And it’s October 1, meaning that it’s no longer considered unusual by average people to watch this clip over and over, the way I have since this approximate date in 1976…
And it’s October 1, meaning that it’s no longer considered unusual by average people to watch this clip over and over, the way I have since this approximate date in 1976…
Another shameless plug: in the decade since I first moved to Garland, Texas, every Sunday morning of a Triffid Ranch show involves a trip to Donut Palace, without fail. Not only is it one of the best donut shops in the Dallas area, with exemplary kolaches for those who need something with more protein than sugar, but the crew there makes sure to take care of everybody, no matter how large or small the order. (For those familiar with Texas Frightmare Weekend, I’ve made a point of bringing donuts for the Frightmare staff on Sunday mornings since the first show at DFW Airport in 2012, and Donut Palace is where I get enough donuts to feed that mob.) It may be superstitious, but I’ve never had a bad show after making a stop there on Sunday morning, and any excuse to grab four or five jalapeno bacon kolaches on a September morning is always a good one.
One final image to sum up the weekend: while getting set up on Sunday morning, one of the ball python breeders at the show asked me if I happened to see a loose snake in my booth. (Escapees are very rare, but sometimes it happens.) I answered completely truthfully that I hadn’t seen so much as a cricket, and continued on with my prep. You can imagine my surprise when I finished my breakdown on Sunday afternoon by flipping a table over to fold it up and get it into the truck, and this little character was curled around one of the table leg supports. Well, we were both surprised. A little coaxing to get him off the support, a little reassurance to let him know he was safe, a little help from a fellow vendor in finding his home, and he was safe and secure. Thankfully, that breeder hadn’t left the convention center yet: as much as I love snakes, I don’t have time to care for one now, and in no way would I have taken someone else’s without paying for it. However, holding this beauty was a great way to end the show, and I hope whomever gets him appreciates him as much as I did.
As an interlude, in the nearly 15 years that I have been attending the NARBC Arlington reptile and amphibian shows, one of the simple pleasures is walking off the convention center parking lot to gaze over the lake separating the convention center from the now-defunct Ballpark. The real draw, of course, are the cormorants that flock here for most of the year, gorging on bluegill and other small fish and then basking on any available human-free area. Half of the fun involves a flood drain at one end, which is a little too small for all of the cormorants who want to bask and dry off. You think penguins are bad about knocking each other into the water for an advantage? Penguins are champions of Marquis of Queensbury sparring rules compared to cormorants.
The problem with being a vendor instead of an attendee at an NARBC show: cormorants don’t bask first thing in the morning. No cormorants this trip: just one particularly determined heron.
To be continued…
Today’s shameless plug, thanks to NARBC Arlington attendees asking about where I got it: this carnivorous plant rancher is modeling a Dunkleosteus mask from the Alaska paleoartist Scott Elyard, thereby demonstrating that wearing a reconstruction of a Devonian armored predator is still less scary than having passersby see his unmasked smile. This one should be on driver’s licenses, too.
To be continued…
As with everyone else, 2020 has been an interesting year for the Triffid Ranch, in the old sense. The original business plan for 2020 was to expand the previous range and scope of touring shows, even down to the first shows outside of Texas since the first show in 2008. Well, we all know how well that went: after last March’s Nosferatu Festival in Austin, every event, expo, fair, and gathering planned for this year has been rescheduled for 2021, tentatively rescheduled for 2022, or point-blank cancelled. Worse, thanks to COVID-19 resurgences, cities that planned to reopen for large gatherings reconsidered those strategies, and even more shut down in the last couple of months. Last week, the Aquashella Dallas aquarium show announced that it was rescheduling for 2021, leaving one show still on the register: the North American Reptile Breeders Conference Arlington show, running on September 26 and 27.
To give credit to the NARBC staff and the crew at the recently renamed eSports Expo Center (formerly the Arlington Convention Center), the NARBC staff mandated masks and cleanings, hand sanitizer stations were spread throughout the area, and everyone at least tried to encourage social distancing and basic hygiene. Even so, there were just enough attendees who promptly ripped their masks off as soon as they entered, as well as arguing that “masks don’t work,” that things remained more than a little uncomfortable through the weekend. Barring more stringent ordinances in Arlington requiring mask use, this is probably the best that it’s going to get: subsequent NARBC shows, either as a vendor or as an attendee, are going to be contingent upon an effective COVID-19 vaccine.
Even with all of that, the overwhelming majority of NARBC attendees were as usual: unfailingly polite, curious, and friendly, with a lot of really thoughtful questions and suggestions, and I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t miss that interaction. It was obvious that they missed it, too, especially based on the response to news about the Sunday morning porch sales at the gallery through October. And this, friends, is why I do this.
There was one other bright side to all of this: it was a matter of discovering that even with six months between shows, the porch sales kept the organizing juices flowing, so setup and breakdown was much easier than it was with the NARBC spring show last February. Of course, being in the middle of a simply glorious Sarracenia season didn’t hurt, so those who wondered about the lack of pitcher plants and Venus flytraps at the last show were dutifully impressed. Best of all, even with a sudden return of hot and sunny weather that OF COURSE came over the weekend, the weather was cool and clement enough that everything was exploding with new growth. A lot of new people went home with new plants, and this is hopefully a harbinger for the October Porch Sales as well.
And finally, a shoutout to Adeline Robinson, the artist responsible for the new Triffid Ranch poster on display at 2020 events, whom I finally met in real life this weekend. Among other things, I ransacked her selection of herp-themed stickers, so now I could tell my wife Caroline that I was coming home with a crocodile monitor and she couldn’t do anything about it. Adeline was also responsible for the design for the NARBC Tinsley Park shirt, which you should snag at the first available opportunity.
To be continued…
Well, it’s been interesting. Six months into a pandemic, and we’re not all dead yet. Pining for the fijords, maybe, but at least we aren’t at the “have a drink and walk around, I’ve got a lot to think about” stage yet. At least we haven’t hit the “Aside from THAT, Mrs. Kennedy, what do you think of Dallas?” stage of denial, for which we should all be exceedingly thankful. It’s all about the little things.
To start, it’s been really rough for carnivorous plant growers and sellers over the last two years, so please offer solidarity and respect to Sarracenia Northwest, which had to evacuate the wildfires tearing up Oregon east of Portland. Both Jacob and Jeff are fine, and they’re trying to get caught up on back orders, so please feel free to show them more love. (Both of them were very patient and considerate with me when I was first getting into carnivores, so I owe them a debt I simply cannot repay. Seriously: they’re good folks.
On the gallery side, the renovation continues, if only as a demonstration that Tetris games are much more fun on the other side of the screen. For those who missed the previous update, the current final liquidation sale of the Pier 1 chain gave an opportunity to revamp and update the shelving in the gallery, as the Lundia modular shelving used by Pier 1 was both easier to modify and adjust and more tolerant of the, erm, impressive weight of some of the larger enclosures. This, of course, meant clearing off the existing shelf units, finding places for everything in the interim, sealing and finishing the new shelves, putting the shelves together (much more difficult than originally thought), and moving plant enclosures back onto the new arrangements. Even small changes led to massive cascades as far as improvements in storage and rearrangement of assets, so what was intended to be a quick one-week switchout turned into something that should be complete and ready to be viewed by the middle of October. I now have nothing but respect for museums needing to reorganize their stored collections, because it just grows.
On the subject of shows and outside events, after the weekend of September 26, we’ve got nothing. We just got word today that the aquarium trade show Aquashella cancelled all of its events for 2020 due to COVID-19 safety concerns, including the planned Halloween Weekend show in Dallas, and pretty much everything scheduled for November and December has been delayed until 2021. To date, the only remaining show for 2020 is the NARBC Arlington reptile and amphibian show on September 26 and 27, and that one is only continuing because of a recent upgrade of the Arlington Convention Center’s air filtration system, limits on the number of people in the convention center at any given time, and mandatory mask compliance. If there’s any good out of this, it’s that a lot of 2021 events are already prepaid, with the presumption that this won’t be ongoing through then, too. (And boy howdy, am I glad that the Triffid Ranch was considered too small-potatoes for the Dallas Art Fair, because to be caught in that mess…)
(As an aside, the official schedule for the Oddities & Curiosities Expos, including Dallas’s and Austin’s shows, comes out on Halloween. 2021 probably won’t be the year the Triffid Ranch appears at shows outside of Texas, but the intent is there.)
With the implosion of the local and out-of-town show community, the focus for the rest of the year will be on gallery events, both inside and outside. What makes October particularly bittersweet is that our neighbor, Visions of Venice, is moving out on Halloween weekend for a larger, more accessible locale in Dallas’s Design District, and it wouldn’t be right not to have one final sendoff before Stefano sets up in his new location. Details will follow, not just for a limited-engagement indoor event in mid-October, but for a freshly available outdoor event on Halloween Day thanks to the Aquashella cancellation. As always, the Sunday Morning Porch Sales run through the whole of October: we currently have tentative plans for similar events in November, but that also is up in the air.
Other than that, things go well, and with impending weather weather, expect a lot of new enclosures and enclosure concepts. See you around.
For those who didn’t get up on Sunday morning until the clock officially read “afternoon,” September 20 was a sterling example of why so many Dallasites tolerate our brutal summers. After months and months of running from the rising sun like the characters in the classic Ray Bradbury story “Frost and Fire,” there’s nothing that compares to the feeling of standing outside on a cool September morning in direct sun without burning the first four layers of skin clean off. Best of all, this morning also meant a cavalcade of plants.
The only downside to the end of September is the excess of riches. Dallas was already famous for its explosion of outdoor events in September and October, even before outdoor events became a near-necessity for safety and sanity, and we’re currently looking at an outdoor exposition explosion that’s simply unprecedented in the city’s history. This isn’t a complaint about how people have so many options and limited weekend time: this is a complaint that I can’t be in 18 places at once on a Sunday morning. We should all have it this rough.
Just as a reminder, September 27 won’t have a Sunday Porch Sale: the whole schmeal is moving to the NARBC Arlington reptile and amphibian show on September 26 and 27, complete with masks and lots of hand sanitizer. However, they’re coming back in October, with a vengeance, so make plans now.
A little resurfacing between gallery renovations and preparations for this coming weekend’s show at NARBC Arlington: no Porch Sale on September 27, but the details for the October Porch Sales are now live. After that, both impending winter dormancy for about half of the carnivores and rapidly declining weather conditions in the Dallas area mean that outdoor events will have to wait until 2021. Spread the word.
New week, new challenges for the Sunday Porch Sales. New tent, new neighbors (in particular, the owner/proprietor of Caroline Crawford Originals), and a spectacularly beautiful day in which to throw a gathering. Combine that with returning customers, new ideas for a brand new enclosure commission, and a pair of dear friends who haven’t been out since the lockdown started, and it couldn’t have been a better day.
Not only did doubling the tent space work out, but this is going to be the ongoing trend for the rest of the season. I won’t be out for the Porch Sale on September 27 (that weekend is reserved for the NARBC Arlington reptile and amphibian show, barring a last-minute cancellation and rescheduling), but the Porch Sales will continue through October, and we’re definitely repeating the fun on September 20.
For those contemplating coming out in the near future, the next Porch Sale runs on September 20: you don’t have to sign up for tickets to attend (the Eventbrite listing is to make sure that the Porch Sales get picked up by various news venues through the greater Dallas area), and it’ll run its usual 7:00 am to noon schedule. See you then.
The Triffid Ranch Porch Sales have now run for long enough that new folks arriving ask about some of the Triffid Ranch standards, and one of those is asking about the Shirt Price specials. Since outside temperatures are dropping enough that bringing out more enclosures is a reasonable option, and because people take a look at the Larry Carey original on the banners in front and back and ask “Where can I get one of these?”, it’s time for reminder.
The Shirt Price option is really quite easy. All you have to do is wear a Triffid Ranch garment to any event (Porch Sale, outdoor event, indoor event, or open house), and you automatically qualify for a discount. Enclosures display both the standard price and Porch Sale price, and everything else gets at least $5 off the standard price. The garment doesn’t matter (T-shirt, sweat shirt, tote bag, hoodie, tank top: they all qualify), but buying it and then letting it sit at home doesn’t cut it: the Shirt Price discount only applies if you’re wearing it to an event. (Sadly, it’s also not cumulative: wearing a shirt, hoodie, and hat won’t increase the discount, although you WILL get accolades for your fashion sense and your enthusiasm.) Even better, for those who really like the pattern, the store also offers posters, stickers, stationery, and laptop sleeves: feel free to put a little Larry Carey all over the place.
As to what I get out of it: not a thing, other than satisfaction. Larry is a dear friend and former boss, and our morning work break discussion sessions were instrumental in inspiring a lot of the enclosures seen at the gallery today. He’s no longer in Dallas (he moved to Eugene, Oregon for a new job about two years ago), but since he refused to take payment for the original poster design, the Shirt Price program both guarantees that he gets payment off every purchase (any shirts I sell at shows and events are ones bought directly from his Redbubble store) and exposes others to his work. While it won’t give you a discount with the Triffid Ranch, take a look at the rest of his Redbubble shop: the odds are pretty good that you’ll find something suitable for family and school reunions, baby showers, tailgate parties, job interviews, and any other situation where, to steal from Bill Griffith, “if you can’t say something nice, say something surrealistic.”
Since the weather and the lineup keep surprising, the Triffid Ranch Porch Sales continue through September 20: the only reason one isn’t running on September 27 is because the whole kit and kaboodle will be out at the NARBC Arlington reptile and amphibian sale at the Arlington Convention Center that weekend. (If the NARBC show is cancelled between now and then, the Porch Sale is on for the 27th.) As for October, the plan now is to keep them going through the whole of the month: after that, we’ll figure out options, as it’ll just be too cold in the morning for tropical plants and too late in the season for the plants requiring a winter dormancy. It’ll all work out.
One of the first Texasisms I was taught upon first moving to the Dallas area in 1979 was “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” Especially in North Texas, this understates the situation. While the summer so far has been remarkably mild, on a par with 1987, the last two weeks were as if someone decided “Wait a minute. This is TEXAS. We’ve got to get in a whole summer before Labor Day!” That’s pretty much what we got: hot and sunny every day, with a south wind that dropped relative humidity through the floor and sucked the moisture out of everything it caressed. The finale was on August 29, where the Dallas area broke a heat record last set when my in-laws were newlyweds and the famed Dallas “drought of record” was still raging. That Saturday night wasn’t much better: grass crunched under feet, opening the greenhouse door caused half the plants to wilt because of the oppressively low humidity, and the air was full of the smell of burning flint.
That was Saturday. Sunday started off with roiling thunderclouds and lots of flashing, but we get a lot of false alarms about rain in the summer. About an hour before opening the Porch Sale, though, I looked off to the west and thought “Hmmm, we have a wall of water coming right for us.” That wall of water hit, and kept coming, and kept coming, for the next three hours. The parking lot in front of the gallery became a kayak course, and it kept coming. The shrubbery and grassy medians in the industrial park started turning green again, and it kept coming. Honestly, it got so bad that I expected my sister to arrive and yell “For he IS the Kwizach Haderach!” For three solid hours, the rain kept coming, and then we got what we always get when a gullywasher storm hits. That is, full sun, light breezes, and that strange hum that we get at the end of every summer, where the earth slurps up every last drop of moisture and realizes that there’s still plenty of room for more.
The better news on all of this is that we’re going to have a stranger September than previously expected. For those outside of the Dallas area, the end of summer is a matter of perspective out here, because it ends when it ends. Normally, what most people call “summer” ends in the last week of September to the first two weeks of October, when we finally get rain, and the first day that might actually justify pulling out jackets and sweaters hits in the second to third week of October. (This doesn’t always hold true: November 2017 was best remembered for temperatures more suited for June, as I discovered the hard way upon having a gallery in a dying shopping mall where the owner didn’t want to fix the air conditioning system.) This Sunday, though, even though much cooler than the last several weekends, promises to be the last day for the foreseeable future with anything approximating average temperatures, and that first jacket day is supposed to hit this coming Wednesday. Both the plants and I can’t wait.
Anyway, the Porch Sales continue through September, and because the weather promises to be so much better than the usual Labor Day weekend conditions, this means a lot of new surprises. First and foremost is that this coming weekend, the Triffid Ranch tent is joined by Caroline Crawford Originals: it’s not quite the reopening of show season that we hoped to get in September, but it’s close enough. As always, masks are mandatory for everybody’s safety, and we’ll see you on Sunday morning at 7:00.
By best estimates, what humans call the Milky Way Galaxy contains approximately six billion worlds roughly similar in diameter and density as their homeworld, with approximately one-third of these mapped by direct survey or indirect observation via flyby automation or gravitic lensing. Of those six billion worlds, at least half are inappropriate for any life utilizing carbon-based biochemistry, being either sulfuric acid-misted hothouses or methane ice-wrapped wanderers in interstellar space. Others may have been paradise gardens before the planet’s plate tectonics ended and its water cycle crashed, and others thrived before their stars expanded into red giants, they fell into gas giant companions in erratic orbits, they had the misfortune to be far too close to a neighboring supernova, or passing black holes shredded their entire systems. This still leaves approximately two billion worlds in one thoroughly average spiral galaxy, and about a billion worlds in its two main satellite galaxies, that currently have or recently had the capacity to support carbon-based life (with many expanding into silicon-based life, either biological or synthetic). One-thousandth of those had a long enough lifespan or proper conditions to encourage intelligent life, and a thousandth of that managed to get sentient life with the capability, ability, or motivation to leave their birth systems. Even with these numbers, considering the age of this galaxy, this led to a lot of mysteries, anomalies, curiosities, and annoyances from intelligences that otherwise left no trace.
Compounding those annoyances are the ones left by an obviously highly advanced civilization that wasn’t native to the planet on which they were found. The planet Agosto on the outer rim of the galaxy was nobody’s idea of a vacation world: about half of its global sea was covered with a thick algal mat that offered a platform for various filter-feeding animals and plants and choked out just about everything else, and the sole continent was gradually colonized by a unique group of plant-animal mashups attempting to get out of the ocean before the algal mat choked out everything. Worse, the algae fed on high levels of sulfur compounds in the ocean, thanks to extensive undersea volcanism, and excreted hydrogen sulfide as a waste product instead of oxygen as on most other known worlds, making visiting Agosto a dangerous proposition even in pressure suits and habitation domes. The fact that Agosto is visited constantly, by a significant number of the spacefaring races of the galaxy, is due to one confounding artifact found on a southern peninsula.
By first appearances, the apparatus appears ridiculously primitive: a single flat face with a clock-like dial and a series of pointers, surrounded by four chambers packed with what appear to be metal gears. Appearances in this case are nearly dangerously deceiving. The whole of the apparatus is no more than about 30 meters thick, with no sign of internal structure other than what appears on the outside, The dial rotates randomly back and forth, and the pointers highlighting individual segments on the dial’s face, both with no schedule or pattern that has been ascertained from at least a century’s study. Likewise, the gears within the chambers seem to show no inherent purpose: some rotate constantly, while others have not moved since the apparatus’s discovery. Even the two guardian sculptures in front of the apparatus are deceiving: what superficially appears to be jade or serpentine is actually an artificially strengthened nanomaterial that constantly heals damage from sun and atmosphere, and they emit beams of high-speed particles at seemingly random intervals, spreading out through deep space. Several of those beams were picked up simultaneously by at least three species, and their duly appointed representatives oversee all operations on Agosto, including who can arrive and who can leave.
While the apparatus appears simple and shallow, researchers have discovered that it is the anchor for literally billions of either eddies in hyperspace or pocket universes, depending upon the researcher desperately trying to make sense of the phenomenon with completely inadequate tools and theories. At random times, the face will reach a particular configuration, some gears will spin, others will stop, and a container materializes at the apparatus’s base. Equally randomly, that container will allow some to open it and refuse others, but all supplicants succeeding at opening it have to deposit an item within. If the item is accepted, it disappears, only to be replaced with something else. Often, the container takes random junk and trades for absolute marvels, but just as often, it takes valuables and offers junk. Or, at least, that is what it appears to be at first: many items appear to have been caught in stasis for millions or sometimes billions of years, but occasionally something comes through that gives every indication that it came from the far future. Sometimes, very rarely, the item offered is living, and once, it was sentient. The assemblage of weapons surrounding the apparatus, constantly operated by trained operators from across the galaxy, hints as to how much firepower was necessary to stop it once it was free, and the determination to make sure that any brethren still catalogued within the apparatus remain there.
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)
Plant: Nepenthes boschiana
Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.
Shirt Price: $250
Sunday Porch Sales, like all other retail in North Texas, tends to run in waves, especially in August. One week, the collective population of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex decides “I don’t care that I could cool off in a lead smelter! I’m going outside!” The next week, everyone steps outdoors, gets into direct sun for a moment, and quotes Bill Paxton in the classic film Near Dark by yelling “I’m down to my last inch of skin!” Having spent the last 39 of 41 summers in the Dallas area, I don’t blame anyone a bit. Last weekend was brutally hot and dry, and next weekend promises more of the same, so the prescription for the end of August is “hats, sunscreen, and a long soaking bath in a cool tub of molten aluminum.” I promise that you’ll feel so much better, especially when you get the constant smell of burning flint out of your nostrils.
Because the plants never sleep, and because people pay serious money for the weekly bootcamp workout that comes with setting up and breaking down every Sunday, the last of the Sunday morning Porch Sales in August runs on August 30, from 7:00 am to noon. According to the National Weather Service, the odds are good for a couple of days of rain next week, with a decided drop in temperature, so expect a blowout selection on September 6 for Labor Day Weekend. Either way, we’ve got you covered.
While historians tend to focus on the immediate actions of war, they don’t usually worry about the implications of what gets left behind on the battlefield. When peace breaks out, neither side worries overmuch about what to do with weapons, structures, facilities, and other materiel legacies of the conflict, leaving that for the ages, the elements, the survivors, and whatever salvage crews managed to remain intact. It’s usually up to future generations to deal with unexplored ordnance, live land or sea mines, nanodiseases, chartreuse event horizons, or the occasional time booster. The vast majority of neighbors to an undecommissioned battlefield are envious of the story of Battle Ground in the Andromeda galaxy, a world scheduled for a planet-spanning conflict that was cancelled because both commanders were too hung over to function. Both armies left immediately thereafter, and Battle Ground became famous not for being one of the most beautiful planets in the whole of Andromeda, but because no battle was ever undertaken there, then or in the future.
That couldn’t be said of the nexus point for the Human-Terris war in our own galaxy, which left permanent scars on every world that particular war infected. As was the human tradition, each new war set off a corresponding explosion of technological obsession, all in ways of gathering the slightest advantage before the opponent finally gave up in exhaustion. On the planet code-named “Pomegranate” by forces from the Fifth Kresge Division, the plan was to build a supercomputer to plot strategy and predict enemy movements. To protect it from orbital bombardment, the first construction was for a VanderMeer static generator, under which the catacombs holding the components for the supercomputer were to be protected. To protect it from ground assault, a set of Davenport automated weapon platforms surveyed a kill zone that was only compromised when one of Pomegranate’s moons moved between the platforms and deep space. Not that the platforms needed to fire that far: due to the effects of the static generator on energy discharges and metals moving beyond a still-classified speed, each platform fired a wide variety of fluids held in check with artificially-enhanced surface tension. Nerve agents, acids, electrostatic disruptors, phage assemblages, and quick-contact polymer tripfilms: the most aggressive warrior race in its galaxy had learned well from incessantly picking fights with its neighbors and bunkmates, so each platform had multiple packages that could be blasted at an enemy that could do everything from turn that enemy into a slowly dispersing mist to guarantee that it would have to walk home.
The static generator and the platforms were completed, along with the vault doors, when the Terris decided to pivot, and the rest of the war was fought thousands of light-years away. The parts for the supercomputer were sequestered away, ultimately to become even more surplus scrap, the static generator depowered, and the platforms left without armament. For the most part, humans left Pomegranate alone, and nature reclaimed its own. Finally, about 250 years after the details of the Human-Terris War were only of interest to warporn enthusiasts and very few others, a farming collective set down on Pomegranate’s nearly pristine surface and started settling in. One of those early settlers was a burned-out robotics engineer by the name of Dendris Lockwell, who came across the superpower emplacement while searching for titanium deposits for the collective’s tool printers.
At first, Lockwell was excited about the find, and then he managed to cut through one of the vault doors and discovered…nothing. Hundreds of kilometers of corridors and galleries cut into the heart of a long-dead volcano, with nothing more than a few pieces of junk left behind. With no ventilation and no rigging for power, the vault wasn’t even worthwhile as shelter. The static generator was self-powered and self-encapsulated, both impossible to open (any more so than any gigantic synthetic sapphire impressed with neural networks could be opened) and far too heavy to tear off the mountainside and haul back to the collective with anything it had available. The weapons platforms with similarly immovable, being deeply anchored into the planet’s crust, and while each platform’s AI was still perfectly functional, they were so obsolete that trying to merge them with the collective’s network was just silly. Lockwell was about to leave in disgust when he noticed that the platforms’ reservoirs were completely empty and uncontaminated, and he entertained ideas of resetting the whole site for last-resort fire suppression, if in case the regular forest fires that passed by the site became an issue. He went so far as to fill the reservoirs with plain water and set the platforms to standby before realizing that the whole plan was folly: anybody attempting to use the vault for an escape from fire would either suffocate from smoke drawn to the assemblage or from the abominable atmosphere left inside.
The story would have stopped there if not for the collective having a large contingent of adolescents looking for something to do that didn’t involve farming. Lockwell was awakened one night by a remote alarm from the vault site, and he rushed out on the fastest transport he could get to discover who or what was setting off the weapon platforms. What he found was an assemblage of about three dozen collective apprentices, all of whom had discovered that while the platforms would fire upon anything moving within a particular distance once activated, they also wouldn’t fire on the vault door. Considering the age of the platforms and a general lack of maintenance, the platforms still worked, but were just about a second off their original calibration. That gave enough motivation to the particularly fast members of the assembled apprentices to run between the platforms. Run fast enough, and they weren’t knocked off their feet by a gigantic surface-tension water balloon or twenty before reaching the safety of the vault door. One, a woman of 20 named Girasol, could run to the door and back without being hit, which made her a subject of admiration and rueful respect among everyone else.
Almost any other authority figure among the collective would have reported this to the community elders, who would have insisted upon shutting down everything. Lockwell, though, saw plenty of potential in the distraction. One of his only possessions from Earth was a full-sized stop sign from the days when manual transport driving was still legal, and he hauled it out to the vault and installed it below the vault doors. ‘Run out, touch it, and run back without getting hit,” he said, “and I’ll sponsor you myself.” On the first Lockwell-sanctioned run, only Girasol succeeded, but that just gave incentive to everyone else to increase their speed and improve their running techniques. Within five years, after the first trade ships arrived to see how well the collective was running, some of the more iconoclastic crew members on those ships were joining in on both weekly practice runs and annual tournaments, where participants had to run along set paths through local plants and rock obstacles to get to the vault. Within ten years, most of the galaxy knew about the challenge, and within 15, the fastest runners in the galaxy, human and otherwise, were landing in the fields of Pomegranate to be the next to compete. The ponderous platforms took on additional modifications to compensate for species better at high-speed running than humans, but otherwise they still appeared the same as when Lockwell first found them.
Now, 300 years after the Human-Terris War ended, a simple act of military ordnance recycling was one of the biggest competitive sports throughout charted space. Many worlds had their own Lockwell Games courses and equipment, but the real excitement came from going to the original grounds, sitting beside Girasol as she continued to give the award named after her to the most impressive competitor that year, and daring to touch the stop sign still attached to the vault. (The sign has been replaced four times in the last 50 years, but nobody really notices.) Most importantly, the only people who remember that world under the original code name of “Pomegranate” are the few warporners who obsess over a war that passed this world by. Everyone else knows it by a superior and much more appropriate name: “Plowshare.”
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)
Plant: Heliamphora heterodoxa x minor
Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.
Shirt Price: $250
Four months of Porch Sales, and now things really start getting interesting. Part of it is due to the number of folks taking time out of their valuable Sunday mornings (and there’s no sarcasm in that statement in the slightest: Sundays are getting to be very valuable as of late) to come out to visit, and part is due to the intention. The ongoing effects of working and studying from home include a serious need for green, as well as something to have in the foreground during Zoom calls that isn’t overly distracting or interfering, means that more and more people look at carnivorous plants as an exciting alternative. The part that’s surprising is the number who are falling in love with bladderworts: at the rate things are going, terrestrial bladderworts may be most of what’s offered for Porch Sales after American Thanksgiving, because people love the idea of guilt-free carnivorous plants.
Okay, this week is going to get a little intense. For those outside of the Dallas area, the next virtual open house runs on Thursday, August 20 (the fifth anniversary of the original gallery’s soft opening), available to anyone through the Twitch streaming service. Two days later, on Saturday, August 22, we’re going to open the gallery doors for a limited-engagement open house, starting at 6:00 pm. And the next Porch Sale? Sunday, August 23 from 7 to noon, same as usual. Either way, we’ll see you then.
Welp, we’re a fair portion of the way through the kidney stone of a year known as 2020, and we haven’t even hit autumn yet. Whether you look at this year as the end of the 2010s or the beginning of the 2020s, and I’d argue that every year in the Gregorian calendar ending with “0” is one of transition and painful birthing pains, times are only going to get more interesting until New Year’s Day, and not just in the classic Chinese curse sense. Worse, if 2021 follows the same trajectory as 1981, 1991, 2001, and 2011 (1971 was the year I started kindergarten, so I’m a touch biased about it), we’re going to need a week off after New Year’s Day just to get ready.
This August has particular pith and moment: five years ago last month, leases were signed, keys were exchanged, and the first piles of random supplies were left in a former men’s clothing store in the now-defunct Valley View Center in Dallas. Six weeks after that, on August 20, the soft opening of Dallas’s pretty much only carnivorous plant gallery coincided with the Midtown ArtWalk event held at the mall every third Saturday, and the rest was history. A half-decade later, the Texas Triffid Ranch is still going, albeit in fits and starts, and we have PLANS.
Starting off on the gallery side, the whole of Dallas has gone beyond hunkering in shelter and waiting for some suggestion of future normality, and some of us are making plans with stolen War Rigs and tankers of guzzoline. This starts with virtual and live events, made as safe as we can manage, starting this month. For those outside of the Dallas area, and those within Dallas who feel safer in a virtual environment, the Triffid Ranch goes back to Twitch for a virtual open house on Thursday, August 20. This one is open to everyone with an Internet connection, and feel free to pass on word. Likewise, we’re going to try for our first live indoor event in six months on Saturday, August 22 with a live and in-person gallery open house. Please note that with the latter, no more than five people at a time will be allowed to enter, hand sanitizer is encouraged, and masks are mandatory as per Dallas County regulations.
If evening events don’t work, the Triffid Ranch Sunday Porch Sales continue through the end of August and into September, running from 7:00 am to noon. (Right now, the schedule for September is tentative, depending upon whether or not the NARBC reptile show in Arlington on September 26 and 27 is cancelled. If it is, the Porch Sales run through the whole month.) Since recent experiments with setting up a tent and opening up considerably more space were so successful, this will probably be the standard for Porch Sales until the weather gets too cold for outdoor events. This being Texas, that might run until December, and we’ll figure it out after that.
In other news, the original plan for 2020 was to expand into more shows outside of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, including road trips to Austin, Houston, San Antonio, and even New Orleans. All of those shows are either defunct or rescheduled for 2021 (sadly, the New Orleans and Houston shows are now scheduled for the same weekend next June, so I had to opt out of both), and the rest of the 2021 schedule is still in limbo. However, for 2022, I may be doing a very, very, very bad thing and scheduled a longer road trip than I’ve ever done before. One word: Chicago.
And as a final interlude, a story from the depths of 1990, I’ve spent the last week trying to hunt down a link to a story from early 1990: it’s apparently unavailable online, and I can’t request a copy from the newspaper in which I first encountered it because the late great Dallas Times Herald has been dead for working on 29 years. Even many diehard fans of the writer Hunter S. Thompson don’t know about how Thompson received an invitation from an aide to then-US Senator Phil Gramm (R-Texas) to join Gramm at a Senate Republican prayer breakfast. The aide sent invitations through a general list of press contacts, and had no knowledge of the author of Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ‘72 until word got out. When word got out, Gramm’s office tried to repeal the invitation, and was relieved when Thompson decided not to bring his preferred breakfast menu to Washington DC. I think about that story a lot these days.
August started in North Texas with its usual aplomb: hot and sunny, and so much hot and sunny that the only thing that keeps most of us sane through the month is the promise of Halloween decorations at the local Michael’s stores. This also meant good weather for those wanting to get out on Sunday morning, and that meant a lot of folks who took advantage of it.
Anyway, the next Sunday Porch Sale is August 9, and I’m hoping to have some special surprises for new and returning visitors. See you then.
(Texas Triffid Ranch Audio Promo, take Whatever)
“This is the story of the last of the Texas Triffid Ranch Flash Sales. The year is 2259. The place is…”
(Frantic whispering in background)
“What? Let me try again.”
“The end of the last great Triffid Ranch Flash Sale. Everybody lost.”
(Emphatic whispering in background)
“This isn’t the script? Then where IS the script? Oh, I’ve got it? Then why isn’t it labeled? Well, it’s not MY fault that the folder doesn’t read ‘SCRIPT’ on both sides…oh, someone just put it on there. Let’s try it again.”
“Wow! The last of the Triffid Ranch Flash Sales! A real museum piece! Be a shame to blow it up.”
(Sound of apple bouncing off announcer’s head)
“I can’t work under these conditions! You said you were okay with day drinking! Next, you’ll expect me to know how to read!”
(Sounds of announcer flouncing off, tripping on the carpet pattern, and falling down fifteen flights of stairs and down an open elevator shaft while production crew laughs)
“I can try again…”
July 26 marked a slightly sad occasion: it was, indeed, the date of the last of the Triffid Ranch Flash Sales. The original idea behind the Flash Sales was that in the early days of COVID-19, as shows and events were collapsing around us all, setting up on the gallery porch with an assemblage of carnivorous plants suitable for beginners was a reasonably safe way to show off plants and let people take a break in the green. The ancillary idea behind the Flash Sales was that they were going to be temporary: back in April, there was no reason to assume that state and federal authorities wouldn’t have a pandemic plan worked out, implemented, and organized and that COVID-19 wouldn’t burn out by the beginning of August. Instead, we ran right into Riddell’s Law: “any sufficiently developed incompetence is indistinguishable from conspiracy.”
Anyway, as we settle into the New Normal, the idea of flash sales is both quaint and a little obsolete. Back in February, the whole concept was entertaining. Now, it’s almost vital, especially for those who cannot, for various understandable reasons, engage with large crowds in indoor environments. Because the Triffid Ranch sales are now semi-permanent, they need a better name, so through August and probably the rest of the year, they’re now the Sunday Carnivorous Plant Porch Sales.
For those who are new, and for those who haven’t been here for a while, the Porch Sales continue all through August, and admission is free. (You don’t have to sign up for a ticket through EventBrite for any of them, but it’s highly encouraged, just to know how many people to expect.) Because of the Porch Sales, standard gallery appointments aren’t available on Sundays without extensive advance notice, but are available through the rest of the week. (For members of the press, I highly recommend Fridays, and yes, you can bring photographers and anyone else you need.) See you next Sunday.
We may not be 30 million years past the last live Triffid Ranch event, but it’s sure feeling that way. Between the initial Dallas County COVID-19 shutdowns and the subsequent shutdowns because certain people can’t play well with others, it’s been capital-R Rough for art venues across the DFW Metroplex. Exhibitions have gone virtual (some may recognize a few of the entries in the Texas Now Online Showcase being hosted by Artspace One Eleven in Fort Worth), galleries are on severely curtailed hours, and the days of dozens or hundreds of people jammed into gallery open houses are now about as quaint as the thought of Dallas beachside houses along the Western Interior Seaway. It’s still possible to do things outside, but it requires care, consideration, and a stout stick for those who don’t want to play by the rules.
With that in consideration, it’s time to open things up a bit in August 2020. To start:
Numero Uno: what was intended to be a few quick flash sales to get through April have turned into a regular event, so it’s time to rename the Sunday Flash Sales. Starting August 2, they’re now Carnivorous Plant Porch Sales, and they run every Sunday morning in August from 7:00 to noon. Other than the name and the time, nothing changes: they’re still selections of beginner carnivorous plants available for perusal and sale on the gallery front porch, and they’re open to everyone. (The link above is mostly to get an idea of how many people are coming on a given day, as well as the opportunity for new people to discover them through the EventBrite app, but we won’t shoo you off if you don’t have a ticket.) As always, at the end of the month, we’ll reevaluate days and hours, but they’ll probably keep going through October or until cold weather make them impossible, whichever comes first.
Numero Two-o: Since the fifth anniversary of that original soft opening at Valley View Center hit this year, the plan at the beginning of the year was to host the biggest gallery open house we could possibly pull off on or around August 20, celebrating beating the odds on gallery survival and generally using it as an excuse for a big birthday party for Caroline. And so Napoleon went to Moscow. The plan is still going to happen: it’s just we’re going to do it in two stages. The first is a virtual open house via streaming on Twitch, set on a Thursday evening so it doesn’t interfere with friends’ streaming events, running from 7:00 pm until 10:00 pm Central Time. Obviously, this means that those who had to work during normal open houses, those who can’t get out of the house, and those who oh-so-conveniently live on another continent can join in, ask questions, heckle the host without mercy, and otherwise get a chance to see what’s been going on over here since the last show.
Numero Three-o: Remember my stating that the anniversary party was a two-stage plan? The third stage is an attempt to have a real-live open house on the evening of August 22. Because of Dallas County restrictions on events and crowds, no more than five attendees are allowed into the gallery at any time, and functional masks are required. That said, if you like what you see during the virtual open house on Thursday, or if you’ve had an eye on a particular enclosure since before all this came down, feel free to come out and browse, quickly, so others can peruse as well.
Other than that, it’s back to the usual: the last of the Flash Sales runs on July 26, and appointments for private viewings are available through the week. And now to get back to work to make all of this happen.