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

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.