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.
The last several months have been for the birds, quite literally. Both at the gallery and the house, it’s all about birds, mostly crows. At the gallery, it’s a combination of crows tapping on the glass at the front door because they want to see what’s inside and juvenile blue herons hunting under the security lights at night. At home, well, I have to tell you about Ralph.
Shortly after moving into the new house, I discovered that the front sidewalk was part of the scavenging turf for a flock of crows. During the serious cold snaps last winter and into spring, the crows took advantage of a stoop out front as a hammer for cracking open acorns, and this rapidly became a site to leave a handful of shelled peanuts every morning. It’s not just for the entertainment value, either. Crows tend to chase and harangue squirrels, and the plan was to hire them out as bounty hunters before the squirrels got out in back and decided to dig up and uproot every plant in the time zone. Last year at the old house, a lone treerat got into the old greenhouse and overturned about 30 Venus flytraps all at once, probably with the justification of “Just lookin’,” so they need discouragement.
So far, it’s working. In fact, befriending crows is much like keeping cats. The flock has learned which window is my bedroom window, and if I’m not up sufficiently early to put out the daily peanut ration, they all gather around that window and let me know their concern that tribute is not forthcoming. After that, they gather around the back yard, watching me pick up junk weathering out of the lawn (a previous owner left significant archaeological traces in the form of a seemingly infinite number of Olympia beer bottle tops scattered through the yard, and I joke about collecting enough from which to forge a sword) and letting each other know “Yeah, the ginger guy is out here again, doing whatever weirdness he’s into. Doesn’t he know we’d give him a sword if he asked?”
At tribute time, everything is overseen by the presumed patriarch, a large crow with one big white feather on the top of his head that I named “Cadfael” after the Ellis Peters novels. Cadfael is very careful with his charges: he trusts that the food isn’t being tampered with, but he still doesn’t trust me personally, and nobody goes for the peanuts until Cadfael is assured that I’ve gone back inside and locked the door. He doesn’t care if I’m watching through a window, but filthy humans are expected to feed and not be seen, and nothing happens so long as he has a say in the matter. I go in, Cadfael caws three times, and the whole flock rushes in to get a bite and chase the squirrels coming from across the street to get their adrenaline fix.
And then there’s Ralph. Ralph is a young red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaecensis) who lives in the vicinity, his hunting territory abutted by those of two absolutely monstrous-sized female red-tails, and he does very nicely on a diet of suburban cicadas, rodents, snakes and lizards, and the occasional baby rabbit. Ralph has no interest in the peanuts, although he’s swooped down once or twice to check them out and see what the big deal is about. His thing is about coming out when the crows are happily hammering peanuts for the treats inside and trying to play.
Ralph’s antics shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody who knows anything about red-tails and other hawks: they seemingly live to play. I once watched a big red-tail joyously tear apart a mylar balloon caught in a cottonwood tree, hanging upside down until its talons ripped through the mylar and it dropped, that kept going until the balloon was fragments. Along a bicycle commute route in the Aughts, another monstrous female red-tail would wait for me to pass underneath her favorite street light, swoop down, and try to touch my bike helmet with her talons without my seeing her. The surprise is that Ralph keeps trying to play with the crows even after Cadfael chases him off. Cadfael attends to affairs of state, and Ralph rushes in to the younger crows, looking to wrestle. He means absolutely no harm to the crows, and the others know it and reciprocate, and that lasts until Cadfael returns and decides that intermingling of the species is completely unacceptable.
That’s when things get funny, because Ralph cannot understand why his playing with the younger crows is verboten, and he says so. Every day after being rebuffed by Cadfael, Ralph stands in the middle of the street and just SCREAMS. Ever watch a puppy desperately trying to play with an older cat, where his need to play balances out with his fear of death and he just howls in happy frustration? That’s Ralph’s life, especially since he knows he has done nothing wrong. It’s the avian equivalent of yelling “C’mon, man! I’m not doing anything!”
All the way around, this makes the morning routine for the Day Job worthwhile. The big question is what happens if either Cadfael acquiesces to Ralph’s entreaties, or something happens to Cadfael and the other crows let Ralph join the party. Either way, if this is a start of a new crow/hawk alliance, I’m glad that I’m here to see it before they walk feather-in-feather into their Neolithic period and plan their takeover of Earth. Ralph won’t be king, but I could see him as our first avian prime minister.
Austin friends and cohorts bragged to me for years about Jerry’s Artorama for painting supplies and other serious art tools, and I finally got the chance to visit one after Dallas’s first Artorama opened up next door to the Maple Leaf Diner. Oh, dear. The combination of Canadian cuisine and art gear, especially Jerry’s extensive collection of spraypaints, promise to lead to a whole new level of Triffid Ranch expression, if they don’t kill us all first.
A lot has come through the mailbox in the last few weeks (my To Be Read pile by the side of the bed is threatening to rise up and go on a rampage like a Jack Kirby monster), but the most compelling came just yesterday. Retail Gangster: The Insane, Real-Life Story of Crazy Eddie by Gary Weiss is a kick-you-in-the-junk look not just at a New York icon (or at least the publicly created persona, as Eddie Antor was famously publicity-averse) but at the weirdness involving the chains of discount electronics stores that rose and fell through the 1980s. It’s also an object lesson to businesses small and large as to rendering unto Caesar, because underreporting sales taxes and total revenues while overemphasizing tax deductions may not get you for a while, but they WILL get you, and far too many shady characters figure that Death will get them before the IRS will.
One of the highlights of the recently released Hulu movie Prey, besides the all-Comanche version, was the soundtrack by famed video game composer Sarah Schachner, currently available for download on most music streaming services. As an enthusiastic fan of Ms. Schachner’s work for the last decade, the Prey soundtrack naturally became a major work soundtrack while working on new enclosures, and here’s hoping that she becomes as influential in the 2020s as Basil Poledouris and Jerry Goldsmith were in the 1980s.
Fantastic picture! And wonderful story about the crows. When I was in high school we had a red winged hawk that nested in our yard every year. Most days he was soaring above our street across from the school. He would follow me the 1/2 mile home in big lazy circles. Birds are amazing!