Posted onNovember 5, 2021|Comments Off on I’m Living In My Own Private Tanelorn: Wimberley, Texas – 3
After writing about carnivorous plant issues on this site for the last decade, it’s always funny when unrelated discussions lead right back to the subject at hand. A week ago, the subject was on bee burn, where Sarracenia pitcher plants catch more stinging insects than the plant can digest, particularly at the end of the growing season. A little trip to the Texas Hill Country, specifically to the town of Wimberley, independently demonstrated why.
Shortly after the actual wedding ceremony was over, when everyone sat down with beverages of their choice, we found ourselves surrounded by paper wasps. They weren’t aggressive, but they were persistent, and gentle shooing didn’t do much to convince them to go elsewhere. They weren’t just going for open drinks, either: they were going for particular pieces of clothing or jewelry, and even particular shades of lipstick. After a few minutes of consideration, Caroline of Caroline Crawford Originals, official wedding jeweler and spouse of nearly 19 years to your humble chronicler, discovered that all we needed to do was set out a spare glass full of something sweet at each table, and the wasps left us alone to get a good drink of margarita sugar syrup or Sprite. In the process, we were making our own artificial Sarracenia without realizing it.
The explanation for the wasp invasion was easy. While larval wasps are enthusiastic carnivores, adults are nearly invariably sweet-tooth acolytes, with a diet mostly made up of nectar, honeydew from aphids and scale insects, and whatever other sugary treasures they can find. (That attraction to sweets applies also to more derived wasps such as bees and ants, which explains how you get ants.) To this end, the members of the angiosperms, the plant order comprising flowering plants, that don’t depend upon wind for pollination depend upon insects, and nectar is an extremely effective way to employ insects’ services. Between sugar and bright patterns visible under ultraviolet light, we have approximately 90 million years of co-evolution between insects and angiosperms, and all of the pitfall carnivorous plants use one or both to capture prey.
What’s going on now is the end of the wasps’ life cycle, at least involving these. Most paper wasps designate one female as a queen, and she promptly finds a spot in a woodpile or compost pile to spend the winter before reemerging in spring. The others keep going on as long as they can find food, but with local flowers fading for the year, the competition with solitary and gregarious bees and the occasional indigenous hummingbird gets intense. By the end of October in Texas, the few paper wasps that haven’t become food for birds, spiders, or praying mantises are desperate for any available food source, which is why they come running to uncovered soda, wine, or mead. Since wasps see mostly in ultraviolet light, they’ll also check out any item that fluoresces under UV in the hope of catching a spare bit of nectar missed by everything else, and most humans would be amazed at how many items of clothing, jewelry, or makeup pop under UV. Eventually, that runs out, and the few wasps that don’t die of starvation will die with the first serious cold snap. That cold snap arrives in Wimberley this week: the odds are really good that these wasps will be dead by the weekend, but as the political writer Charles Pierce says every Friday about dinosaurs, they lived then to make us happy now. And so it goes.
Comments Off on I’m Living In My Own Private Tanelorn: Wimberley, Texas – 3
Posted onNovember 4, 2021|Comments Off on I’m Living In My Own Private Tanelorn: Wimberley, Texas – 2
On a recent trip to Wimberley, Texas, you’d think there would be a lot of time to photograph Texas flora, and that would be true if there wasn’t a wedding going on. There was still time for a few snaps, but a more extensive look at the plants of the Hill Country requires more time, preferably during blooming season in spring. Even so, there was plenty to see.
Mangueys aren’t necessarily native to the area, but they grow extremely well in Central Texas. Not only are they impressive additions to rock gardens, but their tough leaves and sharp spines discourage everyone but humans from messing with them.
Want a touch of international floral history? Here’s why prickly pear cactus were introduced to Australia: members of the genus Opuntia are hosts for the cochineal bug, the source for the colorant carmine. Said bugs produce a white fluffy camouflage to protect against wasps and other predators and parasites, and by the end of the growing season, it can get a little thick.
Wimberley may be in the middle of semi-desert, but with suitable water harvesting capacity, it can be awfully friendly to other tropicals. This little pond at the wedding site both utilizes local limestone (usually so festooned with holes and small tunnels that it’s often sold in aquarium shops as “holey rock”) and just the right amount of water lilies and papyrus to make it magical both during the day and when lit at night.
While one of Texas’s many clichés involves it being covered with cactus (particularly the saguaro, which is only found in Arizona), cactus is just part of the wide range of trees, shrubs, grasses, and herbs growing in the state’s desert and semidesert regions. Most cactus spread their seeds via fruit-eating birds, and sometimes there’s no telling what will show up where. This little one was underneath a combination of “cedar” (actually Ashe’s juniper, Juniperus ashei, the source of winter allergies throughout the state) and mesquite, so it might not last long, but it just might if the area around it is cleared by fire or human action. Either way, good luck to it.
To be continued…
Comments Off on I’m Living In My Own Private Tanelorn: Wimberley, Texas – 2
Okay, so last weekend, two of my best friends got married. They’d been connected via a wide net of mutual friends and acquaintances for the last three decades, but they first met in person while attending the very first Triffid Ranch open house in 2015, and it’s all been downhill from there. They eventually set a time and a place for a wedding celebration, and the time was the one time where the place was at its absolute best. The place was the town of Wimberley, Texas, due west of San Marcos, south of Austin, and right in the middle of the famed Texas Hill Country in the center of the state.
This wasn’t the first time I’d been to Wimberley, but it had been, erm, a little bit of time since the last visit. Wimberley was on the map for decades due to its art galleries, particularly those showcasing its glass artists, as well as its bonsai nursery. The last reason I’d had to be in Wimberley in the last third of a century, though, was for the long-defunct Wimberley Hillacious bicycle race, competing through the 1980s as a worthy competitor for the Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred bike race in Wichita Falls. (The Wimberley race was in October, thereby bypassing both the brutal heat of summer and the equally brutal cedar allergy season of December and January. However, it was a bit more of a challenge both because of its impressive hills and the equally impressive headwinds, and a 10-mile race in Wimberley was as much of a workout as the 50-mile in Wichita Falls.) Let’s just say that Wimberley has changed just a little bit since then.
In the last 33 years, Wimberley became a lot less isolated, particularly as far as Austin gentrifiers were concerned. (As we discovered on our second night in town, when the wine mom getaway contingent in the adjoining lodge room decided to climb atop the building and stomp across the roof at midnight. The next morning, they gave every indication that “being so hung over that they couldn’t remember their names when checking out of the hotel” was a default state.) Back in 2011, the area was hit particularly hard by the last big statewide drought, with water having to be shipped in by truck to keep people from dying, so most new businesses and subdivisions had extensive water harvesting towers, as did schools and hotels. Likewise, highways and sideroads were recently expanded as much as possible to handle the increased traffic, giving Wimberley the same general vibe as areas around Dallas in the Eighties. On top of everything was the realization that the gap between the usual summer heat and the influx of cold winter weather was going to be extremely short in 2021, and the Halloween festivities in town gave a note of fervency, because the period between needing sunscreen and hats and needing heavy jackets and gloves wasn’t going to last for long.
To cut to the punchline, the wedding went through without problems, from the bagpiper opening everything to most of the guests coming in costume because of the season. (The bride was so far away from being a Bridezilla that we all joked about asking the piper if he could play an appropriate theme for her arrival.) Yeah, the best man looked as if he stole Boris Johnson’s toupee, but that couldn’t be helped thanks to the lack of humidity. 10/10; would attend again.
Posted onOctober 20, 2021|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Armadillocon 2021 – Introduction
It’s been an interesting year for out-of-Dallas plant shows, what with last June’s Oddities & Curiosities Expo and the upcoming Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays in November, both in Austin. Considering the size and spread of both of these, the decision to crash a small literary convention like Armadillocon might seem a bit counterintuitive, but I had my reasons. The first was that with the last 18 months’ cancellations and delays, this was an October event that didn’t directly conflict with other events. The second was that Lillian, the dealer’s room director, asked nicely, and Lillian is one of those people who brings out the best in everyone. The third was that as opposed to its usual date over the last 25 years in the middle of August, its rescheduled weekend in October meant that bringing a van full of live plants into Austin equaled “LIVE plants” instead of “random chunks of steamed and broiled charcoal.” (Yes, Austin in August, especially during the afternoon and evening, is that bad.) The biggest, though, had to do with back history.
Longtime customers and visitors to the gallery might know about your humble proprietor’s previous career involving professional writing for various now-long-forgotten magazines and other publications, ranging from the beginning of 1989 to the middle of 2002. The unfortunate side effects involved three books, including one written about Armadillocon 13 in 1991 (illustrated by the one and only Ernest Hogan) that didn’t rest well with certain elements in science fiction fandom at the time. Two subsequent books, full of gibberish written before and during the early implementation and popularization of the Internet, came out in 2009 to much acclaim but precious little sales, and aside from a few relapses, that’s all anybody’s going to get. The biggest reason to come out, besides aggravating an increasingly small group still grumbling into their Metamucil (thus explaining the phrase “I feel like Anton LaVey getting an invitation to the Pope’s bat mitzvah”), was to get back in touch with a slew of former colleagues, compatriots, and fellow pains in the posterior whom I’d only see at conventions such as this. In that case, this whole gig worked even better than expected.
Being away for so long had its own Cinema Paradiso moments. The hotel in which the convention generally runs has a long history, starting with the completely random reservation getting the same exact room where I stayed with my best friend and then-girlfriend when crashing the convention in 1990. Some things have changed (the grand piano in the lobby was replaced with multiple flatscreens sometime after my last visit in 2000), and others. well, were pretty much encased in amber from the early 1990s. Not that this was a bad thing: the hotel fit the convention and the convention fit the hotel, and everyone was happy.
As far as the plants themselves were concerned, they made quite the impression. Many of those aforementioned old compatriots hadn’t been able to stay in touch since 2002, so they were delightfully surprised to see what had happened since then. Others who had kept up via online sources finally got the chance to see so many of them in person. Best of all, other attendees were drawn in: if next year’s Armadillocon runs in October again, then they’ll probably be waiting at the door to see what’s coming out of the truck this time. And then there were the people just wandering in as the convention was shutting down on Sunday, who really lost their minds at the idea of someone selling carnivorous plants next to the banquet room hosting friends’ weddings and the like.
To be continued…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Armadillocon 2021 – Introduction
Okay, so having to make a business trip to New Jersey, by way of the Philadelphia airport, was reasonably easy. Getting to Philadelphia was reasonably uneventful, and time in New Jersey was, for the most part, delightful. Getting out of Philadelphia, though…
Time for elaboration. The original schedule was to arrive in Philadelphia on a Monday, travel directly to the job site, set up in a hotel, and work away until late Thursday morning. At that point, cohorts, manager, and I hopped into one of the only rental vehicles available in the Tri-State area that didn’t have “U-Haul” on the side (and speaking from experience, that wouldn’t have been an issue, either) and made a beeline for the Philadelphia airport. Unbeknownst to us or anybody else, a weather system built up just west of the airport, turning from “potential rain” to “definite rain” to “thunderstorm” to “Texas-level Wall O’ Water” within minutes, We only discovered this as our phones melted down halfway to the airport, informing us all that our existing flight had been cancelled and we were being rerouted. The others, besides the driver, immediately attempted to reschedule other flights: me, one of the many quirks I picked up from my mother’s side of the family was an inability to read in a car without getting carsick, so I figured “I’ll work it out when we actually get to the airport.” This, of course, is when God started laughing and didn’t stop for 12 hours.
Firstly, the phone meltdowns didn’t stop: the airline informed me that my flight had been rescheduled to a transfer to Hartford, Connecticut, and then the Wall O’ Water hit Connecticut. By this point, Philadelphia was halfway to being renamed “Atlantis”: not only could pilots not take off in the waves of rain, but since we couldn’t see planes from the gate windows, one can presume that the pilots couldn’t see the gates. Hartford signaled that nobody was getting there today, and then it kept bouncing. Cleveland. Pittsburgh, Detroit. The adventure started at Terminal A in Philadelphia, and it then went to Terminal F, at the other end of the surrealist praying mantis that is the Philadelphia airport. Every time anybody looked out the windows, we’d just shake our heads and hope that terminal seats could double as flotation devices as well. And the shiftaround kept coming.
Finally, another text: quick transfer of my flight to a puddlejumper flight to Cincinnati. At this point, I was expecting to find myself in Calgary if we didn’t wash into the Atlantic Ocean, so one more switch of a boarding pass and a mad rush in the one break in the storm, and I found myself airborne and on my way to…Ohio. As it turns out, the flight from Cincinnati to Dallas was switched twice while waiting there, and the informative text saying “your terminal has changed” came right as the call for final boarding came on the intercom, so staying overnight in a Cincinnati hotel wasn’t necessary. I was lucky: the rest of my work party had to spend the night in Philly, as all of their flights were grounded by the beginnings of the Tri-State Noachian Era, and fly back the next day when everything finally dried out enough to allow takeoffs.
Two things to be said about the CVG Airport: firstly, it’s one of the smallest airports I’ve seen in nearly 30 years. One end to the other is a brisk walk, and half of the restaurants and shops were already closed for the day by the time my flight arrived. The second was the discovery that the CMC Museum of Natural History & Science was undergoing an extensive renovation, leading to some escapees from the Ice Age Gallery being on display at the airport for the time being. Finding a flat-headed peccary (Platygonus compressus) skeletal mount right outside my arrival gate was neat enough, but it just kept getting better.
This was neat enough, but with nearly three hours until departure, and other displays further down, it was time to go exploring. Whoo boy.
And then a touch of American history to go with the natural history. American statesman and future third US President Thomas Jefferson had purchased fossil claws of what he believed to be of a giant lion, which he named Megalonyx, and his correspondence with French naturalist Georges Cuvier insisted that because the Almighty would never allow any creations to become extinct (a then-new idea promoted by Cuvier to explain why animals and plants known in the fossil record couldn’t be found alive today), the secret to finding Megalonyx was looking further afield. Hence, when sending off the famed Lewis & Clark Expedition to explore the American West, Jefferson advised them to keep an eye open for animals known to be extinct in the eastern part of the continent. Lewis and Clark never saw giant lions, and Jefferson later acknowledged similarities between those fossils and the bones of South American sloths, so he probably would have been just as disappointed in learning that he’d missed seeing his namesake Megalonyx jeffersonii by only about 9000 years.
Jefferson might have been slightly disappointed, but not I: I’d wanted to see a Megalonyx mount since I was seven years old, and a resin cast nearly fifty years late was more than good enough. Now to wait for the museum restoration to finish up, in order to see the rest of the collection.
Things have been a little quiet at the gallery over the past month or so, and not just because of the fall show season. Although the gallery is having its best year yet, it’s not quite to the point of paying all of the bills, so that’s what the Day Job is for. This works on multiple levels: it’s close enough to the gallery that after the workday ends, the bike ride is far enough to get a good relaxing workout before a few hours putting together enclosures, and just near enough that the trip isn’t an ordeal. The Day Job allows focus on gallery time, and gallery time allows a good decompression from the Day Job. It all evens out.
Besides considerably less stress than the previous Day Job (which was less a job than an experiment in how toxic a workplace could get before the Environmental Protection Agency declared it a Superfund site), one of the perks is travel. Yes, it’s risky in this day and age, but that travel also necessary for training and testing, and with a modicum of caution and a good set of masks for the plane, it offers all sorts of possibilities. Among many others, this trip was a perfect opportunity to view the East Coast of North America in that absolutely magical period where summer is over but where autumn cold hasn’t kicked in. That’s something I haven’t been able to do in over 40 years.
Not that this was a travel travel trip: between work needs and the absolute impossibility of getting a rental vehicle through most of the United States, most of the time spent in New Jersey was at work, the hotel, or spaces between. On the final full day before returning to Texas, though, cohorts and I stopped by a local farm, proudly announcing its presence since 1898, for a much-needed plant break.
Of course, it’s not just about the flowers and the squash. As opposed to Texas, which tends to have two distinctive seasons for honey (mesquite in the spring and everything else in the fall), most beekeepers get one good season toward the end of summer, and this year must have been a blowout for the bees. This meant lots of different varieties: Texas honey is predominately mesquite honey, which has a beautiful light color, comparable to corn syrup, and a delicate flavor, but it’s also a very uniform color and flavor over the majority of the state where it grows. I’ve looked for blueberry honey for years (considering that East Texas grows some of the best blueberries on the planet, you’d think that beekeepers here would be taking advantage of the extensive farms out near Athens), and to find blueberry AND cranberry honey in the same place?
And a promise for future trips. I’ve been fascinated with exploring New Jersey’s famed Pine Barrens since long before I discovered its collection of carnivorous and rare plants, and the batch of cranberry salsa I hauled back just guarantees that with the next training trip, I’m reserving a car. Or a bike. Or I’ll just stay a weekend and walk: my new hiking boots need breaking in, and wandering through the Barrens is a good way to do it. I mean, compared to Texas, it’s not THAT far a walk from Philadelphia, is it?
Posted onFebruary 3, 2021|Comments Off on Personal Interlude: The Blizzards of New Jersey
A pictorial based on necessary training for the Day Job: almost without fail, I always plan travel that coincides with one meteorological menace or another. This time, it was headed for the East Coast of the US just in time for a massive snowstorm that ran a full four days. As the plane arrived in Philadelphia, the first flakes started coming down, and by the time I got situated for the night, it was coming down fast and furious.
Perspective: One of the reasons why this funky little gallery wasn’t named “Michigan Triffid Ranch” is because Texas isn’t my birthplace but it is my home. Most of that comes from living through other blizzards, including the Chicago Blizzard of 1979. The last time I spent more than two days in snow (by the time you’re sick of Dallas snow, it’s already melted away) was 35 years ago, and those months of minus-40 weather were a big reason for moving back to Texas for the first time. The last significant snow of any sort was Dallas’s famed blizzard of 2010, where we broke all records for snowfall within a 24-hour period. Right now, as I write this, Dallas faces a cold front next week that might actually drop temperatures below freezing. However, the odds of snowfall are passing small, even if there’s precedent.
As far as the future is concerned, everything depends on more than just a drastic COVID-19 control, but the idea is to return for further training, preferably when winter is over. It’s also been a very long time since I’ve been anyplace with significant autumn color (Dallas has its moments, but it’s all pastels compared to New England), and sharing photos of that wonder is definitely on the agenda.
Comments Off on Personal Interlude: The Blizzards of New Jersey
Posted onMay 12, 2020|Comments Off on 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:
Comments Off on I’m Living In My Own Private Tanelorn: Canadian Carnivores
Posted onMay 11, 2018|Comments Off on State of the Gallery: May 2018
Well. With Texas Frightmare Weekend recently ended (and photos and discussions on same will be online shortly), it’s time to shift gears, relax, and take a couple of weeks off to recover. And if you believe that, I have some great converted shopping mall live/work spaces at the bottom of the Trinity River that I’ll regretfully let go to someone who will appreciate them, too. Right now, the clock starts for preparation for the next Frightmare, and the real trick is to get everything else done over the next year as well.
Because of preparation and arrangement time, May and the first part of June will be relatively quiet as far as gallery events, but that’s because the Triffid Ranch goes mobile over the next two months. The fun starts with a showing at the Deep Ellum Art Company on Sunday, May 20, focusing on larger enclosures, from 2:00 to 6:00 that afternoon. Three weeks later, the Triffid Ranch gets much more hands-on with a workshop on carnivorous plants at Curious Garden and Natural History in Lakewood, including leaving with your own hand-planted sundew or butterwort enclosure. For the latter, contact Curious Garden to reserve your space in the workshop: the fee for registration and supplies is $30 per person.
This doesn’t mean that the gallery is abandoned: the next big gallery event is scheduled for Saturday, June 30 as a very slightly early Canada Day celebration. This includes a celebration of the famed French doctor and naturalist Michel Sarrazin, for whom the genus Sarracenia is named. Yes, that means lots of North American pitcher plants, as well as some other surprises. As always, admission is free, with lots of plants available to take home.
On the convention circuit, things will be quiet for the rest of the year, with one possible exception. After founder Larry Lankford’s death in 2013, an absolute on Dallas conventions with the older crowd was reminiscing about the long-defunct Dallas Fantasy Fairs, which ran three times a year from the mid-Eighties until their demise in 1996. A few members of that old crowd would make noises about reviving the shows every once in a while, but those noises remained such until about two weeks ago. That’s when the first formal announcements of headliner guests announced the 2018 Dallas Fantasy Fair, scheduled for the weekend of November 23-25 at the Irving Convention Center. It’s still early days yet, so the convention has little more than a Facebook page for further information, but the con organizer is already taking vendor requests for more information. If nothing else, a convention the weekend after Thanksgiving is a good way to get started with regular weekend openings at the gallery all through December. Details will follow as they arrive.
And on longterm trips, it’s official: the 2018 International Carnivorous Plant Society Conference is running the weekend of August 3-5, and the Triffid Ranch is heading to California to hear what the real experts have to say. This is purely a factfinding expedition: no plants, no displays, nothing but notebooks and lots of business cards, just in case. That works out the best: I haven’t been in the Bay Area since the beginning of the dotcom boom in 1996, so it’ll be nice to see it without prior job interview commitments or any other commitments.
Finally, the just-concluded Frightmare show marked a solid decade since the first Triffid Ranch show, and the size of the crowds and their needs confirmed that it’s time for a revamp of the show table look. Among other things, it’s time to enter the Twenty-First Century as far as information and organization is concerned. As before, details will follow as they arrive, but let’s just say that attendees at Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 will have the opportunity to get questions about plants answered so long as they have a smartphone. Considering that the crowds were four and five rows thick through most of the last show, a change is essential before the next one. This doesn’t even start with a project inspired by Demetria at The Curiositeer, which should go live soon. Oh, this one will be entirely too much fun.
Posted onApril 6, 2018|Comments Off on Upcoming Events: The Second Annual Manchester United Flower Show and Other Vagaries
One classic comment about life in Texas states “If you don’t like the weather, hang on five minutes. This ties directly to a less commonly stated but equally apt phrase, “Don’t count on Texas weather.” Getting the reminder that some 12 tornadoes passed over my house six years ago this week, while Day Job co-workers and I huddled in a building seemingly made of nothing BUT windows, and the admonition “keep watching the skies” isn’t just for bicycle commuters. As of right now, the National Weather Service is predicting near-freezing temperatures for Friday and Saturday nights, along with a wind advisory and thunderstorm watches for all evening Friday. Considering that this is the time where traditionally all of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex outdoor festivals and events start, I truly feel for everyone who has to be outside to run those outdoor festivals. A shoutout to the folks running the Deep Ellum Arts Festival, in particular: last year’s event was so absolutely perfect that it’s heartbreaking to realize that the weather will only be decent on Sunday afternoon. (incidentally, don’t let that stop any of you from going out there: just make sure to bring a coat and a plastic sheet for any art you bring home.)
This, of course, doesn’t affect the gallery: the Second Annual Manchester United Flower Show still runs tonight and Saturday, even if our wild fluctuations in temperature over the last month mean that some of the carnivores are being tetchy about blooming. The Venus flytraps, which normally have full and lively flower scapes by this time of the year, are only now starting to bloom, and don’t even get me started about the hopes for Australian pitcher plant blooms. On the brighter side, this is a good year for Heliamphora pitcher plant blooms, for the first time since the Triffid Ranch started, and the Sarracenia pitcher plants are currently going berserk. Okay, so the flytraps and sundews are delayed, but seeing why Queen Victoria so loved the flower emblem of Newfoundland and Labrador makes up for it. There’s no point in hyping up the bladderwort and Mexican butterwort blooms, because this is definitely their year.
After the flower show, expect a bit of radio silence, mostly because it’s time to get caught up on seriously delinquent support work, especially as far as plant care guides are concerned. That’s because as of today, we’re only a month away from Texas Frightmare Weekend, one of the largest horror conventions on the planet, and it’s time to amp up the Frightmare booth to a whole new level. Expect to see plants that have never appeared at a previous Frightmare, along with ones that most Americans have never seen, as well as other surprises. (Now’s the time to mention that not only do Shirt Price discounts apply at Texas Frightmare Weekend, but I have plans for special surprises for attendees wearing Triffid Ranch shirts that are just a perk.)
And after that? It’s time for a road trip. The original plan was to visit Chicago during the Independent Garden Center show in August, but the 300-pound Samoan attorney is still in the shop and rentals are prohibitively expensive. That’s when a much more lively event opened up. This year’s International Carnivorous Plant Society conference is being hosted by the Bay Area Carnivorous Plant Society on August 3 through 5, which means (a) being in the vicinity of California Carnivores with an expense fund, (b) a demonstration of imposter syndrome-inspired meltdown in the presence of some of the greatest experts on carnivorous plants in this arm of the galaxy, and (c) an extra day in San Francisco for my beloved’s birthday. Working vacations are the best, and the plan is to come back to Dallas with an even larger collection of plants in time for the Triffid Ranch third anniversary party on August 25. August may be a slow month for art galleries, but not here.
And after THAT? well, that depends upon the weather, as always. Details will follow, but expect some surprises for September and October in addition to the annual November drive to Austin for the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show. We have such sights to show you…
Comments Off on Upcoming Events: The Second Annual Manchester United Flower Show and Other Vagaries
As can be told from the last year, managing the gallery means a dearth of posts. This is a shame on one level, because it means that an ever-expanding collection of photos builds up on backup drives, just waiting for a few minutes between plant maintenance, enclosure design and construction, ARTwalk setup and teardown, home maintenance, relationship maintenance, Day Job essentials, laundry, mowing the lawn, and the regular nervous breakdown every third Friday. If I had the time to find a definitive and permanent vaccine for sleep, I’d be all set.
With that said, with things cooling down and the temperate carnivores going to bed for the winter, it’s time to start updating and revising. Let’s start with a little palaeobotany trip down to Glen Rose, Texas, best known for its dinosaur trackways but full of all sorts of other surprises.
The original idea, such as it was, was to get out of Dallas for a day during Memorial Day weekend and hit someplace that presumably hadn’t been flooded with May’s torrential rains. This time, it meant hitting Glen Rose, almost directly due south of Fort Worth, and stopping by Dinosaur Valley State Park. Neither of us had been out that way for a decade, but the idea of nature trails, antique stores, and possibly finding some of the Paluxy River’s famed Cretaceous petrified wood. The wood could wait: the dinosaurs couldn’t.
Besides the draw of Dinosaur Valley State Park’s hiking and biking trails and campgrounds, there’s the real reason why people travel from all over the planet: its famed dinosaur trackways. Back in the 1930s, the fossil prospector Roland T. Bird rode into Glen Rose on a hot summer day on his Indian motorcycle and stopped for a drink of lemonade. While cooling off, he inspected a recently constructed bandshell next to the county courthouse, which was constructed of local stone. Among the huge chunks of gypsum and petrified wood was a fossil track of a predatory dinosaur, and inquiry by Bird led locals to show him the river bottom, which was literally paved with dinosaur tracks and trackways. Not only were the first scientifically described sauropod tracks found in the river, but they kept coming across tracks on multiple planes of what used to be muddy beach: one of the great surprises was of a whole trackway, most likely of the big predator Acrocanthosaurus and the sauropod Paluxysaurus, as the former chased the latter across mudflats. Those trackways were cut out and archived decades ago, but the river bottom still had other tracks to see, right?
Well, as luck would have it, the Paluxy probably had plenty of new tracks visible to the naked eye…if the bearer of that eye also had gills. The river was as high as I’ve ever seen it, and about as clear and attractive as week-old coffee. It was also as close to white water as it could come, so taking a boat on it, even if that were allowed, was a remarkably bad idea. That didn’t stop innumerable innertubers on the nearby Brazos, but if the idea was to view geology instead of lining the banks with beer bottles, this was a bust.
Maybe not a complete bust: on the far shore was a smooth softshelled turtle (Trionyx spp.) taking advantage of a lack of humans to get in a good bask. It stayed on the bank for about ten minutes, long enough to get photos, but it didn’t take well to spectators. Enough people collected on the near shore that the noise or the motion spooked it, and it slid off the sandbank and disappeared into the roiling river. Considering that the genus Trionyx is at least 45 million years old, and probably a lot older, it may not have been a dinosaur contemporary, but at least it added some ambiance. Besides, softshelled turtles are famously cantankerous, and since this one was the same diameter as a garbage can lid, anybody stupid enough to catch it would learn soon enough exactly how hard it could bite.
Not far from the river were two old friends: the Tyrannosaurus and Brontosaurus statues from the 1962 World’s Fair, where they joined other life-sized dinosaurs in an outdoor exhibition sponsored by Sinclair Oil. These days, they’re in exceptional condition: when I first viewed them in the fall of 1980, they’d been neglected for decades since they were donated to Dinosaur Valley State Park. The Brontosaurus had been constructed in segments in order to make it easier to ship by boat to the New York World’s Fairgrounds, and the sparkle used to cover the seams had fallen out, giving it a strange checkerboard look. Meanwhile, the Tyrannosaurus had suffered from the loving attentions of the residents of Glen Rose: in 1980, it had all of two teeth left. Apparently, having a fake dinosaur tooth was a status symbol among Glen Rose teenagers, so the rest had been shot out with .22 rifles and picked up. That changed in the late Eighties with a big restoration and location change, though, and they look today as if they could go for a walk.
(thick northern Australian accent) “Now, this is a mature tyrannosaur! He’s about fifteen meters; that’s about 50 feet! Now, I’m gonna sneak up behind and jam my thumb up his butthole! That’ll really piss him orf!”
Incidentally, there’s a very good reason why this tyrannosaur has a trapdoor for a cloaca. By 1962 standards, the World’s Fair dinosaurs were marvels of animatronics, and this trapdoor allowed access to the mechanism that opened and closed the tyrannosaur’s lower jaw. I’d known for years that other dinosaurs had similar mechanisms (the Triceratops had a head that moved back and forth, and the Ankylosaurus had a tail club that wagged), but I’d been told for years that the Brontosaurus was completely immobile. Imagine my surprise at Caroline spotting guide at the front of the corral that described the brontosaur’s neck moving from side to side. Nearly 55 years later, and you still learn something new.
Another drastic change from late 1980: in a strange way, this was a more accurate locale for a big sauropod than anybody thought. In 1980, the scientific consensus still held that the big sauropods were swamp-dwellers that used water to buoy their massive bulks. The Paluxy dinosaur tracks seemed to confirm this: although plenty of sauropod front and hind footprints showed up in the river, not a single tail dragmark showed, up, supposedly confirming that the tracks were made under enough water to float the tails out of the way. What’s understood now is that sauropods held their tails out of reach of a wayward herdmate’s foot, and that most sauropods actively avoided swamps in favor of well-drained floodplains. Ironically, while the conditions most favored by tyrannosaurs are best represented today by southern Louisiana and the Florida panhandle, most of the big Jurassic sauropods would have been most at home in plains like the ones around Dallas and Fort Worth. If they could deal with the drastic changes in vegetation, that is.
And on the subject of Texas climate, the seeming dead-fish eye on the Brontosaurus has a slightly disturbing story. This is the third head on this statue: when the big restoration project on both statues started in the mid-1980s, an effort was made to put a new, scientifically accurate head on the Brontosaurus, when “Brontosaurus” became a nomen dubiam for the previously described Apatosaurus. Unfortunately, as is often the case with a lot of science art, the proponents of accurate sauropods ran right into proponents of preserving art in its original form, even if it’s wildly inaccurate. Ultimately, molds were found of the original head, and this fiberglass replacement was made from those mold and reattached. The eyes, though, were made of clear resin, which has fogged and crazed from just a few years of Texas’s wildly high levels of ultraviolet light. Texas cars very rarely rust out due to our climate removing any need for salting roads in the winter, but the tradeoff is cracking car dashboards from heat and auto paint that turns into watercolors in ten years.
Surprisingly for the whole foofarol about redoing the bronto’s head, nobody talks about redoing the tyrannosaur to match current theories. Namely, covering it with feathers. Here, I argue that this statue needs to be left alone to illustrate how dinosaurs were portrayed in the Twentieth Century…and put in a new accurate one just down the road a ways. You have to admit that seeing a “Roadrunner From Hell” tyrannosaur once you enter the park is a great way to make lasting impressions on first-time park visitors, right?
The main reason most people have for visiting Glen Rose, Texas is for dinosaur tracks. Whether it’s to visit Dinosaur Valley State Park or the oxymoronic Creation Evidence Museum up the road, it’s all about dinosaur tracks. Before one Roland T. Bird came into downtown Glen Rose for a glass of lemonade and found a dinosaur track incorporated into a WPA-built bandshell next to the courthouse, the town was one of a multitude of towns southwest of Fort Worth boasting scenic views and excellent diners, but nothing that would convince people to travel from the other side of the planet to visit. Now, Glen Rose has a plethora of antique stores and art galleries to give a reason to stay, just so long as you don’t spend so much time stomping around in the Paluxy River that you lose track of daylight.
Since the original plan to go slopping around in the Paluxy was capsized by the closest thing to white water that I’ve ever seen on it, this meant lots of daylight for other endeavors. The dinosaur trackways are on what used to be muddy beachfront, so they tended to catch lots of other items during regular rounds of sediment deposition. While I have yet to come across any reports of actual dinosaur bone preserved in Glen Rose, that mud preserved a lot more. In particular, the area is simply rotten with exquisitely petrified driftwood, most of which looks as if it came out of the surf last week instead of 120 million years ago.
Those familiar with the fossilized logs at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona might be a bit disappointed with Glen Rose petrified wood, or most of the stuff in Texas for that matter. The Glen Rose deposits rarely preserve whole logs: the vast majority of pieces resemble the chunks and bobs that wash up in the Gulf of Mexico today: the bark is gone, but the surf wasn’t strong enough to move big logs and stumps onto land, so most of what’s here are smaller pieces that were broken up elsewhere. However, it’s beautifully silicified, preserving knotholes and insect damage, and it’s considerably more forgiving of erosion than its mudstone matrix, so it once collected in large piles. A tough but workable stone, with obvious attractiveness and durability: when given that sort of resource for construction, of course the people Glen Rose put it to use.
Based on the buildings still extant incorporating local petrified wood, you’d think that the area would remain loaded with logs. Making a trip out to Glen Rose 15 years ago, I heard some of the backstory from the former mayor, who ran a now-defunct bookstore in the town square. According to her, most of the available logs and larger chunks that weren’t already incorporated into local buildings were picked up and sold for the rock shop trade in the 1950s, and the high quality of the wood meant that people were keeping a close eye on the buildings. She related how a gas station near the square, made almost completely out of local petrified wood, had shut down and the land purchased by a local church for possible expansion. According to her, the church was evenly split between those who wanted to restore the gas station as a piece of local history and those who wanted to sell the petrified wood to a wholesaler, and this was settled when the gas station “accidentally” came down in the middle of the night. The petrified wood was salvaged and sold, and half of the congregation hasn’t talked to the other half since.
Even acknowledging that (a) the story might be apocryphal and (b) I should have taken notes rather than depending upon memories from a decade-and-a-half ago, the gas station story is believable upon seeing the structures still standing. So long as Cretaceous rock remains in the Glen Rose area, additional petrified wood will eventually erode out and gradually migrate to the bottom of the valley, but all of the easy pickings have been gone since the Great Depression. With luck, though, enough will remain that some aspiring palaeobotanist should be able to identify and classify the local flora, and give as much of a view of the plant life of Creataceous Glen Rose as the trackways give of the fauna.
Posted onJuly 9, 2014|Comments Off on Travels Abroad: the Hibiscus of Grenada
As mentioned earlier, the Nicaraguan city of Grenada is absolutely festooned with beautiful Hibiscus trees, all of which were first starting to bloom during my trip at the end of May. Unfortunately for me, many of the most impressive specimens didn’t photograph well, as it’s remarkably hard to stop and get a good macro photograph when everyone else in your party doesn’t share your botanical zeal. The same was true of the photos I thought I had of hummingbirds feeding from those same Hibiscus blooms. Well, next trip, then.
Comments Off on Travels Abroad: the Hibiscus of Grenada
Posted onJuly 9, 2014|Comments Off on Travels Abroad: Hotel La Bocona
Between the Day Job and working on big plant projects for the end of this year and the beginning of next, sharing photos of the work trip to Grenada, Nicaragua went onto the back burner, but not out of a lack of wanting to share. Actually, yes, it IS because I don’t want to share. Namely, I’ve found my perfect house, and now I need to figure out how to make it happen in Texas.
To recap, the end of May and beginning of June were spent in Grenada with co-workers at the new Day Job, where we were the overawed guests of local philanthropist Peter Kovind. Among many other things, Mr. Kovind took advantage of Grenada’s classic Spanish architecture (painstakingly rebuilt after its burning to the ground in 1856, and you might want to look up the name “William Walker” if you want to understand why) to convert one of Grenada’s beautiful houses into the Hotel La Bocona, literally across the street from the statue of the same name.
As a hotel, the Hotel La Bocona reminds me of why I dislike most American hotels: simplicity is a wonderful thing. The rooms are comfortable and roomy, the pool is exquisite, and the staff, without exception, absolutely wonderful. Just for the experience alone, I rapidly felt terrible about not making my own bed and saving the housekeepers the trouble. Were I insane enough to consider going back to professional writing, this place would be my perfect idea of a locale in which to lock myself and write for the next month, only coming out to improve my Spanish. (As it stands, my Spanish isn’t so bad that I’d believe that “¡gringo estupido!” meant “May the Lord be with you!”, but it desperately needs improvement.)
And then there’s the garden. Many of the houses and hotels in Grenada follow the same basic pattern: one big door to the front, usually at the corner, but no windows. Instead, the center of the house is open to the sky, and usually exploding with plant life. When the rains come, they don’t come with heavy winds, so an overhang in the courtyard keeps tables, chairs, and couches protected from water, and when the rains stop, the combination of sights at ground level and sights in the sky (such as the family of parrots yelling at each other from a nearby tree) is about as close to Tanelorn as I’ve ever found. Grenada is justifiably famous for its wide variety of hibiscus trees, and some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen were growing in the second courtyard, right next to the (shallow, warm, and inviting) swimming pool.
Oh, and I almost forgot the spa. Grenada has an extremely wide range of tourists visiting at any time, and the spa in the back of Hotel La Bocona turned out to be extremely popular with both German and Canadian visitors. Peeking inside, I could understand why. Let loose a few small dinosaurs in there, and I’d never want to leave.
I’ve already told myself, over and over, that with a new push toward travel, it’s better to visit twenty new places once than the same place twenty times. I’m reconsidering my decision as far as Grenada is concerned. In fact, if it means being locked up in Hotel La Bocona for a month, I might even take up someone on a book contract, and that’s saying something.
As mentioned before, the big trip to Nicaragua at the end of May/beginning of June was work-related, which puts certain restrictions on botanical sightseeing. It’s bad enough being the only person in the general party actually thrilled to see my old friend Hylocereus costaricensis, the dragonfruit cactus, in the wild (or possibly its cousin H. undatus), and confirming that they grow best in medium to heavy shade during the hottest parts of the year. It should be understandable that my cohorts weren’t going to stop the bus every time I saw something vaguely interesting along the side of the road, and much of the area around Grenada had very handy cliffs and even a few volcano calderas to throw me into if I didn’t stop whining. Because this was business, I settled for biting my tongue, grumbling slightly, and trying my best to get decent photographs before the drivers had us on the other side of the galaxy.
(Incidentally, I learned something very handy and very thoughtful that hadn’t come up in years of bicycling in the States. For many reasons, Nicaragua is absolutely loaded with bicycles, and I watched fathers with two kids on the top bar cruise through traffic with grace and elan. Only recently have motorists in the States, particularly in Texas, accepted the increasing number of bikes on the road, so I still deal with the occasional jerk who thinks it’s still 1983 and that there’s something fundamentally wrong with someone over the age of 14 on a bike, under any conditions. Because of that, I was still rather defensive of anybody honking behind me, as that usually meant an idiot who expected the bikes to get off the road just for them, even if they were the only other person on the road. I’m serious: I had one bozo blast her horn from her SUV for a good half-mile, tailgating me the whole way, and then finally pull around just in time for us both to look at each other at the stoplight. Well, I looked at her: she stared straight ahead and did her best to avoid eye contact while her kids stared. I just told them “You’re all right, but your mom really needs to up her medication” before pedaling off.
(Anyway, it took a trip of this sort for me to make sense of a horn habit that hadn’t made sense before. As mentioned, I used to get defensive about people honking at me, and would get angry when a motorist would pass with a quick double-tap on the horn. “Yeah, I know, I’m in your way. I’m trying to get out of it.” What I discovered was that for Central America at least, this is a sign of respect: the double-tap is to inform the cyclist that a car or truck is coming up behind, and that the driver saw and acknowledged the cyclist’s presence. Now, when I get this at home, I don’t get surly. Instead, I wave and thank them, and the drivers are always surprised that the crazy white guy on the bike actually gets it.)
One of those minor grumbles came up over and over with a particularly beautiful tree that was so brilliantly orange that it was visible from the air well over the Managua airport. Everywhere we went, these trees followed, so orange that I thought the foliage was orange. Upon closer inspection, the coloration was from the blooms, but what blooms! I thought our native crepe myrtles did a great job of hiding their foliage among brilliant cascades of flowers, but this one could have taught the crepe myrtles about eight or nine lessons. My problem was being given a chance to focus in on an impressive canopy of them while moving at speeds that threatened to blue-shift the pigments.
Finally, I managed to get close to a small specimen, and just stood and stared at the blooms. Each was easily the size of my hand, looking more like something manufactured from steel or bronze than anything botanical. For the rest of the trip, I’d gaze contentedly at those trees as they passed by on the highway back to the airport, telling myself that one day, I’d come back and give them much more time and attention.
The real surprise on this is that while I and everyone else in the group thought these were indigenous trees, our not having seen them before was only because we lived far too north. We’d encountered Delonix regia, commonly and appropriately named “flamboyant”. Originally from Madagascar, the flamboyant tree grew enthusiastically and vigorously any place where the conditions were right, and went feral over most of the Earth’s tropics. In the US, they’re apparently only found in the Rio Grande Valley in far southern Texas and in southern Florida, but they’re as cosmopolitan a tropical tree as can be managed.
That was another big surprise: while the northern half of Nicaragua may be jungle, the area around Grenada was much drier and scrubbier, and I saw a lot of analogues to plants I would have seen in North Texas that were thriving under many of the same conditions. The surprise was seeing so many plants, particularly cacti, that I recognized from just about any garden center or commercial nursery back home. At first, I thought that these may have originated in Central America and gained their current popularity due to imports to America and Europe, but D. regia‘s range makes me wonder about that. Time for more research, and the hope that I might live long enough to finish it.
Among many other wonders in Grenada, Nicaragua, one of the greater mysteries of Grenada was literally across the street from the hotel in which I stayed. Right by the front door of the building across the way was a large statue, carved out of volcanic rock, built into the side of the doorway. A very helpful gentleman working at the hotel passed on what he knew about the statue, which he was the first one to admit wasn’t much. Then again, nobody else seems to know, either.
The statue is called “La Bocona,” which roughly translates to “The Big Mouth”. La Bocona is a fixed point in Grenada: Grenada attracts a large number of international tourists and expatriates, and even those completely inept in Spanish, such as myself, can recite the name and have everyone in the city point you in the direction of the statue. In fact, the statue now has several concrete pillars in front, to prevent drivers and cyclists from taking out the front door while being distracted by its odd shape. La Bocona may not be in the center of Grenada, but it’s close enough that it’s very handy as a guide to the central market, the fire department, and any of the central cathedrals in the city.
With it being a landmark, you’d think that La Bocona would have more of a history, but that’s where things get odd. Apparently it was excavated during the construction of a sidewalk, with different versions saying in the 1940s or 1950s, and the owner of the property had it installed in the front of the building so everyone can see it. Other than that, it’s a mystery. La Bocona has no myths coming up around it, no outre explanations as to how it got there, or why it was constructed. It’s just there, and I suspect that filling in some of the questions about it would disappoint everyone, as the mystery seems to feed upon itself. Trying to give it an explanation would ruin it, but everyone has their own basic ideas, which they keep to themselves.
After a while, I shared that sentiment. I have no doubt that archaeologists have already examined and documented everything they can about La Bocona, and now I want to hunt down what they’ve written. I myself have a sneaking suspicion as to what the artist was trying to capture, and if I’m wrong, you’ll never know. In the meantime, it just perches at that corner, unseeing, as wonderful humanity rushes by. It did so before it was buried, and it’ll probably do so centuries after I’m gone.
Posted onJune 30, 2014|Comments Off on Travels Abroad: Grenada, Nicaragua
I try not to let personal life issues affect Triffid Ranch activities, which is why they very rarely ever come up. One of those involved my previous job, which had been souring for a while. Between regular depletion and bizarrely scheduled annual layoffs, timed to guarantee that the parent company saw a double-digit return for the year, the job was becoming more and more of a chore instead of a career. As with any long-running tech company, it managed to gather its particular collection of dysfunctional characters, and many were brittle enough that you never knew what might be the one factor that caused one or five to come in with high-powered weaponry. Between the birthers, the young-earth creationists, the conspiracy theorists, the Freecycle addicts, and the Cory Doctorow cultists, any given trip to the break area was like reading the comments on a Yahoo! news article. It was probably pure coincidence that my bike tires were slashed at least once after I answered The Vital Question in a project meeting, “Star Wars or Star Trek?” with “Don’t look at me: I’m a Babylon 5 kind of guy,” but the timing fit. Either way, take a bit of advice: you know that guy that every tech company has, who practically curls up on the break room counter in impotent rage because “I’m angry at my government”? When he asks your advice on schools where he can send his unvaccinated children because “vaccinations cause autism,” do NOT bring up that they may have more to worry about genetically inherited connections to paranoid schizophrenia. Just saying.
So it was time to leave, and just in time, too: three months to the day after leaving the old position and the few remaining people for whom I still cared, the company was sold to a crew notorious for liquidating new acquisitions, so I dodged a few bullets. The new position is just as obscure as the old one, which is just exactly what I needed: if anything, I get my fill of the crazy by taking the train to work, and being told by former Texas Instruments and EDS engineers on the same route that I need to get a new bicycle seat because “if it doesn’t have a channel in it, you can get prostate cancer.”
Anyway, one of the criteria for the new position required getting a passport, as the opportunity for making company presentations around the world was a serious possibility. My measured and professional response was “Oh, TWIST my arm!” Previously, world travel was a bit like being handed an operational Green Lantern ring: oh, you can talk about the possibilities, but who’s going to give you the option? And then the word came through that the whole company was making a journey…to see Grenada, Nicaragua. Not what I was expecting, but I definitely wasn’t complaining, as I’d wanted to visit Central America since I was five years old.
Sadly, since this was business, this wasn’t the botanical tour for which I would have arranged had this been purely for pleasure. That said, I have no regrets. Grenada is a stunning city, and I hope to visit it again when my conversational Spanish might be described as something better than “you’re going to starve to death in a restaurant if your waiters don’t know English.”
Anyway, over the next few days, I get to resurrect a grand tradition that’s been missing from American culture for the last thirty years: boring friends and relatives to death with photos from your last vacation. This, though, should be a blast.
Comments Off on Travels Abroad: Grenada, Nicaragua