Category Archives: Events

The Aftermath: Labor Day 2021 Carnivorous Plant Weekend

The Labor Day 2021 Carnivorous Plant Weekend was particularly bittersweet: both Caroline and I realized exactly how much of the gallery was a direct inspiration from her mother, who died on August 29. Lots of little things: the odd little frog planter in the front window was one she gave me shortly after Caroline and I got married, several pots we proudly put on display, ornaments and accessories in enclosures, and the constant reminder that Nancy loved seeing pictures of people and plants after shows, and this was one that we couldn’t share. A lot of friends and longtime customers felt the same way, having met Nancy at shows and events over the last two decades, and her memory will remain strong for a long time thanks to them. Many thanks to everyone who came out to share memories, because it really made a difference.

One of the bigger surprises of the weekend was the range and influence of the Community Impact newspaper, given free to residents of the Richardson area. Fully half of the attendees on Saturday and Sunday were Community Impact readers, following a mention in the September issue about the gallery opening, and the writer came by on Saturday night for a followup interview. This led to a lot of exclamations from neighbors, some literally from across the street, who had no idea that the Triffid Ranch existed, and they left assured that we weren’t a variation on Fritz Leiber’s Bazaar of the Bizarre. With luck, they’ll be back for further events in the future.

As for the next Carnivorous Plant Weekend, the calendar conspires against us. The next three-day holiday weekend facilitating a two-day Triffid Ranch event is in November, and it’ll be a great way to start off the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas through November and December. Just don’t ask us about New Year’s Eve: that’s something that’s going to require a lot of planning.

As for future events, the next two weekends are out, as Texas Frightmare Weekend is nearly two years late, and we have a lot of catching up to do. Details on the next Porch Sale on September 25 are now available, so the fun keeps coming.

Momentary resurfacing

Apologies for relative quiet on the site this week, but it’s been a bonecruncher this week. For those who haven’t heard the news, Caroline’s mother Nancy died last Sunday, the day before her 88th birthday. The backstory is better suited for the next newsletter, which is going out later this week, but without Nancy and her ceaseless support and love, the Triffid Ranch as it is today may never have happened. Everyone who knew and loved Nancy is invited to come out for this weekend’s Carnivorous Plant Weekend on September 4 and 5: she always loved to come to events and talk with people who had heard her stories via Caroline, and she was always tickled that friends and customers were willing to come to Triffid Ranch events to meet her and not her dingbat son-in-law. The family is having a formal memorial soon, but as a much-missed friend put it about his own mother, you should never go with too few words, and I know several friends coming out who will have great stories.

(And on an unrelated point, Nancy always got a kick out of news coverage about the gallery, particularly our 2017 Dallas Observer Best of Dallas award, and today is the last day for voting in the Dallas Morning News Best in DFW reader’s choice awards. We last talked with her just a few days before she passed, and she got great enjoyment over discovering that the Triffid Ranch managed to get nominated in the first place. I have no delusions that the gallery would win, but she had fun with the conceit, and if we did, I could say with a completely straight face that I couldn’t have done it without her.)

The Last of the August Porch Sales – Cancelled

It’s last-minute notice, but today’s Porch Sale has to be cancelled: Caroline sustained a back injury, so it’s lots of bed rest until she recovers. She should be fine in time for the Labor Day weekend Carnivorous Plant Weekend, though: many apologies for today’s cancellation, but we hope to see you on September 4 and 5.

The Aftermath: August Carnivorous Plant Porch Sales (August 21, 2021)

It’s been six years since a former clothing store opened up at Valley View Center in Dallas and presented “Dallas’s Pretty Much Only Carnivorous Plant Gallery” for the first time. For some reason, and not just because we were in the early stages of a pandemic this time in 2020, the sixth anniversary is more poignant than the fifth, if only because we’re still going after all of this. With luck, we’ll still be plugging on in another six, but right now is good enough.

With the end of August comes future plans, mostly involving being able to move back outside for at least a little while. That may be a problem because of upcoming shows and events through September and October, but we’ll still try our best to break out the tent and get out in the fresh air between now and Halloween. After that, it’s time to go back inside: the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas are now enough of a tradition that not having them in December would somehow be wrong.

And another reason to celebrate the sixth anniversary? Paul and Holly, the couple above, have been dear friends for a grand cumulative total of 73 years, and while they knew multiple mutual friends and cohorts, they’d never met directly until that original gallery soft opening in 2015. The big reason why we’re not having a Porch Sale on Halloween weekend is because we’ll be at their wedding: I’ve never been a bridesmaid before, but I can’t look much worse in a gown than anybody else.

For those missing the fun, the last August Porch Sale starts on Saturday, August 28 at 10:00 am and runs until 3:00, followed by the next Carnivorous Plant Weekend on September 4 and 5. After that, September is going to be full of shows outside the gallery, with Texas Frightmare Weekend on the weekend of September 10 being the most important. If you can make it in August, we’ll see you this next weekend.

The Aftermath: DFW Tap Talks, August 2021

As someone who can’t drink, going to bars and clubs can be problematic. Live music venues means dealing with dolts more worried about recording the whole show than the people whose views are obscured by their phones and tablets. Dance clubs always have that one jerk DJ who responds to patrons attempting to talk by cranking the music to levels that make communication other than semaphore impossible. Most other hooks to attract patrons involve copious purchase and consumption of alcohol, which gives no incentive for those of us who can’t imbibe, and Arioch help the involuntarily sober who turns down drinks from someone who insists “just have ONE.” After a certain age, it’s just easier to skip out than to deal with the aggravation, particularly in areas where blackout drunkenness was a badge of honor. (Thus, why I haven’t lived in northeast Wisconsin in 35 years and have no interest in returning.)

But what if you could mix both groups through a common goal? Like hard science, perhaps?

That’s not to say that mixing science and cocktails is anything new. Just in the Dallas area alone, the now-delayed Social Science exhibitions at the Perot Museum mixed the best of both worlds (pun intended) with open galleries and active cash bars. DFW Tap Talks goes in the opposite direction: instead of encouraging partiers to come out for science, why not encourage science to come out to the partiers?

The DFW Tap Talks formula is easy: invite a series of experts to an easily accessible alcohol establishment to expound on a specific subject for 15 to 20 minutes, followed by as many questions as the audience has, a quick intermission to allow patrons to stock up on both food and drink, This time, for the first Tap Talk since COVID-19 lockdown, the venue was Rahr and Sons in Fort Worth, where the science trivia competition started just before dusk, the conversations with and between physics majors was fast and furious, and the stage was filled with and surrounded by experts with much more robust educational credentials than I. It was the best open non-vending event to which the Triffid Ranch had been invited in YEARS.

For those unable to attend for various reasons, past Tap Talks are also available on YouTube for convenient viewing, with each new one being livestreamed in progress. As for new ones, I’ve already volunteered to put together something more Halloween-oriented in October, involving Nepenthes pitcher plants, and I’m just waiting word on particulars. Based on this one, I’d be honored to get up onstage alongside my presentation colleagues in the future and keep doing this for a while.

The Aftermath: August Carnivorous Plant Porch Sale (August 14, 2021)

It’s not completely unheard of, but it’s rare enough that it’s newsworthy: rain in Dallas in August. Not just a little bit of rain, but lots and lots of rain. Instead of a typical Dallas August, where “hot and sunny and dry” is the default weather forecast until Labor Day and sometimes until Halloween, today’s word is “soggy.” Don’t get me wrong: it’s a delightful change of pace, and the Sarracenia adore it. The humidity is so high that you could mistake Dallas for Houston, and going outdoors risks being asked how badly you lost the water balloon war. If you’re a carnivorous plant, it’s heaven.

It’s not just rain in August, but a torrential downpour blowing nearly parallel to the parking lot, that explains why the weekend Porch Sale on August 14 wasn’t held on the porch. Things were a little quiet because of that anticipation (to be honest, a few attendees were waiting to hear tornado sirens at one point), but the gallery was still full of enthusiastic carnivorous plant advocates, which makes it all worthwhile.

This coming weekend is special: the Porch Sale not only stays inside, but it’s moving to the evening (4:00 pm to 9:00 pm) to celebrate the Triffid Ranch’s 6th anniversary. (Technically, that sixth anniversary is on August 20, but the Triffid Ranch goes to Fort Worth on Friday for DFW Tap Talks.) We’ll see you then,

The Aftermath: Attack of the Carnivorous Plant Workshop at Curious Garden

Back in the days before quarantine, when we still thought that 2020 was going to be a typical year, the plan was to host a series of carnivorous plant workshops at Curious Garden in Dallas. Jason Cohen, the co-owner, has had to deal with me for 30 years as of this November, when we were neighbors in Exposition Park, and most of our encounters make him regret not killing me when he had the chance, so when he suggested the first workshops two years ago, naturally I jumped at it. Previous events offered the chance for participants to go home with a complete sundew or butterwort enclosure, and it was time to move up into Nepenthes pitcher plants. 17 months after the originally planned workshop, we still made it happen.

Then as now, the concept was simple: getting a group together, lecturing about the basics on carnivorous plants, and then putting together a step-by-step enclosure. Thankfully, practice and a lot of time to rework the concept during quarantine made perfect, so all of the attendees walked in to find a box with components, a cup on top, and a tub nearby full of Nepenthes seedlings. Everything else was negotiable.

While the audience wasn’t quite as big as at previous Curious Garden events, not only was this completely understandable due to Delta variant concerns throughout Dallas, not to mention the beginnings of a typical August heat wave, but everyone who came out was extremely enthusiastic. The greatest compliment an audience can pay a lecturer is to ask really good questions, and the folks at Curious Garden asked some really, really good questions.

As for future events, we’re still deliberating on the next workshop: right now, the tentative plan is for waiting after the temperate carnivore growing season ends in November and running a set of holiday workshops. Details will follow as they come through, but rest assured that Jason isn’t rid of me yet.

The Aftermath: July Porch Sale (July 31, 2021)

Most of the time, July in North Texas just drags on and on. The weather report is the same every day: “Hot and sunny.” The general response to outdoor events invokes the Ray Bradbury novella “Frost and Fire,” where everyone has eight days to live on a planet where staying to watch the full sunrise is an excellent way to die. The last weekend in July is usually especially severe, and smart people emulate Gila monsters and move deep into shelter until the yellow hurty thing in the sky goes down. Most of the time.

The last day of July kept up with tradition, and the afternoon and evening were torrid in anticipation of the brutal thunderstorms that passed through the area on August 1. That’s why everything started in the morning, with laudable results.

Sadly, no Porch Sale for the weekend of August 7: that’s the day of the big Nepenthes Carnivorous Plant Workshop at Curious Garden by White Rock Lake. However, the indoor Porch Sales continue through August starting on August 14 (with a special evening event on August 21 to celebrate the gallery’s sixth anniversary), and the two-day Carnivorous Plant Weekend on September 4 and 5. August probably won’t drag, at least based on the weather forecast, and the Porch Sales will move back outside before you know it.

The Aftermath: July Porch Sale (July 26, 2021)

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.

Awards season

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.

The Aftermath: July Porch Sale (July 17, 2021)

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.

State of the Gallery: July 2021

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.)

The Aftermath: July 2021 Carnivorous Plant Weekend

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.

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

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

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

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

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

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2021 – 5

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

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

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

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

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2021 – 4

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

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

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

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

To be continued

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2021 – 3

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

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

Complimentary cart service.

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

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

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

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2021 – 2

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

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

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

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2021 – 1

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

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

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

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2021- Introduction

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

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

To be continued…

State of the Gallery: June 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Aftermath: June Porch Sale (June 13, 2021)

An ongoing joke for anyone living in Texas for more than a year involves the utter shock among other residents about the arrival of summer in the state. Mid-June to July, by the time outside temperatures reach blood temperatures, there’s always someone shrieking “But-but-but it’s not supposed to get THIS hot so early!” It’s not just the longtimers laughing in their faces, having seen that magical period of nearing 100 degrees F/37.77 degrees C land anywhere between the end of May and the middle of July. The newbies laugh even harder: they learned the hard way that no matter how prepared they thought they were for summer, there’s a big difference between preparing for it and experiencing it.

(The reality was that for all of the other nightmares in 2020, last summer wasn’t all that bad. Yes, we got hot in July and August, but it wasn’t a repeat of 1980 or 2011, and North Texas isn’t in drought yet. With the torrential rains of the first half of June, some of us were hoping for a repeat of 2007 or 1982, with the rains continuing to wash through. What 2021 brings, I have no idea, but I’ll just be happy for a lack of catastrophic storms and tornadoes as in 2019.)

Regardless of the scheduling, the June 13 Porch Sale coincided with the hottest day of 2021 so far, and it’s not going to get cooler for a while. We have one more Porch Sale scheduled for June 27 on the normal hours, but after the beginning of July, either they’re getting moved to much earlier in the day or they’re moving inside. I may be bicycling to and from the gallery, but not everyone is as acclimated to the ongoing heat.

The bad news for this coming Sunday: no Porch Sale, if only because the Triffid Ranch hits the road for the Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo on June 19. However, it’s coming back on June 27 from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, followed by another two-day Carnivorous Plant Weekend on July 3 and 4. And now to get everything packed up for Austin.

The Aftermath: June Porch Sale (June 6, 2021)

As opposed to Memorial Day Weekend, this last weekend was best described as “moist.” Nearly daily rain was capped on Sunday morning with a tremendous downpour impressive even by Dallas standards, leaving us invoking New Orleans or Tallahassee instead. Flash flood warnings and airport weather advisories finally receded later on Sunday morning, leaving the city with a barely moving humid atmosphere best described as “too thick to breathe, too thin to waterski on.” Between this and an ever-fluctuating chance of further thunderstorms throughout the day, the decision was to move inside.

As it turned out, things were slow, but more than compensated with grand conversation and intriguing discussion. Between recovery from last weekend and the oppressive atmosphere, most Dallas folks were staying home, not that anybody could blame them. That said, thanks to everyone who came out: as always, opening up the gallery is a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

And so it continues: the gallery opens again next Sunday from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, and then the Triffid Ranch hits the road, heading to Austin for the Oddities & Curiosities Expo at Palmer Convention Center in downtown. With luck, the trip will be much less eventful than the wall-to-wall traffic jam along I-35 during the 2019 Expo, and I’m looking forward to seeing longtimers and new folks then. See you then.

The Aftermath: Memorial Day Carnivorous Plant Weekend 2021

It’s been nearly six years since the Triffid Ranch first opened in the old Valley View Center location, and in that time, we’ve never had the opportunity to have a full weekend show. Most of this is due to the day job schedule, and part of it was due to having the room and time to work on enclosures and general maintenance or conduct shows, but not both. Between regular practice with Porch Sales over the last year, though, as well as having several new enclosures to debut, made for a perfect opportunity to try a two-day event. And so Carnivorous Plant Weekend was born.

Oh, there were the rough starts: one whole enclosure backdrop ruined by too much sun and heat (yet another reason why painting and finishing are best done at night through the North Texas summer), and having plenty of time to finish cleanup and organizing until there wasn’t. That said, though, a great time was had by all, and spreading things out for two days meant that a lot of people who couldn’t make the Sunday Porch Sales now had an opportunity to wander around. As it should be.

As always, many thanks to everyone who came out, and I hope we didn’t disappoint. For those who couldn’t, the Porch Sales return nearly every Sunday in June (the only exception is June 20, because I’ll be driving back from the Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo on June 19), and then we’re going to try another Carnivorous Plant Weekend on July 3 and 4, details to follow. My, it’s busy around here this year, isn’t it?

The Aftermath: Mother’s Day 2021 Porch Sale

As is pretty much the case for North Texas in May, the weather forecast was dire. Saturday was an afternoon and evening of winds high even for Dallas, with airport warnings blaring every 15 minutes. Saturday evening, the prediction for Sunday was even worse: “thunderstorms, torrential rains, up to baseball-sized hail, and a chance of Tom Cruise and/or Ted Cruz climbing into your bedroom and staring at you in the dark all night while whistling the theme to Dark Shadows.” For those planning any kind of event outside on Sunday, things looked grim.

As is also the wont of North Texas in May, a massive north front hit the Dallas area around 1:00 in the afternoon…and broke to pieces. That is, bystanders literally watched as this front of gloom and woe evaporated before our eyes. The only change from before to after was a delicious drop in temperature, with some of the best Mother’s Day weather in decades. It was perfect weather for getting out, and everybody got out while the getting was good.

Sadly, because of an explosion in commission requests, there won’t be a Porch Sale in May 17, but that’s mitigated by another Frightmare Collectibles event in Justin on Saturday, May 22 to make up for the weather cancellation on May 1. That in turn is followed by our first-ever two-day open house on Memorial Day Weekend. If you can’t make one, you have two others. And now you know.

International Carnivorous Plant Day

Well, it’s finally here. International Carnivorous Plant Day runs all day on May 5, and expect to see Triffid Ranch exclusives later in the evening. With a holiday like this, who needs birthdays?

Frightmare Collectibles This Weekend: Cancelled

A leading warning that anyone living in the greater Dallas/Fort Worth area takes to heart: don’t mess with the weather. This week has already been brutal through Texas, but Saturday has the promise of thunderstorms, with a risk of hail and/or tornadoes, all day. Since those thunderstorms generally build strength around Fort Worth, the crew at Frightmare Collectibles just cancelled Saturday’s hearse show. With it, the Triffid Ranch takes an (involuntary) break this weekend, with the idea of rebounding with the Mother’s Day Porch Sale on May 9. Now to return the rental van…

“Show her how much you love her. Buy her a triffid.”

As if May isn’t busy enough, those wanting something to do in the outdoors in May might want to note the Triffid Ranch Porch Sale on Mother’s Day. Get your tickets now: they’re free.

The Aftermath: Manchester United Flower Show 2021

Since its start five years ago, the Manchester United Flower Show at the gallery hasn’t always been smooth. It ran well on its first year at the old Valley View space, but it was cancelled in 2017 while we tried to get the new gallery set up. There was the cancellation due to severe illness (once again, anybody can cough up blood, but coughing up urine takes talent), and then last year’s attempt at a virtual event that, well, could have gone better. Between lingering and understandable COVID-19 concerns and legitimate worries about last February’s record freeze, nobody would have said anything if it hadn’t gone through. But it did.

Threadleaf sundew (Drosera filliformis)
Frail triggerplant (Stylidium debile)
Venus flytrap (Dionea muscipula)
North American pitcher plant (Sarracenia “Scarlet Belle”)
North American pitcher plant (Sarracenia leucophylla)

Considering the weather concerns, things could have been much worse. The previous Friday marked a line of severe thunderstorms passing through the Dallas area that afternoon: the Sarracenia pitcher plants are adapted to hurricane-force winds and blasting rain, but they aren’t adapted to hail. Thankfully, that hail hit north of the gallery, so everything was hale, hearty, and well-watered in time for Sunday’s opening. Some plants were still delayed by the February freeze (there’s nothing quite like a greenhouse full of “Aki Ryu” flytraps about a week away from blooming) and some decided to fuss further (no Heliamphora or Cephalotus flowers this year), but otherwise the plants amazed visitors more than usual.