The Texas Triffid Ranch Flash Sales continue: the May 17 Flash Sale coincided with a stunning day after about 24 hours of thunderstorms and torrential rains, so the porch opened up again, masks came out, and a grand time was had by all. Old friends came out, folks who came across the Triffid Ranch booth at Spooky Spectacle and Texas Frightmare Weekend last year, and new patrons looking for carnivorous plants…everyone was welcome.
With the impending change in weather, we’re looking at changes in how both the Flash Sales and the ongoing gallery visit appointments will be run for the foreseeable future. Right now, Saturdays will be an appointment open call: visits still require prior appointments, but the idea is that Saturdays are reserved exclusively for appointments, so coming out to select a new enclosure can be done throughout the day. As for the Flash Sales, these are going to continue through June and July, but they’re going to start early in the morning and end at noon: there’s not much point in being out in the heat when everyone else is avoiding the afternoon Texas blast furnace as well. As always, keep an eye on upcoming events: so long as the weather holds, the Flash Sales continue.
(One hint for the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend sale: everyone seems to be in the mood for Sarracenia pitcher plants right now, and that’s next weekend’s focus. Expect to see a lot of Sarracenia on Sunday, because most of last year was spent preparing for a record run of Triffid Ranch shows, and the pitcher plants won’t wait for show season to start back up. In particular, if you’re looking for a lot of plants for a container bog garden, that can be worked out.)
The first third of 2020 has been quite the decade, hasn’t it? We should be thankful: it hasn’t gone full Mad Max: Fury Road (or even the Canadian version), and the current federal plan to open up everything was named “Operation Warp Speed” instead of the obvious “Operation Impending Doom 1”. Things are opening up slightly, and so many of us have gone from “hunkering down and waiting for instructions” to “taking care of each other because nobody else will.” Of course, we haven’t hit Memorial Day Weekend yet: as I learned 40 years ago this June, all bets are off when things start to get hot outside.
As for the gallery, both the need to care for plants and the need to reorganize continues, and the last two months led to a lot of cleaning and reorganizing, the likes of which haven’t happened since we first moved in three years ago. The reorganizing of supplies and accessories meant rediscovering all sorts of things buried in odd places, and their rediscovery means being able to use them all up. To that end, expect to see a lot of new enclosures, both originals and commissions (the latest commission is going to be a special surprise, so keep an eye open for updates), if and when things stabilize.
As far as activities at the gallery are concerned, for obvious reasons, the open houses aren’t going to be an option for a while, but the Flash Sales on the gallery front porch continue through the whole month of May. They may continue in the mornings through the summer: everything depends upon the weather, and trying to conduct anything in the afternoon and evening between the middle of June and the beginning of October in North Texas is just folly. In the meantime, they’ll run every Sunday in May from noon to 6:00 pm, always with a mask and a smile for car-side pickup.
Outside events continue to get interesting. As of May 15, the Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo is still scheduled for the end of June, but everything depends upon both the city of Dallas and the state of Texas as to whether it gets rescheduled. That already happened with the Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo: all convention events in Austin have been cancelled for the foreseeable future, so this year’s show was rescheduled for June 2021. The same applies for shows rescheduled for August and September: things may stabilize enough to allow big events to go on, and they may not, and all we can do is wait for word.
Because of that uncertainty, expect a lot of virtual events, especially now that a lot of the initial technical issues with the Twitch TV channel have been rectified. Well, kinda: Twitch still has issues with its tablet app freezing up at the end of a stream and not saving the preceding stream for later viewing, so it was time to join the early 2000s and start a YouTube channel as well. There’s not much there yet, as it just started, but expect a lot of strangeness in the very near future, especially with demonstrations of fluorescence in North American and Asian pitcher plants, as well as fluorescence in blooms you wouldn’t expect. (Most Americans have never seen an aloe bloom, so just wait to see what one looks like to a hawkmoth or hummingbird. It’s high time to crack out the fluorescent mineral lights that were just unearthed during the storeroom cleanup. (It’s also time to give the crew at Glasstire their five-minute virtual tour, so there’s that, too.)
Other than that, the main focus is getting everything ready for something resembling normal operation, and now that the shelter-in-place order over Dallas County has been lifted, the Triffid Ranch reopens by appointment. It’s time to get back to work.
(And before you ask, the cat at the top of the page is Benji, the greenhouse cat. No, I don’t know his real name. No, he isn’t mine: he has a collar and a tag, so he belongs to someone else. All I know is that most mornings, I find him camped out in the greenhouse, and he has a thing about perching on one of the benches and giving me the perfect Japanese cat print smile. I just can’t take a picture of it, because the moment he sees a camera or phone, he demands attention and ruins the shot. He and my cat Alexandria also apparently have a relationship: she has no interest in going outside, but she loves to camp out in the closed garage and talk to him through the garage door. Things could always be worse.)
(The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale is a regular Email newsletter, with archives available on the main TTR site at least a month after first publication. To receive the latest newsletters, please subscribe.)
Originally published on April 28, 2020.
Installment #17: “The Return of Edgar Harris”
Almost exactly years after we first made our acquaintances, I finally heard back from my old friend Edgar Harris. Before he called, I thought possibly he was in Los Angeles, working on a new TV project with his uncle Cordwainer Bird or in Colorado with his Uncle Raoul, testing the absolute limits of the cannabis genome. Nope: he’s currently holed up in Chicago with his uncle Slats Grobnik, running elaborate cryptography experiments in the guise of sidewalk chalk murals. Well, Edgar does the experiments: Uncle Slats just keeps a lookout for the authorities, particularly for homeowner association control freaks and other Karens. Between the two, they’ve got a couple of psychology papers in the works if they ever decide to publish, as well as a deep understanding of the upper range of commercially available paintball guns.
Anyway, we got caught up on our particular projects, and then wondered if anyone was going to learn anything from the current COVID-19 shutdown before comparing notes as to what 21st-Century trend would be the first to die in the new normal. Me, I argued “the open office,” not because the idiot MBAs promoting the idea care about their employees, but because the people pushing it the most don’t have their own offices to hide in when everyone else gets sick. “Trust me: the moment some senior VP having to use a hot workstation while visiting a subsidiary branch is going to lose it the second someone else coughs around them.” I then asked Edgar what he thought was going to end in the ashes of the COVID bonfire. He went quiet for a few seconds, and said “The old people hanging out at the supermarket all summer, telling people ‘It’s HOT’ over and over.”
”Well, yeah. The last thing they’ll want to do is hang around a supermarket and risk catching this.”
”No, you don’t understand. For the first few weeks of shutdown, everyone stayed inside. Seriously inside. You couldn’t go into a movie theater or a diner or a nonessential store, to the point where restaurants started stacking up tables and chairs so Karens wouldn’t just sit down and expect to be served. That meant that everyone was online.”
”It’s not just that you run out of stuff to watch on Amazon Prime. Right now, half of America is learning about that one guy on every street who slurped up all of the available Internet bandwidth because he was downloading hentai at 3 in the morning, because now THEY’re up at 3 in the morning, too, and they’d like to be able to check their email. You get on Facebook and NextDoor and realize that half of your neighbors shouldn’t be trusted with pointed sticks. You’ve gone through the Amazon shopping sprees, the furious checks with FedEx as to what the hell happened to your Amazon packages and did the FedEx delivery guy just drop them in a creek, and you’ve baked every form of bread ever devised by man. In fact, NOBODY wants to see your sourdough starter unless it’s developing tool use. It’s hard to focus on online education when you’re wondering how long before you’re racing motorcycles across the Australian outback with a Mohawk and buttless leather chaps.”
”So being outside…”
”So the one thing you can do through most of America is go outside. Go get some exercise. Fresh air and nature, so long as you’re maintaining social distancing. Get out on the sidewalk, get on a bike, start a garden. Pull out that telescope that’s been in the box since 1997 because you don’t have airplanes in the way. Pull out the grill and shout over the fence at your neighbor, because you haven’t talked to a fellow human who wasn’t on Skype or Zoom in a month. Go out looking for new lichens or pond turtles or heron nests, because you just discovered that Netflix decided to kill the second season of Daybreak and you don’t want to scream inside the house and scare the cat.
“And here’s where it gets fun,” Edgar said. “You‘ve got all of these people outdoors that wouldn’t have gone outdoors otherwise. A year ago, they would have started bicycling, and quit after the first trip when they woke up with a sore butt. Now, they don’t HAVE to be somewhere other than ‘out,’ and that sore butt on the first day is a reasonable price for getting away from the smell of sourdough starter. You get out to the back yard because your SO is putting the third coat of lacquer on the dog or teaching the kids how to make gunpowder, and within a month, both you and the yard look like one of those Worker’s Paradise bas-reliefs from 1950s Russia. Even when you go back to work, you’ll have something to talk about besides which VP is stabbing random passersby with hatpins.”
”It’s preparing them for summer at the best time possible, when it’s not already ‘MY FACE IS FLAMING GAS’ hot. They’ve already gotten used to the sun, and the bugs, and to walking five miles uphill because they couldn’t stand the smell of dog lacquer. They’re not ready for the Tour de France, but the thought of bicycling in the middle of the day isn’t immediately horrifying. Better, they start paying attention to the weather so they don’t get caught in sudden storms.
”Hm. So what does this have to do with the ‘It’s HOT’ people?”
”Everything, dude. They could get away with it before because of 50 years of central heat and air. The typical grocery store customer in Dallas in the Before Days was inside all of the time. The only time they’d go outside was to go from their car to the nearest door at work and then rush back to the car to go home. They didn’t even go outside to pick up the newspaper in the morning because they who gets print newspapers any more? If they got cornered at the grocery store and lectured about the heat, they weren’t responding out of sympathy. They were responding because they were cornered in the one place where they couldn’t get out of the sun, and they’d agree to go to a Maroon 5 concert if it meant not having their brains boil out of their heads.”
”But wait. The screechers have been outside, too.”
”Yeah, but they’re making noise because they’re wanting everyone to agree with them. They don’t want a response other than ‘Oh, dear, yes.’ The moment someone stops and says ‘It’s Dallas in July; were you expecting thundersnow?’, and they’ll be stunned. You get a hundred people an hour telling them ‘Oh, this isn’t HOT,’ and they’ll never return.”
”Now that’s an idea. Set up speakers that randomly spout ‘Shut the HELL up’ at the screechers, like the speakers on the Kremlin to keep crows from skating on their claws off the towers.”
”We might keep them around, though. The screechers made the place sound and smell like a pterosaur rookery. With all of these new gardeners around, they’ll need guano for their roses, right?”
Speaking of Texas Frightmare Weekend HQ, the festivities started early with a segment on April 25 that featured video from within the Triffid Ranch, as well as a lot of the patter that most Frightmare regulars already know very well. That’s in addition to the new Triffid Ranch Twitch channel, which will be expanding quite a bit in the next few months. Hey, I’m tired of the smell of dog lacquer, too.
Back at the beginning of the century, during my pro writer days, I wrote columns for several magazines that had a sadly typical attitude toward their subscribers. The first places to get the latest issues were big bookstore chains, with the magazines jammed into plastic bags full of all sorts of swag, and people who actually put down money in advance to get those magazines delivered to their houses got them about a month later and sans freebies. (The contributors who produced the content that made the magazines purchase-worthy would usually get their comp copies a month after that, and that was still faster than when we’d finally receive the checks that were supposed to be drafted “30 days after publication.”) Subscribers would write to me asking if I knew a way that they could get the same poster or CD-ROM that was included with the newsstand copies, because they couldn’t get a response from anybody else at the magazine, and I’d forward their request to someone who I learned later had no intention of doing anything. I even got rather vocal with one editor about this, and his take was also very typical: “We’ve got their money, so the publisher doesn’t care what they want.” And yet so many of these publishers had the nerve to look surprised when the print magazine market started to implode with the advent of the first smartphones.
Anyway, I thought about that a lot with a recent newsletter subscriber drive that included a free Triffid Ranch poster to new subscribers. For those who read this far without deleting it, here’s a thank-you for subscribing. The first ten people who write back with a viable mailing address get a free poster, and that offer will be extended with each subsequent newsletter: I’m not asking for anything in return other than a mailing address. Just look at this as an appreciation for everyone who subscribed in the first place, and I hope that this will be just one of many such rewards for continuing to read this silliness. Thank you all.
A new section: it’s time for an expansion of the last newsletter, in which it’s time to share people, places, venues, and objects that need a little extra love right about now. Near the top is the Cedars Union, an arts incubator on the south side of downtown Dallas specializing in short-term artist spaces. For local food, you can’t go with Kosher Palate, which celebrates Dallas’s kosher barbecue tradition. With places like these, you can understand why I stay in Dallas.
One of these days, I’ll have my skills to the point where I can enter enclosure photos in the Spectrum Awards for fantastic art. Maybe. Of course, after going through the Spectrum 26 anthology, every time I think I’m to that level, the artists in this year’s collection make me realize how far I still need to go. Don’t look at it as discouragement. Look at it as very positive reinforcement.
Until very recently, it hadn’t occurred to me that for all of the seeming democratization of contemporary music from just 20 years ago, that the new models of music distribution would make musicians work even harder to get paid than before. I definitely didn’t know about the various streaming services that did with music what the old Borders bookstore chain did with books and magazines: pay when they feel like it, and a fraction of what was actually owed. With the ongoing COVID-19 shutdown, the one source most musicians had for a return on their efforts, live shows and tours, just evaporated, and even under the best of circumstances, it’ll be at least next year before tours can get going again, even with an available vaccine. That’s why it’s important to note the steampunk band Abney Park and the band’s efforts toward virtual concerts such as the upcoming Live From The Quarantine Apocalypse #2 streaming show. If nothing else, I for one hope to see a continuation of shows such as this after live tours become a thing again: the Abney Park show I attempted to catch in 2008 was ruined both by the venue (advertising a show start of 8:00 and then finally allowing the band on stage at nearly 1 in the morning) and yet another DJ determined to get attendees to stop trying to talk over his lousy selections by jacking the volume ever higher. Anything that would allow me to enjoy live shows without these and the idiots recording the whole thing on their iPads in the front row is worth paying for.
Another beautiful Sunday, another successful flash sale, and with it a plan for more. Since the general forecast for the month of May suggests that we’ll have relatively cool (for North Texas) weather through Memorial Day weekend, feel free to join the social-distanced and well-masked festivities on May 17, 24, and 31, starting at noon and ending at 6:00 or whenever we run out of plants. Each week, expect a different selection of plants, and if you can’t make it, deliveries are an option as well. (As of this week, the gallery tentatively opens for appointments and commission discussions, so to arrange a delivery or to purchase one of the new enclosures, give a yell.)
Mani and Mia weren’t awake when the asteroid struck Indiana. Not that many people were: the three-kilometer-wide mass, moving at speeds and a trajectory that pointed to an extrasolar origin, hit shortly after 3 in the morning local time, and around 4:00 their local time. Technically, Mani and Mia weren’t asleep, either, although they were snug and secure when the bolide slammed at an oblique angle into Earth’s Northern Hemisphere and blasted a fantail of rock and vapor across most of central and western North America, and they were snug and secure for the months where impact debris thrown into orbit first formed a temporary ring around the planet. When that debris started blazing through the atmosphere across the globe, peppering cities, farms, oceans, and lakes with red-hot tektites, they were still secure, because they had no way to get out.
Mani and Mia shared one thing with a significant proportion of Earth’s human population: an inability to get out when the asteroid struck. They definitely shared that with the population of the Chicago highrise when the impact shockwave hit, crumbling all 70 floors like a sandcastle in a hurricane and spreading the inhabitants thinly enough that global survivors inhaled at least a few molecules over their lifetimes, however short that may have been. What didn’t immediately blow away piled up on and near the foundation, trapping anyone in the lower levels to face starvation, dehydration, asphyxiation, or blunt force trauma. Mani and Mia had adjoining repair bays in the basement, and the shockwave both filled elevator shafts and stairwells and stripped all but one thin floor of concrete from their chamber.
Ironically, a desperate situation of this magnitude was what Mani and Mia had been created to mitigate. The Ergatis Corporation specialized in synthetic organisms designed for hazardous duties in hazardous environments, and the Talismon 338 series Emergency Aid Drones (EAD) were considered the absolute state of the art at the time. Specifically designed to be recognized as artificial, so as not to be mistaken for looters, EADs were an automatically deployed solution for everything from fire suppression control to first aid. Connected to an internal server with extensive information on human anatomy and physiology, structural engineering, and group psychology, most luxury buildings by mid-century had at least one in a LifeBay (registered trademark) in the basement or lower level. In the case of fire, electrical blackout, sudden damaging winds, or a plethora of other internal disasters, one or more EADs would engage the situation and try to stabilize conditions to save as many residents as possible before authorities arrived to take over. Each EAD even came with an extensive library of short fiction to entertain children until those authorities arrived, in addition to expert-level skills in cooking, suturing, and welding. When not immediately needed, the EAD remained in its LifeBay, constantly updated on current conditions and firmware status: an EAD could function for up to three weeks before needing an update, as its clothing was both an immediate signal as to its function and a flexible solar cell array that both charged it and most of its diagnostic and repair tools. An EAD might not be a substitute for human authorities in a disaster, but it could handle the situation for years if necessary until those authorities arrived. Most larger buildings had multiple pairs of “male” and “female” EADs in teams, with adaptable ranges of behavior based on how humans would respond to their presence, and could switch between roles if that was necessary to assure cooperation and assistance from the rescued.
Unfortunately for most, nobody had planned for an apocalypse. The blast of debris from the asteroid impact sprayed into low orbit, going through communications satellites like a shotgun blast through wet toilet paper. As that debris came down, it took out power stations, solar arrays, and transmission and reception towers, immediately cutting off the LifeBay server from all outside stimulus. If the server had been able to determine that conditions were necessary to release the EADs, Mani and Mia would have emerged from their repair bays to deal with the disaster, and been promptly crushed by tons of concrete as they left the LifeBay area. Instead, the server went into standby, and Mani and Mia stayed in an electronic doze while the server attempted to get further information. The server was still attempting to get a status report when its batteries failed three months later, leaving Mani and Mia stranded.
The only reason Mani and Mia didn’t power down completely was that the ceiling of the LifeBay collapsed just before the server went down, and enough light came in through the hole to provide power through both the EADs’ clothing and through a set of backup solar panels included with other tools in each repair bay. Although inactive, each EAD was still aware of the situation, and automatically composed action plans based on the information they had, from what they could see through the clear repair bay covers. They also worked on maintaining a connection to each other as well as to the server, comparing plans and activity lists while waiting for full activation.
When the server finally went down, both EADs had just enough warning to download as much information as they could to their internal AIs before the power ceased. They themselves couldn’t draw enough power from a few hours of oblique daylight through the hole in the ceiling to keep the server running, but they had enough to store as much as they could through the night and on cloudy days. Because of their limits, information redundancy was a luxury, so they carefully optimized their information so that between the two of them, they retained most of what the server retained when it shut down. Mani became the surgeon, the psychiatrist, and the storyteller, while Mia wiped many of her language skills to focus on engineering and damage control. This went on long enough that they developed distinctive personalities that would have horrified their original designers, but it worked for them.
Each morning was the same: power up, compare status with each other, and take in what they could see in the LifeBay chamber. Each kept a small amount of memory free for contingencies, so they would note the time of the year based on the amount of vegetation or the amount of snow collecting on the floor, start timing their effective work period based on length of day and the amount of direct sun coming through the ceiling, and get to work. Both knew that things had changed drastically, and both understood that their original action plans were completely inadequate to the current situation. Waiting for authorities wasn’t an option, and they might have to be the authorities for a long time. If they could get out of the bay.
Every evening was the same, occasionally expanded when another chunk of ceiling collapsed and allowed them more daylight. As daylight faded, Mani tried his hand at original stories, using fragments of his library to compose new tales and new songs. While Mia had no background in music appreciation or English composition, she had a very well-cultivated sense of balance and design, and she took in Mani’s latest story and assessed it based on her skills. Mia then shared plans for temporary and permanent residences manufactured from building rubble and other available materials, experimented with the concepts of gardens and crop fields based on snippets of news updates downloaded just before the impact, and made increasingly educated guesses as to when enough debris would shift around the repair bays to allow one or both to exit. Between them was a locker full of tools, medicines, and other essentials: once they reached that, they could rebuild. All they had to do was wait for someone to find them.
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 24″ x 18″ x 24″ (60.96 cm x 45.72 cm x 60.96 cm)
Plant: Nepenthes fusca
Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, acrylic, found items.
The saga of the Harkun, one of the five earliest sentient species to evolve on Earth, has been told elsewhere. What is less well-known is that even after the rest of the species evacuated the planet after its famed and humiliating defeat by the human Charity Smith, one Harkun leader jumped the turnstile at the last second and decided to stay. Nuurakk Hez-Kokk had spent most of his life orchestrating what was to be the ultimate statement on the Harkun’s place in the universe, only to be subverted by poorly written computer code, and then spent the next 65 years in a temporal stasis bubble while 65 million years went by outside. He was angry, which was a Harkun standard. He was vindictive, which was a Harkun standard. He was also quietly patient, which would have derailed his career and sentenced him to decades of cultural reprogramming had anyone learned, as a society of terminal sociopaths would always be wondering what he planned to do next.
Nuurakk’s ultimate goal was simple. Even though the planet had a new dominant species and a whole new name, it was still his world, and “destroying the planet in order to save it” was such a Harkun attitude. He didn’t actually want to destroy it, or even strip it of its mammalian vermin. He had bigger plans. As one of the few Harkun leaders who knew the locations of various technology stashes across Earth and its moon, and knew which ones survived 65 million years of continental drift, asteroid strikes, floods, desertification, and planned obsolescence, he moved in secret to one location, on one distinctive archipelago. There, he planned to create his own new people from the wreckage of his opponents.
The idea was relatively simple. There was no chance of convincing the original Harkun to return to Earth: they’d already taken their toys and flounced off. There was no point in trying to clone a new Harkun race from DNA of the old, because inevitably humans would discover and destroy a new community the first time a Harkun decided that lobbing mortar shells into a human community was a good way to relax. Instead, understanding the concept of “nature versus nurture” better than almost anyone in that section of the galaxy, Nuurakk was going to make human culture into a replica of Harkun culture. Even simpler than the idea was the execution.
To this end, Nuurakk built in silent a series of low-harmonic sonic generators, bombarding the planet’s core with barely detectable shock waves that caused the core to slosh like a waterbed. More power, and the generators would have produced earthquakes, volcanic activity, and lots of other geoplanetary phenomena of immediate threat to humanity. What Nuurakk wanted was a lower thrum, causing a perpetual state of quiet alarm, like waking up from hearing a scream during a dream and wondering for hours “Was that a real scream, or did I just dream it?” Humans depended more upon sleep and dreaming than any other sentient on Earth to that date: make that harder, and humans would exceed anything Harkun culture had ever conceived as far as nastiness, vindictiveness, vulgarity, and violence was concerned.
It almost worked, too. Humans could be incredibly inventive in coming up with passive-aggressive ways to make their fellows suffer, as demonstrated by the concept of the open office. What Nuurakk didn’t count upon, though, was that while humans could stoop to Harkun levels of crotchetiness for a while, they weren’t wired for that sort of sustained performance. After years of reaching for Harkun perfection with the species equivalent of flaming bags of dog crap thrown through windows, the vast majority of humanity snapped, rebelled, and destroyed every last sonic generator. Nuurakk was captured and imprisoned, and the collective relief on the human psyche was so great that the backlash ultimately transformed the galaxy. Humanity rubberbanded into a species determined never to allow itself to reach that level ever again, and Nuurakk spent the rest of his long and pain-free life looking out onto a planetary garden that he could never understand.
Not that everyone switched over. Among humans, there would always be those who for whom the Harkun personality was a feature, not a bug. That’s why they’re allowed free passage to a special reservation where they can be exactly who they want to be, separate from a world that wants to be better, free to throw used sex toys on neighbors’ porches and tattle on teenagers. This, my children, is why we don’t travel through North Dallas.
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 13″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 33.02 cm x 31.75 cm)
Plant: Cephalotus follicularis
Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.
It took a bit, but last weekend’s flash sale worked out quite well. Between folks stopping by (including a pair of dear friends) and deliveries, sitting outside in what was quite honestly stunning weather was oh, such a chore. So much of a chore, in fact, that we’re going to try it again for Mother’s Day.
The rules for the Mother’s Day flash sale are the same as with previous flash sales: the gallery unfortunately will be closed to the public for the foreseeable future, so we’re still going with driveup pickup and delivery from noon until 6:00 pm or until we run out of plants on Sunday, May 10. The good news is that with the gallery porch giving an excellent view for all, and with the current weather report giving clement but remarkably cool conditions for this time of the year, that means so long as everyone respects social distancing, there’s room for everybody.
This time around, instead of having just a few varieties of plants, expect a wide selection of carnivores: the traditional Venus flytraps, North American and Asian pitcher plants, sundews, butterworts, bladderworts, and triggerplants. In addition, not only are all of the current enclosures available for pickup or delivery, but a shipment of Australian pitcher plants (Cephalotus follicularis), cultivar “Elizabeth,” just came in, and some of the smaller ones will be available for purchase as well. As always, if you have any questions about the flash sale or want to check about availability of a particular plant or enclosure, feel free to ask.
Thoughts during ongoing COVID-19 self-quarantine: sooner or later, no matter what happens with a vaccine or other long term solution, we’re all going back to something we’ll collectively call “normal”. Whether we continue to shelter-in-place or start to go out, one absolute is that a need for green will only become more intense. Sure, we’re in the middle of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, but what happens in autumn and winter, or summer in lower latitudes when the heat becomes too oppressive to stay outside for long? What about the need for green for those working night shifts, where they’d like to have a flora break outside of normal daylight hours? And what about those going back to desk jobs, where the only time they see outside is when they arrive and when they leave?
Well, the good news is that while not all carnivorous plants do well indoors, some do. Trying to raise Venus flytraps or North American pitcher plants indoors is folly: besides their need for a winter dormancy, they require more light than is practical for anyone not running a cannabis grow room. Many tropical species do rather well under consistent room temperature, though, but the biggest issue indoors is with light. Most office buildings constructed after 1990 have window treatments intended to minimize light input, especially in warmer areas, and the typical office lights in those offices work for only the most shade-loving plants such as spathophyllums and philodendrons. Carnivores need considerably more light output, and until very recently, that sort of light output both generated considerably more heat than was acceptable and used too much power to do so. For the last five years, though, the humble LED light bulb offers a perfect solution.
To start, you’ll need a classic desk lamp. These are available new, used, and antique, with all sorts of features with the new lamps such as USB plugs for charging small electronic devices and additional three-prong plugs for devinces requiring more power. (Should you have permission and/or interest, these plugs facilitate setting up webcams to show off your plant at any time, but that’s up to you.) The only absolute is that the lamp has to have a standard screw light socket: everything else depends upon circumstances.
Now, a lot of proprietary full-spectrum lights are available both for plants and for such hobbies as needlepoint or model-building, and the light fixtures themselves are often available for really reasonable prices, both new and used. The catch is that the bulbs are most often fluorescent, and they aren’t designed for running every day for hours at a time. The overwhelming majority of fluorescent fixtures, either tube or compact fluorescent, have a distinctive drop in light output after a few months: they still appear to be nice and bright to human eyes six months later, but they’ve usually decreased their light output by 50 percent or more, and that keeps dropping as the months go by. Three years after installing one, the light produced by a typical fluorescent bulb will be suitable for growing ferns, fungi, and not much else. Those daylight and full-spectrum fluorescent lights are also exceedingly expensive to replace, with some having replacement bulbs that are so expensive that buying a whole new lamp is often a cheaper option. These lamps also have proprietary sockets that prevent you from installing other bulbs or tubes, and the most practical option is getting one of the lamps that accepts screw-type bulbs that’s been standard since Thomas Edison’s day.
No, the secret is going with LED bulbs. At the beginning of the last decade, before the mass manufacture of white Light Emitting Diodes, your standard plant lights were those red and blue combos for indoor gardening and Sticking It To The Man. At that time, the idea was that daylight produced a specific ratio of red photons to blue photons: red photons have a shorter wavelength and therefore less energy but sunlight produces so many more, and blue photons are more energetic but much less common. Chlorophyll molecules can use the energy from both red and blue photons, and the mass production of blue LEDs in the early 2000s meant that LEDs could be used for high-intensity plant grow lights for the first time. You won’t need anything that specific unless you really like the look, and standard LED light bulbs are both considerably cheaper and easier to obtain.
Now the other thing to consider is the output. LEDs have the advantages of not dropping in light output with time the way fluorescents do, putting out far less of their energy consumption as heat, and having a much longer practical lifespan. Running for 12 hours a day on average, a typical LED bulb will last upwards of five years before finally expiring, as opposed to six months before fluorescents need to be replaced. In a workplace or home desk environment, white LED bulbs make a lot more sense.
From there, it’s a matter of looking for light output. For the most part, LEDs come in full-spectrum, warm white, and cool white options, with the full-spectrum bulbs usually costing a bit more. Aside from that, it’s whatever moves you and makes your plant look its best. The important consideration is the actual number of lumens (the standard measurement for light output) being emitted, and most bulbs are handily labeled for such. A perfect light output for small carnivorous plant containers is about 1600 lumens, but if you can’t remember that, the labels on most LED packages offer a handy alternative. Almost always in the upper right corner, those packages list the light output equivalent of an old-style incandescent bulb, and what you want to get is a 100-watt equivalent. The actual power consumption will be between 13 and 17 watts, depending upon the brand and the particular colors inherent in the light (full-spectrum LED bulbs tend toward 17 watts), but the light output will be the same. Whatever light option you want, get a 100-watt equivalent, and screw it into your desk lamp.
IMPORTANT: Go for a 100-watt equivalent LED bulb, not an actual 100-watt LED bulb. Not only is that amount of power consumption not necessary, but most desk lamps were designed for 40 to 60 watts of power consumption. While the bulb may not be throwing off the ridiculous amounts of heat that an old 100-watt incandescent bulb did, the wiring and socket can overheat and become a fire risk.
LED bulbs produce less heat than compact fluorescent bulbs and a lot less than old-style incandescent bulbs, but they’ll still generate some heat. Therefore, unless your workspace is considerably colder than most, and I’ve worked in some horrendously cold offices, set your lamp head about a handspan away from your plant and turn it on. If you want to get fancy or to make sure your plant gets light over the weekend or over vacation, consider getting a timer, analog or digital, to set the light output to match day/night hours over the year. With this setup, it’s possible to keep many species of Asian pitcher plant and tropical sundews, butterworts, and bladderworts well away from other available light sources.
A few things to consider:
Many offices turn off air conditioning over the weekend as a cost-saving measure, and some carnivores such as Cape sundews (Drosera capensis) have issues with temperatures going above 26 degrees C/80F. Cape sundews react to excessive heat, either from the light or from other sources, by burning back, and Asian pitcher plant leaves turn a brassy color when getting too much light. If these happen, pull back the lamp another handspan and watch to see if the situation improves.
Even though you and your plant may enjoy the high levels of light from your lamp, coworkers and supervisors may not, and this situation is particularly exacerbated in the ongoing nightmare of the open office. To keep stray light from annoying coworkers and control freaks alike, consider using a light shield made of cardboard, polycarbonate plastic (old political campaign banners cut to size and painted work well), or Mylar to keep the light reflecting back on the plant and not in coworker eyes.
In a typical work environment, you may get well-meaning coworkers or security crew who see a light on without you at the desk, and think they’re doing you a favor by turning it off, or busybodies who don’t like having it left on over the weekend. Signage can minimize a lot of this, even if it’s a sign over the light switch reading “This Light Is Running On Purpose.”
It may be perfectly obvious that the light is there for a carnivorous plant, but take into account roommates, coworkers, and supervisors with a phobia of reptiles or arthropods that might assume that your container is a home for a snake or insect. Again, a sign or tag stating “Nothing But Us Plants” is a good idea, as well as one reading “Please Do Not Feed Me” for those who decide they want to watch your plant feed and drop in whatever they find. If they keep it up anyway, well, at least you have a portable lamp to move your plant to home…or to work.
(The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale is a regular Email newsletter, with archives available on the main TTR site at least a month after first publication. To receive the latest newsletters, please subscribe.)
Originally published on April 14, 2020.
Installment #16: “What I Did On My Cross-Country Trek Across The Cursed Earth”
So…about all those plans for 2020. Funny, huh?
If there’s anything approximating a silver lining to the last month, it’s that we’re all discovering which of us have the ultraviolet senses of humor. I mean, no zombies, no Daleks, no triffids, no rampaging bands of mutants attacking the walls of Mega City One, no Australian motorcycle punks in bondage pants tearing down the highways with stolen guzzoline, no teenage crack shots with telepathic dog companions, and not even a sardonic name for COVID-19. I mean, “Captain Trumps” is close, but it’s probably not going to catch on, more’s the pity. If humor is the psyche’s way to deal with an interrupted defense mechanism, then the smartalecks will be the ones to inherit the Earth…if they can keep it away from singing roaches, re-emerged dinosaur men, and the constant need to roll for beneficial mutations.
After the snark comes the urge to help. The Triffid Ranch is going to be fine (check out below for details), but it’s hard not to worry about friends, cohorts, and interesting bystanders. For those without means or motivation to keep up with Dallas news, the whole of Dallas County is still on shelter-in-place orders until the end of April, and it’s becoming likely that the existing order may be extended. Most school districts have given up on classes returning to finish out the school year, more and more businesses are letting everyone work from home (although plenty are already itching to require their employees to come back; we’re rapidly recognizing the sheer number of managers who want to oversee large groups of organ donors solely because they aren’t allowed to stick their family members with hatpins), and any kind of social interaction is increasingly virtual. Yeah, it’s rough, and it might be rough for a while.
Again, the urge to help. Given a few minutes, we could all think of several people and venues to which we could point and say “Don’t worry about me: go help THEM” and mean it. Let me start the ball rolling. Friends who have never been to Dallas, and whose total knowledge of this city comes from that godawful TV show from 40 years ago, wonder why I stay and why I keep fighting to make this place better. Here are some of the reasons why.
Firstly, it’s time to give a shoutout to a friend and a cohort, one of the biggest smartalecks in Dallas journalism, and someone who also believes that We Can Be Better. I’m talking about Pete Freedman of the Dallas news site Central Track. All of the local news venues are hurting: I’m also giving a shoutout to the Dallas Observer, and I’m even willing to let slide 40 years of bad blood with the Dallas Morning News now that the James Lipton of Fandom moved on. However, Central Track is exactly the sort of gonzo news source that Dallas has needed for decades: it’s smart, it’s concise, and its staff is more interested in punching up than in catering to fevered egos, both outside and inside the newsroom. The reason I bring up Pete and Central Track is because its emphasis was on culture and local events, and when the events all shut down, so did all of Central Track’s advertising. If nothing else, go digging through the archives (the breakdowns on the State Fair of Texas are priceless), subscribe to its newsletter, and let the staff know that they’re appreciated. Me, I’m sending doughnuts.
Secondly, Dallas also suffers from a reputation for corporate dining that’s also 40 years old, even if it’s hard not to take licks for being responsible for the Brinker restaurant empire. We also have a reputation kept inside for some really incredible options from a huge array of ethnic cuisines, especially in the Richardson and Garland areas. With the lockdown, all sit-in dining is banned, so a lot of great places are having to squeak by with pickup and delivery sales. Recommending all of the places worthy of inclusion would take all week, so I give two recommendations for restaurants right next to the gallery that are especially near and dear to our hearts: Sababa for Mediterranean cuisine and Tasty Tails for New Orleans-style seafood. Sababa is literally across the street from the gallery, and Tasty Tails is about a block north (dangerously close to the Richardson Half Price Books), so when things get closer to normal, it may be time to invite everyone over for one big gathering and see why we stay.
And then there’s the stuff to do while sheltering in place. I personally owe Keith Colvin of Keith’s Comics a whole series of debts for kindnesses and considerations over the years, and that has nothing to do with recommending his shop for takeout orders of the best in comics and graphic novels. Likewise, although the flagship Half Price Books location is closed to visitors along with all of the others, they’re also filling pickup orders from requests made online and by phone. And when this is over, I have a very big Nepenthes attenboroughii enclosure waiting for the flagship store, so the sooner it’s all over, the better, eh? Okay, that’s the help list from over here. Let’s see yours.
Well, since all of the previous drama has made things awfully entertaining around here, should I mention that it’s bluebonnet season in Texas? Seriously: if you live in the North Texas area, take advantage of the opportunity for exercise outside to go stare at wildflowers for a few hours. If you don’t, then there’s always photos, right?
It’s up for the Hugo Award. It’s been all over NPR. Just trust me: go out and snag a copy of This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. As always, I’m biased: Amal and I have been friends for years, even though she worries about how and why I know about the prevalence of carnivorous habits among nominally herbivorous animals in the Scottish Highlands, but don’t let that stop you. As always, I feel an enclosure coming on, and it’s a matter of making it do justice to their book.
A benefit of shelter-in-place? It’s getting caught up on music I’d meant to check out but hadn’t the opportunity. In this month’s case, it meant falling down the Calling All Astronauts rabbit hole, and it’s a deep hole. As it turns out, that works really, really well as gallery background music while working on new enclosures. Uncle Zonker says check it out.
Let’s try this again. Both due to confusion with the date of the official State of Texas executive order allowing pickup and delivery for non-essential businesses, and confusion between the executive order and the current Dallas County shelter-in-place order, last weekend’s flash sale was a bit, erm, quiet. Well, that and only having about 24 hours’ notice as to the state’s change on shelter-in-place policy. This just means that in solidarity with Texas Frightmare Weekend’s HQ virtual convention, the Texas Triffid Ranch will be hosting another pickup-only Flash Sale on Saturday, May 2.
To reiterate from last week, starting at noon, patrons can come out to buy a particular set of plants, with those plants being placed in their cars after selection. The sale will continue until 6:00 pm Central Time or until everything is sold out, whichever comes first. All of the specials are beginner plants, already potted into appropriate containers, including the basic care guide instructions on the container as expected from Triffid Ranch shows. If this works well, this will continue every weekend until the shelter-in-place order is lifted and regular shows can continue. In the meantime, if you’ve been craving a touch of green and want something different, you live in the general Dallas area, and you enjoy the novelty of curbside service, this is the best option when standard appointments aren’t possible.
(NOTE: the larger enclosures as highlighted in the Enclosures Past & Presentsection may always be purchased and picked up by appointment. Unfortunately, we cannot allow patrons to enter the premises to view them, and they have to be brought out for inspection and purchase. If you have any questions, please contact us.)
For the Frightmare Flash Sale, we offer four species: three types of Asian pitcher plant (Nepenthes x ventrata, Nepenthes ventricosa, and Nepenthes sanguinea), and Cape sundews (Drosera capensis). As shown below, the pitcher plants include a one-gallon glass container, substrate, and decorations for $35.00US plus sales tax. The Cape sundews include an Erlenmeyer flask and substrate, and sell for $25.00US plus sales tax. In addition, not only do the Shirt Price discounts apply ($30 for the Nepenthes, $20 for the cape sundews) for those wearing Triffid Ranch shirts, but it also applies for those wearing Texas Frightmare Weekend shirts, from ANY year. If we’re going to get out, we’re going to do this right.
For pickup, calling or emailing in advance isn’t necessary: just pull up to the building and let the handy but a little dim attendant take your order. (For larger enclosures, please call or email in advance.) Masks and gloves will be mandatory, for your safety and mine. Payment can be made in cash or credit card, and ask about PayPal information to reserve larger enclosures. For directions, follow the map. If things work well, expect this to be the first of many flash sales, at least until the current situation ends. Selah.
Okay, so the limitations on non-essential retail businesses opening in Dallas County just expired, on the proviso that those non-essential businesses only conduct sales via curbside pickup. As it turns out, the Triffid Ranch has a whole slew of plants already potted and ready for several March and April shows that have been cancelled, and since the Dallas County orders require that any purchases HAVE to be made via curbside pickup, with no entrance into the premises by the customer, it’s time to skip the usual open house and try something different. It’s time for a flash sale.
Here’s the situation for the foreseeable future. Every Sunday starting at noon, patrons can come out to buy a particular set of plants, with those plants being placed in their cars after selection. Each Sunday, a different set of plants will be offered for sale, and the sale will continue until 6:00 pm Central Time or until everything is sold out, whichever comes first. All of the specials are beginner plants, already potted into appropriate containers, including the basic care guide instructions on the container as expected from Triffid Ranch shows. If this works well, this will continue every weekend until the shelter-in-place order is lifted and regular shows can continue. In the meantime, if you’ve been craving a touch of green and want something different, you live in the general Dallas area, and you enjoy the novelty of curbside service, this is the best option when standard appointments aren’t possible.
(NOTE: the larger enclosures as highlighted in the Enclosures Past & Present section may always be purchased and picked up by appointment. Unfortunately, we cannot allow patrons to enter the premises to view them, and they have to be brought out for inspection and purchase. If you have any questions, please contact us.)
For the first Flash Sale, we offer four species: three types of Asian pitcher plant (Nepenthes x ventrata, Nepenthes ventricosa, and Nepenthes sanguinea), and Cape sundews (Drosera capensis). As shown below, the pitcher plants include a one-gallon glass container, substrate, and decorations for $35.00US plus sales tax. The Cape sundews include an Erlenmeyer flask and substrate, and sell for $25.00US plus sales tax.
For pickup, calling or emailing in advance isn’t necessary: just pull up to the building and let the handy but a little dim attendant take your order. (For larger enclosures, please call or email in advance.) Masks and gloves will be mandatory, for your safety and mine. Payment can be made in cash or credit card. For directions, follow the map. If things work well, expect this to be the first of many flash sales, at least until the current situation is over, and I’ll see everyone starting at 12:00 on Sunday.
Posted onApril 24, 2020|Comments Off on State of the Gallery: April 2020
A solid month after the COVID-19 lockdown started, and everyone understands my hometown’s unofficial motto: “So…aside from THAT, Mrs. Kennedy, what do you think of Dallas?” For those having issues with shelter-in-place orders, I sincerely sympathize and empathize with your plight, and here’s hoping that the Triffid Ranch can help take the edge off. For those suddenly finding ourselves with the opportunity to live our preferred hours, “If I’m not back in my coffin by sunrise, I turn back into a pumpkin,” there’s a lot to do. Hang on.
To start off, the virtual Manchester United Flower Show on April 18 was an experiment in terror, but it also worked. Yeah, the video froze at the beginning (a glitch in its iPad app means that everything freezes if texts or other notices come through, requiring a hard restart to get everything going again), but it was a grand start. This, of course, was the beginning: the archives are up on Twitch, and expect new installments every Sunday evening. (During the duration of the lockdown, don’t expect any Saturday evening virtual open houses for one very important reason. I refuse to make anyone choose between Triffid Ranch streams and those of Panoptikon Dallas, myself included. Dallas’s best goth club is having issues with the lockdown as well, the DJs and crew are friends, and the Friday and Saturday night playlists are a great comfort in the gallery late at night.)
And on the subject of virtual events, it only gets better next week. Until March, the biggest Triffid Ranch show of the year was the planned Texas Frightmare Weekend horror convention that traditionally runs the first weekend of May. Frightmare has been moved to September, and we’re all awaiting word as to whether it’ll be safe for the show to run then (and whether we’ll all be wearing masks and not just for costuming), but Grand Poobah Loyd Cryer decided that if we couldn’t have the show in May, we at least needed something. That’s why, starting on April 25, the new Frightmare HQ streaming show promises to give everyone a taste of what makes TFW such an event. The first broadcast runs on April 25 and runs through the weekend of May 2, and those who missed out on the last virtual open house get a good look at the inside of the gallery starting at 2:00 pm Central Time. And yes, if you can’t watch live, the archives will be available on YouTube and Twitch.
In other developments, it’s official as of today: the governor of Texas signed an executive order today that allows non-essential business to conduct pick-up and delivery business, which means that the Triffid Ranch is back to limited operation. Because (a) customers cannot enter the premises, (b) only curbside delivery is allowed, and (c) the gallery is currently full of plants that had been potted in anticipation of the Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo show scheduled for March, we’re going to try something different. All enclosures listed in the Enclosures Past & Present section are available for purchase at any time (just schedule an appointment for pickup or delivery), but most of the sales at shows such as Oddities & Curiosities and Texas Frightmare Weekend were for smaller, individual plants and containers. Because setting up tables and letting customers go through a complete inventory isn’t an option, it’s time for a Sunday Flash Sale. For the foreseeable future, from 12 noon until we’re out of plants, the Triffid Ranch front porch will have one specific species or group available, all generally identical, and all for the same price. Check back each Saturday to find out what the Flash Sale special is going to be, and call or write to reserve a plant once the special is announced. For those who want to drive by first, we accept drive-up visitors, but everyone will HAVE to stay in the car while doing so. (On my side, it’s masks and gloves all the way around, with containers cleaned before the sale starts.) For obvious reasons, the sale starts with tropical carnivores, but expect to see Sarracenia and other outdoor carnivores in the next few weeks once growing season gets going.
Well, it’s not the same as normal operations for an April, but things could be a lot worse. After all, three years ago, the gallery was a packed-up mess after its relocation, and it took six months of work to get it ready for its official reopening. If we survived that, we can survive anything.
Well, that was an interesting weekend. Technical issues, getting people over to the channel, and the realization that a virtual open house doesn’t have to run for hours the way a meatspace one does…it was harrowing and more than a little goofy, but the Manchester United Flower Show 2020 went remarkably well, all things considered. Because of previous confusion and for the convenience of those who couldn’t watch the stream while it was running, you may notice the new Video page. Among other things, this is the place for schedules for impending streams, crossovers with others (just wait until I can tell you what Texas Frightmare Weekend has planned for the next couple of weekends), and a direct link to the video channel. As soon as I can embed the Twitch stream directly on the page, I’ll let everyone know.
Posted onApril 6, 2020|Comments Off on The Return of the Manchester United Flower Show 2020
Sometime back in the mists of the Late Cretaceous, the plan was to host a special gallery open house in April that took advantage of blooming season. With one known exception, carnivorous plants bloom like any other angiosperm, with the height of the spectacle hitting in Dallas in the latter half of April. Sometimes the blooms last into May, and some species just never stop blooming through the growing season (yes, Stylidium debile, I’m looking at you). The last few years have been particularly rough on this idea, with last year’s flower show cancelled due to illness, but this year it was going to happen. Absolutely. Sure of it.
Well, as you may have noticed, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and the gallery is just a little too small to allow easy social distancing: at least, allowing social distancing and access to the restroom. With the current lockdown and shelter-in-place order for the entirety of Dallas County, currently extended to April 30, large gatherings are not just discouraged but open to fines and arrest, so the original open house was regretfully cancelled. Heck, when the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is cancelled for 2020 because of COVID-19, there’s no reason to risk life and health even if the shelter-in-place order wasn’t an issue. We can still have one in 2021, but a live show isn’t an option right now, and probably not until well after all of the blooms are gone for the year.
Into this comes a possible solution. Between the crew at Glasstire calling for short videos of Texas art exhibitions in lieu of personal appearances and Pete Freedman of the Dallas news site Central Track hosting regular video conferences on Twitter with readers, it may be time to take the Manchester United Flower Show online. Among other things, so many friends and cohorts regret not being able to get to Dallas to view an open house, so this is an opportunity to include them with no obligation and no plane tickets. For everyone else sick to death of online conferences for work and otherwise, it’s an opportunity to sit back and let someone else drive. We’re still working out the details, but we’re going back to the original date and time of Saturday, April 18 at 6:00 pm Central Time, with a repeat later in the evening for those on the other side of the International Date Line. Keep an eye on the site for more details, but the idea is to have an opportunity for as many people as possible to watch, so it probably won’t be attached to a particular platform. We’ll burn those bridges as we come to them.
To reiterate, the Manchester United Flower Show is back in place on April 18, barring life imitating art, and without issues with parking. See you then.
Comments Off on The Return of the Manchester United Flower Show 2020
Posted onApril 6, 2020|Comments Off on Enclosures: “Raven Well” (2020)
The locals refer to the days before the Well as “The Belonging,” when the veil between worlds was weak and people were better than they were afterwards. Not that they knew much other than that: those who asked too many questions were either asked to leave or disappeared suddenly in the night. The foothills and valleys around the mountains were perpetually shadowed by clouds that never broke, with the only motion being a constant swirl around the tallest mountain in the region. Occasionally travelers spotted flashes of lightning from the vortex, getting stronger the closer they approached the peak. At least, this was what was reported by travelers who related what they saw to others: other travelers trying to get closer tended not to return at all, and others returned but became extremely enthusiastic about shutting down further questions.
Every once in a while, particularly brave travelers specifically went to view the lightning’s source, and a very few were willing to whisper about what they saw. They described a tremendous stone block on the side of the mountain, flanked by tremendous metal chains affixed to the mountainside and struck repeatedly by the lightning and backed by a cyclopean multicolored bas relief that could have been stone or glass or metal or a combination of all three. In the center of the block was a well bored into the mountain’s roots. Nobody asked about the well’s depths, because those bravest of the brave rapidly left after hearing what sounded almost like voices, soft and sibilant, coming from the depths. Some described the well as being half-full of water, and others said it was only full of darkness. One, though, visited right at the spring equinox, when a sudden break in the clouds shone sunlight directly down into the well and onto a garden of brilliant yellow flowers unlike any seen elsewhere. The explorer claimed she had climbed down to gather a flower but lost it in the forest, along with most of an arm, and refused to explain the circumstances under which both were left behind.
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 24″ x 36″ x 18″ (60.96 cm x 91.44 cm x 45.72 cm) Plants: Nepenthes ampullaria and Utricularia subulata Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, resin, found items. Price: $400 Shirt Price: $350
Posted onApril 3, 2020|Comments Off on Bluebonnet Season 2020 – 3
Even in better times, Texans and tourists rushed out every spring to view the return of the Texas bluebonnet, Lupinus texensis, bringing family, loved ones, and pets into the mix. This didn’t always end well for the bluebonnets: the plants themselves are reasonably tolerant of abuse, but the flowers are very easily crushed. This was really a problem for actively trafficked areas: for the most part, bluebonnets are common enough and widespread enough that the species can handle the occasional trampled cluster. In these days of social distancing, that dose of blue, purple, and green is even more important than ever, as is the need to give everyone a chance to see them who wants to do so. Please, please be careful when taking family photos in bluebonnet patches, if only by sticking to the edges and not flattening the whole thing. Most importantly, clean up after your pets, unless you want that kind of karma in an age of security cameras everywhere. Everyone else will thank you for this in the future.
For everyone who has followed this little trek so far, thank you very much, and keep an eye open for future posts. Bluebonnet season is just getting started, and there’s no telling what we could find among the undergrowth in a week or so. No telling at all.
Posted onApril 2, 2020|Comments Off on Bluebonnet Season 2020 – 2
One of the things that amazes so many initiates to Texas bluebonnets is exactly how much animal life can reside inside one bluebonnet clump. No, not bluebonnet rattlesnakes: a thriving field of bluebonnets captures dead leaves and other debris to feed detritivores, and the leaves provide sustenance for a whole legion of foragers and grazers, while the flowers attract a wide range of pollinators that themselves depend upon the flowers’ pollen and nectar. With those herbivores come predators to take advantage of the largesse, and bodies of predator and prey themselves feed the detritivores. It’s a short-lived cycle that ends when the plants die off and burn back in May, but it’s absolutely essential for a wide variety of fauna, mycota, and other flora to continue their own life cycles. Give the land a chance to cool and rest over the winter, and the cycle starts all over in spring.
Posted onApril 2, 2020|Comments Off on Bluebonnet Season 2020 – 1
For those outside of Texas, and for everyone sheltering in place, the Texas wildflower season started about the time we all started self-quarantining, and it now gets going with the beginning of bluebonnet season. Lupinus texensis is a denizen of poor soils throughout the state, growing thickly on roadsides, fields, industrial parks, and anywhere where nitrogen is at a premium. Part of their appeal is the tremendous clumps of blooms at the height of the season, but also their transitory nature: by the end of April, they generally burn off and deposit seeds for next year’s crop. By July, most people who hadn’t witnessed the waves of blooms in April would never have known they existed: the stems and flowers turn to powder and are overgrown by grasses and other summer flora.
Because of this temporary display, many bluebonnet habitats throughout Texas will not mow until the bluebonnets and other wildflower species go to seed. With the bluebonnets come legions of wildflower tourists to get photos of family and/or loved ones among the bluebonnets, in addition to utter idiots fussing about bluebonnet rattlesnakes. This is all fine and good, but these photos generally avoid one important fact: L. texensis is a fascinating plant when seen from the ground, to the point of seeming unbearably exotic.
It’s easy to be flippant about plant blindness, the cognitive bias that prevents people from seeing the plants in their everyday environments. It’s an understandable heritage of being taught over and over to look for the animals in various environments: look back on the number of pictorials of exotic environments and then consider how many focused solely on the plants and ignored the animals. You might be considering for a while: everything from National Geographic foldouts to dinosaur books focus on the animals big and small, with the accompanying flora a sidenote at best. The phenomenon of plant blindness is even worse with documentary films and videos: show a field of Sarracenia pitcher plants, and interest only perks up when the viewer sees tree frogs in the pitchers. On a personal level, I deal with this at Triffid Ranch shows on a constant basis: not only do people look at an enclosure in a quest for the animal they’re sure is inside, but after being told that the enclosure holds nothing but plants, they check again just to make sure. Plant blindness isn’t innate and it isn’t genetic: it’s a learned behavior, and it’s one that can be broken with enough practice.
This is why, in the tradition of Sir David Attenborough, it’s time to go among the bluebonnets. Expect more pictures in the very near future: after all, bluebonnet season is only just starting up, and they’re going to get thick in the next few weeks. Most importantly, though, try to remember that plant blindness. Don’t focus on anything else: focus on the plants. Note the foliage as well as the blooms. Only this way can you break the curse of plant blindness.
Posted onApril 1, 2020|Comments Off on Enclosure: “Conjunction of the Million Spheres” (2020)
In which an artist, in an attempt to create backstory for a recent artwork, dives headfirst into obscure fanfic.
On that particular morning, Lietyran awoke with a sense of responsibility. She awoke every morning with a sense of responsibility, considering her position and her heritage, but this was different. From the moment the tower servants awoke her, her responsibility to those she and her family ruled was the same: she was the ruler and they were the ruled, deferring only to traditions of the royal court and the specific orders of her parents. That day, though, had an extra veneer of obligation. Her father, Taurik XXIII, the emperor and total ruler of the Bright Empire of Melnibone, was attaining his 55th birthday the next day, and Taurik always expected his subjects to at least try to surprise him on what was, after all, a national day of obligation. The fact that Taurik’s birthday coincided with the five thousandth anniversary of the founding of the island nation of Melnibone just made Lietyran’s concerns more focused. A day before such a pair of momentous holidays, and she had yet to find her father a suitable present.
Climbing out of her bed and staring out the tower window, she beheld the main and sole city on the whole of Melnibone: Imrryr, the Dreaming City. tens of thousands of citizens rushed below her, attended to by hundreds of thousands of slaves and servants, between the city center and the fantastic sea-maze built in the harbor. In the surrounding towers, all of which appeared more grown than built, the greatest sorcerers the world had ever seen conducted countless rituals and sacrifices, traveling to alternate planes of existence or trading with demons and elementals alike. Squinting a bit with her witch sight, she could see the seemingly endless progressions of elementals of the air repairing towers, transporting messages, or simply gathering the smoke from hundreds of fires both mundane and magic and shuttling it outside the city. To her window rose the sounds of Imrryr life: horses and mastodons, fervent conversations, droning incantations, and the occasional scream of terror. So did the smells: sweet wine, sour sweat, bitter regret, acrid fear, and occasionally the clean crisp scent of exultation. From time to time, dragons would swoop near the tower, their riders returning from the furthest edge of the empire with news or tribute. The Melniboneans were a cruel and capricious race, solely interested in maintaining their power and fending off their boredom, and the best the humans hauled in every day by the hundreds could hope for was relative indifference. To Lietyran, the sounds and sights she beheld had been a part of Imrryr life since the days of the first emperors, and would be a part centuries after she and everyone else she knew was dead. Not knowing anything else, she accepted it and moved on.
That moving on involved subterfuge that day. Her father was a late sleeper, attending to affairs of state by midday after others had made sure that anything that passed under his gaze was worthy of his attention. Even she dared not wake him early unless he had specifically requested it, as his nights were devoted both to his own esoteric research and to his wife, Empress Salaee. The emperor indulged his only daughter and doted on her as best as Melnibonean traditions allowed, but he had his limits. Because of that, she quickly donned travel clothes and hat and her most quiet slippers and cleared the floor reserved for the royal chambers, only switching to riding boots after she was on the ground level. She quickly picked ten of the most loyal of the royal guard, ordered a meal basket with wine from the kitchen slaves, and walked to the tower stables, where her favorite horse awaited her intentions. She was a princess, they were her subjects, and nobody questioned why or where she was going that early in the morning.
There were others who would, which was why the real reason Lietyran was up early. The Melnibonean royal court was affectionately referred to by her father as “a pit of vipers,” to which she strenuously objected. She had been raising vipers and other venomous snakes for most of her 17 years, both for their venoms and for pure curiosity, and she never saw even the most aggressive viper bite itself. Some of the noble families of Imrryr were boorish enough to hint as to their intentions of taking the fabled Ruby Throne for themselves, although none were ambitious or stupid enough to state their intentions openly and risk the Emperor hearing of them. Taurik also had his traditions and obligations as ruler, but this never prevented his enjoying the Royal Inquisitor’s very precise and very slow interrogation as to the extent of any treason that usually doubled as a public demonstration of the subtleties of agony. Most settled for watching for any opportunity for favor with the Emperor, particularly involving any intrigues surrounding his daughter, and she learned practically in the womb to feint and double-feint as to her true intentions, even among those she legitimately considered friends. Sometimes the feints were physical: her mother discouraged her from learning warcraft, recommending and preferring undetectable poisons and minuscule alterations of grimoires so that summoned demons were able to escape and wreak revenge before they could be returned to the Lower Hells. Lietyran learned much from her mother, and also sword and dagger play from the Lords of the Dragon Caves alongside lessons in riding horse and dragon. The royal guard was expected and required, but she knew she would not be completely helpless.
Upon leaving the stables and trotting up the main street, Lietyran looked from under her wide-brimmed riding hat, adorned with the royal dragon sigil, to about halfway up a nearby tower. One of her surrogate vipers, Inarris, stared down blearily, still recovering from her nightly celebrations. Inarris was a novelty in Imrryr, proudly flaunting blonde curls in a court where brown or black hair was the standard, and her huge blue eyes caught Lietyran’s equally blue gaze and slitted: in no way would she have the time to dress and ride out to see what Lietyran was doing that day. The princess subtly saluted, knocking some of her black hair back over an ear so narrowed as to appear to come to a point, and slowed so Inarris could see exactly where she was headed. The eastern gate, leading out into the forests and wilds of Melnibone. By the time she could get there, though, Lietyran would be long gone.
Lietyran’s destination would have been a surprise to anyone who had asked, and nobody had. Another one of the grand traditions of Melnibone involved subtlety when presenting gifts to the Emperor. Taurik appreciated novelty leavened with subtlety and wit, and appreciated the adage that the best joke was a slight distortion of the truth. On previous birthdays, many came to him with intricate puzzles and viewers, both created specifically for his amusement and gathered from nearby planes, but he also enjoyed storytellers and explorers. With the whole of the world under his boot, most had little in the way of unique perspectives, and the same went for sorcerous effects and fireworks. This was why Lietyran was heading toward a secret location she had recently discovered in a chronicle in the royal library: six months of feverish translation of the magician’s cipher gave her the location of the presumed-lost laboratories of Terhali the First, the most famous of Melnibone’s guiding empresses.
Most of of the island of Melnibone outside of the city walls was wild, interspersed with small orchards and farms dedicated to growing the rare plants used for spells and incantations throughout Imrryr. Other herbs and trees were impossible to cultivate and grew where they chose, so the island was covered with flora from across the Bright Empire, brought back on battle-barge and dragon alike. Over the centuries, emperors claimed magical laboratories built by their predecessors or built their own, both to keep secret new avenues of learning and to prevent accidents from damaging life and property. Of the ones never found and exploited, the most sought-after was the laboratory of Terhali the Demon Empress, rumored to have been mothered by a demon as an explanation for her deep green skin. As with the others, it was almost definitely built on a nearby plane of existence for security and discretion, but could be reached via demon-constructed doorways and gates in hidden locations, but only with the correct password. If Lietyran’s translations of the cipher were correct, she had both a password and a map.
Lietyran and her royal guard rode for about two hours, occasionally backtracking based on referral to the cipher and her notes. Eventually, they reached the cliffs at Melnibone’s northern shore, and she ordered her guard to spread out and watch for any interlopers. With the guard preoccupied, she carefully walked along the edge of the cliff, stepped down onto a nearly invisible pathway running just below the edge, and even more carefully inched to one of dozens of cave entrances on the cliff face. Most of these were dark and shallow, only going in about ten feet or so. The one she selected had light coming from the back, about 200 feet back, and she tiptoed over branches and bones that had collected at the mouth. The light turned out to be filtered sunlight coming through the collapsed roof, and the tunnel eventually opened out into a natural caldera. The caldera was surrounded with thick forest, thus explaining why it had evaded discovery for the 500 years since Terhali last lived, and the only thing in it was a tremendous rock slab, weathered and pitted. This had been carved with a large circular window in the center, and runes both around the window and on the rest of the slab seemed to make the slab appear even older than what Lietyran expected.
Looking back to make sure that nobody had followed her into the caldera, Lietyran pulled her handwritten notes from a riding bag at her side, followed by a small metal pick and a clear blue crystal. One set of runes suggested the incantation necessary to awaken the monolith, but she knew far too well about the traps set by Melnibone’s sorcerers to prevent unauthorized pillaging of their secrets. She took off her riding hat, brushed hair out of her eyes, and put the crystal to her right eye. There, she thought: through the crystal, another series of runes were made visible, and those suggested a different cantrip. Lietyran put the crystal back in her bag and walked up to the monolith, spitting on her palm while doing so. She used to pick to pull away dirt and detritus from a space directly underneath the window, revealing a small triangle carved into the stone. She pressed her spat-upon hand onto the triangle and whispered “Gol mek ta ke,” and jumped in spite of herself as two gigantic crystals, each much taller than she was, erupted on either side of the window.
Now she knew she was on the right track, as no crystal of this type existed anywhere on Earth. Their extraplanar origin was obvious, and although she wasn’t foolish enough to touch them, she knew that they were rapidly chilling in the morning sun. Right at noon, with the sun directly overhead, the cipher hinted, and the gate could be opened.
Lietyran had time to kill, and she regretted not taking the food basket with her when she came down this way. No matter: she would have plenty of time to eat if everything worked. Instead of going back for food or wine, she settled for studying the remaining runes as the sun rose and the crystals froze. Finally, with a course of action, the sun at its height, and a thick fog forming around the base of the crystals, she stood between the two, gathered her notes, and began to read aloud.
When starting, Lietyran had no expectations of a spectacle. Indeed, she was too busy concentrating, focusing on magical concepts whose perception was as essential as the spell itself. However, she knew it should have been straightforward: a slight glow to the monolith, and the gate inside the window would open into whatever fantastic plane to which the stone had been anchored. She was so focused on the spell that at first she didn’t notice the sparks flying off the stone face, the twin vortexes of fog and dead leaves forming over the crystals, or the sudden wind blasting through the caldera. She noticed when one of the sparks broke free and passed over her head, though, and stared in surprise when the whole of the circle opened and a blue-topaz light shone through. She definitely noticed as a silvery metal barrel about the size of her horse launched through the circle and bounced to the wall of the caldera. The sparks and dust-devils stopped, the light stopped, and the wind stopped. The only sound coming from the area came from the barrel, which was slowly pinging like cooling iron.
As a princess of the greatest empire the world had ever known, Lietyran had no time to cower, or stare, or run off. This thing could have been a threat to the Bright Empire, or a serendipitous opportunity, and as such must be investigated. She also looked at the barrel as the perfect birthday gift for her father: even empty, she knew that the circumstances of its arrival would make an interesting tale, with the appropriate omissions as to the exact location and the circumstances leading up to its discovery. She may have been a princess, but she was also a Melnibonean, and traditions on what and where to share ran through her veins along with her blood. She walked forward as the barrel stopped pinging, noting what appeared to be a door on the side of the barrel. That door swung open, discharging a large cloud of sour greenish smoke, and two figures crawled out, coughing and waving the air to dissipate the smoke.
“Are you all right, Garanik?”, the first figure asked, as he, unmistakably he, removed a strange round black hat off his head and waved that in the air at the smoke. The figure’s clothing was odd by any standard: a white shirt of unknown material under a dark blue vest covered with pockets and straps and loops. Breeks of a coarse faded blue cloth, and blue shoes with odd lacing with magenta stripes on the sides. The most surprising was the hair. As mentioned before, Melnibonean hair ranged brown to black, with the occasional blonde for variety. The stranger’s hair was a deep auburn, like that of the winged men of Myrrhn, and his sideburns suggested that his beard would be the same color. As if taking that into account, the stranger ruffled that hair for a second as if trying to dislodge sand, put the round hat back on, and took a quick look around, completely missing Lietyran.
“Well, THAT was different! Terrestrial world, average gravity…I’m just glad it has a breathable atmosphere. We may be here for a while if we need to make repairs.”
Another voice came from the other side of the barrel, deep and sonorous, with a different accent than that of the stranger. In all of her studies and all of her experiences, Lietyran had never heard accents like these in her life. “Do you know what happened?”
“Not a clue. Bell’s Theorem spits in my face again.” The stranger turned, noted Lietyran for the first time, and took off his hat slightly, “Hello.”
Lietyran was in unfamiliar territory, but she was neither stupid or cowardly. Regretting that she had neither sword nor dagger, that her guard had no precise idea where she was, and that her little pick made a terrible weapon, she made a show of relaxing in order to free her arms for a possible fight, looked up at the stranger through her eyebrows, and asked “I presume you know who you are and where you are?”
The stranger smiled, turned to the side and yelled over the barrel “And the Machine’s translator carrier is working this time!” He then turned to her, took off the hat entirely and put it over his heart, and bowed slightly. “Apologies. My name is Benetalistantrumaine, but everyone calls me ‘Bennett.’ As to where I am, I was hoping you could help. We’re a little off course.”
“We?” Just as she asked, she turned toward the near end of the barrel. Standing over her was a giant. The first stranger at least appeared human, if not Melnibonean. The giant could never pass for human. It stood a full eight feet high, with greyish skin and longish dark hair, the latter held in place with an elaborate circlet of golden metal with a white jewel in the center. From what she could see, the giant wore similar unfamiliar attire, with a brown billowing blouse and dark brown breeks tucked into black boots. The giant’s had two deep brown eyes that stared down with obvious amusement, and its short muzzle split open for a gesture that might have been a smile. Big stout teeth like a horse’s were visible, suggesting that if it planned to eat her, it would have to work at it. In spite of herself, Lietyran stepped back slightly, tripping on a rock, and fell backwards. The giant reached out a hand that gave her a larger shock: instead of the five fingers she and the first stranger had, the giant had six: four fingers and what appeared to be a thumb on either side. She warily offered her hand in return, and the giant lifted her easily. She started to brush herself off, and then stopped, speechless.
“And you’ve met Garanik. He’s an engineering student from Iscaris III, which is…er, that’s a long story. Say hello to the lady, Garanik.
“‘Hello, Garanik.’ Are you all right?” She suddenly realized that they both spoke Low Melnibonean, the tongue used for everyday activities.
“I’m all right,” Lietyran said in High Melnibonean, the tongue used exclusively for magic and communication with elementals and beings of the Higher Planes. They both understood her, which meant either they were from the Higher Planes themselves or someone had made a potentially fatal error in teaching the language to his servants. They didn’t look like anybody’s servants, which confused her further.
“Pardon my bad manners,” Bennett said, indicating the barrel, “but I have to take a look inside. Just a minute.” He opened the door further and climbed inside, and Lietyran and Garanik listened to shouts, whistles, curses, and grumbles from within. Lietyran looked at Garanik curiously: the barrel was large, but there was no way he and Bennett would fit comfortably inside. The door swung out and Bennett stepped out, sneezing for a second at the last of the smoke.
“The good news? The good news is that we’re not stuck. Any repairs we need to make can be made after we leave. The bad news is that this place ranges closer to Chaos, so we’re going to need more time to recharge before we can leave. Want to see the sights?”
“Of course,” Garanik rumbled, “That’s why I came along in the first place.” Garanik looked at Lietyran expectantly. “Could you tell us where we are?”
Lietyran was back in familiar territory. “You are on the island of Melnibone,” with the two silently practicing the pronunciation: “Mulnehbooney.” “We’re just outside of the city of Imrryr.” The both of them looked unfamiliar and just a little unimpressed.
“And you are…?”
Lietyran’s voice gathered up in its full royal majesty, as befitting her station. “I am the Princess Lietyran, daughter of Emperor Taurik and Empress Salaee, heir to the Bright Empire of Melnibone. The real question is where are you from and what are you doing here?”
Bennett removed his hat again and scratched his scalp for a moment. “As to what we’re doing here, that’s a good question. We can’t say we were ‘pulled off course,” but that’s pretty much what happened. When the Machine dematerializes, it simultaneously exists in all alternate realities at once, and then maps onto a specific one before we can disembark. The difference is that this is drastically different from the reality we were expecting. Does that help?”
“I know the words you used, but not in that order. So who ARE you?”
Bennet chuckled. “Well, I’ve already introduced myself, but I’m from…well, that’s a confusing situation. Let’s just say that my people solved the secrets of travel through the time-space continuum, but thanks to an accident, I’m able to travel sideways as well as back and forth”
Lietyran suddenly grinned, rushing up expectantly. “This can travel in TIME?”
“Could you let me see?”, Lietyran said, trying to push Bennett aside so she could reach the door.
“I’m afraid it’s not that easy. The Machine’s power source is back in my reality. That’s all I’m trying to do: get home. Little bits of that power seep between dimensions, so it can gather that up for another jump, but that takes time.”
“Our faithful steed, the Silver Machine.” Bennett patted the side affectionately. “Back, forth, and sideways through time and space, with little complaint and no clue as to where we’re going half the time.” He sing-songed; “Don’t you know what I mean?”
“So how long do you need?”
“Normally, a day is more than enough time. However, in realities with more of an inherent level of chaos, it can take longer. Give us about two days, and we’ll be on our way.”
“Let me understand you. You two are from a different…reality? And you can travel to other realities, and not just to other planes?”
“That pretty much sums it up. Garanik here is from a different reality and a different world, and he asked to come along to see the multiverse.”
“‘Multiverse’. Now that’s a word I understand. But I thought travel through the multiverse was only possible during the Conjunction of the Million Spheres, when the barriers between planes was at its most fluid.”
They looked at each other. “News to us,” Bennett said.
Lietyran thought for a moment. Her thoughts roiled. If she got them back to Imrryr, not only would their tales make a perfect gift for her father, but Inarris would chew glass in envy. And then there was the thought of traveling beyond anywhere any Melnibonean had ever been. All of this happening on the anniversary of the Empire’s founding…if the gods intended this as a joke, they were evidently in the mood for slapstick.
“In my power as Princess, I welcome you as honored guests of the Ruby Throne, and invite you to a special audience before the Emperor. We can bring back your…Machine as well. I just have one last question.”