Tag Archives: 2020

Winter Carnivore Cleanups – Introduction

It’s inevitable after the holidays are over: holiday buyer’s remorse kicks in, and we all look back regretfully on the things we did and the things we didn’t over the past two months. Those nights of ordering pizza because the shift from Daylight Savings Time made you feel as if you were living in a cavern. Buying that supremely Ugly Christmas Sweater even though you’ve worked from home for the last nine months. Pretending to drunk-text former coworkers, just to see what they’re up to and if it’s more fun than what you’re doing. Subscribing to HBO Max. All of this is completely understandable, but eventually you’re going to climb bleary-eyed out of the clothes hamper, look at an apartment or house that looks as if Hunter S. Thompson camped in the bathtub for a month, look down at the wine stains down your front and look up at the spaghetti stalactites on the ceiling, and decide “Yeah, it’s time to clean up for the New Year.”

Now, as every year, you have all sorts of options. I’d recommend staying far away from the gym for a while, or at least until a significant proportion of fellow gymgoers look as if they’d stay home if they were sick. (I have a gym next to the Triffid Ranch mail drop, and with that crew, if they can’t end a list of symptoms with “We call it…’The Aristocrats’!”, then they don’t think they’re that bad off.) For domicile cleaning, you can go gently with Marie Kondo reruns playing in the background while you sweep and sort, or you can use demolition charges to take off an entire end of the building, shove everything into a dumpster below, and set the dumpster afire both as a symbol of 2020 and to keep from rescuing items inside because “They’re still good!” For cleaning your computer desktop, and files that really need to be backed up so they aren’t lost, nothing is as effective as the old “I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit” strategy. For your carnivorous plants, though, things are going to be easy.

To be honest, this time of the year is perfect for giving all of your plants a once-over. With temperate carnivores such as Venus flytraps, North American pitcher plants, and temperate-climate sundews, they all should be well into winter dormancy by now, so they won’t mind a repotting and thorough cleanup. With tropical carnivores such as Asian pitcher plants, they’ll still be growing, but shorter daytime photoperiods mean that they’ll be growing much more slowly than they were six months ago. They also could stand a good tending to, but the actual process will be a bit different. Either way, it’s too late for standard gardening and too early for starting up tomatoes and peppers, so no better time than the present for essential carnivore maintenance.

Now, like working on a Volkswagen, you can put together a complete toolkit to take care of everything, or you can build multiple kits for specific functions, thereby avoiding losing essential tools when you pull out everything to work, say, alongside a pool full of Sarracenia. For the sake of this series, we’ll split everything up into separate kits of necessary tools, so if you focus on one group of plants, you don’t have to reserve tools you won’t necessarily need. (A very strong recommendation: get tools for your toolkit that will remain in that kit, and don’t swipe tools from other places in the house unless they’re no longer going to be used in those places. Spouses, parents, and roommates may not be as understanding about your using kitchen implements for repotting pitcher plants, especially if you brought them back but didn’t clean them properly before returning them.)

Essentials (in all kits):

  • Sharp gardening knife
  • Sharp kitchen scissors
  • Sharp trimming scissors (garden trimming scissors or ear/nose scissors)
  • Garden mat or towel
  • Hand towel
  • Long forceps
  • Whisk brush
  • Isopropyl alcohol, either bottle or sanitizing wipes
  • Spray bottle, filled with rainwater or distilled water
  • Spray bottle, filled with dilute neem oil (1/2 strength recommended by manufacturer)
  • Kitchen tub

In addition, a standard bonsai tool set can come in very handy. You may not need all of the tools all of the time, but many, such as bonsai shears and root rakes, are worth the cost.

One valuable tool for glass enclosures is a tamper, and you’ll have to make it yourself. This is a dowel rod or other stout rod (I cut a fiberglass driveway sign rod in half) with a wine cork at one end and a rounded tip at the other end. The idea is to use the tamper to tamp down and smooth out soil, moss, and other items in glass containers that won’t give enough room at their mouths to allow fingers, hands, and most tools to reach inside. Natural cork is fine, but artificial corks have the advantage of easy disinfection, and they tend to last longer.

Anyway, this is the starting point: now it’s a matter of seeing these tools in action. That comes next.

To be continued…

2020: The Year That Stretches

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

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

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

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

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

Art credit: Amanda “Shinga” Bussell

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

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

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

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

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

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

Triffid Ranch Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours: December 27, 2020

And just like that, the holiday season is done. It’s been a long, unsure season within a very long, unsure year, but we’ve passed through to the other side, and now it’s time to get everything ready for the next one. And so it goes.

At this point, I would be remiss in not thanking everyone who came out to the gallery in 2020 for doing so: in a year as rough as this one, your coming by and validating the concept behind the Triffid Ranch is incredibly appreciated. Now it’s time to get back into the workshop and justify your returning.

As for new events, keep an eye open: right now, our main focus is going to be on taking care of some essential housekeeping before the end of the year, but we’ve also deliberated on what sort of events and when they’ll happen. Until then, stay well, stay safe, and we’ll see you in 2021.

The Aftermath: Christmas Carnivorous Plant Nightmares at the Texas Triffid Ranch 2020

After five years of trying to organize Christmas Eve events at the gallery and having everything fall through, things worked out. For a holiday eve in a pandemic, we had an enthusiastic audience, including a very dear old friend who finally got the chance to see the new gallery, and a very excited family toward the end of the night. For a town that pretty much shuts down on December 24 after 5:00 or so, it was a great way to finish off the season.

After this, it’s time to get back into the workshop for new enclosures. In particular, keep an eye open for a surprise involving a Nepenthes diabolica, a new species previously thought to be a color variation of the notorious Nepenthes hamata.

For those who missed out on this run, and for those who want a touch of post-Christmas green, the last of 2020’s Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours starts on Sunday, December 27 at 10:00 am, and shuts down at 4:00 pm. After that, we’re still trying to figure out plans for 2021, but we have ideas. Terrible, beautiful ideas.

Triffid Ranch Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours: December 20, 2020

Less than two weeks before the end of the most intense year in memory, and things continue to get interesting. The gallery debuted two new Nepenthes hybrids which will probably be very popular beginner plants over 2021, and it’s time to expand the diversity of bladderwort species in the gallery as well. If not for this pandemic thing, we’d probably do even more.

As a sidenote, the hope is to finish at least one more enclosure by the end of the year, thereby bringing the total constructed this year to at least 21. “20 in 2020” is just a little too weird.

And for those wanting one last dose for the year, the gallery will be open on Thursday, December 24 from 2:00 to 7:00 pm for last-minute shopping, and then again on Sunday, December 27 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm for post-holiday opportunities. Since we can’t have an anniversary party this year (and I’m pretty sure nobody bet on “18 years” in the Paul/Caroline marriage deadpool), this will have to do. See you then.

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 7

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

Listing holiday shopping options wouldn’t be complete without a shameless plug for the other half of the gallery, Caroline Crawford Originals. Many visitors to the gallery bypass the jewelry to get to the plants, but the wise ones take the time to stop and see what Caroline has to offer. Alternately, she has her own show and event schedule separate from Triffid Ranch events: last weekend was a little too cold for the plants at the Frightmare Collectibles Christmas Horror Market, but jewelry never sleeps.

For those wanting to see more, both the jewelry and plants will be open on December 24 from 2:00 pm to 7:00 Central time, and we’ll reopen for the post-holiday crowd for the last Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tour of 2020 on December 27 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Admission is free and masks are mandatory. And yes, there will be a LOT more jewelry on display at both.

“It’s ours this time…”

The plan was to remain open by appointment all week, and then the phone blew up this morning. To take care of last-minute shopping needs, as well as offer a quiet space for those already done with shopping, the Texas Triffid Ranch, in conjunction with Caroline Crawford Originals, is hosting the Christmas Carnivorous Plant Nightmares tour on December 24, 2020, from 2:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Admission is free, masks are mandatory, and those who can’t make it are always welcome to come out on December 27 for the last of the 2020 Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours.

Please note: to be preemptive, while a large selection of beginner plants will be available, Venus flytraps are currently in winter dormancy and won’t be available until March. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 6

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

So now it’s down to the wire. Thanks to the previous year making every day a holiday shopping day as far as shipping volume is concerned, every online store worth its salt refuses to make any promises as to whether any purchase will arrive before December 25. Here in the States, the screaming in UPS and FedEx locations is positively deafening, because recent efforts to scuttle the US Post Office mean that both UPS and FedEx are trying to pick up the slack. If it’s not local, you’re probably not going to get it.

It’s at times like these where the default response is, indeed, “buy local.” That’s completely fair, but this also depends upon discovering what’s available. For the vast majority of the Twentieth Century, this would involve some heavily overworked Arts & Leisure section writer at the local newspaper deliberating between legitimate local treasures and what family friend of the editor or publisher needed a holiday bailout and didn’t want to have to pay for advertising. Today, the raw information is available, but the old “I didn’t know what I was looking for before I saw it” phenomenon is more pronounced than ever, and that section writer was laid off about four years ago to preserve the publisher’s holiday bonus. Thankfully, you have a terminally embittered former weekly newspaper writer turned carnivorous plant rancher more than willing to help carry some of the slack.

The only issue with “local” is “whose local?” Sadly, this means that this list is going to be horribly Dallas-centric, but this has two effects. The first is that for those already living in the vicinity of the Triffid Ranch, you have options for gift shopping that you might not have had before. The second is that for those who don’t live in the area, you now have additional pressure to do so. You’re welcome. Even if all you want to do is visit, when it’s safe to do so, now you have options on what to see besides South Fork (hopelessly dated), Jack Ruby’s nightclub (demolished decades ago), or the Texas School Book Depository (only interesting when a lone woman, answering to “Missy,” walks by once a year in November to look up wistfully at the sixth floor windows). I mean, don’t let that stop you from doing that anyway: if you go by the Book Depository, just tell Missy that her grandson says hello, okay?

Numero uno, as Dallas’s greatest superhero would put it, a little goes a long way, and Dallas’s restaurant scene is so much more vital and varied than it was, say, 20 years ago. It’s also in a particularly precarious situation because of COVID-19, and without eternal vigilance, it could be overrun with Applebee’s and Twin Peaks and the whole city becomes indistinguishable from Lewisville. Thanks to the wonders of modern point-of-sale processing, so many good restaurants offer both hard plastic and electronic gift cards, and you know at least one person who is going to NEED a dinner cooked by someone else in the next month. This means hopping on that phone and talking to the crews at Blu’s BBQ (Texas and Memphis barbecue), Flying Fish (Cajun seafood), Bistro B (Vietnamese), Tasty Tails (New Orleans seafood), Maple Leaf Diner (Canadian), Sababa (Middle Eastern), Chubby’s (classic comfort food, with the best strawberry cheesecake in the city), JC’s Burger House (burgers), or Del’s Burgers (more burgers, as well as excellent homemade root beer) about your efforts to spread the wealth.

Numero two-o, all that food means having something to read while eating, and while most people are perfectly happy to slog through Facebook, the idea is to amp up your experiences. The first, most obvious choice is Interabang Books, survivor of both bookstore wars and the tornadoes that hit North Dallas in 2019, as the best choice in the area for new books. Equally important for those looking for more graphic persuasions, I’ve been friends with Keith Colvin of Keith’s Comics for half of my life, and part of the reason why Keith’s Comics stores are going strong while other deeper-pocketed competitors blew up and scattered on the wind a decade ago is because of each store’s wide selection of graphic novels. (I highly recommend asking for a copy of Evan Dorkin’s Eltingville Club collection from Dark Horse Comics; for most, it’s a source of entertainment, but for others, it’s a source of never-ending self-aware horror.)

Numero three-o, you may or may not be surprised by the recommendation of the holistic health and wellness studio HeyyHealer, but there’s a specific reason. Namely, Triffid Ranch regulars may remember Christian “Doc” Cooper at various events, particularly the last Midtown ArtWalk at the old Valley View location before everybody in the mall got our eviction notices. Well, Doc has been busy with succulents, particularly red and yellow dragonfruit cactus, and his succulent arrangements are exclusively available through HeyyHealer. It’s all about taking care of your friends, coming and going, and if you’ve seen some of Doc’s arrangements, you’ll get that extra joy of having it all to yourself before you pass it on.

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale – #21

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.)

Installment #21: “The Saga of Simon”

With the end of November comes the end of the main growing season. The Venus flytraps and North American pitcher plants are snug in their beds and going dormant, the lights in the gallery were just switched to the winter schedule so as to encourage blooming in the spring (that’s a surefire way to get blooming in Heliamphora, especially since the gallery has no outside light to interfere with their photoperiods), and with the approach of what Dallas calls winter weather (we might actually go below freezing this week), it’s time to rest for a minute. That is, if Simon will allow it.


For those who missed the news, Simon is the new cat. We adopted him a little over a year ago, shortly after Leiber died. With him in the household, we now have two black cats, which makes my wife Caroline exceedingly happy. Alexandria, our other cat, enjoys having someone to roughhouse with, as Leiber wasn’t up for much of anything besides sleeping in his last year, and she now has a partner with whom to explore the garage when we’re home for the night. He’s a perfect little companion, and would be even better if he were a cat. Instead, I’m certain we adopted a seriously mislabeled black Labrador.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Simon is dumb or anything. As much as I miss him, I was the first to acknowledge that Leiber was so unlike his namesake that if he got any dopier, I was going to rename him “Doctorow.” Simon doesn’t trip on the carpet pattern or forget which end goes into the food and which end goes into the litter box. No, the adjective that best describes Simon is “goofy.” “Fall off the scratching post” is typical for cats. Simon is “forgetting that he has retractile claws and falling off the side of the bed” goofy. “Beg for human food and then remember that he doesn’t like human food” goofy. “Run in front of his humans in the dark and then flop to be scritched in the dark” goofy. “Figure out how to get into the attic and then howl like a basset hound because he doesn’t want to have to go back down the way he came in, and then hide under the roof supports out of range when we go up to rescue him” goofy. Oh, and then there’s “going berserk when opossums wander up onto the back porch because he wants to chase them” goofy. He’s not dumb, but he doesn’t act like a cat. Acknowledge that he’s just a dog with a bad label, and suddenly his habit of being unable to be pet because he so desperately wants to lick the petter’s hand suddenly makes sense.

Now, Simon is in fine company. Janit Calvo of Two Green Thumbs Miniature Gardens is known just as much for her dog Kitty as for her miniature garden guides. Amanda Thomsen of Kiss My Aster has constant stories involving her multiple critters. The Sarracenia Northwest newsletter has regular updates on their Sarracenia Pup. Jeff VanderMeer‘s cat Neo has a larger fan base than he does, and will probably get a deal with Netflix sooner, too. Everyone who meets Simon loves him. It’s just that the people who know and love dogs particularly fall in love with him, and Caroline gets grumpy when they note that he’s the most doglike cat they’ve ever met.

Me, I just acknowledge that Simon is a dog and leave it at that. Whether he’s fetching or wanting to go for a run (he loves surfing rugs so much that our next house may have to have hardwood floors just for him), he’s typical Simon, so I just encourage him to be who he is. Caroline, though, has issues with my encouraging him with “good puppy.”

“Simon is not a dog. He’s a KITTY.”
“Sorry, but he’s a dog. He gets into the garage and climbs into the car because he wants to go for a drive.”
“HE’S A KITTY.”
“What’s so bad about his being a puppy? Are you trying to tell your son that he can’t be his own person, and he has to go with what you say he is?”
“Do you want to give him a neurosis? He’s a KITTY.”
“Okay, then.” (Look over at Simon.) Okay, Simon, what do have to say about this?”
“Woof.”

Other News

Other News

In barely related news, exactly a year and a day after the last one, your humble chronicler has a new day job. The particularly good news is that this shouldn’t affect the gallery in the slightest, and the gallery shouldn’t affect the day job, either. That said, expect a lot of new projects: it’s amazing how many ideas get doodled out during staff meetings.

Shameless Plugs

I’ve plugged the considerable talents and tastes of my Canadian little sister Tristan Riskseveral times, but for those looking for something whimsical with which to get the taste of 2020 out of their mouths, I’d like to recommend giving her new Nonesuch figure line a viewing. Caroline proudly displays her Nonesuch in her studio, and I suspect that she may need another, because.

Recommended Reading

I should be saving this for the ongoing Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions guides, but it’s no surprise that the late Ray Harryhausen was a major influence upon Triffid Ranch enclosures, and Ray was one of the many childhood heroes I accidentally and inadvertently scared the hell out of (a list that included Stephen Jay Gould, Carl Sagan, Harlan Ellison, and Johnny Rotten) in my sordid youth. If you can get to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art to view the Ray Harryhausen: Titan of Cinema exhibition, do so, but if you can’t, the accompanying catalog of Harryhausen artifacts, full of anecdotes from his daughter Vanessa, is essential reading.

Music
Long nights in the gallery require lots of music, and due to an odd form of aphasia, I have a much better time concentrating on certain tasks with music with no lyrics whatsoever. That’s why the music of Peter Roe gets regular play on weeknights, and why his album Time Traveller hasn’t become the basis for a whole movie is beyond me. Go load up via your favorite streaming service, and thank him for me if you know him.

State of the Gallery: December 2020

Well. Two weeks out before the end of 2020, a year deserving of many descriptions, and a few of those not being profanities. Depending upon who’s asking, this is either the last year of the last decade or the first year of the new; based on hard experience, years in the Gregorian calendar ending with “0” are generally ones of transition, a chronal chrysalis where the old decade is digested in order to set the form for the next. What sort of strange butterfly bursts free is a good question, because we usually don’t get an idea of what escaped until about halfway through the decade, and by then it’s too late to shove it back into the cocoon and let it cook for a while longer or set the cocoon on fire.

As to what the shiny new 2020s is going to bring the gallery, we’re in strange seas. Ten years ago, the gallery didn’t exist, and even five years ago, it was going through its own strange birth pains. Nearly four years ago, the whole shabeen moved to its present location, and it’s still undergoing reorganization and reevaluation to best utilize the space. That continues: this last summer’s massive renovation was just one stage, and those who remember the gallery back when it was still part of the Galleries at Midtown wouldn’t recognize it. This, of course, is a good thing.

One of the biggest changes in the last month, of course, is that your humble gallery operator just started a new day job. This honestly made gallery work much more productive, and the time spent every evening in the gallery gives spice to the next day’s work. As 2021 progresses, that should continue, especially as temperatures warm and the temperate carnivores start waking up.

As far as special gallery events and functions are concerned, everything right now depends both on the current onslaught of COVID-19 and the effectiveness of the currently approved vaccines intended to get it under control. Both the porch sales of last summer and autumn and the recent Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours allowed safe and secure events to be an option, and while we’re not sure exactly when events start again in January, rest assured that the break after December 27’s tour will be short and succinct.

Otherwise, this sounds like broken vinyl considering circumstances over the last few years, but it’s time to gear up for the new year. If — IF — vaccine use breaks the back of COVID-19, the show and event schedule won’t be as packed as the original plan for 2020, but it will definitely be more active than 2019. To that end, besides bringing in a whole new series of beginner Nepenthes hybrids (including the delightful hybrids “St. Gaya” and “Rebecca Soper,” the latter being the absolute purplish Nepenthes since the “Bill Bailey”), it’s time to get back to offering hot pepper bonsai again, as well as expanding gallery space to a new collection of butterwort, bladderwort, and sundew enclosures. The real vaccine we all need is one for sleep, because that’s the one thing getting in the way of new projects.

And one last note: this installment is dedicated to the memory of my uncle Charles “Corky” Graham, a huge influence on my sordid youth and a quiet reminder of humility and peace in adulthood. If you want to respect his memory, get any kid in your life a Spirograph: my memories of practicing with one, with his help, are memories I’ll cherish for the rest of my days. Hail and farewell.

Enclosures: “Bat God” (2020)

Of all of the mammals, the bats are the most egalitarian when it comes to their government. Dogs are too tempted by autocrats. Cats are too averse to leaders. The elephants live so long that they constantly second-guess longterm plans, and the shrews live such short lives that they reinvent their entire society over a summer. The whales and dolphins constantly reinforce their society by turning abstracts into instantly identifiable memes disseminated by sonar and long-distance call; rodents are lucky to hold family groups together with pheromones. The ungulates mistake individual reaction to stimuli for decisive collective action, and the primates are too busy shrieking for attention to pay attention to anything else. Only the chiropterans, one of the oldest mammal families and certainly the most prolific, have the time and the wherewithal to create their own gods at their own pace.

Insects, fish, fruit, blood, nectar. The bats continued their ancestors’ war against the dinosaurs, both based on total numbers and on their diets. They migrated to better feeding grounds and hibernated to wait for better feeding, hiding from the daystar in caves, tree hollows, primate shelters, under leaves, in pitcher plant traps. They never conquered the land or the ocean, and why should they? What was the point of conquest when the wind was free?

Even so, all thinking beings make gods when administrative tasks become too onerous, and bats make theirs for their purposes. The difference between them and all other mammals is that instead of creating a noble template of what they could accomplish, they elevate one of their own with the understanding that this is transitory. For one full year, one bat becomes the archetype for all chiropterans: that year counts not against the bat’s average lifespan, and it neither feeds nor needs to fear predators. Instead, it bathes in the collective wants and needs of bats across the world, gliding on now-invisible wings to every enclave of its order, examining changes in the world and plotting strategy to allow the bats to utilize those changes. At the end of the year, it spreads its observations and solutions across all batkind before reentering the world as just one among many. That bat’s successor as the one Bat God had no advance warning that it would be chosen, and no previous Bat God would ever be chosen again. Nothing could improve an individual bat’s chances, and so no bat strove to do so. The chosen Bat God also could not retain its memories of that experience, which was probably for the best for all. Power, ambition, the desire for conquest or control: this was alien to bats, and each Bat God made certain during their tenure that this continued.

This was a system that worked for millions of years, as other mammal groups rose and fell forever, and the Bat God took the lessons from those others and memorialized them. In millions more years, their world would be consumed as the daystar expanded and swallowed everything within its range, and the bats would look to their god and murmur “Good job. We did well.”

Original vampire bat design by Monica “Monarobot” Robles Corso.

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

Plant: Nepenthes hemsleyana

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, acrylic sheet, fancy stone.

Price: $400

Shirt Price: $350

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 5

Considering that 2020 for so many people has been less about “I wish I’d lived in a cave all this time” than “that nuclear waste dump is seeping into my perfectly pristine prehistoric cavern and poisoning all of my dinosaurs,” the constant requests to help others outside of immediate family can be rough when you don’t know if you’re going to need assistance yourself in a few weeks. It’s even harder when we’re watching cultural anchors such as restaurants and nightspaces collapsing through no fault of their own other than “it’s dangerous to gather in large groups and socialize,” especially with those where video streams and takeout simply aren’t an option. If you’re in that situation or bumped up against it, no pressure whatsoever: I’ve been there so many times that all anyone has to do is mention the years 1986, 1991, or 2001 and watch me twitch. This week’s Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions guide is for those with the means to help out, big or small, and who want additional options.

Firstly, if you want to go big to tackle the biggest need, contributing money to your local food bank is a great place to start. Right off the bat, considering the number of people unemployed or underemployed since last March for whom food security is a real issue, even a tiny amount makes a huge difference to an individual or a family that otherwise would go hungry. Dedicated newsfeed doomscrollers might have caught the coverage of the tremendous lines in Dallas waiting for their individual turns for help from the North Texas Food Bank, and many of us immediately turned around and donated what we could. With the likelihood that anything approximating a downturn in COVID-19 cases may not happen until next March, and that so many businesses can’t even consider reopening until after those cases are under control, that’s where Triffid Ranch money left over from paying bills has been going. Having been there, I want to make sure that anybody needing a hand up has it now.

Feeding our own is a priority, but then there are others. Donations to local animal shelters are just as important, even with the increased numbers of adoptions from stay-at-home workers, because the bills have to be paid after the adoptees leave. That goes double for zoos and aquariums where animals can’t go home with the keepers to save on maintenance costs. From Dallas, consider a contribution to the Dallas Zoo Annual Fund, especially to assist with animal care and keeper pay at the Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park. (On a personal note, the plan back in January was to make a contribution to the Annual Fund to cover food costs for the Dallas Zoo’s crocodile monitor. Now, though, with the Children’s Aquarium shut down for the duration, caring for the Aquarium’s albino alligator, Australian lungfish, and one of the largest alligator snapping turtles in captivity is just as important.)

For the last decade, Triffid Ranch shows and events have flyers from Bat World Sanctuary to highlight one of Texas’s gems, and things are getting tight for the sanctuary crew, too. With the impending release of a new Nepenthes enclosure intended to highlight bats’ contributions to carnivorous plant lore, it’s time to up the contributions there, too. We’re all in this together.

One of the things that’s hurt the most about 2020 wasn’t just the collapse of Triffid Ranch shows, but also the opportunity to bring plants to schools and museums to share with folks whose sole exposure to carnivores is online. Skype a Scientist is a new organization intending to take advantage of technology: it connects virtual classrooms with a serious need for new stimulation with scientists happy to lecture on their specialties, with an emphasis on classrooms where the funding might not be available otherwise. If any one organization makes me giggle “I love living in the future,” Skype a Scientist is it, because I would have done just about anything to have had access to this sort of resource when I was in school.

Finally, while it may be obvious, the International Carnivorous Plant Society not only keeps members of the carnivorous plant community connected and informed, but its efforts to protect carnivorous plant habitat and genetic diversity are needed especially now. (As an extra for those of us having to make lots of PayPal payments, the ICPS may be chosen as a preferred PayPal charity, with 1% of sales going to the ICPS for its education programs. Considering how much glassware I purchase annually, I’m hoping that this helps, and there’s no reason why more people can’t do it, too.)

As always, if it’s just not possible to contribute to these or any other charity, don’t sweat it: times are rough for everybody, and this is not about guilt. The important part is that we’re all in this together.

Next week: Buying (Dallas) Local

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 4

Now that the holiday season is running in earnest, it’s time to talk about books. 2020 has been a kidney stone of a year, and my wife regularly tells an anecdote related to her about how the best way to dislodge a kidney stone is by riding rollercoasters. While I’m suspect of the medical accuracy, there’s something to be said about giving unorthodox treatments a try.

When visitors to the gallery ask “where did you come up with this?”, I can’t really point to any one thing and say “This one thing caused this one thing to pop out of my head and make a big mess on the floor.” The advantage of starting the gallery this late in life means that I had 40-odd years to pick up little things and roll them around before starting. The influences on the backstories behind each new enclosure? That’s easy: that’s what a sordid youth spent reading everything I could find from Harlan Ellison, John Shirley, Ernest Hogan, and Saladin Ahmed will get you. Everything else, though, comes from dribs and drabs from any number of sources, some of which has been rattling around in the old brainmeats since the early 1970s. The enclosure One Giant Leap, pictured above? That came from a dream right after watching the landing of Apollo 17, which is the only lunar I still remember. And that’s the one where I can point out the specific inspiration.

If any particular good has come from 2020, it’s been the opportunity to read, and a lot of really good volumes collecting past inspirations and influences hit bookstores this year. Among many others:

Just about 30 years ago, at the beginning of my dubious writing career, I came across a singular book on a much more realistic exploration of an alien world than had been presented in most fiction. No capture, no bringing back, no killing and stuffing of alien life forms; no beaming down a ship’s entire command staff and one lone hapless organ donor. Instead, we all got a singular look at an alien ecosystem with essential rules (none of the animals ever evolved eyes, so their main senses were sonar and heat sensors across their bodies) and a backstory that the exploration of that world by humans would take nothing but paintings and leave nothing but perceptions. Nearly three decades later, Wayne Barlowe’s book Expedition ” is finally back in print, with a glorious cover (the painting in the original edition was printed so the painting in question was split by the binding) and a very high-quality reproduction of the original 1990 edition. Even better, this one comes in both hardcover and paperback, meaning that those searching for a copy for decades can snag a hardcover for considerably less than collectors and speculators were offering on eBay.

It’s hard to state how much of an influence Ray Harryhausen was on so many aspects of the fantastic these days: so artists, writers, filmmakers, and academics point to at least one of his films, and sometimes many, as saving them from the life of a meth dealer or weekly newspaper music critic. (To this day, Valley of Gwangi is one of the two films that makes me unapologetically weep at the end, the other being Alien.) The National Galleries of Scotland definitely felt that his filmography was worthy of a full exhibition, and the catalog for Ray Harryhausen: Titan of Cinema, full of anecdotes from his daughter Vanessa, is available for perusal even for those who can’t consider travel these days. For those who can, the exhibition runs until next September, and a boy can dream.

It’s been a very long strange trip over the last 25 years, when a chance encounter with the first issue of a comic titled Johnny the Homicidal Maniac introduced the general public, or at least the public unfamiliar with the late, lamented goth magazine Carpe Noctem, to Jhonen Vasquez. His most famous creation, the Nickelodeon cartoon series Invader Zim, came out six years later, and the Chris McDonnell book The Art of Invader Zim goes into detail on what probably qualified as simultaneously the oddest series ever released by Nickelodeon and by far one of the most long-lived as far as popular support is concerned. This one has particular personal appeal: friends describe my marriage as especially disturbing Delenn/GIR fan fiction, as my poor long-suffering wife acknowledges every time she asks “So what do you want for dinner?” and I give her the only appropriate answer.

In one aspect of life, kids today really DO have one thing easy: the number of television shows with movie-quality special effects is nothing short of incredible, as fans of The Mandalorian and The Expanse can attest. When I was your age, laser effects were done in-camera, planets were paintings, and spacecraft were built one bit at a time. Martin Bower was and is one of those spacecraft builders, getting notice with such shows as Thunderbirds and Space: 1999 and then moving to film projects such as Alien and Outland. The volume Martin Bower’s World of Models is an essential reference for those looking to return to the retro world of practical effects: because when the server farm seizes up and the software crashes, sometimes the best way to get something to shoot is to build it, one piece of polystyrene at a time.

Finally, it may seem odd to include a coloring book in this collection, but Coloring Space 1 is by the artist Christopher Doll, a longtime friend and fellow troublemaker whose live painting Twitch stream has been a source of great peace through this foul year 2020. Chris continues in a space art tradition with a very long history, and it might behoove a few book editors to look at some of his space and fantastic art, because breweries sure like it.

Next week: reasons to shop in Dallas.

The Aftermath: Triffid Ranch Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours, November 28 & 29, 2020

And now we’re in the thick of the holiday season. The good news is that the gallery is no longer in a shopping mall, and the better news is that a combination of considerate patrons and a vastly updated air circulation system means that the current gallery is much safer for indoor events than the old one was. (Well, that and the decided lack of asbestos.) The original plan was for one Plant Tour on Saturday the 28th, where upon finishing, I’d catch a plane for Philadelphia for training for a new day job, and then come back on December 11 for the next show. For obvious reasons, the flight has been delayed and I’m staying in Dallas, so we performed a rarity: being in Dallas and open on both Small Business Saturday and Artist Sunday. It worked out well.

In between Sunday plant tours, things are going to get awfully interesting this month. December will debut several new enclosures, including one that has been on the back burner for years, and expect to see Triffid Ranch enclosures in places you wouldn’t otherwise have guessed. There may even be an outside event in December: the details will be shared as they’re available. Just know that as opposed to most Dallas holiday events, this one will be free of Christmas music, aside from the obvious anthem.

Due to the gallery being reserved for a private function, the Carnivorous Plant Tours are taking a break on December 6, but will return for December 13, 20, and 27. (You need to find something to fill the gap left by the tree, right?) Now time to get back to work and make more.

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Triffid Ranch Plant Tours: The Holiday 2020 Edition

Okay, so it’s the beginning of the holiday season. Travel out of town is right out this year, and let’s face it: if Die Hard is a Christmas movie, the only movie that sums up Thanksgiving weekend 2020 is Alien. For those for whom the holiday season is problematic or unbearably painful, we’re looking for something reasonably safe in the year of COVID-19, with not a trace of tinsel. Far too many of us working retail have wanted to be in a position where the manager who insists upon running Christmas songs all day starting November 1 gets tied up, eyes propped open like Malcolm McDowall’s in A Clockwork Orange, and forced to watch The Polar Express until his ears bleed. Things aren’t as bad as they were 40 years ago, where television, radio, and theater gave no other options, but it would be nice to take a break once in a while.

That’s why we’re proud to announce the upcoming Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours, starting on Saturday, November 28 at 10:00. The idea is to open the gallery on Small Business Saturday to allow new visitors to view the entirety of the gallery and returning visitors to see the new enclosures made since their last visit. (For many, they understandably haven’t seen the inside of the gallery since our Lunar New Year open house back at the beginning of February.) After that, we’ll open again on November 29, take a short break for a private event on December 6, and then resume on December 13, 20, and 27. After that, well, that’s what 2021 is for. As always, masks are mandatory and their proper wear is vital, with the gallery sanitized between visitors. (Due to Dallas County ordinances, no more than 10 visitors can enter at any given time: we apologize for the inconvenience, but this is for everybody’s health.)

The best part of all of this is having the opportunity to debut new enclosures every week: including commissions, 2020 has been exceedingly busy, and the plan is to average out at one new enclosure every two weeks since the beginning of the year. Will we do it? CAN we do it? Well, you’ll have to come out to the gallery every week to find out.

Otherwise, the gallery is as always open by appointment through the end of the year for those wishing to view or purchase an enclosure outside of the Plant Tour schedule: unfortunately, a new day job prevents keeping the gallery open every day through the season, so appointments will be vital. Anyone with questions is free to ask: otherwise, we’ll see everyone starting November 28.

Enclosures: “Innovator” (2020)

Assumption: when cataloguing examples of advanced technology throughout the known universe, most students attribute the developments to a specific species or civilization, and further attribute those developments to some sort of racial will to forge and refine it. Reality: with far too many of the really esoteric discoveries throughout the Five Realities, everything comes from one individual or one small group, and the rest of said species or civilization wouldn’t have recognized it if they had been beaten over their nervous system with it. This can sometimes be dangerous, as the people of what is now catalogued as Devenport’s Rotating Holiday (SCC918/256/AMCHH4) discovered the hard way. It can be far more dangerous to those left behind to stumble across isolated innovations, as subsequent visitors keep discovering the hard way.

The specifics on exactly who created what is now called The Innovator are forever lost, but what remains in archaeological sites on Devenport’s Rotating Holiday suggest a random developer with a combination of absolute hubris and an unlimited fountain of resources. Built in an isolated area to take advantage of geothermal power, the Innovator also tapped into a series of radio, gravitic, and synthotelepathic telescopes built into surrounding mountain valleys, thus allowing it access to information streams from surrounding worlds to a distance of as much as 70 million light-years in every direction. The collating and processing system used by the Innovator is still completely unknown, and researchers soon learn why if they get too close.

The basic theme behind The Innovator is improvement: physical, electronic, metallurgic, mental, social, and/or theological, sometimes several at once. In its simplest use, an item is brought to within range of a series of sensory arms, and the item is transformed into an incrementally improved form, with the being bearing the item given powerful synthotelepathic instructions on one possible use. For instance, a lump of chert would be modified via nanosmoothing into a knife with a three-molecule-wide edge, with those molecules artificially strengthened to resist wear and damage, and the individual delivering it informed on its used for advanced tree grafting techniques. Bringing a chunk of hematite may, with three different bearers, present complete plans for a Bessemer steel forge, a detector for near-planet asteroids, or a single-use device for boosting the hemoglobin in oxygen-breathing life forms to offer immunity to hydrogen sulfide poisoning. The ultimate benefit of any improvement is up to The Innovator: a famous example was a Carrik warlord who presented a nuclear device in the hope of creating an ultimate weapon: when detonated, the improved device removed all of the Carrik from both space and time, and knowledge of them today comes from cataloging traces of their absence, like breath on a mirror.

The Innovator’s effect isn’t limited to nonliving forms, either. While most attempts to affect research animals are mostly inoffensive (a noted exception was the use of Earth golden hamsters for a test; the innovation was the ability to digest lignin and other complex polymers without the need for symbiotic bacteria, leading to an even more foul-tempered rodent able to thrive on most plastics), any attempts to access the Innovator’s operating system or physically interfere with its functions are met with massive retaliation AND upgrading. This may be physical, with tools and computers innovated to destroy any functionality that could threaten the Innovator. Sometimes it is electronic, with software and firmware left with widened capabilities but without any way to focus on the Innovator. The most insidious, though, are the social upgrades, ranging from individual morality to that of an entire civilization. This almost definitely led to the extinction of the inventor’s people, but whether this was due to the creator attempting to shut down the Innovator or someone else attempting to improve it is still ambiguous.

Today, anyone can visit the Innovator: any attempts to prevent access, including a six-species fleet attempting to saturation-bomb Devenport’s Rotating Holiday with fusion planetbusters, fail within moments. Some of them return with massive leaps in knowledge. Some don’t return, and arguments persist as to whether the Innovator improves them by making them a part of its network, or if it simply improves them beyond the need to live in three-dimensional space. As always, mileage may vary.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 15 1/2″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 39.37 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant: Cephalotus follicularis “Elizabeth

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, epoxy putty, found items.

Price: $150

Shirt Price: $125

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Carnivorous Plant Tour: November 15, 2020

After a very long hiatus, regular events in the gallery, as opposed to out on the front porch, started up again on November 15, with full mask and cleaning protocols in place. It’s been a long strange trip, but the Triffid Ranch is back and open for business.

As for the future, we’re taking a cue from our friends at Frightmare Collectibles and planning a much more regular schedule for Sunday events. Keep an eye on the schedule for the rest of November and all of December: the gallery will be closed on December 6 for a private event, but we’re also planning post-Christmas events for those who need a touch of green after the winter solstice.

Anyway, the next Carnivorous Plant Gallery Tour (that’ll work for a name) starts at 10:00 am on November 22, and runs until 5:00 pm that evening. If you can’t make it then, we’re shifting the schedule slightly for Small Business Saturday on November 28, and will be open on November 27 by appointment. See you then.

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale – #20

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 October 16, 2020.

Installment #20: “An Ode to a Plastic Watering Can”

In the greater scheme of things, especially these days, it’s not a big deal, but it’s time to mourn just a little. After 31 years and innumerable liters of water, my first watering can died of age-related wear and tear, and it deserves a fair eulogy.

The long strange trip that currently ends with the Texas Triffid Ranch originally started in the spring of 1989. Like most Gen Xers, I previously had precious little time for gardening both because of endless hours of doing the zut work in my parents’ gardens over the years and with the general “I don’t have time for the likes of YOU” attitudes of garden centers at that time. One day at the grocery store, though, I found a packet of luffa squash seeds dumped on a shelf where someone had decided that they didn’t want to take it back to where they’d picked it up, and remembering reading a magazine article about a week before about how those odd sponges occasionally offered for sale came from a plant and not from some odd sea creature, I figured that I didn’t have anything to lose. Besides, I was working nights: back then, that meant that a weeknight home life consisted of watching the one or two television stations that hadn’t signed off at midnight, reading, or staring at the ceiling.

Raising luffa squashes was definitely a diversion.
That year’s gardening plan was about as pathetic as you could expect from a pre-Internet 22-year-old with no guidance and no mentorship. Said luffas were planted in reused gallon milk jugs full of potting soil purchased from the 24-hour grocery store next to my apartment, with lots of “compost” (orange peels and dead refrigerator leftovers) in the bottom, with no idea of what the adult plants looked like or what they needed. That first year, expectedly, was a nightmare, but one of the side benefits was realizing that watering a good dozen jugs every day meant needing a sturdier container than another recycled milk jug. This meant making another trip to that 24-hour Skaggs Alpha-Beta and grabbing a watering can from its “Seasonal” aisle.

The can itself wasn’t anything special, but it was. That year, several grocery stores in the Dallas area carried the same green plastic watering can with a white plastic rose (sprinkling rose, not flower rose) on the end, with a stout handle and a sturdy short neck. Apparently multitudes of younger gardeners than I have very fond memories of their grandmothers using that same style of watering can, and more memories of said grandmothers searching for a replacement when it finally wore out. In my case, it was large enough to be practical for apartment gardening without necessitating constant trips back to the sink for refilling, short enough that it could get into tight places, and tough enough to handle sitting on an apartment porch in a North Texas summer without cracking or degrading. For what I was trying to do, it was perfect.

Even better, it kept being perfect. The next year included a move to a new apartment with a much larger balcony, which necessitated a much wider collection of plants. During the winter, that can was essential in watering a big philodendron chunk I had rescued, and that plant stayed with me for years. That can stayed with me for a further move to Dallas’s Exposition Park, where it was invaluable in assisting the owners of the long-defunct Club No in turning a former dry cleaners storage area into a vine-covered back patio. It moved with me to Portland, Oregon, and then back to Texas. It lasted through two marriages, the whole of my writing career, several subsequent moves, and the beginnings of the Triffid Ranch as a hobby with delusions of grandeur. Even after the start of the gallery, it saw use in the greenhouse for watering individual plants for shows and events, and it acted as if it would last forever.

Well, it lasted until it didn’t. One day while ladling out rainwater from one of the rain barrels, it started to leak. That little watering can, which had survived so much, finally blew out along the bottom edge, both from a loss of plasticizers over the last three decades and general wear, and attempting to fix it with silicone or epoxy putty just meant that it would blow out again in another spot before too much longer. It was relegated ceremoniously to the recycling bin, with the hope that after being chopped and reconstituted, no matter the item, it is appreciated and loved as much as that can was.

Hail and farewell, watering can: I’ve searched for a month for a comparable can, and know I probably won’t find one as great as you were.

Shameless Plugs

A word out for an old friend and friendly adversary: folks in the Portland area may be familiar with tax lawyer and desperately needed blogging gadfly Jack Bogdanski, and he and I have been friends from a distance for about a decade. Although we may disagree fervently on specific issues all over the place, one of the reasons why I respect him so much is that he has the same change-it-or-lose-it love for Portland that I have for Dallas, and at the same intensity. Mr. Bogdanski famously quit blogging several years back in order to focus on serious law research, but he’s now back, he’s continuing his wild swings between Portland politics and little joys (his recent discussion of analog music was wonderfully nostalgic), and I have a desperate need to take him out for dinner and thank him for playing Harlequin to Portland’s City Hall Ticktockmen once it’s safe to do so.

Recommended Reading

The latest Spectrum fantastic art collection just arrived, and that’s all I’m going to say other than “Buy it now.” Next year, I AM entering the competition.

Music

One of the good things about having friends who are so much cooler than I’ll ever be is getting exposure to all sorts of cultural detritus that wouldn’t have floated this way otherwise. That’s why I have to thank the Canadian actress and model Tristan Risk for turning me onto the garage surf band the Neptunas, because the band’s latest album is a very welcome antidote to the usual impending winter blues. I suspect that it’s time to pay royalties to play their newest album at the next big gallery open house (either November or December), because life is too short not to.

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 1

Many moons back, back when the Triffid Ranch was purely a venue that popped up at local shows and events, this site ran a regular series of recommendations for annual gift-giving, on the idea of spreading the wealth and giving further recommendations to venues that needed wider exposure. Starting the brick-and-mortar gallery, along with day job obligations, cut into opportunities to continue, but the ongoing kidney stone and appendicitis cosplay known as 2020 gives whole new opportunities to pay back old favors, hype up respected friends and cohorts, and generally spread the wealth. It may have been a rough year, but that makes helping out your friends that much more vital.

To start off this series, which will keep going every Thursday through the end of the year, it’s time to start with the regular question brought up at Triffid Ranch shows: “Do you ship?” The reason why you don’t see a handy online store on this site is because of the size, heft, and relative delicacy of the enclosures and containers available for sale, and the inability to guarantee that any of the finished enclosures could survive a trip through any currently available delivery service. Even if any given enclosure could handle hauling, lugging, flying, and disembarking, there’s no guarantee that the plants would. (It’s enough of a white-knuckle ride to drive them around the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex to make deliveries.) I may not be able to ship, but it’s time to look at carnivorous plant dealers who do.

With that in mind, below is a basic list of excellent carnivorous plant dealers with whom I’ve had good encounters in the past, and some of whom for whom I’d take a bullet without hesitation. All are very good about the plants they offer, and for those looking for particularly exotic species should give them all a viewing. These include:

  • California Carnivores: on this side of the Atlantic, it’s hard to talk about the carnivorous plant hobby without bringing up one of the oldest and largest carnivorous plant nurseries in the United States. Owner Peter D’Amato has probably done more to promote carnivores in the US than anybody else in the last 30 years (his book The Savage Garden is still one of the essential texts on carnivorous plant care), and his crew gleefully expand what we know about carnivores as often as they can.
  • Black Jungle Terrrarium Supply: Located on the opposite side of the continent from California Carnivores, Black Jungle already has a justified reputation for its variety and quality of dart frogs, but it also carries a wide selection of carnivores, including an enthusiastic collection of low-elevation and high-elevation Nepenthes pitcher plants.
  • Sarracenia Northwest: Back to the West Coast, Sarracenia Northwest is one of the gems of the Portland area. While its regular open houses aren’t happening under current conditions, its online selection is always full of very healthy plants (one Brocchinia I purchased six years ago is so enthusiastic in producing pups that if it turns out to qualify as a unique cultivar, I’m naming it “Martian Flatcat”), and the newsletter stories of Sue the Sarracenia Pup are worth subscribing all on their own.
  • Pearl River Exotics: One of the reasons to check out Pearl River is for its regular Nepenthes presales, with a great combination of pure species and hybrids.
  • Carnivero: A relatively new carnivorous plant nursery, Carnivero is already a good reason to plan a road trip to Austin once the pandemic is over. In the interim, Carnivero’s online selection is always interesting, and I expect we’ll be seeing a lot of their unique Nepenthes hybrids before too long.
  • Jersey Devil Carnivorous Plants: Lots of people who don’t know any better make jokes about New Jersey, and folks in New Jersey make jokes about the Pine Barrens. The Pine Barrens are a place I’ve wanted to visit ever since this strange trip began, because of its variety of endemic carnivores and orchids, and Jersey Devil pays special attention to the Barrens’ most famous carnivore, the purple pitcher plant Sarracenia purpurea. (Keep an eye open for next spring, because I want to be the first Texas carnivore dealer to carry Jersey Devil specials.)
  • Plano Carnivorous Plants: It’s a common misconception that the Triffid Ranch is the only carnivorous plant dealer in the greater Dallas area. Not only is this not true, but when customers ask about particular plants that I simply don’t have room to carry, I send them to talk to Dylan Sheng at Plano Carnivorous Plants. Dylan is a little more than a third of my age, and I want to be just like him when I finally grow up.

Well, this is a start: in the interim, take advantage of the relatively calm weather this week and get in your plant orders now, before it starts getting cold out. You won’t regret it.

State of the Gallery: November 2020

One of the only issues I’ve ever had with the Henry Selick film The Nightmare Before Christmas involves the ending. For all of the celebration of Santa Claus traveling the world and replacing all of Jack Skellington’s creepy toys with traditional Christmas gifts, not one kid – not one protogoth kid – was screaming and crying and begging Santa to leave a Jack gift behind. I just picture that kid watching the Russian dolls loaded with scorpions being hauled off, swearing right then and there that when s/he grows up, there’s going to be one little part of the world where Halloween never ends, and then finding that a lot of other kids feel the same way, so they start an enclave, and that starts a movement…

Anyway. Where were we? Oh, yes, Triffid Ranch plans for November. Absolutely no connection to the previous paragraph. None at all.

Well, now that Halloween is over, it’s time to switch gears slightly as far as the gallery is concerned. No more Porch Sales until at least the end of March, both because of variable weather and because all of the Venus flytraps and North American pitcher plants need their winter dormancy. Right now, the emphasis is on introducing new Nepenthes, Cephalotus, and Mexican butterwort enclosures through the winter, as well as giving opportunities for everyone to see them. To that end, the first of the November indoor plant tours starts on November 15, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and those plant tours will continue on selected Sundays until spring. (By various necessities, these won’t be running every Sunday, owing to starting a new day job in December and ongoing events with Caroline Crawford Originals at the beginning of the month, but details will be posted as they become available.)

Concerning shows outside of the gallery, everything is still in the air, in some cases quite literally. The latest news concerning a potential COVID-19 vaccine has already started a race with various venues to schedule indoor shows for 2021, and it’s the view of this proprietor that it’s far too early to discuss returning to a regular event schedule when Texas just crossed, as of today, one million known cases. Unfortunately, the combination of live plants and heavy glassware means that shipping isn’t an option, which means that online events such as the Blood Over Texas Blood Bazaar also aren’t an option at this time.

On the subject of the Blood Bazaar, one of the only bits of good news in the last eight months is the solidarity between friends and cohorts in the online community, and it’s time to return a whole slew of favors. It’s been a very long time since the last Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions cavalcade of purchasing opportunities, and that starts up again as of Thursday. Expect lots of recommendations on everything from masks to toy dinosaurs, with a lot of tips on carnivorous plants and carnivorous plant accessories.

Finally, 2020 was intended to start with a serious expansion in both additional Triffid Ranch shows and local business opportunities, and the pandemic put paid to both before things got too involved for the year. Now that businesses are reopening, it’s time to announce the next phase of the Triffid Ranch business empire: the opportunity to rent enclosures. Keep an eye open for the details very soon, but for companies and individuals who would like the uniqueness and prestige of a carnivorous plant enclosure without the maintenance, or who want to switch things out on a regular basis, you now have an option. Again, details will follow very soon.

Other than that, back to the linen mines: new enclosures won’t build themselves. And if you think this is exciting, wait until December.

Enclosures: “Supernova Express” (2020)

Out of all of the successful and failed projects by early spacefaring civilizations that ultimately allowed their successors to become what we now call “galactically aware,” two of the most influential came from the now-sadly-extinct species Bolun. Originating on a particularly life-conducive world orbiting a remarkably stable yellow dwarf star in an arm of our own galaxy, the Bolun were culturally obsessed with spreading their knowledge and society as far as they could manage, and they were the first known civilization in our corner of the universe to utilize what humans called the remora wave, a method of piggybacking information onto gravity waves. As neutron stars and black holes collided and washed time-space with outwardly spreading gravity waves, the remora wave dragged information about the Bolun, everything from vital scientific information to attire patterns, to anybody who could pick it up. Eventually, any reasonably technological species attempting to study gravity would pick up incoming gravity waves, and little irregularities in the observed data usually led to stumbling over the remora wave packets. Before long, others were dropping their own cosmic broadcasts into the rippling fabric of space-time, giving everything from elaborate plans for faster-than-light vehicles for gaseous entities to Swedish meatball recipes (which most civilizations had already developed, but that was another mystery to be discussed at another time).

The other Bolun project with unexpected returns was the development and expansion of slimeworlds. The universe is particularly good at making small rocky planets at a suitable distance from light and heat for optimum life conditions, but without anything approximating living other than attempts at RNA replication. The Bolun thought that a shame, and as soon as they had the ability to visit those worlds directly, first by FTL craft and then by time-web and zero-point shifts, every world they found conducive to life but free from it received a large shipping platform full of specially tailored molds, algae, and other bacteria and protists intended to use the available resource bounty around them. Even after the Bolun were gone due to a zero-point detonation that took out their main sphere of influence approximately 500 million years ago, other spacefarers visiting slimeworlds used said slime as raw replication materials, as substrates for colony worlds, or just simply dropped off their own preferred biota and swore to come back and visit once the stew was finished cooking. With many worlds, this happened so many times that new visitors often left detailed information in subsequent remora waves, just so future paleontologists didn’t go insane trying to understand a particular slimeworld’s natural history millions of years later. Genetic resurrections, penal colonies, intended utopias, deliberate mashups of seemingly incompatible biomes…the slimeworlds were the universe’s sourdough starter, and the results were sometimes too strange for eating.

Such was one particular slimeworld visited by the famed musical artist Jody Clem (2386-2467, Old Calendar). This world, at that time only known by an identification number and not a name, was located in a particularly ripply part of space-time: outwardly, the tremendous gravity waves slamming its vicinity did little more than encourage a bit more solar flare activity in its star, but the remora waves chasing them were full of data packets from at least thirty extant and extinct species from across the universe. The planet itself wasn’t especially habitable: previous dumpings of life from previous visitors had left it with vast savannahs of acidic moss prowled by giant reptilian analogues comparable to the extinct rauisuchids of Earth’s past, with little reason for anyone of any known species to want to live there. For Clem, this was perfect.

Clem’s vision was to build a receiver to pick up remora wave packets, which then translated the packets into music. Based on a unique algorithm developed specifically for this project, the translator gave particular information a musical value, which then played out across the world’s largest moss savannah. Depending upon the remora waves’ content, the resultant auditory output could be anything from a light sussurus to a blast of sound that could kill at close proximity, with most end results best resembling freeform jazz.

At first, response to Clem’s giant amplifier ranged from dismissive to horrified, and discussion led to others going to listen for themselves. Some started noticing that certain musical themes self-generated from time to time, depending upon the news and trivia picked up on incoming remora waves. A few could even extrapolate further galactic events and trends based on long listens to the Clem amplifier, and a few swore that with dedicated study and interpretation, the Clem amplifier might even give clues as to the future.

Today, a small spaceport lies just over the horizon from the amplifier, and most visitors deliberately travel on foot or analogue in order to take in the daily output on their visit. This isn’t particularly safe, as some musical themes tend to attract the giant saurians, who respond with either bemused curiosity or hunger. Even with that threat, government officials, artists, essayists, historians, and wanderers collect at the base of the amplifier, listening for clues, inspirations, messages, and warnings. To an individual, they usually do not recognize the underlying message they heard until it is far too late to do anything about it.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 15 1/2″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 39.37 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant: Cephalotus follicularis “Elizabeth

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, epoxy putty, found items.

Price: $150

Shirt Price: $125

Enclosures: “Huntington’s Folly” (2020)

Sometimes astroarchaeological discoveries lead to deeper mysteries, and one of the greatest in the annals of our galaxy involves massive structures known as Nogha entropy conduits. Named after the world on which the first was discovered, Nogha entropy conduits do precisely that: the current theory on their purpose and operation is that each one taps into the quantum foam, the froth of emerging and receding universes of which our universe is just one tiny bubble, and anchors on one specific universe where physical laws are drastically different from those in our own. Some draw energy from its anchored universe and either broadcasts it or stores it (the latest conference discussing that function and the implications therein didn’t lead to bloodshed, but it came close) in order to affect some unknown significant change. Others instead funnel energy, particularly in the form of entropy, into their anchored universes: without being able to observe those anchors, whether this is simply as a waste vent or intended to affect specific changes in the anchors is unknown. The creators of the Nogha entropy conduits are unknown, although they apparently spread conduits throughout at least five observable galaxies. The conduits’ operation is unknown, with all attempts to dismantle or deconstruct conduits failing, in some cases catastrophically. The reasoning behind the conduits’ placement is unknown. Most questions about Nogha entropy conduits have the same answer: “Unknown.”

The larger mystery, though, came from the seeming discovery of a Nogha entropy conduit on Earth itself, in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, Canada. Previous discoveries of conduits tended to concentrate either on the far edges of galactic cores or on the outer rims, particularly on planets or dwarf planets in orbit around red or blue giant stars. Even more perplexing, although the conduit was in a particularly rugged and challenging area, it should have been discovered centuries before, either by First Nations hunters or European explorers, and the mystery deepened when a photo of the mountain on which the conduit had been implanted turned up: as of 1943, Old Calendar, the conduit did not exist, and all previous conduits had a provenance of between 2 and 5 million years. Even more confusion piled up when research showed that the conduit was of Earth manufacture, within the previous 100 years, and was completely nonfunctional. While it appeared at most levels to be an authentic conduit, it was nothing but a facade on a mountainside for unknown purposes.

Part of that mystery was solved with an unrelated mystery, involving the hyperspace gate developer Chase Huntington. The land on which the fake conduit was discovered belonged to Huntington before he disappeared in 2312, with his regularly doing business from a hunting lodge overlooking the rock face. The notoriously introverted Huntington never allowed visitors to this lodge, and receipts from and to various shell companies connected to Huntington show a significant outlay of funds for a large construction project of unknown specifics, with all parties involved locked into extensive non-disclosure agreements with equally extensive penalties. Even more curiously, while Huntington helped finance several astroarchaeological expeditions, he himself had a fascination with deliberate fake extraterrestrial artifacts: he bought carefully constructed forgeries and fabrications that were labeled as inauthentic, and regularly presented them to cohorts and competitors to watch their responses.

To this date, the general consensus on Huntington’s entropy conduit was that it was the classic definition of a “folly,” the tradition of wealthy landholders to construct fake ruins intended to invoke past glories. Huntington certainly had the motive and the money, and considering that the land on which his folly resided was donated to the Canadian government upon being declared legally dead, it may have been one massive prank after another. This, though, still has to contend with Huntington’s disappearance: no sign of him ever turned up on Earth, even after an extensive search, and no record of his going offworld has ever turned up. This led to even further study of the folly by amateur archaeologists and enthusiastic laypeople, many using the term “there has to be a pony in here somewhere,” on the idea that Huntington may have reconstructed an entropy conduit that transported matter instead of energy and that worked…once.

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

Plant: Commission

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, polyester resin, found items.

Price: Commission

Shirt Price: Commission

The Last Porch Sale of 2020: This is bat country.

At the end of December, when we all raise a virtual toast to the death of 2020, the eulogy on its gravestone will most likely be “Man plans, God laughs.” At the end of the outdoor carnivore season, six months after starting the first of what became the Sunday morning Porch Sales, this might as well have been carved into all of our foreheads, too. The original plan for this year was to take the Triffid Ranch on the road, with multiple events in Dallas, Houston, Austin, and even New Orleans: when all of that imploded as shows shut down for everyone’s safety, the Porch Sales were a last-minute hope that all of the work started in January and February wouldn’t be completely wasted. As it turned out, they went beyond everyone’s widest expectations.

Sadly, just as the Porch Sales were really taking off, it’s time to shut them down for the year. Part of this is because of the outdoor carnivores: if they haven’t already from last week’s unusually cold weather, the Sarracenia pitcher plants and Venus flytraps start going into winter dormancy soon. The other is based on long, hard-earned experience with Texas weather, where we can go from shirtsleeves and sun to sleet in a matter of minutes, and we’ve so far lucked out on having to set up tents in a torrential rainstorm. (Even if we did, there’s absolutely no guarantee that anyone would show, and can you blame them?) Based on the response this year, and the fact that COVID-19 is pretty likely to be continuing to run amok by the time the flytraps wake up, they’re going to start up again in 2021. It’s just going to be a long five months until then.

Once again, this isn’t saying that the Triffid Ranch is shutting down over the winter. Anything but. This next week is dedicated to cleanup and maintenance (in particular, putting into storage things essential for the Porch Sales that just get in the way today, such as tents and coolers), and then we restart Sunday events inside the gallery. Details will follow (in particular, a big development that came up last Friday will affect the Sunday event schedule in December, so we’re not nailing down a schedule just yet), probably around November 7, so keep checking back for confirmation. As always, the gallery is open for those wanting to discuss commissions or purchase of existing carnivore enclosures, and details on enclosure rentals will be up and available soon.

Once again, many thanks to everyone who came out to the Porch Sales, no matter what time of the year that was, and thanks to those who braved heat, thunderstorms, windstorms, and threatened tornadoes to wander among the carnivorous plants. Here’s just hoping that 2021 isn’t as interesting, in the Chinese curse sense, and that we all get through 2020 in good health. We’ll see you next spring.

State of the Gallery: October 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Morning Porch Sale: October 25, 2020. It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for.

And so, almost exactly six months after they started, the Sunday morning Triffid Ranch carnivorous plant porch sales come to an end. What started out as an experiment to fill time newly opened due to the implosion of 2020 scheduled shows turned into a regular event, full of people both local and just passing through, but even the enthusiasm of crowds can’t fend off Dallas weather. Besides, the Venus flytraps, North American pitcher plants, and temperate sundews all need to go dormant for the winter, and while freezing or subfreezing temperatures in Dallas are extremely unlikely for at least the next month, the plants don’t know this, and they need their sleep.

Don’t think that this is the end of Triffid Ranch events for the year: anything but. Yes, Venus flytrap season is almost over (sooner rather than later, thanks to the cold front coming through most of North America this week), but this just means that we’re moving things indoors. The current plan is to take one weekend off after Halloween (after all, this has been six months of weekly Sunday events, and it would be so nice to sleep in for one Sunday in 2020), and then move to opening the gallery, both the Triffid Ranch and Caroline Crawford Jewelry, almost every Sunday after that. Details will follow, because everything right now is dependent upon events over the next two weeks, and things might change drastically before American Thanksgiving. In the meantime, keep an eye open for announcements.

For those needing one last bit of outdoor plant therapy this season, or for those who missed out on all of the previous Porch Sales and want one last chance to come by and see what the big deal is about, The Last Triffid Ranch Porch Sale of the Season comes this Saturday, October 31 from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, and we might stay a little later if people keep coming, but we won’t be out all night. (That night is reserved for viewing the last Halloween full moon until 2039.) For those who can’t, thank you very much for coming out through 2020, and expect that we’ll start doing this again in 2021. This was entirely too much fun.

Enclosures: “Mashup 2” (2020)

Doctor Dissemble’s Museum of Malicious Mashups had fallen on hard times. Like most of the popup enterprises of the Late Social Media Era, the idea was simple: quick and catchy attractions intended to draw in audiences seeking something, anything that would distinguish their camera rolls from those of everybody else. Most of those depended upon otherwise abandoned storefronts and the need to migrate like the buffalo to new feeding grounds. Others went sessile and absorbed available social media resources with increasingly shrill advertising, either dying out eventually or becoming a retro feature visited by the nostalgic. The Museum came so very close to the latter before the advent of the new DreamOut app, which allowed users to compose recreations of dreams and hallucinations in stunning detail. After that, what real-life simulacrum could compare to what was rattling around in the human mind?

The decreased traffic to the Museum meant that everything was cut to the bone. Human presence was already at an absolute minimum: the cashier, the provosts, and the exhibits were all fabrications given life by the third wave of AI plug-ins created and popularized a decade before. An absentee owner did little more than count revenues, fret about declining attendance, and look for the next lucrative trend to piggyback, and neither the lone human on site or the plug-ins even knew what this person looked like. The plug-ins themselves were obsolete. The licensing for plug-ins optimized for customer interactions in a specific display became far too expensive, so the current plug-ins were reworked customer service bots with a relatively limited list of functions and responses to outside input. Of course, “relatively limited” was still the equivalent of “about ten years of human training,” and the plug-ins were designed to adapt to changes such as customer slang, so they rapidly connected to online acting schools and did their absolute best to improvise.

The problem was that while the plug-ins could adapt, their display bodies couldn’t. Originally financed through a massive loan approved during a “too big to fail” wave of commercial real estate irrational exuberance, the Museum depended upon not original works but upon quick recognition of existing media intellectual properties juxtapositioned in improbable configurations protected under the ephemeral category of “parody.” The more ridiculous the mashup, the more it tended to jar the viewer, with more of an instinctive laughter response. What the original business plan failed to consider was that the response could be muted with repetition, with familiarity, and especially with age. In an age where memes went through whole life cycles of adoption, commodification, reworking, and discarding in an afternoon, any fabrication that required weeks or even months of careful construction would likely be obsolete after the initial design phase. What intended to spice up the mix was with plug-ins that adapted for and with changing audiences: instead of spouting years-old overworked catchphrases, these mashups could veneer themselves with contemporary relevance and then just as quickly toss it based on the latest news or the latest trends. It was a brutal rat race that would have crushed human actors, but the plug-ins were prosaic. They had no choice.

And that was how on that particular day, Ned and Ike were winding up to get a response. Most of the plug-ins in the Museum were accepting of getting the same response from the same stimuli: in fact, visitors would sometimes get upset if the narrative went astray. Ned and Ike were, for customer support plug-ins, artists. In between exhibit visitors, they bathed in the one outside news feed, cracking huge piles of ephemera for possible humor like emerald miners, comparing notes, and then either cataloging their finds or tossing them. In the next second, they would sift through the previous catalog, dumping possible comments for obsolescence or over-tastelessness (a constant issue over time), refine others based on new data, and return them to the catalog. Ned and Ike were partners, mostly obligatory because they shared the same fabrication alcove, but also because that between the two of them, they usually elicited a better shriek of unexpected laughter than they would have done themselves.

“Ned.”

(shifting a decision tree fork from a discussion on how cojoined twins are extremely telepathic, but only if they were fraternal twins) “Ready.”

“Visitors.” (sounds from the first alcove down the hall: “Vyvian, Vyvian, Vyvian! Honestly: every time the galaxy explodes, it’s ALWAYS ‘Blame Vyvian’!”

(Ike sends Ned a database half-full of pathology reports, excises half for privacy issues, and rejects most of the others due to a lack of punchline.) So…standby or new material?”

(Next alcove: “What you have to understand here is that the man at the TARDIS console is my attorney. He’s not just some dingbat I picked up on Alzirius. Look at him. He doesn’t look like you or me, right? That’s because he’s an alien. I think he’s probably Sontaran. It doesn’t matter, though. Are you prejudiced?”) “New. Let’s watch them scream.”

“Which outlet do you want?”

“The Jar-Jar one, of course.” (Ned backs up the decision with a recent data mining tailing suggesting that while only about 30 percent of all humans under the age of 40 had any feelings about the basis for that interface, 93.228 percent of that had a negative response.) “Besides, I know you’ve been working on a perfect moment for a while.”

(Next alcove: “Uhhhh…like, your name is like ‘Number Two.’ Huh huh huh huh.” Immediately followed with “Shut up, Number Six! Don’t make me kick your ass, you fartknocker! Heh heh heh heh.”) “Am I that obvious?”

(Next alcove: “Sweetie, if you don’t let me come, I’ll adopt a Hynerian baby!”) “We really should get married or something. We’ll be mistaken for human before you know it.”

(Pressure plate and light shifts signal impending arrival of attendees, with approximately 2.33 seconds between arrival and recognition of the fabrication.) “Next week. We’ll ask for a raise, too. Oof, I need to report a need for repairs. This tongue is starting to wear out, and we don’t need it to fall off during a visit. That would just be too strange.”

(Initial gasp from visitors, suggesting either first-time visitors or returning ones who paid little to no attention on previous visits.) “Well, you’re the one who thought that cleaning Jar-Jar’s eyebrows with it would be a gamechanger. Chestburster mechanics working?”

“As always. Let’s see if they even get it. Here we go…”

(Sounds of tearing and ripping of both flesh and cloth, spattering of stage blood, and crackling from a body convulsing against organic resin. Horrible screams, gasping, the slap of an overly long and prehensile tongue against a newly hollow body. Sharp metallic teeth in the open air, stretching and baring for seemingly the first time.) “Heeeeeere’s JOHNNY!”

“Never mind getting married. I want a divorce.”

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 “Elizabeth

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, epoxy putty, found items.

Price: $150

Shirt Price: $125

Enclosures: “The Persistence of Packaging” (2020)

Tracking the evolution of a specific life form to a specific time is usually recognized only in retrospect, and the emergence of a new genus even more so. However, the beginnings of a whole new kingdom of life, complete with multiple phyla, can be traced to exact moments within Earth’s history in one specific case, and those beginnings could be traced to the confluence of two of Earth’s simplest life forms: slime molds and marketing majors, with some arguing about the difference.

The evolution of what are commonly called “admolds” was dependent upon two separate actions in the first half of the 21st Century in the Old (Gregorian) Calendar. The first was a fusion of machine learning and nanotech based on study of slime mold organization and movement: based on the idea that individual near-protists could gather into feeding and reproducing structures considerably more complex than the sum of their parts, with no nervous system or any way to communicate other than through chemical cues, the first prototypes promised mobile films that could trap air pollution, clean laboratory and operating room surfaces, and strengthen and restore paints and other wall coverings. Adding the ability to regenerate new nanostructures from surrounding materials to replace old ones meant that the films were technically immortal, and an added benefit was that the films could grow their own protective and camouflage features: if a building facade needed six months of film coverage to repair and restore it, the film could grow UV protection and even pleasing (to human eyes) patterns to shelter the active nanofilms from damage.

Unfortunately, the other factor behind the admolds was the Advertising Act of 2031, a well-meant attempt to adjust intellectual property protections for the industrial world at that time. Under the Act, fictional brands in television shows, movies, Webcasts, or other popular entertainment media either had to be developed as actual products or cede the use of those brands to others. In cases where the original IP ownership was sketchy due to innumerable mergers and sales, many were treated as public domain, and marketing research suggested that the more obnoxious and offensive the name, the more likely the product would become an impulse purchase just to see if it was as horrific as the name suggested. In a matter of days after the Act was enabled, trade shows were full of presentations that followed the previous lead of Soma, Soylent, Coffiest, and Brawndo, including Hiney wine, Shimmer floor wax/dessert topping, Wham-Bam cat food, Painful Rectal Itch raspberry jam, and Jar Jar Binks urinal cakes. Were these intended to be longrunning brands with longterm name recognition? Of course not, but the promoters looked at these as stepping stones to further promotion and better trophy spouses. The focus now was on whether the ads were remembered, not the end result.

Naturally, this attitude led to an obvious crossover: if nanofilms could produce unique patterns as they worked to conceal their obvious slimy exteriors, why not coerce nanofilms that turned into mobile billboards? They didn’t need to be lit, they didn’t need to be installed, they could be given new campaigns via WiFi, and they could be encouraged to move if a property owner took issue with the advertisement. Best of all, they could be put anywhere, meaning that individuals who would ignore a billboard in a standard location was more likely to notice if it were on the underside of a bridge, on a snack package, at the bottom of a public pool, or on the side of a satellite booster. The slow mobility of the nanofilm also meant that they could track large groups of people or electronic devices and move to where the crowds were. Some ad companies paid for proprietary use of the nanofilm concept. Others leased space from existing repair nanofilms, especially in big cities where they were most likely to be displayed in areas conducive to social media. Still others learned early on that their competitors left the WiFi default password on “password123!” and put in their own ads: unless the ad was an obvious mockery or a political statement, or threatened to outshine the intended ad, most never noticed.

The Old Calendar year 2039 was remembered for many things, but the most prominent was the massive solar flare that fried electrical systems and paralyzed non-shielded electronics across the whole of Earth’s solar system. The nanofilms kept going all through the flare and after, but the control systems to move them and the WiFi access points to send new ads became so much junk, and those human survivors who spent the subsequent century rebuilding from such a technological flattening had no time to worry about whether some barely literate “ironic” ad campaign reached its intended market. The nanofilms moved like mold, they reproduced like mold, and they were about as appreciated as mold, and the only good thing about newly renamed “admolds” was that an increasing density of them signaled to travelers that they were approaching significant accumulations of fellow survivors, as admolds generally ignored corpses. Over the next 200 years, admolds became the subject of myths, legends, tales, books, and finally video, as those constantly subjected them wanted to learn the last resting places of those who commissioned them, if only as a place to build a new outhouse. By the time admold technology had been relearned and new uses were available, some were even nostalgic for the old styles, with some city leaders realizing that their public character was defined to visitors by the steadily creeping logos for fake brands nearly a quarter of a millennium dead. That irony, real irony, was recognized, appreciated, and ultimately embraced, to the point of becoming shorthand.

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 “Elizabeth

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, found items.

Price: $150

Shirt Price: $125

The Aftermath: October Triffid Ranch Open House

So it’s been promised since August. A simple renovation of the gallery to increase the amount of display space and install a series of more efficient shelves. Not an issue, right? It’ll be easy, right? No need to seal the shelves with multiple layers of urethane on days so hot that the urethane dried on the brush, right? No concerns about exactly how much storage space had to be cleared, how much glassware had to be reorganized, how many rolling racks had to be dismantled, and exactly how heavy the reference library could be when moving it to the other side of the gallery, right?

The renovation isn’t finished: I suspect that gallery renovations are a classic example of Zeno’s Paradoxes of Motion, and that they only end when every human involved with that renovation either quits or dies. This isn’t a bad thing in the slightest: there are always ways to improve the viewing experience, and as anyone working in bookselling will tell you, regular reorganizations get visitors to look at assemblages in different ways. The one absolute is that everything will continue to change, if only because of the relatively small space of the gallery, and a catalyst to this process is the ongoing changes in the outside events that used to be a major part of the Triffid Ranch experience. Expect more changes soon, because to quote the comics artist Matt Howarth, it may stop, but it never ends.

With the end of the Sunday morning Porch Sales at the end of October, mostly due to the expected and typically horrific November weather in North Texas, the renovation facilitates other changes in how the Triffid Ranch does business, especially with the ongoing implosion of the outside show community. For those in the area, we have plans for further COVID-safe events between November and April. For those who aren’t, the renovation facilitates going back to the sadly neglected Triffid Ranch YouTube channel and producing a whole load of new videos starting next month. For everybody else, we could all use a little more green in our lives, especially this winter, and the Triffid Ranch plans to be a major facilitator in this. Get ready for the ride of our lives.

Sunday Morning Porch Sale: October 18, 2020. The darkest day of horror the world has ever known.

By now, the regular updates on the Porch Sales are like Dallas weather reports in August. “Hot and sunny today, hot and sunny tomorrow, oh, and 80 percent chance of snow flurries and subzero temperatures on Friday, just to see if you were paying attention.” The weather through October has been nothing short of glorious for events of this sort, with forecasts for the next two weekends suggesting more of the same.

About the only thing changing from previous October Porch Sales has been how attendees heard about it, with a surprising number coming across Triffid Ranch information thanks to a listing in Atlas Obscura from last year. Equally interesting was the number who came out because they were seeking local haunted houses (of which we have many impressive ones), only to find that the big drive-through haunted houses generally aren’t open on Sundays. That was surprising, so please feel free to inform friends and family that future Porch Sales are a very Sunday-friendly alternative.

Well, you should know the drill by now: the last Sunday morning Porch Sale of the year runs on October 26, with one last outdoor show on Halloween Day from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm. After that? Hints will appear first in the newsletter, so keep an eye open for it when you get yours.

Sunday Morning Porch Sale: October 11, 2020. This time, it’s personal.

One of the so-true-it-hurts jokes told throughout Texas is “If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes.” Sometimes we go to extremes, such as with last October’s tornadoes tearing through Richardson and north Dallas. Most of the time, though, it’s slightly annoying, such as when, for one day, the state thermostat switched programs from “October” to “end of August.” The good news to that was that blood temperatures in October are considerably less oppressive than when the sun is on the other side of the autumnal equinox, and they come with the recognition that we’d best enjoy them while we still have them. after all, November and its torrential rains are coming, and it’s going to get cold soon enough.

Other than that, the progression through October continues through the whole of North Texas. We haven’t had any appreciable rain all month, so we probably won’t get any significant autumn foliage color this year, so Dallas will be covered with pastels in November. On the carnivore side, the remarkably mild weather caused an explosion in the Sarracenia pools, with S. leucophylla cultivars and hybrids showing their best in all of my experience of growing them in Texas. It’s also shaping up as a terrific autumn for Venus flytraps, particularly the red cultivars such as “Aki Ryu,” and after a very disappointing spring (probably set off by our remarkably warm winter), triggerplants are taking off again as well. And so it goes.

Okay, this weekend is going to be a workout. Saturday evening, the gallery reopens for its first open house in a while, running from 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm, both to show off the new renovations and to have a good sendoff for our neighbors at Visions of Venice, which is moving to Dallas’s Design District at the end of the month. We then come right back on Sunday morning for the second-to-last Sunday Porch Sale of the year, starting at 9:00 am and running until 3:00 pm, then take the day off on Monday to recuperate and get right back to it for October 25. After that, in order to remember the reason for the season, the Triffid Ranch hosts one last Porch Sale on October 31 from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, and then then that’s it for outdoor events in 2020. Now back to getting everything ready.

Enclosures: “Archive” (2020)

Across species, worlds, galaxies, and dimensions, one absolute applies to technology: usability. No matter the tool, if ostensible improvements do not improve upon the actual user experience, the general response is “ignore” or “actively avoid.” A natural response to that is to lock the user into having to use the alleged improvement, with the idea that the user eventually accepts an unnecessary upgrade as the price of use. This continues until the user gives up and finds a more accessible tool, the user’s civilization collapses because a runaround isn’t available, or the user’s civilization throws the designer facefirst into an active volcano. The most extreme case yet known of the second example involves the Bricked Archive of Dedman IV, and species across five galaxies use its example as an object lesson to complete case studies before implementing anything more complex than a stone axe.

The original name of Dedman IV is unknown, as is the name of the species that inhabited it. With its star being relatively isolated in between galactic spiral arms, and its residents cultivating more than the usual levels of xenophobia, most contacts with other local residents started and ended with various versions of “GO AWAY,” so almost no records exist of anything about this species, other than what archaeologists unearthed thousands of years after their extinction. What is known, though, is that the whole of the civilization crashed in a matter of hours, and all due to one avoidable event.

Based on archaeological evidence, the people of Dedman IV were split up into multiple city-states, all at each others’ throats, as they entered their atomic age. As an effort to engage cooperation, several city-states allied with a collective that offered unlimited informational resources via an incredibly advanced computer network, with everything dependent upon a commonly accessible information archive. Said archive held everything from agricultural status reports to astronomical charts, constantly re-encrypted over and over to preserve institutional and individual privacy, with further encryption on the tools used for access. In a very short time, that archive was accessed for nearly everything, with just about every electronic device on the planet hooked into it because that was cheaper and more efficient than not doing so.

By the time of the first explorations of the rest of the Dedman system, this encryption took a significant amount of the network’s resources, requiring more and more complex encryption keys to be able to access the data within. Ten years before the collapse, the network encryption inadvertently depended upon one key remarkably similar to that used on Earth during the beginnings of its space exploration efforts: tracking the position and intensity of known pulsars elsewhere in the universe, both by radio emissions and by gravity waves. On the surface, this allowed incredibly succinct and precise verification of data packet generation to the microsecond, making movements both of the Dedman system and of the pulsars into part of the encryption key. Without exact coordinates of both the system and a sampling of ten pulsars, breaking or spoofing the encryption key was absolutely impossible, making the home archive even secure than ever. The system was also improved upon constantly, finally building a terminal archive made of hyperbonded silicon and thallium chains, deemed absolutely indestructible and impossible to access through alternate means.

While the official crash of Dedman IV dates to approximately 20,000 years before the present, the factor that led to its destruction actually happened some 7 billion years before that, when one of the first truly transgalactic species of the universe ran into an energy problem. They had finally reached an impasse on energy consumption to where Dyson spheres and other means of intercepting the energy of individual stars wasn’t enough any more, and such ideas as zero-point energy only provided tiny sums compared to the civilization’s needs. The plan involved creating pocket universes out of the surrounding quantum foam and dropping pulsars into them, ramming the pulsars into each other, and then collecting the output. Their efforts snagged approximately 24 percent of our universe’s pulsars in its early days before they discovered an alternate solution and left our universe entirely, and the theft of outlying pulsars meant that portions of the universe wouldn’t notice they were missing for millions or billions of years. (In some outlying portions of the universe, right along the Great Bubble, with the help of gravity lensing, it is still possible to watch as those pulsars seem to be snuffed out right and left.) The problem came when others who depended upon those pulsars for navigation or mathematical constructs learned of their pilfering.

Based on what few traces could be discovered, the people of Dedman IV were concerned but not worried when the first pulsar in the archive key suddenly winked out. The other nine were sufficient to generate encryption keys. Then the second disappeared. And the third. With the fourth, the encryption key couldn’t be generated, and everything dependent upon it was locked out. Automated agricultural facilities stopped working, vehicles wouldn’t start, electronic locks wouldn’t open, and medical devices turned into junk. Worse, because of the assumptions behind the stability of the pulsar placement, nobody had bothered to include any kind of failsafe to switch to a different key generator: who plans for neutron stars to pack up and disappear? The whole system went silent, the planet went feral, and the archive, bereft of new input, shut down.

Today, the master archive on Dedman IV is a curiosity to many and a mad quest for others. The informational wealth in the archive is presumably nearly infinite, but also absolutely worthless without a way to access it. This doesn’t stop true believers from 10,000 worlds from attempting to be the first to make the experts wrong. This, incidentally, made Dedman IV one of the most cosmopolitan and wealthy worlds in this galaxy: the money made from constant visitation is even more sure than that from casino enclaves, and the true believers keep coming back in the hope that the latest square-the-circle theory might lead to fame and multiple fortunes. So long as none of them actually damage or destroy the archive, the locals tolerate them, and some of the biggest boosters settle down on Dedman IV and become crank theorists’ greatest mockers. Meanwhile, the archive remains.

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

Plant: Nepenthes x ventrata

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, polyester resin, found items.

Price: Commission

Shirt Price: Commission

Sunday Morning Porch Sale: October 4, 2020. Humans are such easy prey.

We’re in the home stretch now. For the last 40 years, the worst of Dallas’s summer heat was worth tolerating for an autumn that seemingly goes on forever. Some Octobers are anomalies, with surprising rains and even the subfreezing temperatures of Halloween 1993. Most, though, follow the same path of “sunny, warm but not too warm, with clear nights and just a reminder that we might actually hit jacket weather by the middle of November.” For all its faults and nightmares, 2020 is shaping up to give us one of those perfect autumns.

The lack of killing heat isn’t only good for us humans. Right now is when temperate carnivorous plants such as Sarracenia pitcher plants and Venus flytraps get their best color and growth, mostly in preparation for their eventual dormancy starting in November. All through October, in the Dallas area at least, Sarracenia of all species grow their tallest and flashiest in efforts to gather as much spare nitrogen as they can before the cold sets in and insects disappear for the season. It’s all going away, eventually, but not right now.

This week, things go into overdrive to finish up the gallery renovation in preparation for a debut on October 17 (keep an eye out for announcements on particulars) and on getting new enclosures ready for that debut. (For anyone doing any kind of painting in Dallas right now, the weather is absolutely perfect: warm but not too warm, breezy but not too windy, and a relative humidity best described, like local tap water, as “crunchy.”) This doesn’t mean that the Sunday morning Porch Sale on October 11 isn’t going to happen: if anything, it’ll be a good break. See you then.

October 1, 2020

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

The Aftermath: NARBC Arlington September 2020 – 3

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.

Fin.

The Aftermath: NARBC Arlington September 2020 – 2

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…

The Aftermath: NARBC Arlington September 2020 – 1

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…

The Aftermath: NARBC Arlington September 2020 – Introduction

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…

State of the Gallery: September 2020

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.