Bloody Rose Boutique, specializing in both brick-and-mortar and online sales of goth and goth-accessible clothes and accessories. I bring them up partly because they’re good people, and partly because they’re hosting regular Black Markets for related venues, and the selection is pretty intense. It may be a little while (most of the Black Markets that aren’t sold out almost immediately are either when it’s too hot or too cold to bring out plants and enclosures), but the plan is to have yet more reasons to cause trouble in Austin.

Finally, another Oddities & Curiosities cohort deserving of wider exposure and inventory clearout is Kaijuju Designs, specializing in, well, eyes. Well, eyes and donuts. You want art that goes up behind you on Zoom calls and guarantees that nobody will expect you to come back to the office any time soon, right?

To be continued…

The Triffid Ranch in the news

Yesterday was an exceedingly exciting day (details will follow soon), to the point where an interview with Danny Gallagher in the Dallas Observer isn’t quite the biggest personal news of the day. Go read the interview anyway, and come out to this Saturday’s Nightmare Weekend Before Christmas open house to see what the big deal is about.

The Aftermath: Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas 2021 #2

This is now the seventh holiday season in which the Triffid Ranch has been open, and 2021 has been…interesting. Things have been remarkably quiet since before Thanksgiving, and this isn’t just about gallery traffic. Even the roads, and we’re close enough to Dallas’s notorious Central Expressway to hear the road noise, aren’t as frantic and frenetic as in previous years, and running errands on Sunday was a shock as to the small size of holiday crowds. I don’t know if it’s incipient concern about COVID-19 variants, a decided increase in online shopping, or if simply fewer people have any interest in going out this year, but for someone who grew up watching some of the best Dawn of the Dead cosplay on the planet at Dallas shopping malls through the Eighties and Nineties, this is almost surreal.

On a good side, that strange quiet meant quite a few people taking the risk of stopping by the gallery last Saturday, figuring that the relative lack of traffic meant that we and others wouldn’t be overloaded with visitors. That worked out exceptionally well, with many visitors just wanting to see particular carnivorous plants in person for the first time, and others wanting to take in the gallery’s unique ambiance.

One full weekend to go before the Christmas season ends, and we’ll be live on December 18 from noon until 5:00, and again on December 24 with the same hours. By next weekend, I should have news involving several of the enclosures, so make your plans now while they’re still available. And so it goes.

Have a Safe Weekend

It’s Friday evening, which means it’s time to get ready for Saturday’s Nightmare Weekend Before Christmas open house, running from noon until 5:00 pm on December 11. (If you can’t make that, we’ll have one additional Saturday open house on December 18, as well as a Friday open house on December 24.) This weekend is also the absolute last chance to get in any orders for custom enclosures intended to be delivered before December 25, but feel free to pick up a previously established enclosure as well. You want to go home with a Nepenthes rajah enclosure the size of a typical flatscreen TV, don’t you?

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2021 – 1

It’s that time of the year, and we’re all scrambling to find that one thing for that one person whose needs or interests can’t be satisfied by Walmart, so it’s time to revive the annual Texas Triffid Ranch Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions feature. While it would be easy to give the obvious answer to queries of “So what the hell do I give that weirdo?”, and I’ll just note that giving the obvious answer is extremely easy if your Saturdays are free this month, generosity shouldn’t just apply to gift-giving. Lots of friends, cohorts, allies, and friendly rivals have great gift options this year, and it’s time to give them their time in the light as well. Keep checking back every week, because I have some beauts over the next few weeks.

To start, this year has been a surprising boom for book-buying at Triffid Ranch shows, and restocking has been a bear with distribution issues over the last few months. Aggravating the situation has been that several great books for beginner carnivorous plant enthusiasts are now out of print and otherwise unavailable, and some Amazon and eBay resellers have some rather precious ideas as to how much their used copies are worth. The good news is that you cannot go wrong with heading over to California Carnivores and ordering an autographed copy of Peter D’Amato’s incredibly influential book The Savage Garden: Cultivating Carnivorous Plants at a very, very reasonable price. Your gift recipient will be thrilled, the California Carnivores crew will be thrilled, and any carnivores raised after perusing this vital update would be thrilled if they could express emotion.

On the subject of books, although they may take a little while to get to North America, the second edition of all four volumes of A Compendium of Miniature Orchid Species by Ron Parson and Mary E. Gerritsen came out through Redfern Natural History about a month ago, and it’s to the high quality that we’ve come to expect from Redfern, with thoughtful and accurate commentary accompanying truly breath-stopping photos. (In addition, get in your pre-order on the three-volume set of Nepenthes: The Tropical Pitcher Plants by Stewart McPherson now, before they’re all gone a week after the pre-orders go out.) I’ll warn you that you might need a handtruck and back protection when picking these up from the post office or delivery station: the only limitation to such a profusely illustrated book is that each of the color plates adds to the weight of the final book, and I won’t put Redfern books on high shelves at the gallery for fear of their falling and possibly killing someone underneath. I mean, that’s a great way to go if you have to, but why expedite the situation?

Christopher Doll has been a friend and fellow troublemaker since before the Triffid Ranch was even a concept, and Twitch enthusiasts already know about his regular space art painting events, but he also has a calendar full of art created during his Twitch livestreams currently available. Yes, a copy is up at the gallery, just waiting for January 2022 to start, and that’s why all of you have to get your own copies as well. For all of the innovations of electronic event organization, sometimes having an analog calendar is easier for organization (in my case, particularly when I’m trying to check show availability more than six months in the future), and you really don’t need to buy yet another Dilbert calendar, do you?

Finally, on the subject of books, I’d be remiss in not sending people in the direction of Mark V, Ziesing Booksellers, out of the lovely town of Shingletown, California. As of the new year, I’ll have known Mark and his family for a full third of a century, and they’ve always been the perfect place to track down obscure volumes that make the staff at Books-a-Million cry. I also bring up that Mark has a great selection of antique and vintage periodicals of all sorts, including a volume of note because of the debut of its palaeontology columnist 30 years ago. Now go ransack his archive, and gets lots of gift certificates to surprise those cohorts that you thought couldn’t be surprised.

One of a series.

I’m Living In My Own Private Tanelorn

Today marks a strange anniversary in these parts. December 9 marks a solid 30 years since I was let go from a job I hadn’t started at yet, when A.H. Belo, the parent company of the Dallas Morning News, bought up, shut down, and stripped out the competing Dallas Times Herald. At the time, my dream to work for the Times Herald (a dream held since my days as a Times Herald paperboy during the summer of 1980) finally realized itself as a mailroom position, back in the days when the mailroom was a potential gateway to a regular byline. The Sunday before I was supposed to start, I was having dinner with my then-girlfriend when the one and only Barry Kooda came by and asked “So, you getting a copy of tomorrow’s Times Herald?”

“Why? What’s up?”

“Tomorrow’s the paper’s last day. It’s shutting down.”

“Awww, no! I’m supposed to start work there tomorrow!”

“Well, I’d blow that off if I were you.”

I admit that I was angry about this for years, and not just because of the various details leading to that buyout and shutdown. For the next six months, the bus stop in downtown Dallas where I’d depart for various job interviews was right across the street from the old Times Herald building, so I got to watch the hurried stripping of the building’s marble facade and signage, the demolition of one wall to pull out the presses and other heavy gear, the crumbling of everything else, and even the overpainting of the scar where the building shared a wall with a parking lot with a mural particularly insipid even for 1990s Dallas. By the end of 1992, the effort to sanitize Dallas of any intimation that it had anything other than one daily newspaper was so successful that any trace of the Times Herald was one discovered accidentally, like discovering the stepping stones in your garden were unused gravestones. After a while, the only mentions of the Times Herald anywhere were in obituaries, such as when star columnist Molly Ivins died in 2007, and even then.

One of the things about starting a career as a science fiction essayist is that you can’t help but be immersed in the concept of alternate realities. The real fun is noting that the real changes occur due to the little things that set off the avalanches (remind me to tell you the Dallas Blade Runner preview screening story one of these days, if you haven’t read it already). A few years of little things, and the stories between two alternate timestreams go off further than with the blockbuster event. Today is a day to celebrate this, starting with the death of the Times Herald.

A few years back, I realized that my entire professional Day Job career was one massive case of dodging bullets, to the point where friends joke about renaming me “Neo.” Positions and companies fell apart, but staying, in the long run, would have been worse. Most of the time, the transition was painful — these things usually are — but necessary. Considering the current plight of print newspapers, there’s no guarantee that the Times Herald could have survived another five years had Belo picked its teeth with the bones: even if it had lived to see the 21st Century, the thought of celebrating 30 years’ employment there is considerably less appealing today than in 1991. More importantly, if things had lasted this long, I wouldn’t have had a minor writing career ending in 2002, which wouldn’t have led to my moving to Tallahassee to get away from it, which wouldn’t have led to my first encounter with a carnivorous plant in the wild. If the Times Herald had survived, I might have a minor journalistic career, but the Triffid Ranch never would have happened, and the people and places associated with the Triffid Ranch are so much more emotionally satisfying than anything I ever could have done while still working as a pro writer. I know I’ve made more money selling and trading carnivorous plants than I would have made in writing: two shows this year alone eclipsed my total writing income over 13 years, and the friends made in the process are people I’d never give up for the dubious promise of literary or journalistic success.

In his essay “Driving In the Spikes,” the author Harlan Ellison noted that most of the time, there’s no need to get revenge on those who wronged you, because they usually do something to themselves so much worse than anything you could do, and so much more satisfying. Instead of being overly petty, my picture has appeared in the Dallas Morning News multiple times, all of which making me feel like GWAR on the front cover of Tiger Beat, and all without paying for a print copy once in the last 30 years. That’s not a bad legacy with so many other things to focus on instead, and considering the Morning News‘s current financial and circulation issues, the real irony would be if the paper finally shut down or sold for parts a year from today, after all of the reasons why anyone would worry about a daily print paper in this age finish becoming irrelevant. And so it goes.

State of the Gallery: December 2021

It’s December in Dallas, but you’d never know it by looking outside. Well, until today, anyway, after we flirted shamelessly with freezing temperatures last night. This is getting to be the New Normal: abnormally warm and still weather for three or four days, followed by a windstorm and then getting down to where we normally would be at the end of the year. It’s been great for those of us craving autumn colors (yes, in comparison to Vermont or northern Michigan, we’re pretty much coloring with pastels, but we also still have leaves on trees when those areas are buried in snow), but here’s hoping that the weather isn’t still playing this game in January and February. Right now, though, this weather reminds me of when I first moved to the Dallas area at the end of 1979, and it never stops being thrilling.

In the gallery, we’re much the same way. The 2021 show season is over and we still have months before the 2022 show season starts (both the Dallas and Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo shows and Texas Frightmare Weekend are on the schedule, and now it’s a matter of looking at other locales), so the next few months are focused on home events. Naturally, the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open houses are in full swing, but we’re also trying to make plans for January and February events, preferably without interruption from another icepocalypse. First, though, is getting through December.

(And as an aside, because it comes up this time of the year, December also means the beginning of the necessary dormancy period for temperate carnivorous plants, including pretty much every species and hybrid native to North America above the Rio Grande. This unfortunately means that we won’t have any Venus flytraps, North American pitcher plants, cobra plants, or US-native sundews or butterworts until after the beginning of April. Apologies, but this is for the plants’ sake.)

For those looking for outside activities, there’s an ulterior motive for recommending the Dinosaurs Live! nature trail at the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary in McKinney this month. Namely, after you come back inside the museum proper and view all of the other joys inside, head down to the lower level to see the Nepenthes ventricosa enclosure “Lagerstätte” constructed specifically for the Heard. (The last week in December is shaping up to be a week of large enclosures, but that’s still being negotiated.) It’s getting nicely stabilized and acclimated to the new conditions, and one of these days I’ll have to come down to note all of the extra details thrown in to be a wiseacre. (Among other things, the backdrop on Lagerstätte contains at least one real tektite, as a tribute to Dr. Luis Alvarez.)

Another item on the ever-expanding schedule involves those who want either an existing enclosure or a custom work as a holiday gift, but aren’t quite sure if they have the room or appropriate location. This is completely understandable, because most enclosures are going to weigh more than most people expect, and the holidays are stressful enough without coming home to a shattered bureau or table covered with the remnants of a carnivore enclosure. In addition to delivery in the greater Dallas/Fort Worth area, consultation on the best place to install a new enclosure is just one of the services we offer.

Well, back to the linen mines: the next few weeks should include debuts of several new enclosures, including plans for one last big one for the Friday open house on Christmas Eve. If the weather holds this week (the last forecast was for temperatures this Thursday and Friday closer to those of early October), that just might happen.

The Aftermath: Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas 2021 #1

Now that the out-of-town shows are over, it’s time to get back into the gallery and open up for the rest of the year. The first Nightmare Weekend Before Christmas for 2021 ran without a hitch (other than discovering that a previous attendee had a fetish for swiping plant identification tags) on an unusually warm and sunny December weekend, even by Dallas standards. Unfortunately, some attendees learned for the first time that Venus flytraps and North American pitcher plants need a winter dormancy, and that dormancy started last week, but that gave plenty of opportunity for the Asian pitcher plants and the bladderworts to shine.

One of the best things about ongoing events such as these is having the opportunity to debut new enclosures all month long, even as existing enclosures go home with clients and visitors. This includes the last-minute commission: anyone wishing a custom enclosure by December 24 needs to get in an order by December 12 to guarantee its completion in time for the holiday. (Naturally, anyone wanting a new enclosure after the beginning of 2022 has plenty of time, especially the week before New Year’s Day.)

For those who missed out this last weekend, please note that the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open houses are plural: the gallery next opens from 12 noon to 5:00 pm on Saturdays December 11 and December 18, as well as on Friday, December 24. Tickets are encouraged but not necessary: they’re mostly intended to get an idea of how many people might be arriving on a particular date, so we know how much we need to bring in snacks and the like. In the interim, it’s time to get back to the linen mines, because the empty spots in the gallery shelves need filling.

Have a Safe Weekend

Now that the last road trip of 2021 is done, it’s back to the gallery for the rest of the year. The Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open houses start this Saturday, December 4, running from 12 noon to 5:00 pm: admission and parking are free, masks are mandatory, and there’s still time to get in a commission on a custom enclosure in time for Christmas Eve.

The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays 7 – 4

Finally, it should be noted that I’m always fascinated with fictional milieus based on real places, and it shouldn’t be surprising that the filmmaker Mike Judge lives in Austin. The Palmer Events Center definitely inspired one of his greatest films: between event security being absolutely absent other than at closing and a concession stand where payments for $4 cokes had to be made by credit card because employees couldn’t be trusted with money (and where the credit card reader didn’t work), I had to compliment some of the best cosplay at Horror for the Holidays that I’d seen in decades. To be honest, I was surprised that Center management didn’t get involved: it’s always good to see UT-Austin law grads and business majors doing what they do best. (It could be worse. For the first time in over 35 years, I had to sign a form confirming that I knew that smoking wasn’t allowed in my hotel room, because of the number of college football goofballs in town over the last two months who claimed they couldn’t read the “No Smoking Within 100 Feet of All Doors and Windows” signs on nearly every surface.)

That said, Blood Over Texas knows how to run a show, and there’s a reason why the Horror for the Holidays autumn spectacular has been doubling in size every year. Many thanks to the Blood Over Texas crew, fellow vendors, associated events (particularly the Bat City Scaregrounds crew, who regularly came by to keep people laughing), and all of the attendees who braved torrential rains and UT helicopter parents to make Horror for the Holidays what it is. Now to get ready for next year: I have a lot of peppers to get potted up to keep up with demand.

The next Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show is tentatively scheduled for the weekend of November 19, 2022. Details will be shared as they become available.

The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays 7 – 3

Most of Texas is still coming to terms with longterm damage from the statewide freeze last February, and that includes the Triffid Ranch. A lot of plants that gave every indication of surviving when things warmed up in June finally gave up in October and November, and we’re all a bit shell-shocked over what the upcoming winter might entail. We might get an abnormally warm winter, based on every indication, but those same indications gave no warning of the freeze, either. Based on previous experience, we probably have about another three years before we get anything approximating significant snow or ice, but with changes in weather patterns over the last 20 years, anything is possible.

One of the big near-misses involved hot peppers: the original plan when the February freeze hit was to get pepper seeds started, and this came very close to happening the Sunday the first storm hit. Because of other commitments, that didn’t happen, which meant that attendees at the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show last week got something other than carnivorous plants for their troubles, Both the Black Pearl and Numex Halloween peppers were extremely popular, and the current plan is to have a few more varieties from the Chile Pepper Institute available in 2022. This year’s peppers are going to get special consideration: after the holidays, any remaining peppers are going to become bonsai.

To Be Continued…

The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays 7 – 2

It’s all fun and games until someone gets a hernia. One of the many additional activities at the latest Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show was a silent auction to benefit the SAFE Alliance, and the silent auction included the Nepenthes spectrabilis enclosure Weintraub Gate. Next time, Horror for the Holidays gets a custom enclosure exclusive to the show, as Weintraub Gate was exceedingly popular, and helped Blood Over Texas gather a record amount for the SAFE Alliance. Next time, though, I’m going to promote that enclosure with the proviso “Be sure to bring your own cart and transportation,” as the last thing you want to consider after winning a huge carnivorous plant enclosure is “how the hell do I get this home?” More things for which to prepare in 2022…

To Be Continued…