Category Archives: I’m living in my own private Tanelorn

“A man on the move, and just sick enough to be totally confident.”

Along with everything else that’s going on, it’s time to note that this little WordPress word salad turns a full decade old on Sunday, May 9. As with a lot of other things in my distant past, had anyone told me in 2011 what things with the Triffid Ranch were going to be like in 2021, efforts to check that person’s sanity, preferably with an oil dipstick, would have been necessary. Thanks to everyone who stuck with this little road trip for all these years, and fond memories of those who fell off, for various reasons, since that start. Now let’s make plans for 2031, starting with arranging for more events this month.

An Important Note About COVID-19 Safety

By now, most of the world knows about Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s announcement about ending the current COVID-19 lockdown and relaxing mandates on both mask use and social distancing in indoor spaces. In response, many businesses through the state have announced that they are continuing to follow Center for Disease Control guidelines on both, and the Texas Triffid Ranch stands with them. Until the CDC recommends that enough individuals have been vaccinated that masks and social distancing are no longer necessary, both will continue at Triffid Ranch events for the foreseeable future. Both indoor and outdoor events will require mandatory masks over both nose and mouth, and anyone refusing to respect this will be asked to leave.

With care and consideration, this won’t be an issue soon, especially based on current reports of vaccine production and distribution. However, both as someone who has lost several dear friends to COVID-19, and someone whose track record of past respiratory distress makes him a prime candidate for demonstrating “anybody can cough up blood, but coughing up urine takes TALENT,” the current mask requirement for Triffid Ranch events is not negotiable, so please don’t. On the brighter side, it’s possible to be both safe and stylish, as demonstrated with the examples above, and we enthusiastically welcome mask wearers at future events. Thank you very much for your assistance and consideration in this matter, and here’s hoping that masks and disinfection won’t be necessary before the year is out.

I’m Living In My Own Private Tanelorn

As part of efforts to make 2021 better than 2020, the efforts begin this week to clean up the computer desktop, which was taking on disturbing parallels to fiction. This entails cleaning up lots of redundant folders, removing applications that shut down back in 2014, and trying to get something laughably close to a decent image archive. Lots and lots of oddities turned up, including the below weirdness on Buddha’s Hand citrons, so keep an eye open for images that nobody has seen since the Aughts, and maybe we should be thankful for that. Anyway, enjoy.

Have a Safe New Year

Establishing the tone for 2021…

2020: The Year That Stretches

Among the more chronologically pedantic, December 31, 2020 isn’t just the end of a particular year in the Gregorian calendar, but also the end of a particular decade. Working on the idea that the calendar had no Year Zero, the Twenty-Teens didn’t end when the last few seconds of 2019 rolled through the clock. No, what we get is Year Zero at the end of each decade, where everything is in flux, neither caterpillar nor butterfly, and the actions in that year help determine what the next decade are going to be like. Think of it like a cloned cat: the reason why you can’t make an exact clone of a beloved cat is because so many of the factors that made that cat unique happened in the womb. Change the food, change the stressors the mother cat had during gestation, change any number of a multitude of factors that might cause a particular gene expression, and you have a clone that’s a genetic copy of the original, but otherwise looks and acts nothing like its progenitor.

With that concept in mind, the way 2020 went, we’re going to start out with a cat genome and get the cutest, cuddliest 40-foot Gila monster with bat wings and laser beam eyes that you’ve ever seen. For some of us, this is a feature, not a bug.

The last thing to be said about 2020, from the Triffid Ranch’s perspective? This was a year to change plans, to pivot away from video (kindasorta), and to get ready for new weirdness. If you think the gallery has changed from where it was five years ago, back in the old Valley View locale, that original gallery was such a huge jump from where things were at the end of 2010. The phrase “quantum leap” is horribly overused by half-bright marketing majors whose grasp of the concept is exceeded by the coliform bacteria in their guts, but that’s pretty much what happened over the last ten years, and now it’s a matter of seeing if this trend continues for the rest of the coming decade. Until we have a better idea of what to expect, and whether that involves blasting Harkun troop carriers out of the sky as they try to take back their former planet, take care of yourselves, and keep watching for new developments. There are still a lot of enclosures to build and stories to tell.

I’m Living In My Own Private Tanelorn, the Anniversary Edition

It finally happened. This week marks 18 years since the lovely Caroline of Caroline Crawford Originals decided to throw away all decorum and common sense and marry a former science fiction essayist, meaning that I’ve been married to someone willing to put up with my shenanigans for a solid third of my life. We ascribe many things to that longevity, besides beating the deadpool bets that the marriage would last 1/36 of that duration. Separate work areas and home bathrooms, for instance. One of the biggest, though, is having traditions tied to goals, and that’s where the annual Anniversary Spare Change Road Race comes in.

Art credit: Amanda “Shinga” Bussell

Back when we first married, our financial situation was somewhere around “grim.” The job that almost moved us to Tallahassee in 2002 (and inadvertently exposed me to the wonderful world of carnivorous plants) cratered, as my company decided that the massive software upgrade for which I was hired to write documentation just simply wasn’t going to happen. Three days before Christmas and six days before the wedding, I’m looking at moving back to Dallas and wondering what we were going to do next. At the end of 2003, I finally found gainful employ, and the next year meant finally getting ourselves back onto rather shaky financial feet. At the end of of 2004, we didn’t have enough in our bank accounts, after paying bills, to do anything for our anniversary, so we raided our respective collections of spare change, cashed them in, and bought dinner that night.

Since then, we’ve worked out a basic system that works extremely well. All through a calendar year, we collect change in one spot or another. Mine goes mostly into this ridiculously cheery Monoclonius bank purchased in the mid-1990s. At the end of the year, on our anniversary or as close to it as we can manage, we clear out our banks, head out to the nearest Coinstar machine, and cash in said change. Any coins that aren’t scanned, and a lot slip through that are perfectly good legal tender, go back into the pile for the next year. We then compare our totals, and the winner buys dinner. We then start it all over again over the next year. Just as with shows where we have adjoining booths, there’s no real rivalry here: nobody is trying to beat the other, which seriously confuses friends when they expect me to lose it when Caroline has a better show than I do. (There’s a very friendly rivalry in one case: in the last decade, Caroline has always made more than me at Texas Frightmare Weekend, and I’ve sworn that one day, I’ll beat her in gross sales. Considering that I not only need a big truck and two booth spaces to come close to the amount of inventory necessary to do so, this may be a loooooong while.)

(Yes, this bank is seriously obnoxious, but there’s a backstory. We Gen Xers remember all through the 1970s the emphasis on novelty banks of all sorts: combination vaults, Crayola crayons, and even Gum Grabbers. It says a lot about post-1980s sensibilities that by the early 1990s, toy stores were bereft of banks, even novelty ones, and this one turned up only after months of searching for something with a decent volume. Yes, it’s garish. Yes, it’s obnoxious. However, it still holds a ridiculous amount of coinage, and it’s still going strong after over a quarter-century.)

In retrospect, everything that happened in 2020 can probably be laid at our feet, because we got busy at the end of 2019. I was focused on turning the gallery into a fulltime venue and Caroline was focused on holiday shows, and we were so tired by our anniversary that we just looked at each other and said “We’ll cash in everything in January.” By mid-March, we figured that we’d just roll over everything for the next anniversary, and we know what happened mid-March 2020. I still kept collecting change, though: since the Triffid Ranch started up, the tradition was to give change in US dollar coins, and after a show or open house, loose coins went into the Monoclonius. Lunch at the gallery usually consisted of pasta or ramen, with the extra money going into the dinosaur. Even after the crash of the show circuit after state and county lockdowns, the popularity of last summer’s Porch Sales meant that the dinosaur kept getting heavier: by November, it was almost too heavy to lift with one hand, and emptying it on Tuesday took over 20 minutes. Carrying the Readercon bag that held that loot left me listing to one side, and I had only one thought: “Am I going to have to rent a handcart to move Caroline’s haul?”

Now, I understand that the fees on change machines such as CoinStar units is a bit ridiculous: in most years, even a 10 percent fee didn’t make that much of a difference, but this time would be different. The cost, though, was worth being able to watch the exact breakdown of individual coins as we waited for the final count. Caroline went first, and had an impressive final tally considering the rough year we had. Then it was mine, and I beat her total within the first big load of change in the hopper.

The final tally? I have to thank all of the Triffid Ranch regulars and new customers over 2019 and 2020, because without your assistance in the great change chase, Caroline wouldn’t have had as wonderful an anniversary dinner as she had. (For very special occasions, she asks for sushi from Hana in Garland, and being married to her for a third of my life qualified as a very special occasion.) The rest goes back into the gallery, mostly in stocking up on plants for the new year. Now the challenge is for Caroline to nearly beat me in 2021, if only because if she wins and has to buy dinner, she knows that I’ll ask for pizza.

I’m living in my own private Tanelorn

Right now, the greater Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex is in our default December weather system: generally sunny and mild, with temperatures at dawn flirting with freezing and temps at dusk considerably higher, with very good chances for surprise frost, snow, and even sleet. Because of that, many of our native plants and the best-adapted of our introduced species base their winter dormancy on photoperiod instead of temperature. A lot of people here do the same thing the closer we get to the winter solstice. Not everything follows that schedule, and for a few, it can be lethal.

The character shown above is a Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis), a very common lizard ranging through most of the southern United States, with Dallas and Fort Worth marking the western edge of its range. Besides its fame for changing its skin color between brilliant green to deep brown, thus its common name “American chameleon,” Carolina anoles are also famed for their refusal to drink water from standing sources, preferring to lap dew and condensation from leaves and just about any other available surface. In the Dallas area, even considering their intense territoriality, they tend to collect in surprising numbers, and they’re out on any day warm enough to allow them to move in the afternoon. Not only are they adept vine and bush climbers, but thanks to lamellar pads on their toes like those of geckos, they also skitter across vertical wood, brick, and even glass. If they can get a purchase, they’re extremely hard to catch, which is why I don’t catch them: half of the fun with the anoles in and around the greenhouse is getting them trusting enough that I can get close enough to touch, and one big male that loves camping in a potted grapefruit tree has a thing about puffing up his dewlap and challenging me when I’m using the hose, solely so I’ll set the hose sprayer to “mist” and soak him down so he can get an evening drink.

While their climbing skills are legendary, apparently they have limits. For reasons related elsewhere, Venus flytraps in the Dallas area are best grown in glass globes, brandy snifters, vases, and other tall glass containers so they get the high sunlight, high humidity, and good air circulation they crave. Those glass globes tend to create a pitfall trap for them: either due to the angle, the temperature, or both, anoles this time of the year have a problem with climbing into glass containers and being unable to climb out, especially when chasing the same insects that the flytraps already attract. In busier times, this wouldn’t be an issue, between regular waterings twice a week in the summer and the regular Porch Sales, any trapped anole might spend hours inside a globe before being rescued. This time of the year, though, with the flytraps going dormant and checkups every week, a trapped anole could be injured or even killed by remaining in a plant globe, especially if nighttime temperatures went to or below freezing. The odds of this one ending up in another globe are pretty poor (unlike many people, anoles tend to learn from their mistakes), but that’s no guarantee that it won’t happen to another.

With this in mind, it’s time for a homework assignment. As mentioned before, anoles are exemplary climbers, but they need something to climb other than the underside interior of a glass globe. Lots of objects qualify, so long as they neither contaminate the soil inside the container, block off light to the flytrap, nor spread diseases. In this particular case, all of the globes waiting for spring now have a sprig of bamboo rising above the lip, just in case. It’s not much to do, but it should be enough to save anoles, jumping spiders, and the occasional mouse from a slow and undignified death. For those with Triffid Ranch flytraps, and for those just following my growing recommendations, consider doing something similar, just in case. And so it goes.

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 3

Curious about what this is all about? Go back to the beginning.

If anyone had cared enough to ask me back in January about the essential fashion accessory of 2020, “facemasks” probably would have rated somewhere below “glow-in-the-dark codpieces” and slightly above “a revival of bellbottoms.” (Honestly, my fear was “Panama Jack T-shirts, the Next Generation” would be the definitive fashion statement of the new decade, and so my inherent cynicism once again torpedoes fame, fortune, and that honorary degree from the University of Phoenix.) To be fair, those of us who inhaled the Misha Nogha novel Red Spider, White Web 30 years ago had our suspicions, but when we weren’t running around in cloned sharkskin armor, either, it was easy to assume that this was a future that wasn’t going to happen. Until it was.

Back in March, masks were purely a matter of survival: something to block off particles and aerosols of yecch from making contact with your respiratory system. In the first few days of the pandemic, we were too busy screaming “CORAL!” to worry about making a statement, but by the end of 2020, face masks were a previously inaccessible surface for expression, advertising, and letting your fellow humans know that backing off was a really good idea. Even with impending COVID-19 vaccines, facemasks may be the fashion statement of the decade, as they also do wonders for fending off flu and air pollution, hiding silent comments, and adding to headphones and books the notice to public transit users that the wearer isn’t interested in a conversation. All of these are laudable uses.

The question, as always, though, is “which one?” Not all masks are created equal, but we’ve definitely gone beyond the early stagest of throwing ideas up against the wall and hoping something sticks. Now with minimum standards for quality and coverage, it’s all about longterm comfort, allowing the focus to go next on art. Because of that, and because I share sympathies with lionfish and blue-ringed octopi on warning passersby as what they should expect, the pile of new masks to rotate through keeps growing.

(And on a sidenote, a little extra on washing masks that’s only obvious in retrospect. While washing them in a standard laundry load works for a lot of them, handwashing usually increases their effective lifespan. In addition, for those of us of the male persuasion with particularly slow-growing facial hair, shaving takes on a particular focus when wearing a mask because of hair follicles catching on the inside and pilling the fabric. That’s why I wash masks every day after use, with a bit of shampoo to degrease and disinfect, then hang them up to dry over the rest of the day. It’s easy, efficient, and much gentler on fabrics than tossing them in a washing machine. But that’s just me.)

As mentioned, the pile of masks keeps growing, because the selection keeps growing as well. I’m hoping to be able to turn everybody onto Triffid Ranch poster masks soon, but until that happens, here are several designs that will both help keep you safe and surprise your neighbors at the same time. This also gives me an opportunity to return to my modeling days of the early 1990s and do selfies that don’t scare children and small animals. (The model background, by the way, is an absolutely true story, but it’s been published elsewhere if you want the details.)

To start, old friend and paleoartist Scott Elyard is back to his usual hijinx, and that includes introducing unsuspecting passersby to the Devonian arthrodire Dunkleosteus.

You may be most familiar with Dr. Lisa Buckley for her Bird Glamour postings on Twitter (which are essential viewing for anyone interested in both stage makeup and bird plumage coloration, and she has an extensive collection of masks on Redbubble dedicated to ornithological ostentation. Her main research is on ichnology (the study of tracks, trackways, and other trace fossils), and who could resist having a map of Bellatoripes fredlundi tracks across one’s face?

Chelsea Connor already has my heart due to her unrelenting love of anoles, but her mask design is the best answer to the question “is that snake venomous?” ever made. (I have a great appreciation for the venomous snakes of North Texas, and spotting a big cottonmouth basking alongside drainage ditches near downtown Dallas is always a highlight of the day. I also agree without reservation that the best way not to be bitten by a snake, venomous or not, is not to do anything dumb enough to allow a bite to happen in the first place.)

In addition to creating comics (Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, I Feel Sick, Fillerbunny) and TV shows (Invader Zim), Jhonen Vasquez creates masks. So many masks. In particular, the Space Jerk design was essential for starting my new day job, so I can blend in among all of you other filthy human bloatlings until the day I finally escape this horrible planet long enough to blow it up. But perhaps I’ve said too much.

Finally, Mónica “Monarobot” Robles Corzo is already justifiably renowned for her frankly stunning Mesoamerican interpretations of kaiju and other monsters, and you’ll have to wait only a short time to see one of her works incorporated into a new Nepenthes hemsleyana enclosure out at the gallery. (If you know anything about N. hemsleyana, you’ll have a hint as to what to expect, and I guarantee that you’ll still be wrong.) She’s taken her distinctive style to mask design, and both the Quetzalcoatl and Tlaloc designs are personal favorites around the gallery during both porch sales and weekend plant tours. And if the Shin Godzilla print is more up your alley, who can complain?

Next week: books. Lots of books. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, December is going to be rough enough, but January is going to be a month for staying home and reading.

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 2

Curious about what this is all about? Go back to the beginning.

This week in Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions, we’re going to talk about food. Now, for Dallas folks, I could bring up local joys such as The Maple Leaf Diner, Tasty Tails, Sababa, and Blu’s Barbeque, but that’s not fair to everyone else, and the idea of these gift options is that they’re open to everyone, regardless of travel options and lockdowns. Instead, we’re going to talk about heat.

Texas cuisine has a reputation for revving the Scoville scale, but what makes it work is an understanding of the flavor that the heat complements and compliments. That’s an overriding concern with most vendors at ZestFest, the largest spicy foods show in the US: any idiot can dump a kilo of ground Carolina Reaper pepper atop an otherwise perfectly good hamburger and post video of the subsequent prolapse on YouTube, but the artist knows when just a little gets the job done and when the chef needs to take the controls of the Titanic and yell “Full speed ahead! Let’s turn that chunk of ice into margaritas!” Therefore, some suggestions on all aspects of that joy, starting with where to start when you don’t know where to start.

When starting with good and hot food, it’s often best to go with someone who knows what they’re doing and trust their assessments. Just like following a film critic with whom you may not always agree but who makes you contemplate going into new cinematic territory, you may have to poke around and find someone with a similar appreciation of heat, and my personal guru in that regard is Mike Hultquist of Chili Pepper Madness. Recently, he’s been expanding into reminding people of Cajun remoulade and horseradish sauces, and his recipes are never boring. Best of all, if going through online listings doesn’t work for you, his cookbooks are dangerous to read in bed unless you look forward to drowning in a pool of your own drool. May I recommend his recipe for peri peri sauce?

In a lot of circumstances, you may just want something easy: you’re not in the mood to or not able to make a full fiery dish, or you want to kick up something that everyone else in the family wants to keep bland. (Speaking from experience, New England-style clam chowder is always improved with a good dose of Tabasco or sriarcha sauce, but I don’t dare spice it to my preference for guests.) That’s why keeping tabs on a good shaker bottle for your own augmentation comes in handy, and Defcon SaucesMalum Allium spicy garlic powder is an excellent addition to roasted vegetables, particularly broccoli and Brussels sprouts. My beloved wife Caroline, who admits that she can’t handle much heat, has a love for Malum Allium, but also for the Feisty Fish Rub from Mom’s Gourmet. We go through a lot of spices (mostly because we eat a LOT of roasted vegetables these days), but we keep coming back to each of these, and we’ll probably have a more extensive list for 2021.

And for those who want to go past merely eating hot and want to grow hot, there’s really good news on that front, too. Specifically, while a lot of really good seed suppliers offer excellent pepper species and hybrids, you can’t go wrong with the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University and its wide range of pepper seeds. Personal recommendation: my favorite variety from the Institute is its Numex Halloween: not only does the foliage go deep purple-black with sufficient sun, but the peppers go from black to orange as they ripen, and they’re now an essential part of my notorious goth salsa recipe. But don’t pay attention to me: go wild and try something that surprises you, because that range of seeds includes some doozies.

Well, that’s it for this week: things are going to get interesting, what with American Thanksgiving and all. Feel free to expand upon this list in the comments, too: half of the fun is in the sharing.

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November…

Because (a) my current presence in North America is due partly to overly enthusiastic celebration of Gunpowder Treason on its 300th anniversary, (b) I still bow to nobody in my appreciation of Alan Moore, and (c) I am a hopeless fan of Violet Carson roses:

State of the Gallery: October 2020

We’re finally coming upon the end of the growing season here in Dallas, aggravated by the surprisingly cold temperatures of the last week in OCTOBER. One more Porch Sale on October 31, and then the tents go into storage, the Sarracenia pitcher plants and Venus flytraps go into winter dormancy, and we shift gears until next spring. (For those unfamiliar with Dallas autumns and winters, you’ll be glad we did, too.) That doesn’t mean that the Triffid Ranch shuts down with it. It just means that we’re going a drastically different route than what had been planned back in January.

To begin, it’s time for a short break, and everyone is going to be worrying about larger things around Election Day than one carnivorous plant gallery. Therefore, the first week of November is one of rest and recharging, as well as the opportunity to get the gallery into winter order. In previous years, the weeks until American Thanksgiving would go into multiple shows at the end of the month, but with half cancelled until next year at best and the other half simply not happening at all, it’s time to, as the old saying goes, put your bucket down where you are.

The first big change is that as opposed to the regular Saturday night Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas shows that have been going since 2017, the gallery will be open on Sundays in November and December, exact times to be announced soon. As always, a maximum of 10 people will be allowed inside the gallery at any time, or as at a time when Dallas County drops its current lockdown restrictions, and masks are mandatory. No messing around with this, either: anyone trying to enter without a mask will be asked to wear one or leave.

The other big change is one planned for the middle of March, but understandably curtailed due to conditions. Before the big office lockdown, we were getting ready to announce the availability of enclosure rentals, for those who wanted a carnivorous plant enclosure for offices, classrooms, bars and restaurants , or popup events, but who didn’t necessarily want to buy one. Again, details will follow very soon, but as restaurants and offices start reopening, it’s time to guarantee a little bit of green over the winter.

Finally, it’s time to expand the knowledge base a bit and get back into virtual lectures. Another aspect of the current COVID-19 collapse is that the museum, school, and arboretum lectures and presentations that used to be a staple through the year aren’t happening, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable trying to do one anyway. This means that it’s time to get a lot more use out of the new iPad and put together more videos on plant history, behavior, and husbandry, including more than a few new tools and techniques for those working in much colder climes than these.

One last thing. This November will also see the return of the regular Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions posts that have been on hiatus since the gallery opened: I have a lot of neat friends with a lot of neat and inexpensive items that they’re offering this season, and it’s time to boost the signal as much as possible. Now let’s see how well we get through November.

October 1, 2020

And it’s October 1, meaning that it’s no longer considered unusual by average people to watch this clip over and over, the way I have since this approximate date in 1976…

I’m Living In My Own Private Tanelorn

Shameless plug time: Dallas has a lot of restaurants, ranging from the corporate to the ethereal, and one of our best draws for visitors is our only Canadian restaurant. I’ve hyped the Maple Leaf Diner for years: when the old gallery was at its Valley View Center location, the Maple Leaf was right across LBJ Freeway, and it became a regular locale for grabbing breakfast before one of the old Valley View ArtWalks, meetings with old friends after gallery tours, and regular Wednesday night dinners with my in-laws. Everything on the menu is both authentic and worth trying: I can state with authority that the Maple Leaf’s Belgian waffles are the best I’ve ever had this side of Toronto, and it’s the perfect place to introduce Texans to the Euclidean idea of poutine. Short of being greeted at the door by Rick Mercer, it’s the best chunk of Canada you’ll ever find this far south.

Anyway, one of the minor draws of the Maple Leaf is the east wall, covered with all sorts of kitschy tourist souvenirs from Our Home and Native Land, including a souvenir plate of Canada’s flower emblems, the provincial equivalents of state flowers in the US. It’s a little out of date, as it only lists “Newfoundland” instead of “Newfoundland & Labrador” (not to mention nothing about Nunavut), but it still shows off the Newfie flower emblem and beloved flower of Queen Victoria, the purple pitcher plant Sarracenia purpurea. For years, the plan was to bring in a purple pitcher plant or ten on July 1, Canada Day, just so the staff and customers could see one in the pulp, and possibly go into a discussion of the carnivorous plants of Canada. (Oh, trust me. Canada has a lot of them.) Unfortunately, there was always one minor disaster or another that prevented that from happening, especially after Valley View closed and we had to move gallery locales. 2020, though, was going to be the year that we actually pulled it off. I was sure of it.

Well, in 2020, it happened, kinda. Right in the middle of a pandemic, right after the Maple Leaf reopened for takeout and curbside service, Sarracenia purpurea came to the Maple Leaf, even if only long enough for quick pictures and a staff ogling before my masked presence had to clear out for safety’s sake. (Their safety, not mine.) Next year, though, once it’s safe to do so, expect a lot more.

I’m Living In My Own Private Tanelorn: the HVAC Edition

Very much as with home ownership, commercial property leasing is one of those things where beginners often don’t know what they’re getting themselves in for. For the last three years the Triffid Ranch has been in its present location, most issues with that location were relatively easy, especially compared to its first space. (There’s nothing quite like discovering that the owner of Valley View Center was refusing to let the Dallas Fire Marshall inspect the fire suppression system, right on the heels of the air conditioning system blowing out during the hottest November in Texas recorded history and said owner refusing to repair it for a full month.) It’s the little things that surprise you, and if you’re lucky, they reveal themselves just before they become catastrophic failures. Such is the story of the Triffid Ranch air conditioning system.

With many commercial properties in the state of Texas, any improvements to the property other than common areas (driveways, parking lots, access ramps, and the like) must be paid for by the tenant. Necessities such as electricity are maintained and updated either by the property or the utility supplying it, but everything else falls to the purview of the renter. Want to replace bare concrete floors with carpet or wooden flooring? That’s on the renter. Replace fixtures such as sinks and toilets? The renter. For the most part, we cheerily go to work, installing break areas, adding lighting, and doing all sorts of other things to make the space liveable and pleasant, and the question is always “how badly do you need this?”

And this is where the air conditioner comes in. When we moved in, we knew the gallery’s existing air conditioner was a bit, say, chronologically challenged. When installed back in 1987, the individual who paid for it went with the absolute cheapest system s/he could get, which meant a system that cooled the front vestibule, where Caroline’s space is currently located, and a side room that was apparently an executive’s office. Everywhere else, you got what you got, which meant that summers required lots of fans. This also meant that between May and October, that little unit was pretty much on day and night, just to keep the inside area liveable. Things weren’t helped by what could be called “enthusiastic nonmaintenance”: when we moved in, the air filter on the AC unit apparently hadn’t been changed in years, said filter was held in place with two old AC-to-DC power adaptors originally used for a long-removed security system, and the previous tenant had managed to get a ridiculous amount of glitter and most of a blue feather boa into the vents. (That story comes later, because it’s even weirder than you’d expect.) When we had problems with the system three years ago, a thorough cleaning improved the situation somewhat, but we knew that eventually the whole unit would need replacement. In Texas, having an operational AC unit, even one as kludgy and obsolete as this on was, was a necessity for survival for three months out of the year.

Even before the days of COVID-19, the plan was to replace the AC in the gallery before the summer heat got going, as open houses during the summer were already a bit sultry when the place filled with people. However, circumstances led to an acceleration of the plan. Just before the July 4 holiday, the whole old AC unit froze up, leading to water leaking from underneath the unit, and an inspection led to the discovery that the unit coils were rusting out. It may have remained intact through the summer, and it might not have survived July. The compressor on the roof was just as old, just as rickety, and just as ready for failure, and replacing the indoor unit would likely lead to a failure compressor, again in the height of the July repair season. After consulting with our AC rep (anyone needing contact info is welcome to ask), the plan was to replace the whole mess with a new, larger indoor unit and a new compressor, offering nearly twice the cooling power with considerably lessened power consumption. More importantly, because of the surprisingly cool and rainy weather in this first week, switching it out quickly was imperative.

The upshot? The unit still needs some additional work to bring everything up to code, but the difference is amazing. Even in the worst heat, not only does the new unit do so much more to cool the main gallery area, but IT DOESN’T RUN ALL DAY AND NIGHT. Obviously, the real acid test will be to check its performance during a packed open house, which may be a while, but this takes pressure off both attendees and the plants. The plants, in particular, appreciate the sudden coolth. Now let’s wait until it’s reasonably safe to have indoor events to test the system’s limits.

Happy Canada Day

For friends, cohorts, and relations outside of the Dallas area, a tribute to the flower emblem of Newfoundland & Labrador. For those in the Dallas area, it’s time for breakfast takeout from The Maple Leaf Diner, serving the absolute best Belgian waffles to be found this side of Toronto. And yes, when I pick up my waffles, I’m bringing a purple pitcher plant, just so the owners get a little bit of home.

100 Years of Ray Harryhausen

A lot of people will be making note of how today would have been Ray Harryhausen‘s 100th birthday, and they all have good reason to note his influence on them, creative and otherwise. My sole contribution: every last enclosure I design has a scoop of wonder added by a six-year-old who first encountered Harryhausen’s work via the CBS Late Movie on Friday nights back in 1972. The 53-year-old who pays rent on the place regularly has to explain to that six-year-old that the odds are increasing small on any place like the Forbidden Valley still existing in this age, and that films like this are about the only way we’re going to see non-avian dinosaurs. That’s when the six-year-old says “Okay, if the Forbidden Valley doesn’t exist, why can’t we make one?” You can’t argue with kid logic like this, so I’ll probably be building Forbidden Valleys, with all sorts of wonders hidden in them, for the rest of my life. (A 25-year-old tenant who was lucky enough to interview Mr. Harryhausen when he came to Dallas vaguely wishes he knew the whereabouts of the interview tape, as the magazine for which it was conducted and then spiked is long-dead. The 53-year-old just notes that everything that he said was better collected in books and videos that deserve wider recognition, so it’s not going to get pulled out in my lifetime.)

Upcoming Projects: Screen Tests

In efforts to improve both sculpting techniques and enclosure design, the Triffid Ranch library is full of books offering inspiration and advice on miniature perspective, ranging from the Vietnamese art of Hòn non bộ to entirely too many guides on practical special effects from the 1970s. Sometimes, though, it’s a matter of going directly to the source for reference, which presented itself with a maintenance trip to my late father-in-law’s ranch in West Texas.

The ranch in question is atop the Edwards Plateau, which makes up a significant portion of the border of the Brazos River as it meanders through West Texas to the Gulf of Mexico. The Plateau is on a thick base of limestone and sandstone dating to the Pennsylvanian Period, almost exclusively marine deposits but occasionally showing thick layers of conglomerate from the erosion of long-vanished mountains. Even the thickest layers are only about a meter thick: most are less than a centimeter thick, and many are paper-thin. Several roads lead the length of the ranch to the Brazos, and the limestone at the highest elevation is thick and strong enough to have supported two quarries that ran until the late 1960s. The rest, well, not so much.

Anyway, many of these ancient seabeds were shallow enough that they supported all sorts of life, as evidenced by innumerable fossils of crinoids, brachiopods, and horn corals. No vertebrate fossils have turned up, but plant fossils are abundant, usually consisting of Lepidodendron and other land plants apparently washed out to sea during floods. Some of the layers are so thin that they suggest ultrashallow lagoons that came close to drying out. All in all, the ranch collects about 50 million years of the history of Texas, just waiting for someone other than me to interpret what it says.

Because of those ultrathin layers, I’d wanted to get photos of these for scale, in attempts to replicate this in enclosure form for future projects. Not only was this shoot intended for reference on lighting and accessory arrangement, but it’s also an opportunity to offer a slight distraction in trying times. Enjoy.

And finally, as a direct opportunity to aggravate Ethan Kocak of The Black Mudpuppy, it’s time to prove that if he wants to mess with us on horrible mashups, some of us will mess back:

I’m Living In My Own Private Tanelorn: Canadian Carnivores

For those encountering carnivorous plants for the first time, they tend to be shocked by the sheer range of environments in which carnivores live. There’s the automatic assumption that they all live in hot, swampy jungles, and express shock at discovering the number of species found in North America alone. The shock spreads when they discover that Venus flytraps can be found a day’s drive from Washington DC, and they really lose it when they discover the variety of carnivores in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. Best, though, is when I tell them about Canada.

Canada may not be as rich in carnivores as the United States or Mexico, but it has considerable charms. The most famous, of course, is the purple pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea, the flower emblem (the Canadian equivalent of the US’s state flower) of Newfoundland & Labrador. S. purpurea isn’t isolated to that area: it ranges due west from Newfoundland across Ontario (with that range extending south to Michigan and Minnesota) all the way to eastern Alberta, and then north to just short of the border with Alaska. On the west coast, the cobra plant, Darlingtonia californica, ranges well along the coast of British Columbia and south into Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. Canada also has a wide range of sundews and butterworts in a wide range of habitats, and one of the most interesting places to view carnivores for sheer spectacle is in the Canadian Rockies of Alberta.

Alberta and Texas have a lot more in common than most people would expect. In fact, when getting off the plane in Calgary from Dallas, it’s hard not to wonder if the plane just circled around Iowa and landed where it started, especially if you travel to Calgary in time for the Calgary Stampede. During the Stampede, the only way you can tell Calgary and Fort Worth apart for sure is that one has more cactus and one has more Mounties. If you see lots of mesquite trees, you’re not in Calgary. That similarity stretches across most of the province: driving near Drumheller, for instance, the plains are so flat and the scenery so similar to North and West Texas that the only way to be sure that you’re in Canada is that the highway signs list kilometers and are written in English and French. All that fails if you head sufficiently west: I recommend doing it the way I did, in the middle of the night when the moon is rising, and you realize that something took a big bite out of the moon and won’t give it back. At that point, you’ve hit the Rockies.

When you’re that far west, there’s absolutely no reason not to visit Banff National Park, especially for those of us fascinated with geology and natural history. However, for butterworts, stop in the town of Canmore just outside of Banff, and head out to Nordic Provincial Park in the mountains overlooking Canmore. That’s where you’ll find treasure.

Backstory: my last trip to Nordic Provincial Park was in 2006, as part of a trip with my wife’s family. I’d never been to Alberta before (my grandparents were from Ontario, but I’d never been that far west), but had dreamed about it ever since learning about the gigantic bone beds around Drumheller and Edmonton as a kid. Caroline and I were already outliers in the family as far as cultural markers were concerned, as they looked at us like dogs being shown a card trick when we noticed a new bicycle trail freshly opened that was named “The Riders of Rohan.” The worst, though, was when heading up one trail, we came across the leftover bracket from a long-removed gate still attached to a tree, and Caroline asked what kind of spigot that was. “That’s for collecting pine syrup,” I told her. “Real Canadians eat their waffles with pine syrup, and maple syrup is just the crap we give to Americans who don’t know any better.” My sister-in-law has never forgiven me for telling her that, because she spent the rest of the trip asking for pine syrup and getting angry that the locals wouldn’t share.

Anyway, half of the family split up to take one trail that led to a mountain lake at the highest easily accessible elevation in the park, and the other half went on the other. This trail’s vegetation thinned as we climbed higher, with spectacular views of the valley and the whole of Canmore. Best, though, was the waterfall on an adjoining peak that blasted mist across the gorge and onto our trail.

Finally, at one point, we stopped to admire the waterfall, up against a boulder about the size of an SUV that had rolled down at some time in the reasonably recent past. It was still reasonably clear of vegetation other than some moss, but it also had a flash of blue-violet at the top. I got closer to investigate the blue, and discovered, snuggled in a patch of soil about the size of a toonie, were a pair of butterworts. Pinguicula vulgaris, to be precise.

This was reason to stop alone, but we figured “Let’s keep going up and see what everyone else found.” Well, that mountain lake was just covered with butterworts: the soil was little more than rock dust, with no real nutritive value, so the butterworts were at home, just blooming away.

As it turned out, they were a great example for people who were afraid of raising a carnivorous plant because they couldn’t keep one warm enough. If a P. vulgaris butterwort can survive an Alberta winter, it can definitely survive a Texas winter. And to this day, when doing slideshow lectures for garden shows and classrooms, I still use the same shots of those butterworts to demonstrate that they can be found in all sorts of odd places:

State of the Gallery: April 2020

A solid month after the COVID-19 lockdown started, and everyone understands my hometown’s unofficial motto: “So…aside from THAT, Mrs. Kennedy, what do you think of Dallas?” For those having issues with shelter-in-place orders, I sincerely sympathize and empathize with your plight, and here’s hoping that the Triffid Ranch can help take the edge off. For those suddenly finding ourselves with the opportunity to live our preferred hours, “If I’m not back in my coffin by sunrise, I turn back into a pumpkin,” there’s a lot to do. Hang on.

To start off, the virtual Manchester United Flower Show on April 18 was an experiment in terror, but it also worked. Yeah, the video froze at the beginning (a glitch in its iPad app means that everything freezes if texts or other notices come through, requiring a hard restart to get everything going again), but it was a grand start. This, of course, was the beginning: the archives are up on Twitch, and expect new installments every Sunday evening. (During the duration of the lockdown, don’t expect any Saturday evening virtual open houses for one very important reason. I refuse to make anyone choose between Triffid Ranch streams and those of Panoptikon Dallas, myself included. Dallas’s best goth club is having issues with the lockdown as well, the DJs and crew are friends, and the Friday and Saturday night playlists are a great comfort in the gallery late at night.)

And on the subject of virtual events, it only gets better next week. Until March, the biggest Triffid Ranch show of the year was the planned Texas Frightmare Weekend horror convention that traditionally runs the first weekend of May. Frightmare has been moved to September, and we’re all awaiting word as to whether it’ll be safe for the show to run then (and whether we’ll all be wearing masks and not just for costuming), but Grand Poobah Loyd Cryer decided that if we couldn’t have the show in May, we at least needed something. That’s why, starting on April 25, the new Frightmare HQ streaming show promises to give everyone a taste of what makes TFW such an event. The first broadcast runs on April 25 and runs through the weekend of May 2, and those who missed out on the last virtual open house get a good look at the inside of the gallery starting at 2:00 pm Central Time. And yes, if you can’t watch live, the archives will be available on YouTube and Twitch.

In other developments, it’s official as of today: the governor of Texas signed an executive order today that allows non-essential business to conduct pick-up and delivery business, which means that the Triffid Ranch is back to limited operation. Because (a) customers cannot enter the premises, (b) only curbside delivery is allowed, and (c) the gallery is currently full of plants that had been potted in anticipation of the Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo show scheduled for March, we’re going to try something different. All enclosures listed in the Enclosures Past & Present section are available for purchase at any time (just schedule an appointment for pickup or delivery), but most of the sales at shows such as Oddities & Curiosities and Texas Frightmare Weekend were for smaller, individual plants and containers. Because setting up tables and letting customers go through a complete inventory isn’t an option, it’s time for a Sunday Flash Sale. For the foreseeable future, from 12 noon until we’re out of plants, the Triffid Ranch front porch will have one specific species or group available, all generally identical, and all for the same price. Check back each Saturday to find out what the Flash Sale special is going to be, and call or write to reserve a plant once the special is announced. For those who want to drive by first, we accept drive-up visitors, but everyone will HAVE to stay in the car while doing so. (On my side, it’s masks and gloves all the way around, with containers cleaned before the sale starts.) For obvious reasons, the sale starts with tropical carnivores, but expect to see Sarracenia and other outdoor carnivores in the next few weeks once growing season gets going.

Well, it’s not the same as normal operations for an April, but things could be a lot worse. After all, three years ago, the gallery was a packed-up mess after its relocation, and it took six months of work to get it ready for its official reopening. If we survived that, we can survive anything.

Welcome To Your Career In The Arts

For the last several years, I freely admit that I blatantly stole a beautiful concept from the artist and musician Steven Archer, famed for his involvement with Ego Likeness, Hopeful Machines, and Stoneburner. In addition to his other endeavors, any of which make us mere mortals want to eat his brain so we can steal his powers, Steven also shares particularly disturbing failure videos and gifs, usually involving faceplants and setting idiots’ knees afire, all of which beg for one specific soundtrack, for his followers and interested passersby. The punchline is the same with each video or animated gif: “Welcome to your career in the arts.”

Part of the reason why so many of these are so funny isn’t just in being glad that we aren’t as unlucky, unskilled, or foolish as the individuals in said videos. It’s that for anybody with an actual career in the arts, we watch the videos, wipe our brows, and sigh “So it’s not just me.” So often, no matter how hard we prepare and what we try, it’s Faceplant City, and most of us just brush the concrete dust off our noses, spit out the broken teeth, and get up to do it again. Compulsion is a wonderful thing.

And so it goes. Since before the beginning of this foul Year of Our Lord 2020, the original plan for the Triffid Ranch was to jump up the number of Triffid Ranch shows, lectures, and open houses, including an expansion outside of the greater Dallas/Fort Worth area. Well, you can call COVID-19 “The Rona” or “Captain Trumps,” but every artist, musician, and writer in town saw the implosion of venues and events and called it “The Devil Vomits In My Face Once More.” You wipe off your eyes, reach for a towel and an eyewash station, and start again.

And to follow the old adage “when God closes a door, He also opens a window,” it’s time to see if if the next few weeks constitute defenestration or flying. The original plan was to hold a major open house, the Manchester United Flower Show, on April 18, if the current shelter-in-place order for Dallas County would allow it. Since that order runs until at least the beginning of May, this wouldn’t happen anyway, and a lot of folks understandably don’t want to risk crowds even after the order is lifted. We can’t have a traditional open house, and a lot of people outside of Dallas regularly mope (but mope in a cute way) about not being able to get to an open house anyway, so it’s time to make things virtual.

With the recommendation and inspiration of Christopher Doll of Breaking Fitt’s Law and Pete Freedman of Central Track, both essential reading, the Triffid Ranch is going to Twitch. The Eventbrite invitations will go out soon, but we’re going to try a video open house starting at 6:00 pm Central Standard Time on Saturday, April 18. Just as with the in-person open houses, this will run until about 11:00, thus allowing folks in varying time zones a chance to jump in. If this works out well and it doesn’t lead to a terminal curbstomping, we may have more in our current time of crisis, and probably way beyond. Not only will this give friends and interested bystanders a chance to see the inner workings of carnivorous plant blooms, but it gives a chance to confirm that the sole proprietor has far too much in common with the late Rik Mayall’s most famous character. See you then.

EDIT: And the official invitation is now live on Eventbrite. Feel free to share early and often.

Bluebonnet Season 2020 – 3

Even in better times, Texans and tourists rushed out every spring to view the return of the Texas bluebonnet, Lupinus texensis, bringing family, loved ones, and pets into the mix. This didn’t always end well for the bluebonnets: the plants themselves are reasonably tolerant of abuse, but the flowers are very easily crushed. This was really a problem for actively trafficked areas: for the most part, bluebonnets are common enough and widespread enough that the species can handle the occasional trampled cluster. In these days of social distancing, that dose of blue, purple, and green is even more important than ever, as is the need to give everyone a chance to see them who wants to do so. Please, please be careful when taking family photos in bluebonnet patches, if only by sticking to the edges and not flattening the whole thing. Most importantly, clean up after your pets, unless you want that kind of karma in an age of security cameras everywhere. Everyone else will thank you for this in the future.

For everyone who has followed this little trek so far, thank you very much, and keep an eye open for future posts. Bluebonnet season is just getting started, and there’s no telling what we could find among the undergrowth in a week or so. No telling at all.

Bluebonnet Season 2020 – 2

One of the things that amazes so many initiates to Texas bluebonnets is exactly how much animal life can reside inside one bluebonnet clump. No, not bluebonnet rattlesnakes: a thriving field of bluebonnets captures dead leaves and other debris to feed detritivores, and the leaves provide sustenance for a whole legion of foragers and grazers, while the flowers attract a wide range of pollinators that themselves depend upon the flowers’ pollen and nectar. With those herbivores come predators to take advantage of the largesse, and bodies of predator and prey themselves feed the detritivores. It’s a short-lived cycle that ends when the plants die off and burn back in May, but it’s absolutely essential for a wide variety of fauna, mycota, and other flora to continue their own life cycles. Give the land a chance to cool and rest over the winter, and the cycle starts all over in spring.

To be continued…

Bluebonnet Season 2020 – 1

For those outside of Texas, and for everyone sheltering in place, the Texas wildflower season started about the time we all started self-quarantining, and it now gets going with the beginning of bluebonnet season. Lupinus texensis is a denizen of poor soils throughout the state, growing thickly on roadsides, fields, industrial parks, and anywhere where nitrogen is at a premium. Part of their appeal is the tremendous clumps of blooms at the height of the season, but also their transitory nature: by the end of April, they generally burn off and deposit seeds for next year’s crop. By July, most people who hadn’t witnessed the waves of blooms in April would never have known they existed: the stems and flowers turn to powder and are overgrown by grasses and other summer flora.

Because of this temporary display, many bluebonnet habitats throughout Texas will not mow until the bluebonnets and other wildflower species go to seed. With the bluebonnets come legions of wildflower tourists to get photos of family and/or loved ones among the bluebonnets, in addition to utter idiots fussing about bluebonnet rattlesnakes. This is all fine and good, but these photos generally avoid one important fact: L. texensis is a fascinating plant when seen from the ground, to the point of seeming unbearably exotic.

It’s easy to be flippant about plant blindness, the cognitive bias that prevents people from seeing the plants in their everyday environments. It’s an understandable heritage of being taught over and over to look for the animals in various environments: look back on the number of pictorials of exotic environments and then consider how many focused solely on the plants and ignored the animals. You might be considering for a while: everything from National Geographic foldouts to dinosaur books focus on the animals big and small, with the accompanying flora a sidenote at best. The phenomenon of plant blindness is even worse with documentary films and videos: show a field of Sarracenia pitcher plants, and interest only perks up when the viewer sees tree frogs in the pitchers. On a personal level, I deal with this at Triffid Ranch shows on a constant basis: not only do people look at an enclosure in a quest for the animal they’re sure is inside, but after being told that the enclosure holds nothing but plants, they check again just to make sure. Plant blindness isn’t innate and it isn’t genetic: it’s a learned behavior, and it’s one that can be broken with enough practice.

This is why, in the tradition of Sir David Attenborough, it’s time to go among the bluebonnets. Expect more pictures in the very near future: after all, bluebonnet season is only just starting up, and they’re going to get thick in the next few weeks. Most importantly, though, try to remember that plant blindness. Don’t focus on anything else: focus on the plants. Note the foliage as well as the blooms. Only this way can you break the curse of plant blindness.

To be continued…

Have a Safe April 1

No jokes, no japes, no pranks, not so much as a pun. We don’t need that today. I tried that a quarter-century ago as of today, and look how that turned out.

COVID-19 Schedule Changes

The best-laid plans, and all that. The old Chinese curse about living in interesting times definitely applies through this month, and apparently beyond. The news about the Dallas County shelter-in-place order requiring all residents to stay at home unless conducting essential business is now international news, but the subsequent mandatory orders applying specifically to Richardson and Garland are just as big a deal. Right now, the Dallas County order will be up for review on April 3, the Garland order until at least April 7, and Richardson cut to the chase and set its order to run until at least April 29. Any way you look at it, anyone in the greater Dallas area isn’t going anywhere, especially since local police are empowered to ticket and/or arrest anyone running about without good reason.

And how does this affect the Triffid Ranch? Quite honestly, it stops everything for the next month, and directly affects the rest of the year. Unlike the twerp at the mail drop last Monday who wanted to argue that the Dallas County order didn’t apply to him because of one tiny issue that he assumed invalidated the whole order, the orders aren’t up for debate over here. As anybody in US Army Basic Training learns on the first day of Nuclear/Biological/Chemical training, you do NOT take off your mask until someone with the proper authority gives the proper “ALL CLEAR” signal. You may be melting in the heat, and you may want the freedom to take it off and relax, but it’s there for a reason.

So what this means is that every Triffid Ranch event scheduled for March, April, and May has been rescheduled, delayed, or otherwise put on hold. The planned April 18 Manchester United Flower Show open house is delayed. This also means that all appointments will have to wait until Richardson’s order is lifted, although remote consultations are still open. (If anything, if you’re looking for a custom enclosure, the delay should give it plenty of time to get established by the time you’re able to pick it up.) Among the important events:

As always, keep an eye on the Shows, Lectures, and Other Events page for changes to the schedule: everything depends right now on how well the COVID-19 situation flattens out, and what gets scheduled against what. Until then, stay safe, stay distant, and we’ll see you when we see you.

State of the Gallery: March 2020

Well. Skip out on one update in February, and look at what happens. All I wanted was a Pepsi, just one Pepsi…er, I mean, all of those years of mental preparation for the collapse of human civilization, and here’s what it comes down to. No zombies, no Daleks, no mutants, no dinosaurs, no asteroid impacts, all of the rampaging highway raiders in Mohawks and bondage pants are riding mopeds…there’s a very good reason to stay home until this is all over.

Very seriously, for all of the “Love In the Time of COVID-19” jokes, March just got very interesting around the Triffid Ranch. Being open solely by appointment, social distancing was already enforced before everything went down, and a lot of those appointments may now be run virtually. (Yes, that means finally getting my Skype account up and going.) I was literally in Austin for 15 minutes last weekend when the City of Austin announced that it was shutting down the SXSW art and music festival, and cancellations rapidly spread through Texas, especially after Dallas County set up a ban on gatherings for more than 500 people on March 13. I was last-minute scheduled for a one-night presentation via the Corpsepaint Show at Gas Monkey Live on March 13, so there was that. All-Con was on its second day when Dallas County ordered its shutdown, with all of the vendors having to pack up and go home at about 11:30 Friday morning. Then came the list of events that were being rescheduled because there was no guarantee that COVID-19 would abate by the planned date. The Deep Ellum Art Festival. Fan Expo Dallas. When the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo shuts down, you know people are taking this seriously.

To their eternal credit, the organizers of the Oddities & Curiosities Expo touring shows and Texas Frightmare Weekend have been on the case. Not within an hour of the Dallas County announcement, the Oddities & Curiosities crew were up and rescheduling shows, with the Dallas show moving from March 28 to June 27. Texas Frightmare Weekend is still starting on May 1 until further notice, but Loyd Cryer and his faithful crew were already running contingency plans and reassuring attendees and vendors that if anything changed, they’d know as soon as humanly possible. To their greater credit, both shows understood that a lot of us vendors were going to be hit badly due to the number of March shows shutting down, so they both posted lists of vendors so interested bystanders could buy from them directly until the situation was under control. In the interests of solidarity with cohorts and friends, go check them out and buy mass quantities, or at least let friends know that they’re out here:

Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo vendors

Texas Frightmare Weekend vendors

(Don’t worry about me. Go help them. Seriously.)

With all of this, it’s hard not to bring up my home town’s unofficial motto: “Aside from THAT, Mrs. Kennedy, what do you think about Dallas?” All I can say is that while we’re all staying home, with good reason, keep an eye open for interesting updates: since the gallery is reasonably isolated and I have plenty of time that was previously taken up with show preparation, it’s time to write up all of the plant care guides and other ephemera that had been put off for months and sometimes years. At least, that’s the idea. We’ll see how it goes from here. Until then, stay inside, stay safe, and rest assured that if you get a newsletter from me, it’ll include more content than far too many of the ones flooding your email box right now. And so it goes.

UPDATE (3/16/2020): I just got word from Jason at Curious Garden about Saturday’s carnivorous plant workshop, and it’s being rescheduled for a date after all of our current self-quarantine. This news wasn’t unexpected, but it came just as the City of Dallas ordered the closure of bars, restaurants, and gyms within city limits. It’s getting strange out there, folks, so take care.

On 2019

The end of any year in the Gregorian calendar that ends in a “9” always ends the same: innumerable alcoholic amateurs assuming that they’re channeling the spirit of Hunter S. Thompson, massive disappointing clearance sales with clothing stores acknowledging that styles WILL change and soon, and the continuing war between pedants on whether a particular decade ends at the end of the “9” year or the end of the “0” year. Personally, since 1970, which just never rolled over and went away until about 1987, my attitude has been that those “0” years are transition years: the decade that was dies tonight at midnight, but the beast won’t die until the signal travels all the way through its bulk and reaches its tail, and it’ll thrash around for a while in the process. We now have a year to find out what the Twenty-Twenties are going to look and sound like, and we shouldn’t worry about the exact date of death. What matters right now is that as of midnight on January 1, the Twenty-First Century is now one-fifth over, and we should start behaving like it. Want a semantic cause? Start insisting that those still using the term “turn of the century” need to emphasize which one.

There’s no question that 2019 was a year of transition, of what the author Harlan Ellison referred to as “the hour that stretches.” Harlan’s 1988 collection Angry Candy started with an introduction discussing all of the friends, cohorts, heroes, and fellow travelers he’d lost by that point, and how the sudden conga line of mortality directly affected his storytelling. At the time I bought that collection when it came out in hardcover, I was nearly 22, so I had no real grasp of his pain: now, I’m the age he was when Angry Candy was published, and I understand far too well. You may not recognize the names of Jeb Bartlett or Rob Fontenot or Laura Huebner, or of my father-in-law Durwood Crawford, but they made the world just a little more fun and a little more kind, and they’ll always have a spot in the Triffid Ranch pantheon of heroes alongside Adrian Slack and old Harlan himself. (And I have to leave a little room for my late cat Leiber, as his life stretched across nearly a third of mine, and not hearing his happy chirps when I’d look at all of the cat fur in the vacuum cleaner and scream “WHY IS THIS CAT NOT BALD?” has left the house just a little darker and lonelier, no matter how much Alexandria and Simon try to fill the gap.)

As far as accomplishments are concerned, this was a good year because of their sheer number. This was the first year a Triffid Ranch enclosure was entered in a professional art exhibition, and the first year of making more than one trip outside of Dallas to show off enclosures. (Next year will be even more fun, with at least three shows in Austin, one in Houston, and the first-ever show outside of Texas in New Orleans in August.) This was a year for workshops, and a year for presentations, and a year for rapidly changing directions. This was the year, a decade after the first halting Triffid Ranch shows, where I never regretted quitting professional writing less, because those workshops and presentations did more actual good than writing about long-forgotten movies and books ever did. Expect a lot more of those in 2020, too, because the life of a carnivorous plant grower is always intense.

With that year in transition comes a few unpleasant but necessary sidebars. 2020 is going to be a year without Facebook: after a lot of thought about Facebook’s accessibility for friends and customers versus the company’s issues with security, its never-ending throttling of Page access to subscribers unless the Page owner pays for “boosts” (and the ever-decreasing reach of those boosts thanks to ad blockers and the company’s own algorithms), it’s time to leave early so as to avoid the rush. Social media access continues with both Instagram and Twitter (just search for “txtriffidranch”), but the rabbit hole opened every time someone sent a message that lowered Triffid Ranch Page posts if I didn’t respond immediately to yet another discovery of that idiotic Santa Claus Venus flytrap video just takes up too much time. Besides, if you’re wanting news on what’s happening with the gallery, that’s what the newsletter is for.

Anyway, thank you all for sticking around, for coming up and asking questions at presentations and lectures, for buying enclosures so I have room to place new ones, and for coming out to open houses. You’re appreciated, and just wait until you see what’s planned for 2020. The first open house of the year is on January 25: you won’t want to miss this one.

Have a Great Weekend

Due to a death in the family, this Saturday’s Nightmare Weekend Before Christmas has been cancelled, but expect a full return to form on Saturday, December 7. If you’re really nice, I might even sing for the occasion:

State of the Gallery: November 2019 – Special Edition

Surprisingly, not just a metaphor

A lot has happened in November so far, and more is gearing up for the rest of the month, in what the author Harlan Ellison called “the hour that stretches.” November has always been an, er, interesting month in my life, what with layoffs, moves, new jobs, and more than a few deaths. November 2019 follows in that tradition, and the plan is that the window that opens when the door closes is a greenhouse vent and not an airlock. Yeah, it’s been one of THOSE Novembers.

Anyway, the practical upshot is that appointment availability for Triffid Ranch consultations just became a lot more open. The Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas Saturday night open houses starting on November 30 remain unaffected, but now the gallery will be open a lot more often during the week, too. Just excuse the mess: the events over the last two months (of which no more will be said) interfered with new projects, so the idea now is to rectify that situation. Among other things, this frees up storage space, it gives new homes for older plants to stretch out, and it gives more reasons for all of you lot to come out to multiple Nightmare Weekends to see what’s new THIS time. If you’ve had an eye on a particular enclosure but haven’t made the move to take it home just yet, this may be the perfect opportunity.

And the rest of the year? That’s dedicated both to a wedding anniversary blowout (17 years as of December 28, and people still assume that we’ve been married for weeks) and to getting ready for 2020. This includes a stem-to-stern renovation of the gallery, other essential updates (after all, we’ve been in the space for three years as of February, so we have plans), and scheduling for the largest list of outside events yet. Among other things, a quick perusal of the calendar revealed that next Valentine’s Day falls on a Friday, and between this and Leap Day on a Saturday, it’s time to call some people and plan a multi-venue event. As always, details will follow as they happen: if it doesn’t happen, you’ll never know about it.

Speaking of venues, if you’ve attended an open house and never stepped across the doorway to our neighbor Visions of Venice, consider yourself encouraged to investigate. Besides being the absolute best business neighbor a boy could ever want, the amount of crossover interest between carnivorous plants and Italian glasswork continues to surprise me. Even better, the storefront is open during the week, so don’t be afraid to head out during a lunch break with a whole group of coworkers and peruse the stock of masks and chandeliers. (Yes, they actually go together. Don’t argue with me on this.)

Finally, before loading up the van and heading out to Austin for this weekend’s Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show at the Travis County Exposition Center, a little note: some of you may have noticed that the new URL for this Web site changed to http://www.texastriffidranch.com within the last week. It’s a funny story as the old URL still works, and you’ll have to come out to one of the Triffid Ranch events for an explanation. In the meantime, if you haven’t been exploring through the archives in a while, please indulge your curiosity, as WordPress and Google are fighting over whether or not this is new content. Besides, you don’t have anything better to do the week before American Thanksgiving when you’re trapped at work and everyone else is taking off on early vacations, right?

Have a Great Halloween

Stay warm, stay safe, and keep an eye on your garden.

Tornado update

There’s usually nothing quite like the Monday after a big show, and with two shows this last weekend, I was expecting a humdinger of a Monday morning. I had no idea. For those catching the news, the north Dallas area was hit by multiple tornadoes on Sunday night, and the damage is still being assessed. To cut to the chase, the gallery was fine: aside from a power outage, everything was in good shape after a quick morning inspection. (People regularly ask about the odd electric clock running in the gallery that still lists the date as sometime within 2000. This is my blackout clock. It’s an easy way both to tell that the gallery was hit with a power outage and to determine how long it’s been back on. After last April’s horrendous storm and subsequent power outage, I’m seriously thinking about getting an emergency generator, just for the freezer.)

The rest of the area, though, isn’t as lucky. The big tornado tore a divot through residential and business areas just south of the gallery, running roughly parallel to LBJ Freeway. Apparently the neighborhood in which I lived at the end of the last century was hit very hard, as was the shopping plaza where I had my old mail drop between 1997 and 2012. North Haven Gardens came pretty close to being wiped off the map, and the main tornado then hopped Central Expressway and took out the gallery’s local Home Depot. Another tornado touched down just east of the gallery, disintegrating both a train crossing and all of the trees in the immediate vicinity. It’ll probably be a few days before anybody gets a good assessment of the damage, but the good news is that tornado sirens and phone alerts worked and no fatalities were reported.

(One aside: not only are we fine, but thanks to the City of Garland keeping up proactive maintenance on power lines, we kept power all through this. The only scary moment came after returning the rental truck for last weekend’s shows: this marks two times in my life that I’ve viewed a funnel cloud from the underside, and it’s a phenomenon I’d be very happy to leave to experts.)

In the meantime, if things go quiet, it’s mostly from helping friends and neighbors dig out from the mess. Thank you for understanding, and normal snarkiness will resume shortly.

I’m Living In My Own Private Tanelorn

A little side-project tied to the October gallery open house this weekend: with the exceptions of side-trips to Tallahassee, Portland, and northeast Wisconsin, next December marks 40 years in North Texas. In that time, I haven’t done a lot of things either expected of me or intimated that it might be in my best interest. I’ve never been to South Fork or the 6th Floor Museum, I haven’t been to Six Flags Over Texas since 1982, I haven’t gone to a high school football game, and I have yet to come across a rattlesnake in the wild. (I had to go to Tallahassee for that.) One of the things I’ve wanted to do besides come across a seven-foot Western diamondback, though, was to eat prickly pear cactus fruit until I fell over, and that’s now checked off the bucket list.

The prickly pear (Opuntia spp.) is a regular component of the Texas experience. Technically, the Dallas area isn’t the eastern edge of its range (Opuntia is found growing along the Gulf Coast into the western coast of Florida, often growing in the crooks of mangrove trees), but Dallas marks where the pine trees of East Texas are supplanted by cactus. In our area, they tend to show up in poor, well-drained areas such as along culverts and bridges, and they’re just cold-tolerant enough to survive most Dallas winters. The cactus has not only been a food source for humans for centuries (the pads and fruit are referred to in Spanish as nopales and tuna respectively), but if you’re lucky, you’ll see little tufts of what look like white cotton lint on the pads. Those tufts are camouflage for the cochineal bug (Dactylopius coccus), the source for the cloth and food dye carmine. (That little bug is the main reason why prickly pear was a major invasive pest in Australia, but that’s a story for later.)

Anyway, prickly pear fruit is much like apples: just because it looks ripe doesn’t mean that it is. I’d been watching a lone cactus clump near the bike path I take to the gallery, telling myself that this would be the year that I harvested that patch. In 2017 and 2018, someone else harvested the whole lot in early September, probably realizing afterwards that nice purple tuna had all of the flavor and consistency of aquarium gravel at that point. This year, though, they stayed until mid-October, and a preliminary test suggested that the whole clump was ready. Tuna don’t have the vicious spines that the pads do, but they’re still covered with irritating hairs to dissuade cattle and other big herbivores, so it was time to go out with kitchen tongs and a big bag.

Now remember those irritating hairs I mentioned? Those need to be removed before eating. The traditional way was to burn them off, either in a campfire or in the flames of a gas stove, but silicone hot mitts also work very well in removing hairs without getting a handful. (Trust me: you do NOT want these hairs stuck in your skin, as they can take days or even weeks to pull free, and tweezers tend to break them.) Whichever you choose to clean them, a good rinse with water, and they’re ready for processing.

A lot of recipes are available for prickly pear fruit, but I knew exactly what their fate was going to be: sorbet. After coming across a good recipe, the next trick was to puree them, as the skin adheres to the pulp when they’re this ripe. Even in the initial testing with a smoothie maker, the juice was flavorful enough that it would have made a great breakfast juice. The plan, though, was to go further.

The final juicing yielded about four liters of liquefied fruit, and then came the real joy: straining. Prickly pear seeds never stop tasting like aquarium gravel, and they’re packed in enough that they’re a threat to the teeth. This meant that a new colander got quite a workout. (Friendly warning: not only will prickly pear fruit juice stain just about anything it touches, but expect at least some seeds to get through unless you’re straining through cheesecloth. Just be prepared for that.)

The next stage started after the juice chilled in the refrigerator for 24 hours, and that involved an ice cream maker. Some enthusiasts prefer making a prickly pear sorbet at relatively warm temperatures to keep up the consistency: others recommend freezing it hard so a spoon takes off shavings. However you want to do it, make sure your ice cream maker is well-cleaned, check it regularly if it’s electric, and make sure it has plenty of ice in the bucket.

The end result? Well, the end result went into ramekins and then into the freezer, and those attending this weekend’s open house gets to try it firsthand. It’s not as outré as horse crippler cactus ice cream, but if it’s popular enough, this may have to be a regular addition to the October open houses. That is, if I don’t eat it all myself.

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 1

At the beginning of the year, the plan for 2019 was simple: more shows, more unique shows, and more shows outside of Dallas. The execution, of course, involved both finding these shows and getting to them. Texas’s geography and geology entails lots of fields and scrublands between cities, and its meteorology requires being able to get between those cities as quickly as possible, especially in summer. The new touring Oddities & Curiosities Expo offered opportunities to test both geography and meteorology, and after last March’s flabbergastingly successful Dallas show, it was one of the best options for getting practice in touring.

One of the absolutes on out-of-town shows, besides the guarantee that one small but vital item will be left behind by accident (in this case, a DC-to-AC inverter for the battery powering display lights), is that you should always take any estimates of travel time and throw them through a wall. The vast majority of the trip between Dallas and Austin was as uneventful as can be expected in August: hot, sunny, and dry, and much of the perpetual road construction on Interstate Highway I-35 was complete or in its final stages. What neither I nor many other vendors expected was the near-perpetual traffic jam to the north of Austin, one that exists for no readily discernible reason, so a nearly three-hour cushion to get the Triffid Ranch booth set up turned into a frantic ten-minute rush to get plants out of the heat before the doors to the Palmer Event Center closed for the night. Thankfully, the Expo crew allowed lots of time the morning of the show to get established, so after everything cooled off overnight, it was time to get going….

To be continued…

The Aftermath: DFWS FIRST Thrift Convention – 2

One of the more interesting aspects of the recent DFWS FIRST Thrift Convention was watching the culmination of a sea change I’ve observed with shows of this sort for the last decade. The old perceptions of flea markets and thrift fairs are falling apart: why would anyone with access to a smartphone put up with a surly vendor with a pile of broken or heavily worn items at “you won’t find it anywhere else” prices? (I submit that this is a major factor in the ongoing implosion of literary science fiction conventions, too, but that’s a different dangerous vision.) Successful vendors in this new world are engaging vendors, and attendees notice and respond to naked enthusiasm. At this show, a small subset complained loudly about how the word “thrift” was misleading, as there weren’t any spectacular discounts they could steal away and sell on eBay. They were overwhelmed by a very large crowd that was willing to pay an admission fee for an experience, and boy howdy did they get one. The venue itself was a little small, but a lot of intriguing vendors, carrying items that attendees didn’t know they wanted until they saw them, didn’t mind in the slightest.

To be continued…

Enclosures: O’Keefe (2019)

Description: The request was for a custom carnivorous plant enclosure that invoked the style of Georgia O’Keefe without plagiarizing it, and the challenge was to synthesize both O’Keefe’s skyscraper period and her New Mexico period in the context of a durable carnivore enclosure.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 36″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 91.44 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes x. ventrata

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

Price: Commission: not for sale.

Shirt Price: Commission: not for sale.

State of the Gallery: May 2019

So there’s no State of the Gallery report for April 2019. This is completely my fault, mostly due to my addiction to gas station sushi, but I have an excuse. After a little over ten years of trying to turn the Texas Triffid Ranch into a viable and sustainable business, the last month is where things got busy. VERY busy. The show and open house calendar is now so packed that there might be a break around Canada Day.

(And as a note, you may notice that the photos in this posting are much better than average. This is deliberate: after years of doing for carnivorous plant photography what Jeffrey Dahmer did for vegan cuisine, it was time to hire a professional who could capture the look of Triffid Ranch enclosures. Allison David not only is a consummate professional, but she and I ran in many of the same circles with the same people that make Dallas so interesting and yet never ran into each other before now. Expect to see a lit of her photos in upcoming Triffid Ranch promotional material, particularly press releases and portfolios, and feel free to contact her for your own photographic needs.)

 

To start, most activities for the past two months have gravitated around getting everything ready for the Triffid Ranch’s tenth year at Texas Frightmare Weekend, running the weekend of May 3 at the Hyatt Regency DFW Airport. I think the only person more shocked than I at the incredible growth of Frightmare is Loyd Cryer, the founder and grand poobah, and he has every reason to be proud of this monstrous baby of his. As I write this, the plants are potted and awaiting loading, and now all I’m doing is waiting for the inevitable potential disaster to start off what turns into a spectacular show. In 2016, it was having the truck struck by lightning as I was arriving: so what happens in 2019?

Most years, the weekend after Frightmare is dedicated to quiet introspection. Well, if lying on the floor and twitching all day Saturday is introspection, I’ll take it. However, it’s time to take a lead from the title of my most-missed 1990s-era glossy magazine and plan for the next weekend. This time, it’s a matter of putting down roots in my home town, as the Garland Urban Flea opens its may event in downtown Garland, Texas on May 11. Previously, work schedules and weather conspired against setting up a tent at Garland Urban Flea (when the National Weather Service describes the day’s weather by running clips of the Star Trek episode “The Doomsday Machine,” odds are pretty good that nobody is coming to the show unless they own a bathyscaphe, as I’ve learned to my sorrow in the past), so here’s hoping that the weather that Saturday is clement and calm. And stop laughing: Texas weather isn’t THAT bad.

The next weekend is a quiet one, right? Noooope. Because June promises to be even busier, we’re holding the next Triffid Ranch open house on Saturday, May 18 from 6:00 to closing, with the opportunity for those previously unfamiliar with the gallery to view new plant enclosures and arrangements. No theme this time: it’s all about being glad that you’re coming out to take a look.

The next weekend is Memorial Day weekend. That’ll be a weekend to relax and recuperate, right? Well, maybe on Monday, but Saturday, May 25 is dedicated to the Triffid Ranch’s first-ever show in Denton, Texas for Punk Palooza.  This is going to be a return for a lot of reasons, the least of which being in a very disturbing alternate reality, I’d be returning to the University of North Texas to celebrate the fruits of either my journalism or my Radio/Television/Film degree from UNT. Yeah, that’s an alternate reality that keeps me awake at night, too.

And after that? June 1 and 8 are reserved for private events at the gallery, but then it’s back on the road for Swizzle’s Waipuna Tiki Flea in Dallas on June 15. Those who may remember last year’s Swizzle event may remember how much fun it was even with rain and a cold front coming through, and June in Dallas is generally noted for “warm and sunny.” Besides, having several friends in the tiki bar culture gives then excuses to visit Dallas, so everybody wins.

Well, that’s about it for the next six weeks: after that, it all depends upon the weather and whether we have a reasonably mild summer or another repeat of 2011 or 1980. If the former, lots of long-range travel is in the forecast. If the latter, guess who’s getting additional air conditioning units for the gallery and stocking up on frozen blueberries?

Introducing “Simon”

Apologies for things going a bit quiet, and for once, impending shows only take half of the blame. The other half is due to our adopting a new chew toy for our cat Alexandria: with Leiber gone, she was threatening to resemble a Thylacosmilus if her teeth didn’t get worn down regularly. Say hello to “Simon.”

Simon continues a 30-year run of adopting homeless cats: he apparently was found as a kitten abandoned at the University of Texas at Dallas campus. Although he appears to have some Abyssinian or Siamese heritage, he doesn’t express it: aside from the occasional chirp, he’s as silent as Alexandria. He also has the thinnest drybrush of white fur at his chest, which is about the only way to tell the two apart without picking them up. He also loathes being picked up: the biggest difference is that he’s as muscular as the typical brisket, and just as easy to put down without dropping when he’s determined to move.

As can be expected at this stage, we’re still assessing each others’ idiosyncrasies, but he’s already earned a nickname because of his habit of looking up soulfully and stage-falling to the ground. Those familiar with the Clifford Simak short story “Drop Dead” can appreciate why his now-permanent nickname is “Critter”.

Anyway, the real fun will be watching him react to the constant packing and unpacking of show season: if he decides he likes riding in the car, we may be in trouble.

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale – 8

(The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale is a regular Email newsletter, with archives available on the main TTR site at least a month after first publication. To receive the latest newsletters, please subscribe.)

Originally published on March 22, 2019

Most books on the history of classic Japanese gardens relate how the form really took off thanks to the number of veteran samurai seeking a way to heal after years of war. Not enough is discussed about the current trend of outre and gonzo artists, writers, and musicians seeking the same peace after decades of battling corporate culture. It’s reasonable to assume that priorities at 50 are different than those at 25, or that age gives a polish and a patience better suited for gardening right when the artist needs a break from waking up angry and going to bed angrier. It’s even more reasonable to assume that gardening is a side-project best engaged when working on other, presumably worthier projects at an impasse. However one wants to look at it, those involved with punk bands in the Eighties or zine culture in the Nineties tend to look at what they’ve done up to that point, look at the bare patch of soil next to the telephone pole at the streetlight, and decide “Forget working on that riot grrl revival album. I really need pumpkins in my life.”
 
Nowhere is this more prominent than in discovering the fate of Edgar Harris. Some of you may remember  Edgar Harris if you read a lot of science fiction-related magazines and Web sites between 1993 and 2002. First seeing print in the long-dead magazine Science Fiction Eye (best known for its multiyear delays between issues, to the point of it being nicknamed “The Last Dangerous Magazine”), Harris reached his pinnacle as the Sports Editor for the glossy monthly Science Fiction Age in the late Nineties. Often compared at the time to famed writers and essayists Slats Grobnik, Raoul Duke, and Cordwainer Bird, Harris’s work for the Age combined a style described as “somewhere between inspired and actionable” with a personal ethos of “leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photos, and break your foot off in someone’s ass at every available opportunity.” At writers’ conferences and conventions, he managed to cover the latest scandals and impending lawsuits without ever being photographed or caught on video in turn. Neutrinos make more of an impression passing through than he did while chasing a story. Even his short foray in Hollywood, both in screenwriting and directing, left almost no lipstick traces, and queries about the work print for his uncompleted 1996 movie go unanswered. Harris had tremendous influence, mostly because he refused to make the story about him, and some wondered if his enthusiastic uurge to give credit to cohorts and underlings in print was a matter of recognition of superior talents or an opportunity to put others in the line of fire. Those who knew him admitted that both were probably true. 
 
Because of his skill at evading capture and extradition, Edgar Harris’s disappearance from journalism in 2002 was only a surprise in retrospect. His presence was like an extended bout of the flu, where you only realize that you’re no longer sick when you get into the shower and realize “Hey, I’m no longer coughing up blood.” He had already seen the future of periodical publishing’s illness, and got out before its coughing up blood switched to coughing up urine. Where he went, what he did, what he saw, who he ate…all of these were vague mysteries for years, and getting answers required a lot more than a quick Google search.
 
This was why Harris’s reappearance was so shocking. Like so many of us, he channeled his blue-hot rage at the universe into something productive. The difference is that nobody expected him to master video editing, microphotography, acoustics, and Olmec ceramics AND combine all of these disciplines into a documentary on horticulture. We even less expected a companion book with its own companion volume of citations and references. Absolutely no person on the face of the planet expected these to be previewed with a non-disclosure agreement. Because of this, a proper review is absolutely impossible, and even writing this much leads to extended correspondence with lawyers as to what can be revealed before the documentary’s release date. 
 
Now, in the nearly twenty years since I last saw Harris, he’s both simultaneously mellowed out and become more intense, so we had a few “discussions” on what any review could say. I say “discussions,” but “naked threats” and “promises of release of information unaffected by statutes of limitations” work well, too. What I can say is this:

Compost.

Radioisotopes.

Radish.

Regolith simulant.

Microstresses.
 
Snot.
 
The correct pronunciation of “axolotl.”
 
With this sort of content, you can’t go wrong. Screenings of [REDACTED] [REDACTED] Oranges, [REDACTED] start in April, at sites to be disclosed. While waiting, be sure to buy the book, either from your local bookstore or through the publisher’s Web site, NOW. Trust me: you won’t regret it.

Other News

In other delusions, the new essay The Magician’s Garden appeared in the 150th issue of Clarkesworld this month, and another essay is being finished right now. Yes, these are relapses from a long period of professional writing abstinence, but the opportunity to write about botany and the fantastic was just too good to pass up. Well, that and the fact that these are paying assignments. As to whether there will be any others, that honestly depends upon both the general response and the ongoing run of Clarkesworld. In the meantime, enjoy the essay, and feel free to let the publisher and editor know how much you like it.

Recommended Reading

Thanks to a close acquaintance on Twitter bringing up museum exhibit design, the last month’s reading has been a serious trip down the rabbit hole, with the ultimate result hopefully being improved enclosure design, improved enclosure presentation, and improved informative labels. At the top of the reading pile is the second edition of Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach by Beverly Serrell, which collates and interprets expert views on what should and should not be on a museum label, and why. For those who haven’t been to a Triffid Ranch open house yet, expect a lot of changes over the next few months, particularly as far as descriptions and interpretations are concerned, and this book is directly responsible. After all, why spend years at ground level designing new interpretive labels when so many others have shed blood and ear wax to perfect the discipline?

Music

And in the context of lipstick traces on popular culture, a discussion with a younger friend about interesting music in the 1970s revealed that he had no knowledge whatsoever on the one British band responsible for influencing half of rock music over the subsequent four decades. It’s not that surprising that most American rock enthusiasts have never heard of Hawkwind, as getting any airplay whatsoever in the US was pretty much impossible. With that in mind, though, Hawkwind has an oversized influence on the big movements in rock since then: without this odd little space rock band, you wouldn’t have had Pink FloydBlue Oyster Cult, the Sex Pistols and PiL, or the Flaming Lips, among many others. Likewise, if the original lead singer hadn’t been fired on a drug possession charge, he wouldn’t have split off, named his new band after a Hawkwind song, and completely changed the face of heavy metal. (Yes, I’m talking about Lemmy of Motorhead.)
Nearly a half-century later, the band is still going along, and the fact that Hawkwind tribute bands aren’t crossing the US every day is an injustice that needs to be rectified. I have some personal skin in this: there’s nothing quite like the look on a younger rock fan’s face that coming across songs like “Silver Machine” or “Song of the Swords” for the first time, because now I get to see the look I had on MY face thirty years ago when I was scouring obscure record shops for new listening.

Manchester United Flower Show: Cancelled

This is the first time in four years that a scheduled gallery event has had to be cancelled, but this is the first time I’ve caught a stomach bug like this before an open house, and you do NOT want to catch it. Apologies to everyone who had plans: we’ll reschedule as soon as we can.

I’m Living In My Own Private Tanelorn

Clarkesworld magazine - March 2019

For those who tuned in late, your humble gallery operator once used to be a pro writer. Thirty years ago this month, my first published article appeared in the pages of the long-defunct science fiction zine New Pathways, and that continued for another 13 years. Ten years ago this month, the first collection from that wild period, Greasing the Pan, saw print. After that, aside from a few relapses, bupkis. It was a very easy decision to stay away, if not for much-missed friends and cohorts who kept assuming that I’d come back “any day now.” I may write occasionally on subjects of particular passion, but I’m not going back to being a writer, and I’ve had to excise a lot of people, all of whom assume that the calendar will flip back to 1997 any day now, who refuse to understand the difference.

And now the latest relapse: a discussion on sorcerers’ gardens and on running magical nurseries as a business, in the March 2019 Clarkesworld. Most of this was due to wanting to explore certain tropes in fantasy literature with a high potential for humor (let’s face it: “Johnny Pink Bunkadooseed” would make a great story), and part of it was due to the reputation of nonfiction editor Kate Baker. This isn’t the only planned relapse: I’m currently composing a similar take on unorthodox carnivorous plant tropes for the April issue. Just don’t expect a return to pro writing, because the gallery and its care is a lot more important.

In the meantime, feel free to spread this far and wide, because I can’t wait to read the stories and novels running with the concepts therein. And because every idea thief needs to leave his knife, this wouldn’t have happened without the influence of Tobias Buckell, Saladin Ahmed, and the crimefighting team of Ernest Hogan and Emily Devenport. Always give credit to friends: always.

State of the Gallery: February 2019

Anniversary time at the Triffid Ranch. As of next week, it’s been two years since we packed up the last of the stuff in the old gallery, swept out the floors, handed in the keys, and drove the moving truck one last time to the new location. Oh, there was sadness that last day, as sheetrock barriers went up and all of us departing artists shook hands and wished each other the best. Two years later, the last of the stuff frantically put on shelves and in closets to make room is FINALLY getting put in proper locations. That’s perfect, considering the number of new commissions and projects that need to go out the door in 2019: the best thing for any artist isn’t about finding room to show off the latest project, but in working on new projects to replace the projects that just sold. Between a superior location and less commute time from the Day Job to the new gallery every day, this simply wouldn’t have been possible if we’d stayed at the old Valley View spot. And should I mention the new airbrush station?

(And as an aside, I thank everyone who keeps forwarding Dallas Morning News columns about the ongoing non-demolition of Valley View Center, but it’s time to let it go. I say this not only because, as is Dallas’s fashion, the current spate of lawsuits involving the property pretty much guarantee that nothing’s going to happen to the mall for years and possibly decades, until the cases are resolved or the grandchildren of everyone involved decide it’s time to get a real job and move on. It’s also because the only person who really cares any more is the James Lipton of Fandom over at the Morning News, because he had so much pinned on being able to get into the promised Midtown mall before anybody else. The mall that, based on his ecstatic front-page press release transcriptions in 2016, was supposed to be finished with initial construction and moving in tenants by now. I understand his attachment to memories of Valley View: his first swirly, the first time he pitched a fit about getting freebies he claimed he was going to review, the first time high school classmates told him to wait for them at Valley View so they could go to Prestonwood or the Galleria in peace without his obsessively yapping about Star Trek and comic books…I understand. I know the feeling all too well, and I got a life because that vague nostalgia for something that wasn’t all that great doesn’t accomplish a thing. However, considering that every column on Valley View still has the same underlying theme of “Do you know who I am? I used to have my own CABLE SHOW!”, reading any more goes contrary to my favorite Bible passage, Proverbs 26:11. If he’d had any concern for the artists and retailers being forced out of Valley View before last month, instead of crowing about its demolition, I might feel a bit differently, but that change was only because of his butthurt over the mall’s owner not returning his phone calls, and not because he gave a damn about Dallas artists and retailers. End rant.)

Anyway, the rest of February and the beginning of March are going to be a bit quiet, but only in the way setting the right seismic charges deep within the Earth’s crust is quieter than the resultant eruption of a significant portion of that crust into orbit as our newest moon. In addition to several commissions, this time of the year is vital for getting everything ready for spring. Cleaning out the Sarracenia pools, checking the rainwater caches, getting seeds for carnivores and peppers stratified before temperatures rise…it may stop, but it never ends. That affects the upcoming show schedule, too: as mentioned last month, we made the hard decision to pull out as vendors at March’s All-Con, mostly due to Day Job commitments that made appearing at a four-day convention impossible. Right now, the first Triffid Ranch show of the year will be at the Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo in Fair Park on March 30, and we’re awaiting word about the standby list for a big show shortly after that. As we hear more, we’ll pass it on.

I’ll also add that things get even more interesting on those commissions, because sometimes having to sit on something for a while yields unexpected benefits. Nearly a decade ago, what started as a vague suggestion from a cohort turned into a major project to convert an old first-generation iMac into a working and useable plant enclosure. The resultant iTerrarium led to a bit of coverage and a lot of smartaleck comments (including one Cat Piss Man who sat in front of my booth at the 2012 All-Con repeatedly snarking “That’s the one good use for a Mac” until I got up to confront him: I wonder what happened to him?), and other projects got in the way. Well, never underestimate late 1990s nostalgia, because I was just commissioned to do several more. Best of all, because of serious changes in in both lighting and painting technology, it’s possible to do these with higher light levels, lower heat buildup, and less general maintenance. Expect details within the next month, as I make the developers of white-light LEDs just a little bit richer.

Happy Darwin Day

Today is a very special day at the Triffid Ranch: it’s time to celebrate the 210th birthday of Charles Darwin. Others in the scientific and horticultural communities have their own specific reasons to celebrate Darwin’s birthday, but the overriding reason around here is simple: the publication in 1875 of the book Insectivorous Plants. Darwin’s research into the mechanics and chemistry of carnivorous plants obviously predated such tools as radioisotope tracing and DNA sequencing, but all such research into carnivores today depends to an extent on his careful study 150 years ago. While you’re out and about today, hoist a beverage of your choice in the direction of Westminster Abbey and toast this singular individual, without whose studies the current study of carnivorous plants would have been very different.

Have a Great 2019


When I was in high school, I read a comment in a magazine from a neurologist stating that “pain is the body’s way of keeping you from dying of tetanus from stepping on rusty nails all day.” One of the many regrets of my feckless youth was that I didn’t write down the magazine’s name nor the doctor’s name, because this statement should be the Triffid Ranch’s mission statement. When you think of all of the important advice given by the wise to the young, most of it may sound as if it’s intended to avoid death. Go back to all of the important advice given by parents, family, teachers, co-workers: it’s not intended to avoid death, but to avoid pain. Don’t run with scissors. Don’t pick up the cat by the tail. Don’t stick your fingers in a light socket. Don’t hold firecrackers in your hand and then light them with a sparkler. Unplug the lawn mower spark plug before reaching underneath. Always cook dried beans for a while before eating them. None of these may kill you outright or even quickly, but it’s amazing how mind-searing pain will make you choose differently with subsequent decisions. I’d tell you how I know this, but let’s just say that I had no fingerprints on my right hand between 1984 and 1987. (I won’t even talk about why I avoid New Year’s Eve festivities, considering that one New Year’s Eve 25 years ago led to a slew of bad decisions that cascaded and replicated into the 21st Century. An assemblage of the alternate individuals I’d be today if I’d just stayed home at the end of 1993 could populate a reboot of Orphan Black.)

 In lieu of the usual look back on the previous year with hope of learning lessons from it, let’s look at 2019 with the idea that we all learned something from 2018. It doesn’t have to be much, but the desired goal is to note what causes us blinding agony, and, you know, maybe avoiding said agony for the duration of one’s lifespan. If it’s a particularly pertinent lesson, maybe it’ll become impressed into myth and legend: “You see how that person stops everything and silently cries every day at noon for an hour? DON’T DO WHAT THEY DID.” Likewise, if the action or lack thereof led to a significant cessation of pain or even an overload of joy, this deserves at least as much attention.

Numero Uno: It’s time to drop nostalgia. The new book Typeset in the Future: Typography and Design in Science Fiction Movies by Dave Addey came out a couple of weeks ago, and the chapter on the future realism of 2001: A Space Odyssey contained a gem about the videophone shown near the beginning of the film. Bell Telephone had originally premiered the videophone in 1964, with the intention of introducing videophones across the world based on the exceptional response it received at the 1964 World’s Fair. The problem was that the perceived demand didn’t actually exist except among a few executives looking for an excuse to launch it: the alleged ecstatic survey results came from people who attended the World’s Fair, who made their way to the Bell demo, who tried the videophone, and then stated that they’d be willing to pay for video calls if videophones were available. Nobody ran research of how many people would be willing to pay for videophone service who didn’t see the demo at the World’s Fair, or even if they’d run in the other direction and start communicating with carrier pigeons if videophones were the only other option. Bell finally gave up after spending millions of dollars on pushing a videophone solution that just didn’t appeal to any but a very few, and a solution that was a lot more expensive than existing phone options at the time with no obvious must-have bonus. (It’s very telling that Skype and other video apps only took off when the price of a video call dropped to nothing, and when the technology necessary to make said calls was easily folded into other technology that was easy to access and transport.)

That, in a nutshell, summed up a lot of attempts in 2018 to revive events and venues that died in the 1990s. Either it’s easy to forget that the people who keep nagging about reviving a dead venue have no obligation to put down money on it, the people organizing it are so attached to fond memories from decades past that they assume that everyone else must be as into it as they are, or the intended audience has simply grown past or expects more. If more than ten years have gone by between the last time the venue was open and its revival, the odds are pretty good that its original audience is too distracted to notice its return, and training a new audience as to why This Is A Big Deal may take too long. More than 20 years, and the bright young kids that made the event or venue what it was are probably grandparents by now. What appeals to them probably won’t to their grandkids, and any attempt to revive a venue has to take those grandkids into account.

This may be a roundabout way to explain why you shouldn’t expect to see a Triffid Ranch tent at the Woodstock 50th anniversary event next year (mostly because “lectures by noted futurists” bring on horrible flashbacks of being trapped in a broom closet with Bruce Sterling in 1999), but it’s also a warning not to expect to see the tent at other revivals. There’s just not enough of a return, and new events and venues are a lot more fun.

Numero Two-o: Forget Facebook. 2018 was an experiment in getting more word out about Triffid Ranch events and open houses via social media, and the final tally is a resounding “meh.” Sadly, Facebook is the one that’s getting cut out more and more in 2019: the pressure to boost articles on Facebook Pages in order for readers to see them is getting ridiculous, more people are either leaving or cutting back on Facebook because of its much-publicized security and privacy issues, and then there’s the whole problem with trying to gauge commitment based on a medium that has no expectations tied to it. The money spent in 2018 on trying to reach new attendees via Facebook is better spent on signing up for more local shows, and if I want to go with ads again, I’ll go with a more effective medium, like AM radio.

Numero Three-o: Focus on home. The very good news about the gallery is that the move to the current location means that a lot of the perceived stigma of being at Valley View Center is gone. (At least now I no longer get people bellowing “But the mall is going to be torn down!” when I pass on the new address.) Now the trick is to get the word out to people already well-trained to ignore ads. Thankfully, the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex has a simply incredible number of one- and two-day markets and shows scheduled through 2019, so the plan is to set up at as many as weather allows. This includes forays into Austin and Houston as well, because I miss friends, customers, and cohorts south of Dallas.

Number Four-o: Don’t forget the little people. When friends finally get a major return on years of hard work with a new book, a movie deal, or a museum show, I always tell them “Now, don’t forget us little people when you’re accepting your Nobel.” I’m only half-joking: not only do I have faith that they WILL get that Nobel Prize, but it’s a reminder to me. I haven’t spent enough time thanking all of the people and organizations that helped get the Triffid Ranch off the ground and where it is, and 2019 is the year where that goes into overdrive. To everyone who came out to a gallery show, stopped by a booth at one of 2018’s shows, or who simply keeps reading site updates while waiting for a new episode of Starcher Trek, thank you, and I’m going to do my utmost to repay the kindness. Now let’s put 2018 in its grave before it can bite one last time.

Have a Great Weekend

16 years of marriage as of today, and it just keeps getting better. Considering that most of the dead pool bets were around “six months,” I sometimes wonder if we should have taken a dive at the end of 2003, divorced, collected the money, and continued to live in sin.

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale – #1

(The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale is a regular Email newsletter, with archives available on the main TTR site at least a month after first publication. To receive the latest newsletters, please subscribe.)

Originally published on April 23, 2018

Okay, so a newsletter? An email newsletter in 2018? Did the clock shift back two decades and return to a day where CD-ROMs and CRT monitors are still the standard? Don’t you know that social media is THE way to reach customers, vendors, and interested passersby? Are you still using a flip phone or something?

Ahem. Here’s the explanation for the item you currently have in your email archive. As a concept, social media is great, but it’s getting, well, a little high-strung. It’s a great group of places to lose a few hours while waiting for the UPS guy to sneak up and leave a “We couldn’t reach you!” Post-It, but it has so little of the oomph for business that it had at the beginning of the decade. A lot of this was inevitable: with over a billion people on Facebook, so much will fall off the radar just because it doesn’t meet one of Facebook’s new algorithms. By 2018, sharing new content on Facebook makes money and attracts customers for Facebook, and that’s about it. By way of example, an absolutely unexaggerated and hyperbolic description of a day on Facebook:

(Wakes up early and chipper, spends an hour sifting through requests and comments before starting the day.)

Me: “I have a thing!”

(Crickets.)

Facebook: Your recent post is getting more responses than 90 percent of the posts on your Page!  Would you care to pay $50 to boost it so it can be read by more people?”

(Contemplates whether it’s important enough to get out there, decides “Yes.”)

(Posts a news article on a topic of interest to the Page readership: crickets.)

(Five notices on Facebook Messenger from acquaintances, all with the subject “OMG Did You See This?” Every last one is of the article posted five minutes earlier.)

Facebook: “You didn’t respond quickly enough to your messages. Respond faster to turn on the badge!”

(Note more messages, all from the same person within a 5-minute period, demanding to know if the gallery is open at 2 in the morning. Discover that the person in question was parked in front of the gallery, having stopped by at 2 ayem on the way back to Abilene, absolutely furious that the words “Open By Appointment” aren’t synonyms for “Open 24 Hours.”)

New message: “I bought a fern at Walmart six months ago, and it’s dying! HELP ME!!!!!!!”

New message: “I see that you wrote about a plant you saw in Nicaragua four years ago, and I need to come by and buy one. Don’t tell me to buy one online, because I don’t buy anything online.”

New post on the Page: “I have Venus Flytrap seeds for sale! Real flytrap seeds: not weed seeds at all! Buy them at Ebay, seller name ‘AbsolutelyNotScammer’.”

(Suddenly realize that Facebook changed its preferences AGAIN, and anybody can post. Lock down page again.)

New Message: “I wanted to let everyone know about the garage sale I’m running this weekend, and I can’t post it on your Page. FIX IT!”

Response to original “I have a thing!” posting:  “Did you see this?” (Blanketbombs fifty people with the same bad video about Venus flytraps biting some neckbeard’s tongue and drawing blood.)

Me: “Ummmm…That’s not quite accurate. In fact, it’s not even remotely accurate.”

Idiot: “YES IT IS! LOOK IT UP!”

(Go back to read an interesting post shared by a friend of a friend, only to have Facebook reload the news feed and cause the post to disappear forever.)

New Message: “Hello? I need to let people know about my garage sale in Boise! I have a couple of flowerpots for sale!”

New Message: “I bought Venus flytrap seeds from a seller on Ebay, and they turned out to be weed seeds. How are we going to get my money back?”

New Message: “I bought a Venus flytrap at Walmart, and I don’t know anything about it. Tell me everything I’ll ever need to know about caring for it, right now.”

(Respond with a collection of links that should answer all of the questions.)

New Message: “No, I want YOU to tell me. And right now, because I have to get to work.”

Response to original posting: “I’m having a garage sale, and you’re all invited!”

New Message: “My post about the Venus Flytrap seeds for sale is gone. Fix!”

New Message: “I’m a doctor/lawyer/real estate executive, I just read about this incredibly rare and exceptionally hard-to-raise pitcher plant that I HAVE to have for my office, and nobody in North America has one for sale. Do you take Bitcoin?”

Response to original posting: “ANYBODY WHO DOESN’T AGREE WITH MY POLITICS NEEDS TO DIE!”

New posting: “Is Facebook turning into LiveJournal circa 2010, or into CB radio circa 1976?”

Response to new posting: “THEY NEED TO DIE!”

Facebook: “Would you like to boost your new post?”

(Goes to bed.)

Meanwhile, over at Twitter, one of the platform’s biggest strengths is consolidating scientists and researchers to where they can cross interdisciplinary boundaries thirty times before breakfast:

(Innumerable people much smarter than I’ll ever be sharing their latest research)

“Hello? I have a thing!”

(Take in their research for the next six hours, flabbergasted at the variety and range of subjects being discussed, and trying not to cry “I suck! I suck!” every fifteen seconds.)

“I’m going to go over here for a while, but I have a thing if you’re interested.”

(Spends the next two days working on cheap and effective time travel in order to go back to 1989, confront my previous self about his lack of ambition, and beat him to death with a cricket bat.)

And that’s the “why” behind “why a newsletter?” It serves multiple purposes: it might be buried in an email box, but it’s more likely to be read than a newsfeed that’s completely reconstituted with the push of a “Back” button. A newsletter format allows a lot of extra related topics to be shared without separate postings, it’s amenable to being converted into print form for shows and events, it’s easy to archive for those wanting to fall down a rabbit hole on a dull Sunday afternoon, and it’s remarkably hard to hijack. It’s been a decade since the Triffid Ranch had a newsletter, and this should be an interesting project. After all, if my friend Alan Robson can keep a fun and useful newsletter going for the last two decades, maybe it’s time to jump back in.

Developments and Projects

For those who haven’t been to the Web site for a while, the Enclosure Gallery section is a bit loaded, and expect to see more in the next few months after the spring show season ends. Of particular note is a new enclosure that premieres next month, as a culmination of several months of very, VERY precise and tedious glasswork. Of course, the real fun involves the next two, where the lessons imparted by the first help cut down on development time on the second and third.

Gallery Shows

Thanks to the vagaries of Texas climate, the last two Triffid Ranch gallery shows had the unfortunate habit of coinciding with extreme weather. Back in February, the pre-Valentine’s Day Date Night opening came with ice storms to the north and west; April’s show had tornadoes to the north and hailstorms to the south, with lots of rain in the center. (Recovering from bronchitis the latter weekend meant having to skip out on the final day of the Deep Ellum Arts Festival, which was only then draining dry from the three to five inches of water under every tent in the festival.) The plan for next June’s gallery show is to avoid anything other than THE INSIDES OF MY LUNGS ARE ON FIRE heat (better known as “the end of June” in Dallas), and take advantage of the attractions of nighttime activities and air conditioning for those not wanting to leave over the extended Fourth of July/Canada Day weekend. Expect details soon.

Out-Of-Gallery Experiences

This being the middle of April, the biggest Triffid Ranch show of the year starts the first weekend of May when Texas Frightmare Weekend opens, and that’s not all that’s planned. The annual trip to Austin in November for the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays gift show happens the weekend of November 11, and I’m currently awaiting word from several other art shows in North Texas over autumn. Meanwhile, Frightmare is the important show, with a worldwide pool of attendees and vendors to match. Carnivorous plants aren’t the sole reason for coming out to Frightmare, but they add a particularly appropriate spice, so expect a lot of photos up on the main site after it’s all done.

Soundtrack

One of the interesting side effects of so much time in the gallery and the commutes to and from the site is getting caught up on intriguing music in a way that would have been impossible in the days before streaming services. (Seriously, anybody with a nostalgia for the 1980s wasn’t there, especially when it came to buying or listening to music. Do you really want to go back to the days when the only options in most areas were shopping mall music shops like Musicland and Sound Warehouse, where asking for anything other than Phil Collins or Huey Lewis got sneers of “We don’t carry anything that isn’t from a major label”? I bet you get nostalgic for Waldenbooks, too.) Combine that with the ability for fans of particular styles and genres to get together in ways that were equally impossible 30 years ago, and we have whole new genres and subgenres exploding like unwatched trumpetvine.

Such is the case for Austin-based One Eyed Doll: twenty years ago, if you’d said “Hey, I really have a hankering for goth music that’s laugh-out-loud funny,” you might have been pointed in the direction of Voltaire and that’s about it. In that intervening time, the pairing of guitarist and vocalist Kimberly Freeman and drummer “Junior” means a range of everything from hilarious (“Because You’re a Vampire”) to ultraserious (“Eucharist”) that becomes more listenable with every album. Live shows are a trip, too, and the band plays often enough in Dallas that it might be time to see about getting together a Triffid Ranch crowd for the next tour.

Shoutouts and Kickbacks

Those brand new to the Triffid Ranch may not know this, but fifteen years of carnivorous plant cultivation was preceded by 13 years of professional writing career, starting with long-dead and unlamented zines and culminating with long-dead and unlamented national magazines and weekly newspapers before the decision was made to leave early to avoid the rush. Some friendships didn’t survive the transition, but two friendships were vital in escaping the urge to backslide.

The first, Jeff VanderMeer, might be a name that you recognize, thanks to the movie adaptation of his novel Annihilation that saw release back in March.  My friendship with Jeff was a pivot in my life without realizing it: after quitting pro writing in 2002, my life was at serious loose ends, and when a company I didn’t know called about a technical writer position in Tallahassee, Florida, I asked the one person I knew from Tally “So what’s it like?” His “Oh, God, you aren’t going to be my NEIGHBOR, are you?” whimper didn’t dissuade my packing up my old Plymouth Neon and moving halfway across the continent, and while the job that brought me out there imploded after three months, the addiction to carnivorous plants that started 24 hours after arriving in town continues stronger than ever. For that, I can never repay Jeff’s kindness, including asking me “Give me one good reason why I should let you live” the first time we met face to face. (I was raving about seeing my first tree frog outside of a zoo enclosure to someone who had lived with them all of his life, so I definitely don’t blame him.)

Anyway, this is a roundabout way of saying that the paperback edition of Jeff’s novel Borne just saw release, with all sorts of extras in the back. (It’s been a while since I bought any books that weren’t nonfiction, so it’s a pleasant surprise to find study and reader group guides, additional glossaries and pictorials, and other extras as an inducement to buy a trade paperback edition.) Borne is enough of a read, full of ecological collapse, ribofunk technology, and a Godzilla-sized venomous flying bear named Mord, among many other joys. Jeff is currently on tour to promote the paperback version, so if he should drop in your vicinity, just walk up to him with your newly purchased copy and ask him “So what the hell is the problem with that plant guy in Texas?”, just to watch the expression of utter collapse and defeat before he starts screaming into his hands. Trust me: Jeff will thank you for it.

And because we need to focus on the other side of North America, let’s look at Arizona. My friendship with Ernest Hogan started with his justifiably beating on film reviews he described as “ecstatic press releases,” and the hits just kept coming. Ernest and his wife Emily Devenport are both exemplary writers and serious natural history enthusiasts, spending much of their free time in the desert, and neither of them have given me much grief for nearly thirty years of abuse. Ernest’s third novel, Smoking Mirror Blues, was just reissued in an expanded E-book edition through Amazon, and Em’s newest novel Medusa Uploaded is coming out in May. Make sure to buy copies for all of your friends (the covers on both gave me ideas for upcoming plant enclosures for months), and if they both hit the New York Times Bestseller List, maybe Em will finally forgive me for the “Stimpy” joke.

Errata

That’s about it for now. As promised, this newsletter is irregular, and neither will you be overloaded with too many, but your privacy is paramount. It’s the least we can do.

Just Planting Seeds

For your consideration:

Personal Interlude: The Honeymoon Wall

When composing and constructing plant enclosures for the Triffid Ranch gallery, a lot of back stories and inside jokes get mixed in. Sometimes, it’s serendipity, with an object with a lot of backstory that just happens to be the perfect inclusion to a new enclosure, and a little voice in the back row says “Let it go, so someone else can appreciate it.” Others are items with so much context that they encourage the construction of the whole arrangement. However, keep an eye open for one particular set of additions, because there’s some sentiment tied to it.

 My parents-in-law first moved to their house in the late 1960s, back when Dallas was still just a bit more than a town and long before the oil boom of the 1980s expanded its sprawl in all directions. My wife spent the first days of her life in that house, and grew up not far away from the gallery’s current location. She has all sorts of stories about how the neighborhood changed over the decades, with new people moving in to replace those who moved elsewhere, additions added and removed (she loves telling the story of the neighbors who refused to clean their big sunken pool and thereby deal with the clouds of mosquitoes rising off it every evening, so she introduced bullfrogs that made so much noise that the neighbors took out the pool), walking a succession of Norwegian elkhounds to friends’ houses, and keeping in touch even after moving out on her own. Her story became my own in 2002, including the house hosting our wedding reception. The years went on, with my planting roses I’d grown from cuttings taken from roses planted in front of our own house and neglected. The roses at the original house were cut back too far just before the worst heat wave since 1980: they’re gone, but the cuttings are still in the back yard, throwing off gigantic pink and red blooms to everyone’s delight.

 Eventually, though, the story of my in-laws’ time in the house had to end. The house was already too large for them to maintain easily when Caroline and I married, and the tales of my father-in-law installing Christmas lights on the eaves outside went from comedy to incipient terror. Finally, at the end of August, they made the decision to move from the monster house in which they’d resided for a half-century, and moved into a retirement apartment. The house went through the now-inevitable estate sale, and then it went onto the market. We just received word that an offer had been made by a couple that admired it and wanted to keep it as it was and not tear it down for replacement with a McMansion, so we can still drive by from time to time and share our memories. Its actual involvement in our lives, though, is done. As someone who moved a lot both as a kid and as an adult, I had defense mechanisms in place to mourn in my own time, but it’s understandably hit Caroline a lot harder than she thought would happen.

 That’s where the Honeymoon Wall comes in. To hear my mother-in-law tell it, her dream with this house was to put a stone wall in the back, a promise she made on her honeymoon. It took a little longer than she planned, and that wall required building an extension declared “the playroom”. The stone came from trips to the Rocky Mountains, ranging from a deep navy igneous rock to a truly stunning light green stone with darker blue veining running through it from all directions. The Honeymoon Wall, once finished, witnessed the family growing, spreading, and reuniting, including our reception, and the chunks of rock that didn’t make the wall were incorporated into edging on a wildflower garden in the center of the back yard. That was the state of affairs until the estate sale was over and the house was vacated for the last time.

Before the house was cleared, all of the extended family was asked about taking everything not needed for the new apartment, and I was asked repeatedly “are you SURE you don’t want anything?” I really didn’t: we had our own furniture and our own keepsakes, but I asked if I could rescue some of the rocks in the back. One included a rather large petrified log found in the Brazos River decades before, and the rest of them were extra Honeymoon Wall pieces. A bit of experimentation revealed that they polished up in a rock tumbler quite nicely: they weren’t gem quality, but the blue stone was mistaken for sodalite, and the green was different enough that it caught almost everyone’s eye.

Now, a month after the estate sale, the experiment goes to its next stage. The idea is to add pieces of those Honeymoon Wall extras, big and small, to new enclosures, starting with “Hoodoo” from October. Those who know the story will recognize and appreciate the bits of Honeymoon Wall as they encounter them, and I hope to be in the business of constructing carnivorous plant enclosures long enough that customers specifically look for the tumbled stones. For everyone else, though, it’s all about the hidden context: they won’t know that the stone in their enclosures had its origins in a wish nearly seventy years old, but I will, and knowing that bits of that wish are spread across the continent is good enough. Selah.

Have a Great Weekend

I’m out at the Dallas Fantasy Fair as you read this, but it’s time to reminisce. 20 years ago this Sunday, the final broadcast of a television experiment went shooting out of Earth’s atmosphere. It wasn’t the catalyst, and it certainly wasn’t the cause, but that broadcast was a good marker for my life Before and my life After. Considering how the life After turned out, the show’s final message couldn’t be more appropriate. Here’s to everyone, including an old friend who is still horribly missed, who changed the world without realizing it at the time.

When There’s No More Room In Hell…

For all of you having to work on Thanksgiving Day in the States, and for those working Black Friday everywhere, a reminder that the movie that popularized today’s theme song premiered 40 years ago. It’s still the best documentary about life in Dallas in the 1980s ever made.

Enclosures: Hoodoo (2018)

One of the best available arguments against the existence of advanced indigenous or extraterrestrial civilizations on Earth in the distant past is a lack incontrovertibly artificial artifacts or technological byproducts in geological deposits predating modern humans. Even with radioisotope decay, the byproducts of that decay would still be recognizable as such, as with the Oklo natural nuclear reactor. Even in a degraded or decomposed state, if an advanced civilization sent representatives from other stars, or developed on its own from native life forms millions of years ago, detritus from exploration, settling, or accidents might still be found eroding out of badlands, moraines, and other areas of rapid geologic upheaval.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24 1/2″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes veitchii

Construction: Polystyrene, polystyrene foam, epoxy putty, strontium europium glow powder, stone.

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold