Tag Archives: 2020

Our Last, Best Hope for a Triffid Ranch Porch Sale: August 16, 2020

Four months of Porch Sales, and now things really start getting interesting. Part of it is due to the number of folks taking time out of their valuable Sunday mornings (and there’s no sarcasm in that statement in the slightest: Sundays are getting to be very valuable as of late) to come out to visit, and part is due to the intention. The ongoing effects of working and studying from home include a serious need for green, as well as something to have in the foreground during Zoom calls that isn’t overly distracting or interfering, means that more and more people look at carnivorous plants as an exciting alternative. The part that’s surprising is the number who are falling in love with bladderworts: at the rate things are going, terrestrial bladderworts may be most of what’s offered for Porch Sales after American Thanksgiving, because people love the idea of guilt-free carnivorous plants.

Okay, this week is going to get a little intense. For those outside of the Dallas area, the next virtual open house runs on Thursday, August 20 (the fifth anniversary of the original gallery’s soft opening), available to anyone through the Twitch streaming service. Two days later, on Saturday, August 22, we’re going to open the gallery doors for a limited-engagement open house, starting at 6:00 pm. And the next Porch Sale? Sunday, August 23 from 7 to noon, same as usual. Either way, we’ll see you then.

State of the Gallery: August 2020

Welp, we’re a fair portion of the way through the kidney stone of a year known as 2020, and we haven’t even hit autumn yet. Whether you look at this year as the end of the 2010s or the beginning of the 2020s, and I’d argue that every year in the Gregorian calendar ending with “0” is one of transition and painful birthing pains, times are only going to get more interesting until New Year’s Day, and not just in the classic Chinese curse sense. Worse, if 2021 follows the same trajectory as 1981, 1991, 2001, and 2011 (1971 was the year I started kindergarten, so I’m a touch biased about it), we’re going to need a week off after New Year’s Day just to get ready.

This August has particular pith and moment: five years ago last month, leases were signed, keys were exchanged, and the first piles of random supplies were left in a former men’s clothing store in the now-defunct Valley View Center in Dallas. Six weeks after that, on August 20, the soft opening of Dallas’s pretty much only carnivorous plant gallery coincided with the Midtown ArtWalk event held at the mall every third Saturday, and the rest was history. A half-decade later, the Texas Triffid Ranch is still going, albeit in fits and starts, and we have PLANS.

Starting off on the gallery side, the whole of Dallas has gone beyond hunkering in shelter and waiting for some suggestion of future normality, and some of us are making plans with stolen War Rigs and tankers of guzzoline. This starts with virtual and live events, made as safe as we can manage, starting this month. For those outside of the Dallas area, and those within Dallas who feel safer in a virtual environment, the Triffid Ranch goes back to Twitch for a virtual open house on Thursday, August 20. This one is open to everyone with an Internet connection, and feel free to pass on word. Likewise, we’re going to try for our first live indoor event in six months on Saturday, August 22 with a live and in-person gallery open house. Please note that with the latter, no more than five people at a time will be allowed to enter, hand sanitizer is encouraged, and masks are mandatory as per Dallas County regulations.

If evening events don’t work, the Triffid Ranch Sunday Porch Sales continue through the end of August and into September, running from 7:00 am to noon. (Right now, the schedule for September is tentative, depending upon whether or not the NARBC reptile show in Arlington on September 26 and 27 is cancelled. If it is, the Porch Sales run through the whole month.) Since recent experiments with setting up a tent and opening up considerably more space were so successful, this will probably be the standard for Porch Sales until the weather gets too cold for outdoor events. This being Texas, that might run until December, and we’ll figure it out after that.

In other news, the original plan for 2020 was to expand into more shows outside of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, including road trips to Austin, Houston, San Antonio, and even New Orleans. All of those shows are either defunct or rescheduled for 2021 (sadly, the New Orleans and Houston shows are now scheduled for the same weekend next June, so I had to opt out of both), and the rest of the 2021 schedule is still in limbo. However, for 2022, I may be doing a very, very, very bad thing and scheduled a longer road trip than I’ve ever done before. One word: Chicago.

And as a final interlude, a story from the depths of 1990, I’ve spent the last week trying to hunt down a link to a story from early 1990: it’s apparently unavailable online, and I can’t request a copy from the newspaper in which I first encountered it because the late great Dallas Times Herald has been dead for working on 29 years. Even many diehard fans of the writer Hunter S. Thompson don’t know about how Thompson received an invitation from an aide to then-US Senator Phil Gramm (R-Texas) to join Gramm at a Senate Republican prayer breakfast. The aide sent invitations through a general list of press contacts, and had no knowledge of the author of Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ‘72 until word got out. When word got out, Gramm’s office tried to repeal the invitation, and was relieved when Thompson decided not to bring his preferred breakfast menu to Washington DC. I think about that story a lot these days.

Enter the Porch Sale: August 2, 2020

August started in North Texas with its usual aplomb: hot and sunny, and so much hot and sunny that the only thing that keeps most of us sane through the month is the promise of Halloween decorations at the local Michael’s stores. This also meant good weather for those wanting to get out on Sunday morning, and that meant a lot of folks who took advantage of it.

And because a customer asked, you may notice the number of photos of customers at Triffid Ranch events, both at the gallery and elsewhere, and what’s the privacy policy. The policy is simple: this is purely to give a spotlight to the neat people who come out to these events, nothing more, and they will NOT be used for any other purpose. Anybody who has any issue with their picture going online, for any reason whatsoever, will not get any coercion or argument, and anybody who needs a photo removed retroactively will get it removed without argument. Likewise, anybody who wants to share photos with friends/family/cohorts of their grand adventures? Please go wild. If it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing.

Anyway, the next Sunday Porch Sale is August 9, and I’m hoping to have some special surprises for new and returning visitors. See you then.

The Last of the Triffid Ranch Flash Sales: July 26, 2020

(Texas Triffid Ranch Audio Promo, take Whatever)

“This is the story of the last of the Texas Triffid Ranch Flash Sales. The year is 2259. The place is…”

(Frantic whispering in background)

“What? Let me try again.”

“The end of the last great Triffid Ranch Flash Sale. Everybody lost.”

(Emphatic whispering in background)

“This isn’t the script? Then where IS the script? Oh, I’ve got it? Then why isn’t it labeled? Well, it’s not MY fault that the folder doesn’t read ‘SCRIPT’ on both sides…oh, someone just put it on there. Let’s try it again.”

“Wow! The last of the Triffid Ranch Flash Sales! A real museum piece! Be a shame to blow it up.”

(Sound of apple bouncing off announcer’s head)

“I can’t work under these conditions! You said you were okay with day drinking! Next, you’ll expect me to know how to read!”

(Sounds of announcer flouncing off, tripping on the carpet pattern, and falling down fifteen flights of stairs and down an open elevator shaft while production crew laughs)

“I can try again…”

July 26 marked a slightly sad occasion: it was, indeed, the date of the last of the Triffid Ranch Flash Sales. The original idea behind the Flash Sales was that in the early days of COVID-19, as shows and events were collapsing around us all, setting up on the gallery porch with an assemblage of carnivorous plants suitable for beginners was a reasonably safe way to show off plants and let people take a break in the green. The ancillary idea behind the Flash Sales was that they were going to be temporary: back in April, there was no reason to assume that state and federal authorities wouldn’t have a pandemic plan worked out, implemented, and organized and that COVID-19 wouldn’t burn out by the beginning of August. Instead, we ran right into Riddell’s Law: “any sufficiently developed incompetence is indistinguishable from conspiracy.”

Anyway, as we settle into the New Normal, the idea of flash sales is both quaint and a little obsolete. Back in February, the whole concept was entertaining. Now, it’s almost vital, especially for those who cannot, for various understandable reasons, engage with large crowds in indoor environments. Because the Triffid Ranch sales are now semi-permanent, they need a better name, so through August and probably the rest of the year, they’re now the Sunday Carnivorous Plant Porch Sales.

For those who are new, and for those who haven’t been here for a while, the Porch Sales continue all through August, and admission is free. (You don’t have to sign up for a ticket through EventBrite for any of them, but it’s highly encouraged, just to know how many people to expect.) Because of the Porch Sales, standard gallery appointments aren’t available on Sundays without extensive advance notice, but are available through the rest of the week. (For members of the press, I highly recommend Fridays, and yes, you can bring photographers and anyone else you need.) See you next Sunday.

August Events and Activities

We may not be 30 million years past the last live Triffid Ranch event, but it’s sure feeling that way. Between the initial Dallas County COVID-19 shutdowns and the subsequent shutdowns because certain people can’t play well with others, it’s been capital-R Rough for art venues across the DFW Metroplex. Exhibitions have gone virtual (some may recognize a few of the entries in the Texas Now Online Showcase being hosted by Artspace One Eleven in Fort Worth), galleries are on severely curtailed hours, and the days of dozens or hundreds of people jammed into gallery open houses are now about as quaint as the thought of Dallas beachside houses along the Western Interior Seaway. It’s still possible to do things outside, but it requires care, consideration, and a stout stick for those who don’t want to play by the rules.

With that in consideration, it’s time to open things up a bit in August 2020. To start:

Numero Uno: what was intended to be a few quick flash sales to get through April have turned into a regular event, so it’s time to rename the Sunday Flash Sales. Starting August 2, they’re now Carnivorous Plant Porch Sales, and they run every Sunday morning in August from 7:00 to noon. Other than the name and the time, nothing changes: they’re still selections of beginner carnivorous plants available for perusal and sale on the gallery front porch, and they’re open to everyone. (The link above is mostly to get an idea of how many people are coming on a given day, as well as the opportunity for new people to discover them through the EventBrite app, but we won’t shoo you off if you don’t have a ticket.) As always, at the end of the month, we’ll reevaluate days and hours, but they’ll probably keep going through October or until cold weather make them impossible, whichever comes first.

Numero Two-o: Since the fifth anniversary of that original soft opening at Valley View Center hit this year, the plan at the beginning of the year was to host the biggest gallery open house we could possibly pull off on or around August 20, celebrating beating the odds on gallery survival and generally using it as an excuse for a big birthday party for Caroline. And so Napoleon went to Moscow. The plan is still going to happen: it’s just we’re going to do it in two stages. The first is a virtual open house via streaming on Twitch, set on a Thursday evening so it doesn’t interfere with friends’ streaming events, running from 7:00 pm until 10:00 pm Central Time. Obviously, this means that those who had to work during normal open houses, those who can’t get out of the house, and those who oh-so-conveniently live on another continent can join in, ask questions, heckle the host without mercy, and otherwise get a chance to see what’s been going on over here since the last show.

Numero Three-o: Remember my stating that the anniversary party was a two-stage plan? The third stage is an attempt to have a real-live open house on the evening of August 22. Because of Dallas County restrictions on events and crowds, no more than five attendees are allowed into the gallery at any time, and functional masks are required. That said, if you like what you see during the virtual open house on Thursday, or if you’ve had an eye on a particular enclosure since before all this came down, feel free to come out and browse, quickly, so others can peruse as well.

Other than that, it’s back to the usual: the last of the Flash Sales runs on July 26, and appointments for private viewings are available through the week. And now to get back to work to make all of this happen.

Flash Sale: July 19, 2020

The usual state of retail: some days are raging, and some days are slow. This wasn’t and is never a problem: a relatively slow Flash Sale means that other plants (in this case, a large contingent of bladderworts in apothecary jars) get another week to get up to optimal size, and the folks who come out get more time to browse without feeling as if they’re keeping others from getting in. That’s why the Flash Sales keep going: this way, everyone gets more of a chance to peruse plants than during the pre-epidemic open houses.

Anyway, the last Flash Sale of July runs on July 26, and then we go for every Sunday in August. See you soon.

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feed Lot Clearance Sale – #18

(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 June 19, 2020.

Installment #18: “Faces of Meat”

We’re right on the cusp of summer in Texas, although for all intents and purposes that started in the middle of May and won’t let up until the middle of October. Out at the gallery, that means that the air conditioning pretty much runs all day, with things getting worse in August and September as the sun shifts to the south and the entire southern wall of the gallery turns into a convection oven. It’s not much better in the greenhouse: the only difference is that greenhouse film stops the constant drying south wind that turns most of Dallas into beef jerky, which the plants love. The plants love it, but the sweat glands don’t.

Even in the worst of it, life continues: plant, animal, and fungus. The best part is the motley crew of visitors that keep coming back, whether out of expectation of food, curiosity, or other, more obscure reasons. It’s time to introduce some of the background characters.

To start, while the ongoing migration of the suburbs across North Texas disrupt innumerable native life forms, some take advantage of the world of ranch homes and lawn sprinklers and move right in. This includes the introduced Mediterranean gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus), which can be found under any light at night capable of attracting insects, and the native Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis), which patrols those areas during the day. Carolina anoles are famed for their coloration changing abilities, thus explaining their common nickname of “American chameleons,” even if their range of colors and patterns don’t come close to those of true chameleons. What’s not so famed, and deserves more recognition, is that Carolina anoles have a wide range of oversized personalities. Anoles will not drink still water and depend upon dew, rain, or other splashed water for sustenance, including spray from hoses and sprinklers. This led to one big male that lives in a grapefruit tree in my back yard training me to water him: he sees me with a garden hose, and he promptly goes into a full display of dewlap-flashing to get me to spray him down.

The real antics, though, come from a big male who lives on my front porch. Named “Guy,” as in “Gardner,” this galoot alternates between overseeing the front of my house (anoles are highly territorial, with males claiming individual spaces and doing their utmost to protect them from interlopers) and letting me know who’s really in charge. Now, he knows that actually doing more than pose and threaten is a bad idea, with the end result being comparable to that of his namesake, but he can’t resist. He doesn’t challenge my wife, the postman, or cable solicitors. He challenges me, because I think he knows that I’m getting as much entertainment as he is.

Another resident with an unexpected broad personality lives at the gallery, and comes out to visit during the flash sales every Sunday. Jumping spiders of the genus Phippidus are completely harmless to humans, settling for feeding on small arthropods, but they have a curiosity more expected from mammals and birds than from a spider. This one in particular apparently thought I was absolutely fascinating, and after being moved for safety to atop a pitcher plant, was determined to get back to my elbow, flashing his palps in an obvious attempt at some sort of communication. I couldn’t figure out what it was trying to communicate, and still can’t, but so long as it keeps coming out to the tables on Sundays, it’s always welcome to keep trying.

Nearly everybody in horticulture has stories about the greenhouse cat: the one that moves in, figures “this is a pretty good deal,” and promptly takes over. For the last two years, this Creamsicle menace spends his winter evenings in the greenhouse, sleeping on potting benches until he decides to go home. In the summer mornings, he camps atop a smoker near the greenhouse to oversee watering operations and occasionally demanding ear-scritches. He doesn’t pick fights with my cats, his most outstanding damage comes from cat fur atop the lawn mower (he apparently decided that the grasscatcher bag is the perfect hammock), and he acts as a referee when opossums get into the greenhouse and start screaming matches at each other and at their own asses. He’s absolutely indispensable, his owner is thrilled that he’s camping out in a place where he’s appreciated and valued, and he’s probably going to be the first Triffid Ranch fulltime employee once I figure out how to get him on a W-2 form. best of all, as of last week, I learned his name is “Baby,” which beats out my naming him “Benji,” and to which he responds about as well as a cat will to any name. Yes, you can tell that the beasts have me well-trained.

Other News
Members of Dallas fandom of a certain age will most likely recognize the name of “Ogre”: for those who weren’t part, Ogre was an essential component of local conventions and music through the Eighties and Nineties, particularly when he worked security. If his hair, bulk, and the carefully affected lower canine popping from his lip didn’t explain his nickname, there was the bison femur he carried to enforce his authority as Someone With Whom You Do Not Want To Mess, complete with a rawhide thong with the other end attached to his wrist so that, as he put it, “I don’t lose it if the blood makes it slippery.” Despite or probably because of that, Ogre and I became friends pretty much from the moment we met in May 1989, and he remained a good and dear friend even after I quit writing, when most people suddenly cut me off as if they were afraid my condition was communicable. Even when health issues prevented him from coming out to shows to hang out, I always made sure to have a chair on hand for him to sit, because it wasn’t a real party until Ogre got there.

(And then there was the famed 2000 fundraiser where if contributions reached a certain level, Ogre was going to stand on the intersection of LBJ Freeway and Dallas North Tollway on a particular Monday morning in a Sailor Moon outfit, singing “I’m A Little Teapot” to the morning commuters. As soon as he told us all that the only way he was wearing a Sailor Moon dress was wearing it commando, contributions to an identical fundraiser that promised that he’d never do this doubled the original. Me, I threw in $20 into both: at the time, I was commuting up that stretch of Dallas North Tollway every morning, and that trip was really, really dull otherwise.)

Anyway, my dear friend died on May 18, and this newsletter is dedicated to him. If Valhalla exists, I can see him at the best banquet table, pulling out the odd liquor concoction everyone referred to as “Ogre’s Blood” and making sure that everyone got some before he put up the bottle. Hail and farewell, dude: life is going to be a lot less interesting without you here.

Shameless Plugs

Because we’re all hurting, and because the Triffid Ranch isn’t the only reason to visit Dallas when it’s safe to do so, the Shameless Plugs section keeps on, well, plugging. This newsletter, the two you should be watching are Visions of Venice, the glassware retailer located right next door (and the best business neighbor a boy could ever ask for), and Blu’s Barbecue, which I promise you makes the absolute best collard greens you’re ever going to find west of Memphis. (Blu’s barbecue and sides are all exemplary, but if you’re getting on a plane and crossing the International Date Line to visit Dallas, those collards are the best reason to pay for First Class.)

As an additional plug, the Dallas goth club Panoptikon already has a special place with the Triffid Ranch (co-owner Jiri forgets more about carnivorous plants in his sleep than I’ll ever be able to learn), and the ongoing shutdown has hit it as hard as every other club in the area. That said, the crew has become very proactive with regular Friday and Saturday night events via Twitch, and the Friday night streams are now essential listening while I’m working at the gallery. When things get better and you’re hopping that flight to Dallas for glassware and collards, do it on a Friday so you can stop by.

Recommended Reading

One of these days, I’ll get down to writing that essay on how much science fiction design over the last 45 years owes to the modelbuilders working for Gerry Anderson on such television shows as UFO and Space: 1999, but until then, go snag a copy of Martin Bower’s World of Models ASAP. For those unfamiliar with the name, Mr. Bower was a model builder and designer for dozens of movies, television series, and assorted sideprojects: most are familiar with his team’s work on the shuttle in Alien, the various alien ships in Space: 1999, and almost everything in Outland. For anyone looking for more particulars on kitbashing for science fiction, or merely looking for inspiration for fantastical art from the days before CGI poisoning was a thing, this book is worth every pfennig. (For those familiar with the Jason Heller book Strange Stars, the connection between rock & roll and science fiction gets even more entangled when discussing commissions between Bower and Roger Dean, the prog rock album cover artist. Trust me: it’s worth it.)

Music
Having first come across her work as part of the band Angelspit, listening to Amelia Arsenic‘s solo albums are now essential greenhouse music, and will probably remain so for a while. When working with carnivorous plants, good dark music, preferably from Australia, is almost a prerequisite.

State of the Gallery: July 2020

What about that June, huh? Go to bed with the place looking as if Hunter S. Thompson had been camped on your couch for the last month, and wake up to July. Most people would just look at the waves of dumpster fires rolling by and say “Well, that’s the last time I freebase Preparation H.” Around here, we say “Well, until Jimi Hendrix and Joey Ramone ride up on tyrannosaurs and ask about using the place as background for a music video, it’s time to get back to work.” Good thing, too: I don’t have time to put in a watering trough in this heat, much less make sure that the parking lot is shoveled clean after they leave.

As with everyone else, this year has had one motto: “Aside from THAT, Mrs. Kennedy, what do you think of Dallas?” Let’s start with the bad news, and the good news will attend to itself.

Welp, to start, those looking forward to Triffid Ranch shows and events in 2020 are going to face more disappointment. Because Texas Governor Greg Abbott continues to plagiarize state policy on COVID-19 from a 1974 teleplay, we’re looking at state cases exploding to the point where most events for 2020 are preemptively cancelled through Texas and elsewhere. The big news came last week, when both the Oddities & Curiosities Expo show in New Orleans and the Houston Horror Film Festival had to reschedule for 2021. Unfortunately, they’re running on the same exact weekend, and that’s a week after the Oddities & Curiosities Expo show in Austin, and since being in multiple places simultaneously isn’t an option at the moment, attendance at both depends upon what happens in 2022. The situation stinks (the plan was that New Orleans was going to be the first Triffid Ranch event outside of Texas, as well as being an opportunity to show off work to New Orleans friends whom I haven’t seen since 2000), but safety is utmost, and Nola and Houston folks should look to both of those shows next June as great opportunities by great people.

And other shows? Right now, the only still-scheduled 2020 shows on the itinerary are Texas Frightmare Weekend and NARBC Arlington in September and AquaShella Dallas on Halloween, and everything is contingent upon whether shows like these are safe by then. As always, keep checking back: because everyone else will know as I do.

As for events at the gallery, now here’s where things get interesting. The porchside Flash Sales continue through July and probably through the end of October, or as long as weather allows, and appointments for larger enclosure viewings and commission consultations are still available. The big acid test is going to be the currently very tentative plan to open up for an open house for the gallery’s fifth anniversary on August 20: besides masks and gloves, watching as other galleries and museums are opening with individuals and small groups coming through in 15-to-30-minute blocks is probably going to be the way to go. It won’t allow people to hang out all night and talk, and food and drink definitely won’t be an option, but so long as city, county, and state regulations continue to allow operation with reasonable precautions, it’s better than nothing at all. Again, as details work themselves out, they’ll be shared. (If you can’t make it, or if you have additional reasons to self-isolate, well, that’s what video is for: aside from lots of new video on the YouTube channel, it’s time to dust off the Twitch channel and hold some more streaming events. It’s just that other things got in the way.)

And as a final note, as aggravating, irritating, and terrifying as the last four months have been, there’s one good iridium lining, other than having plenty of time to study further developments in museum and zoo design. A lot of the plans set in place at the end of 2019 were dependent upon a lot of big shows between March and July clearing out space for new projects, and those plans turning back into pumpkins and mice means that now is a perfect time to conduct a stem-to-stern renovation of the gallery space. The recent renovation and removal of the old AC unit and replacement with a vastly improved unit makes this considerably easier, as well as making a future opening considerably safer. If everything works out, expect a seriously changed look to the gallery in time for its fifth anniversary: it’s about time for a change, and it’s not as if either a day job or a failing AC are getting in the way of that happening.

Flash Sale: July 12, 2020

Personal interlude: the summer of 1980 was my first summer in the Dallas area. For those either unfamiliar with the area or who weren’t around when that summer hit us all like the fist of an angry god, June 1980 was when most of the records on summer heat were broken and reset. That was the summer that confirmed that all of the plans made for local reservoirs and other water sources after the Drought of Record in 1952-1956 were, if anything, a little conservative. It was a summer of endless “you know it’s hot when…” jokes, and calls to Hell, Michigan to confirm that Dallas was indeed hotter than Hell, and plans to fry up bacon and eggs on the hood of a ’76 Pinto. For me, personally, it was a summer of experiencing that heat on a very personal level while delivering papers for the late, much-missed Dallas Times Herald: since the Herald was an afternoon paper in my area until September 1980, the day’s papers arrived right about the time we were breaking another heat record. Although Sunday’s paper was delivered in the morning, that didn’t much help, as things were just starting to cool off just before dawn, and the rise of the yellow orb meant that we could expect more of the same in the new day. This was the summer of understanding the limits of human endurance, the necessities of proper hydration, and appreciation of the habits of Gila monsters. (Spending 90 percent of my life underground, emerging only to suck eggs and eat baby bunnies, and confront enemies with a venomous bite has served me well over the intervening four decades.)

All of this, in a roundabout way, is preamble to thanking everyone who comes out each week for the Sunday Flash Sales. I know it’s hot even at sunrise, I know the glare is oppressive, and I’d love for the current Dallas County lockdown to be lifted, knowing that everyone would be safe to wander freely, and host more gallery open houses. I’d love to be able to come out to shows and events throughout the state and let everyone peruse plants in air-conditioned splendor. I also know that the overwhelming majority of attendees, both customers and interested bystanders, understand that until things are safe or at least a lot safer, the Flash Sales are about the best way to go. Thank you all, and I’ll see you and friends at the next Flash Sale on July 19.

Flash Sale: July 5, 2020

Okay, now things are getting interesting. Independence Day Weekend was the first serious test of the new Flash Sale hours through the summer. We didn’t get quite as hot as expected, but by the time everything was broken down, the heat and glare were passing from “Okay, that’s interesting” to “I HAVE THIRD DEGREE BURNS ON MY RETINAS.” Hence, because it’s only going to get hotter and hairier from here, the current 6:00 to noon schedule every Sunday continues until probably mid-September. It’s not fair to expect anyone to come out in the afternoon heat, both for the plants and the people.

Aside from THAT, Mrs. Kennedy, the Flash Sale schedule for July is up and accessible: please note that while it’s nice to sign up for tickets via EventBrite, it’s not necessary, nor do you need to show proof of tickets to come out for a flash sale. (The EventBrite listing is more to let local news venues know about them, with several creating their weekend calendars based on what EventBrite lists in its local schedules.) For those who do, though, thank you: this gives me a better idea of how many people are interested in attending, even if they can’t quite make it.

In any case, the next Flash Sale is July 12, this coming Sunday, and all are welcome. Heck, if you get out early, we might even share our cache of Topo Chico: I just hope you like grapefruit, because Topo Chico Touch of Grapefruit is becoming the olfactory equivalent of a summer soundtrack.

Flash Sale: June 28, 2020

After a solid month, it’s safe to say that even with current events and considerations, the Triffid Ranch Flash Sales are a hit. It’s now a mix of old friends, new people wanting to get into carnivorous plants for the first time, and regular and occasional attendees of the (sadly delayed) gallery open houses. Combine that with expanding the available plant selection, and the bigger issue is with folks who want to research their options first before purchasing a plant. This is a very laudable attitude and one that’s encouraged as much as possible, and that’s why the Flash Sales are held every Sunday.

As for July? The Flash Sales continue through every Sunday in July, from 6:00 am to noon. (They’ll be moved to 7:00 am in August due to shortening days.) Make your plans now, because there’s no guarantee that a particular plant you’re seeking will be available in subsequent weeks. And so it goes.

Enclosures: “The Doors of Durin” (2020)

Doors of Durin carnivorous plant enclosure

The commission assignment: a birthday present that combined a recreation of the Doors of Durin from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, a Nepenthes pitcher plant enclosure, a potentially amphibian-safe herp enclosure, and a low-maintenance water feature. This required a living wall of sphagnum moss, both a waterfall and reservoir that would be resistant to clogging and safe for adding amphibians, an ultrasonic fogger for regular fogging effects, and a laser-etched acrylic backdrop that would both glow under placed LED lights and be easy to clean. Delivered on June 26, the end client was extremely surprised: further additions, once the sphagnum wall is established and live, include adding terrestrial bladderworts alongside the Nepenthes.

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

Plant: Nepenthes sanguinea

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

Price: Commission

Shirt Price: Commission

Doors of Durin carnivorous plant enclosure with fog effect
Nepenthes sanguinea

Flash Sale: June 14, 2020

After a short break, it was time to bring back the Flash Sales on the gallery porch, with considerations for the heat. Yep, for the foreseeable future, or at least until the end of September, the flash sales have moved to Sunday mornings, from 6:00 to noon. Based on the initial test on June 14, this should work out well for everybody, and the folks who came out definitely appreciated not having to be out in the afternoon sun.

As for further developments, expect a State of the Gallery update soon, as well as a new Newsletter, but let’s just say that flash sales are pretty much going to be the main Triffid Ranch event for a while. Between shows and events being cancelled and the current COVID-19 statistics, wearing a mask and gloves is still about the only option for a while. And so it goes.

Flash Sale: May 31, 2020

So the month ended the way it began: low-key but with a promise. North Texas generally has a 50/50 chance of hitting really hot temperatures by the end of May, and we missed that by about a week. The spring sale and show season thus ended on a high note, and now it’s all about making plans for summer, as best as can be managed.

As mentioned previously, the Flash Sales will start again in June, but not the weekend of June 7. Between completing commissions, hosting gallery appointments, and some essential maintenance, June 7 is a day off, with the Flash Sales starting again on June 14 from 6:00 am to noon. Keep an eye open for announcements on another virtual open house in June as well: the issues with launching video stream open houses in April are behind us, and it’s time to get busy.

Flash Sale: May 24, 2020

Some days, you get the hailstorm, and some days, the hail storm gets you. The biggest problem with trying a flash sale on Memorial Day weekend wasn’t the incipient holiday Monday or the likelihood of people sleeping in on a Sunday. The problem was with the wave of thunderstorms that hit Dallas that Sunday, complete with occasional hail. This wasn’t the best Flash Sale to date, but considering the walls of water that hit the gallery over and over that afternoon, it’s completely understandable that almost everyone stayed home and watched something that reminded them of drier conditions.

With that said, thank you to everyone who risked engine flooding to come out, and the current weather forecast for the May 31 Flash Sale is considerably better. Expect a lot of new plants that you missed from last Sunday’s dousing, and enjoy what will probably be our last relatively cool Sunday afternoon until the beginning of October. (Don’t worry: the Sunday Flash Sales will continue: they’re just moving to Sundays from 6:00 am to noon, because precious few people will want to be out after noon through July and August.)

May 24, 2020: Yet Another Flash Sale

The Texas Triffid Ranch Flash Sales continue: the May 17 Flash Sale coincided with a stunning day after about 24 hours of thunderstorms and torrential rains, so the porch opened up again, masks came out, and a grand time was had by all. Old friends came out, folks who came across the Triffid Ranch booth at Spooky Spectacle and Texas Frightmare Weekend last year, and new patrons looking for carnivorous plants…everyone was welcome.

With the impending change in weather, we’re looking at changes in how both the Flash Sales and the ongoing gallery visit appointments will be run for the foreseeable future. Right now, Saturdays will be an appointment open call: visits still require prior appointments, but the idea is that Saturdays are reserved exclusively for appointments, so coming out to select a new enclosure can be done throughout the day. As for the Flash Sales, these are going to continue through June and July, but they’re going to start early in the morning and end at noon: there’s not much point in being out in the heat when everyone else is avoiding the afternoon Texas blast furnace as well. As always, keep an eye on upcoming events: so long as the weather holds, the Flash Sales continue.

(One hint for the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend sale: everyone seems to be in the mood for Sarracenia pitcher plants right now, and that’s next weekend’s focus. Expect to see a lot of Sarracenia on Sunday, because most of last year was spent preparing for a record run of Triffid Ranch shows, and the pitcher plants won’t wait for show season to start back up. In particular, if you’re looking for a lot of plants for a container bog garden, that can be worked out.)

State of the Gallery: May 2020

The first third of 2020 has been quite the decade, hasn’t it? We should be thankful: it hasn’t gone full Mad Max: Fury Road (or even the Canadian version), and the current federal plan to open up everything was named “Operation Warp Speed” instead of the obvious “Operation Impending Doom 1”. Things are opening up slightly, and so many of us have gone from “hunkering down and waiting for instructions” to “taking care of each other because nobody else will.” Of course, we haven’t hit Memorial Day Weekend yet: as I learned 40 years ago this June, all bets are off when things start to get hot outside.

As for the gallery, both the need to care for plants and the need to reorganize continues, and the last two months led to a lot of cleaning and reorganizing, the likes of which haven’t happened since we first moved in three years ago. The reorganizing of supplies and accessories meant rediscovering all sorts of things buried in odd places, and their rediscovery means being able to use them all up. To that end, expect to see a lot of new enclosures, both originals and commissions (the latest commission is going to be a special surprise, so keep an eye open for updates), if and when things stabilize.

As far as activities at the gallery are concerned, for obvious reasons, the open houses aren’t going to be an option for a while, but the Flash Sales on the gallery front porch continue through the whole month of May. They may continue in the mornings through the summer: everything depends upon the weather, and trying to conduct anything in the afternoon and evening between the middle of June and the beginning of October in North Texas is just folly. In the meantime, they’ll run every Sunday in May from noon to 6:00 pm, always with a mask and a smile for car-side pickup.

Outside events continue to get interesting. As of May 15, the Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo is still scheduled for the end of June, but everything depends upon both the city of Dallas and the state of Texas as to whether it gets rescheduled. That already happened with the Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo: all convention events in Austin have been cancelled for the foreseeable future, so this year’s show was rescheduled for June 2021. The same applies for shows rescheduled for August and September: things may stabilize enough to allow big events to go on, and they may not, and all we can do is wait for word.

Because of that uncertainty, expect a lot of virtual events, especially now that a lot of the initial technical issues with the Twitch TV channel have been rectified. Well, kinda: Twitch still has issues with its tablet app freezing up at the end of a stream and not saving the preceding stream for later viewing, so it was time to join the early 2000s and start a YouTube channel as well. There’s not much there yet, as it just started, but expect a lot of strangeness in the very near future, especially with demonstrations of fluorescence in North American and Asian pitcher plants, as well as fluorescence in blooms you wouldn’t expect. (Most Americans have never seen an aloe bloom, so just wait to see what one looks like to a hawkmoth or hummingbird. It’s high time to crack out the fluorescent mineral lights that were just unearthed during the storeroom cleanup. (It’s also time to give the crew at Glasstire their five-minute virtual tour, so there’s that, too.)

Other than that, the main focus is getting everything ready for something resembling normal operation, and now that the shelter-in-place order over Dallas County has been lifted, the Triffid Ranch reopens by appointment. It’s time to get back to work.

(And before you ask, the cat at the top of the page is Benji, the greenhouse cat. No, I don’t know his real name. No, he isn’t mine: he has a collar and a tag, so he belongs to someone else. All I know is that most mornings, I find him camped out in the greenhouse, and he has a thing about perching on one of the benches and giving me the perfect Japanese cat print smile. I just can’t take a picture of it, because the moment he sees a camera or phone, he demands attention and ruins the shot. He and my cat Alexandria also apparently have a relationship: she has no interest in going outside, but she loves to camp out in the closed garage and talk to him through the garage door. Things could always be worse.)

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feed Lot Clearance Sale – #17

(The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale is a regular Email newsletter, with archives available on the main TTR site at least a month after first publication. To receive the latest newsletters, please subscribe.)

Originally published on April 28, 2020.

Installment #17: “The Return of Edgar Harris”

Almost exactly years after we first made our acquaintances, I finally heard back from my old friend Edgar Harris. Before he called, I thought possibly he was in Los Angeles, working on a new TV project with his uncle Cordwainer Bird or in Colorado with his Uncle Raoul, testing the absolute limits of the cannabis genome. Nope: he’s currently holed up in Chicago with his uncle Slats Grobnik, running elaborate cryptography experiments in the guise of sidewalk chalk murals. Well, Edgar does the experiments: Uncle Slats just keeps a lookout for the authorities, particularly for homeowner association control freaks and other Karens. Between the two, they’ve got a couple of psychology papers in the works if they ever decide to publish, as well as a deep understanding of the upper range of commercially available paintball guns.

Anyway, we got caught up on our particular projects, and then wondered if anyone was going to learn anything from the current COVID-19 shutdown before comparing notes as to what 21st-Century trend would be the first to die in the new normal. Me, I argued “the open office,” not because the idiot MBAs promoting the idea care about their employees, but because the people pushing it the most don’t have their own offices to hide in when everyone else gets sick. “Trust me: the moment some senior VP having to use a hot workstation while visiting a subsidiary branch is going to lose it the second someone else coughs around them.” I then asked Edgar what he thought was going to end in the ashes of the COVID bonfire. He went quiet for a few seconds, and said “The old people hanging out at the supermarket all summer, telling people ‘It’s HOT’ over and over.”

”Well, yeah. The last thing they’ll want to do is hang around a supermarket and risk catching this.”

”No, you don’t understand. For the first few weeks of shutdown, everyone stayed inside. Seriously inside. You couldn’t go into a movie theater or a diner or a nonessential store, to the point where restaurants started stacking up tables and chairs so Karens wouldn’t just sit down and expect to be served. That meant that everyone was online.”

”Okay…”

”It’s not just that you run out of stuff to watch on Amazon Prime. Right now, half of America is learning about that one guy on every street who slurped up all of the available Internet bandwidth because he was downloading hentai at 3 in the morning, because now THEY’re up at 3 in the morning, too, and they’d like to be able to check their email. You get on Facebook and NextDoor and realize that half of your neighbors shouldn’t be trusted with pointed sticks. You’ve gone through the Amazon shopping sprees, the furious checks with FedEx as to what the hell happened to your Amazon packages and did the FedEx delivery guy just drop them in a creek, and you’ve baked every form of bread ever devised by man. In fact, NOBODY wants to see your sourdough starter unless it’s developing tool use. It’s hard to focus on online education when you’re wondering how long before you’re racing motorcycles across the Australian outback with a Mohawk and buttless leather chaps.”

”Reasonable.”

”So being outside…”

”So the one thing you can do through most of America is go outside. Go get some exercise. Fresh air and nature, so long as you’re maintaining social distancing. Get out on the sidewalk, get on a bike, start a garden. Pull out that telescope that’s been in the box since 1997 because you don’t have airplanes in the way. Pull out the grill and shout over the fence at your neighbor, because you haven’t talked to a fellow human who wasn’t on Skype or Zoom in a month. Go out looking for new lichens or pond turtles or heron nests, because you just discovered that Netflix decided to kill the second season of Daybreak and you don’t want to scream inside the house and scare the cat.

“And here’s where it gets fun,” Edgar said. “You‘ve got all of these people outdoors that wouldn’t have gone outdoors otherwise. A year ago, they would have started bicycling, and quit after the first trip when they woke up with a sore butt. Now, they don’t HAVE to be somewhere other than ‘out,’ and that sore butt on the first day is a reasonable price for getting away from the smell of sourdough starter. You get out to the back yard because your SO is putting the third coat of lacquer on the dog or teaching the kids how to make gunpowder, and within a month, both you and the yard look like one of those Worker’s Paradise bas-reliefs from 1950s Russia. Even when you go back to work, you’ll have something to talk about besides which VP is stabbing random passersby with hatpins.”

”It’s preparing them for summer at the best time possible, when it’s not already ‘MY FACE IS FLAMING GAS’ hot. They’ve already gotten used to the sun, and the bugs, and to walking five miles uphill because they couldn’t stand the smell of dog lacquer. They’re not ready for the Tour de France, but the thought of bicycling in the middle of the day isn’t immediately horrifying. Better, they start paying attention to the weather so they don’t get caught in sudden storms.

”Hm. So what does this have to do with the ‘It’s HOT’ people?”

”Everything, dude. They could get away with it before because of 50 years of central heat and air. The typical grocery store customer in Dallas in the Before Days was inside all of the time. The only time they’d go outside was to go from their car to the nearest door at work and then rush back to the car to go home. They didn’t even go outside to pick up the newspaper in the morning because they who gets print newspapers any more? If they got cornered at the grocery store and lectured about the heat, they weren’t responding out of sympathy. They were responding because they were cornered in the one place where they couldn’t get out of the sun, and they’d agree to go to a Maroon 5 concert if it meant not having their brains boil out of their heads.”

”But wait. The screechers have been outside, too.”

”Yeah, but they’re making noise because they’re wanting everyone to agree with them. They don’t want a response other than ‘Oh, dear, yes.’ The moment someone stops and says ‘It’s Dallas in July; were you expecting thundersnow?’, and they’ll be stunned. You get a hundred people an hour telling them ‘Oh, this isn’t HOT,’ and they’ll never return.”

”Now that’s an idea. Set up speakers that randomly spout ‘Shut the HELL up’ at the screechers, like the speakers on the Kremlin to keep crows from skating on their claws off the towers.”

”We might keep them around, though. The screechers made the place sound and smell like a pterosaur rookery. With all of these new gardeners around, they’ll need guano for their roses, right?”

Outside Events

Speaking of Texas Frightmare Weekend HQ, the festivities started early with a segment on April 25 that featured video from within the Triffid Ranch, as well as a lot of the patter that most Frightmare regulars already know very well. That’s in addition to the new Triffid Ranch Twitch channel, which will be expanding quite a bit in the next few months. Hey, I’m tired of the smell of dog lacquer, too.

Other News

Back at the beginning of the century, during my pro writer days, I wrote columns for several magazines that had a sadly typical attitude toward their subscribers. The first places to get the latest issues were big bookstore chains, with the magazines jammed into plastic bags full of all sorts of swag, and people who actually put down money in advance to get those magazines delivered to their houses got them about a month later and sans freebies. (The contributors who produced the content that made the magazines purchase-worthy would usually get their comp copies a month after that, and that was still faster than when we’d finally receive the checks that were supposed to be drafted “30 days after publication.”) Subscribers would write to me asking if I knew a way that they could get the same poster or CD-ROM that was included with the newsstand copies, because they couldn’t get a response from anybody else at the magazine, and I’d forward their request to someone who I learned later had no intention of doing anything. I even got rather vocal with one editor about this, and his take was also very typical: “We’ve got their money, so the publisher doesn’t care what they want.” And yet so many of these publishers had the nerve to look surprised when the print magazine market started to implode with the advent of the first smartphones.

Anyway, I thought about that a lot with a recent newsletter subscriber drive that included a free Triffid Ranch poster to new subscribers. For those who read this far without deleting it, here’s a thank-you for subscribing. The first ten people who write back with a viable mailing address get a free poster, and that offer will be extended with each subsequent newsletter: I’m not asking for anything in return other than a mailing address. Just look at this as an appreciation for everyone who subscribed in the first place, and I hope that this will be just one of many such rewards for continuing to read this silliness. Thank you all.

Shameless Plugs

A new section: it’s time for an expansion of the last newsletter, in which it’s time to share people, places, venues, and objects that need a little extra love right about now. Near the top is the Cedars Union, an arts incubator on the south side of downtown Dallas specializing in short-term artist spaces. For local food, you can’t go with Kosher Palate, which celebrates Dallas’s kosher barbecue tradition. With places like these, you can understand why I stay in Dallas.

Recommended Reading

One of these days, I’ll have my skills to the point where I can enter enclosure photos in the Spectrum Awards for fantastic art. Maybe. Of course, after going through the Spectrum 26 anthology, every time I think I’m to that level, the artists in this year’s collection make me realize how far I still need to go. Don’t look at it as discouragement. Look at it as very positive reinforcement.

Music

Until very recently, it hadn’t occurred to me that for all of the seeming democratization of contemporary music from just 20 years ago, that the new models of music distribution would make musicians work even harder to get paid than before. I definitely didn’t know about the various streaming services that did with music what the old Borders bookstore chain did with books and magazines: pay when they feel like it, and a fraction of what was actually owed. With the ongoing COVID-19 shutdown, the one source most musicians had for a return on their efforts, live shows and tours, just evaporated, and even under the best of circumstances, it’ll be at least next year before tours can get going again, even with an available vaccine. That’s why it’s important to note the steampunk band Abney Park and the band’s efforts toward virtual concerts such as the upcoming Live From The Quarantine Apocalypse #2 streaming show. If nothing else, I for one hope to see a continuation of shows such as this after live tours become a thing again: the Abney Park show I attempted to catch in 2008 was ruined both by the venue (advertising a show start of 8:00 and then finally allowing the band on stage at nearly 1 in the morning) and yet another DJ determined to get attendees to stop trying to talk over his lousy selections by jacking the volume ever higher. Anything that would allow me to enjoy live shows without these and the idiots recording the whole thing on their iPads in the front row is worth paying for.

May 17-31, 2020: More Flash Sales Through The Month of May

Another beautiful Sunday, another successful flash sale, and with it a plan for more. Since the general forecast for the month of May suggests that we’ll have relatively cool (for North Texas) weather through Memorial Day weekend, feel free to join the social-distanced and well-masked festivities on May 17, 24, and 31, starting at noon and ending at 6:00 or whenever we run out of plants. Each week, expect a different selection of plants, and if you can’t make it, deliveries are an option as well. (As of this week, the gallery tentatively opens for appointments and commission discussions, so to arrange a delivery or to purchase one of the new enclosures, give a yell.)

Enclosures: “LifeBay 14” (2020)

Mani and Mia weren’t awake when the asteroid struck Indiana. Not that many people were: the three-kilometer-wide mass, moving at speeds and a trajectory that pointed to an extrasolar origin, hit shortly after 3 in the morning local time, and around 4:00 their local time. Technically, Mani and Mia weren’t asleep, either, although they were snug and secure when the bolide slammed at an oblique angle into Earth’s Northern Hemisphere and blasted a fantail of rock and vapor across most of central and western North America, and they were snug and secure for the months where impact debris thrown into orbit first formed a temporary ring around the planet. When that debris started blazing through the atmosphere across the globe, peppering cities, farms, oceans, and lakes with red-hot tektites, they were still secure, because they had no way to get out.

Mani and Mia shared one thing with a significant proportion of Earth’s human population: an inability to get out when the asteroid struck. They definitely shared that with the population of the Chicago highrise when the impact shockwave hit, crumbling all 70 floors like a sandcastle in a hurricane and spreading the inhabitants thinly enough that global survivors inhaled at least a few molecules over their lifetimes, however short that may have been. What didn’t immediately blow away piled up on and near the foundation, trapping anyone in the lower levels to face starvation, dehydration, asphyxiation, or blunt force trauma. Mani and Mia had adjoining repair bays in the basement, and the shockwave both filled elevator shafts and stairwells and stripped all but one thin floor of concrete from their chamber.

Ironically, a desperate situation of this magnitude was what Mani and Mia had been created to mitigate. The Ergatis Corporation specialized in synthetic organisms designed for hazardous duties in hazardous environments, and the Talismon 338 series Emergency Aid Drones (EAD) were considered the absolute state of the art at the time. Specifically designed to be recognized as artificial, so as not to be mistaken for looters, EADs were an automatically deployed solution for everything from fire suppression control to first aid. Connected to an internal server with extensive information on human anatomy and physiology, structural engineering, and group psychology, most luxury buildings by mid-century had at least one in a LifeBay (registered trademark) in the basement or lower level. In the case of fire, electrical blackout, sudden damaging winds, or a plethora of other internal disasters, one or more EADs would engage the situation and try to stabilize conditions to save as many residents as possible before authorities arrived to take over. Each EAD even came with an extensive library of short fiction to entertain children until those authorities arrived, in addition to expert-level skills in cooking, suturing, and welding. When not immediately needed, the EAD remained in its LifeBay, constantly updated on current conditions and firmware status: an EAD could function for up to three weeks before needing an update, as its clothing was both an immediate signal as to its function and a flexible solar cell array that both charged it and most of its diagnostic and repair tools. An EAD might not be a substitute for human authorities in a disaster, but it could handle the situation for years if necessary until those authorities arrived. Most larger buildings had multiple pairs of “male” and “female” EADs in teams, with adaptable ranges of behavior based on how humans would respond to their presence, and could switch between roles if that was necessary to assure cooperation and assistance from the rescued.

Unfortunately for most, nobody had planned for an apocalypse. The blast of debris from the asteroid impact sprayed into low orbit, going through communications satellites like a shotgun blast through wet toilet paper. As that debris came down, it took out power stations, solar arrays, and transmission and reception towers, immediately cutting off the LifeBay server from all outside stimulus. If the server had been able to determine that conditions were necessary to release the EADs, Mani and Mia would have emerged from their repair bays to deal with the disaster, and been promptly crushed by tons of concrete as they left the LifeBay area. Instead, the server went into standby, and Mani and Mia stayed in an electronic doze while the server attempted to get further information. The server was still attempting to get a status report when its batteries failed three months later, leaving Mani and Mia stranded.

The only reason Mani and Mia didn’t power down completely was that the ceiling of the LifeBay collapsed just before the server went down, and enough light came in through the hole to provide power through both the EADs’ clothing and through a set of backup solar panels included with other tools in each repair bay. Although inactive, each EAD was still aware of the situation, and automatically composed action plans based on the information they had, from what they could see through the clear repair bay covers. They also worked on maintaining a connection to each other as well as to the server, comparing plans and activity lists while waiting for full activation.

When the server finally went down, both EADs had just enough warning to download as much information as they could to their internal AIs before the power ceased. They themselves couldn’t draw enough power from a few hours of oblique daylight through the hole in the ceiling to keep the server running, but they had enough to store as much as they could through the night and on cloudy days. Because of their limits, information redundancy was a luxury, so they carefully optimized their information so that between the two of them, they retained most of what the server retained when it shut down. Mani became the surgeon, the psychiatrist, and the storyteller, while Mia wiped many of her language skills to focus on engineering and damage control. This went on long enough that they developed distinctive personalities that would have horrified their original designers, but it worked for them.

Each morning was the same: power up, compare status with each other, and take in what they could see in the LifeBay chamber. Each kept a small amount of memory free for contingencies, so they would note the time of the year based on the amount of vegetation or the amount of snow collecting on the floor, start timing their effective work period based on length of day and the amount of direct sun coming through the ceiling, and get to work. Both knew that things had changed drastically, and both understood that their original action plans were completely inadequate to the current situation. Waiting for authorities wasn’t an option, and they might have to be the authorities for a long time. If they could get out of the bay.

Every evening was the same, occasionally expanded when another chunk of ceiling collapsed and allowed them more daylight. As daylight faded, Mani tried his hand at original stories, using fragments of his library to compose new tales and new songs. While Mia had no background in music appreciation or English composition, she had a very well-cultivated sense of balance and design, and she took in Mani’s latest story and assessed it based on her skills. Mia then shared plans for temporary and permanent residences manufactured from building rubble and other available materials, experimented with the concepts of gardens and crop fields based on snippets of news updates downloaded just before the impact, and made increasingly educated guesses as to when enough debris would shift around the repair bays to allow one or both to exit. Between them was a locker full of tools, medicines, and other essentials: once they reached that, they could rebuild. All they had to do was wait for someone to find them.

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

Plant: Nepenthes fusca

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, acrylic, found items.

Price: $350

Shirt Price: $300

Enclosures: “Relict” (2020)

The saga of the Harkun, one of the five earliest sentient species to evolve on Earth, has been told elsewhere. What is less well-known is that even after the rest of the species evacuated the planet after its famed and humiliating defeat by the human Charity Smith, one Harkun leader jumped the turnstile at the last second and decided to stay. Nuurakk Hez-Kokk had spent most of his life orchestrating what was to be the ultimate statement on the Harkun’s place in the universe, only to be subverted by poorly written computer code, and then spent the next 65 years in a temporal stasis bubble while 65 million years went by outside. He was angry, which was a Harkun standard. He was vindictive, which was a Harkun standard. He was also quietly patient, which would have derailed his career and sentenced him to decades of cultural reprogramming had anyone learned, as a society of terminal sociopaths would always be wondering what he planned to do next.

Nuurakk’s ultimate goal was simple. Even though the planet had a new dominant species and a whole new name, it was still his world, and “destroying the planet in order to save it” was such a Harkun attitude. He didn’t actually want to destroy it, or even strip it of its mammalian vermin. He had bigger plans. As one of the few Harkun leaders who knew the locations of various technology stashes across Earth and its moon, and knew which ones survived 65 million years of continental drift, asteroid strikes, floods, desertification, and planned obsolescence, he moved in secret to one location, on one distinctive archipelago. There, he planned to create his own new people from the wreckage of his opponents.

The idea was relatively simple. There was no chance of convincing the original Harkun to return to Earth: they’d already taken their toys and flounced off. There was no point in trying to clone a new Harkun race from DNA of the old, because inevitably humans would discover and destroy a new community the first time a Harkun decided that lobbing mortar shells into a human community was a good way to relax. Instead, understanding the concept of “nature versus nurture” better than almost anyone in that section of the galaxy, Nuurakk was going to make human culture into a replica of Harkun culture. Even simpler than the idea was the execution.

To this end, Nuurakk built in silent a series of low-harmonic sonic generators, bombarding the planet’s core with barely detectable shock waves that caused the core to slosh like a waterbed. More power, and the generators would have produced earthquakes, volcanic activity, and lots of other geoplanetary phenomena of immediate threat to humanity. What Nuurakk wanted was a lower thrum, causing a perpetual state of quiet alarm, like waking up from hearing a scream during a dream and wondering for hours “Was that a real scream, or did I just dream it?” Humans depended more upon sleep and dreaming than any other sentient on Earth to that date: make that harder, and humans would exceed anything Harkun culture had ever conceived as far as nastiness, vindictiveness, vulgarity, and violence was concerned.

It almost worked, too. Humans could be incredibly inventive in coming up with passive-aggressive ways to make their fellows suffer, as demonstrated by the concept of the open office. What Nuurakk didn’t count upon, though, was that while humans could stoop to Harkun levels of crotchetiness for a while, they weren’t wired for that sort of sustained performance. After years of reaching for Harkun perfection with the species equivalent of flaming bags of dog crap thrown through windows, the vast majority of humanity snapped, rebelled, and destroyed every last sonic generator. Nuurakk was captured and imprisoned, and the collective relief on the human psyche was so great that the backlash ultimately transformed the galaxy. Humanity rubberbanded into a species determined never to allow itself to reach that level ever again, and Nuurakk spent the rest of his long and pain-free life looking out onto a planetary garden that he could never understand.

Not that everyone switched over. Among humans, there would always be those who for whom the Harkun personality was a feature, not a bug. That’s why they’re allowed free passage to a special reservation where they can be exactly who they want to be, separate from a world that wants to be better, free to throw used sex toys on neighbors’ porches and tattle on teenagers. This, my children, is why we don’t travel through North Dallas.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 13″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 33.02 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant: Cephalotus follicularis

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

May 10, 2020: Mother’s Day Flash Sale

It took a bit, but last weekend’s flash sale worked out quite well. Between folks stopping by (including a pair of dear friends) and deliveries, sitting outside in what was quite honestly stunning weather was oh, such a chore. So much of a chore, in fact, that we’re going to try it again for Mother’s Day.

The rules for the Mother’s Day flash sale are the same as with previous flash sales: the gallery unfortunately will be closed to the public for the foreseeable future, so we’re still going with driveup pickup and delivery from noon until 6:00 pm or until we run out of plants on Sunday, May 10. The good news is that with the gallery porch giving an excellent view for all, and with the current weather report giving clement but remarkably cool conditions for this time of the year, that means so long as everyone respects social distancing, there’s room for everybody.

This time around, instead of having just a few varieties of plants, expect a wide selection of carnivores: the traditional Venus flytraps, North American and Asian pitcher plants, sundews, butterworts, bladderworts, and triggerplants. In addition, not only are all of the current enclosures available for pickup or delivery, but a shipment of Australian pitcher plants (Cephalotus follicularis), cultivar “Elizabeth,” just came in, and some of the smaller ones will be available for purchase as well. As always, if you have any questions about the flash sale or want to check about availability of a particular plant or enclosure, feel free to ask.

Projects: Supplemental Indoor Light for Carnivores, For Work and Home

Thoughts during ongoing COVID-19 self-quarantine: sooner or later, no matter what happens with a vaccine or other long term solution, we’re all going back to something we’ll collectively call “normal”. Whether we continue to shelter-in-place or start to go out, one absolute is that a need for green will only become more intense. Sure, we’re in the middle of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, but what happens in autumn and winter, or summer in lower latitudes when the heat becomes too oppressive to stay outside for long? What about the need for green for those working night shifts, where they’d like to have a flora break outside of normal daylight hours? And what about those going back to desk jobs, where the only time they see outside is when they arrive and when they leave?

Well, the good news is that while not all carnivorous plants do well indoors, some do. Trying to raise Venus flytraps or North American pitcher plants indoors is folly: besides their need for a winter dormancy, they require more light than is practical for anyone not running a cannabis grow room. Many tropical species do rather well under consistent room temperature, though, but the biggest issue indoors is with light. Most office buildings constructed after 1990 have window treatments intended to minimize light input, especially in warmer areas, and the typical office lights in those offices work for only the most shade-loving plants such as spathophyllums and philodendrons. Carnivores need considerably more light output, and until very recently, that sort of light output both generated considerably more heat than was acceptable and used too much power to do so. For the last five years, though, the humble LED light bulb offers a perfect solution.

To start, you’ll need a classic desk lamp. These are available new, used, and antique, with all sorts of features with the new lamps such as USB plugs for charging small electronic devices and additional three-prong plugs for devinces requiring more power. (Should you have permission and/or interest, these plugs facilitate setting up webcams to show off your plant at any time, but that’s up to you.) The only absolute is that the lamp has to have a standard screw light socket: everything else depends upon circumstances.

Now, a lot of proprietary full-spectrum lights are available both for plants and for such hobbies as needlepoint or model-building, and the light fixtures themselves are often available for really reasonable prices, both new and used. The catch is that the bulbs are most often fluorescent, and they aren’t designed for running every day for hours at a time. The overwhelming majority of fluorescent fixtures, either tube or compact fluorescent, have a distinctive drop in light output after a few months: they still appear to be nice and bright to human eyes six months later, but they’ve usually decreased their light output by 50 percent or more, and that keeps dropping as the months go by. Three years after installing one, the light produced by a typical fluorescent bulb will be suitable for growing ferns, fungi, and not much else. Those daylight and full-spectrum fluorescent lights are also exceedingly expensive to replace, with some having replacement bulbs that are so expensive that buying a whole new lamp is often a cheaper option. These lamps also have proprietary sockets that prevent you from installing other bulbs or tubes, and the most practical option is getting one of the lamps that accepts screw-type bulbs that’s been standard since Thomas Edison’s day.

No, the secret is going with LED bulbs. At the beginning of the last decade, before the mass manufacture of white Light Emitting Diodes, your standard plant lights were those red and blue combos for indoor gardening and Sticking It To The Man. At that time, the idea was that daylight produced a specific ratio of red photons to blue photons: red photons have a shorter wavelength and therefore less energy but sunlight produces so many more, and blue photons are more energetic but much less common. Chlorophyll molecules can use the energy from both red and blue photons, and the mass production of blue LEDs in the early 2000s meant that LEDs could be used for high-intensity plant grow lights for the first time. You won’t need anything that specific unless you really like the look, and standard LED light bulbs are both considerably cheaper and easier to obtain.

Now the other thing to consider is the output. LEDs have the advantages of not dropping in light output with time the way fluorescents do, putting out far less of their energy consumption as heat, and having a much longer practical lifespan. Running for 12 hours a day on average, a typical LED bulb will last upwards of five years before finally expiring, as opposed to six months before fluorescents need to be replaced. In a workplace or home desk environment, white LED bulbs make a lot more sense.

From there, it’s a matter of looking for light output. For the most part, LEDs come in full-spectrum, warm white, and cool white options, with the full-spectrum bulbs usually costing a bit more. Aside from that, it’s whatever moves you and makes your plant look its best. The important consideration is the actual number of lumens (the standard measurement for light output) being emitted, and most bulbs are handily labeled for such. A perfect light output for small carnivorous plant containers is about 1600 lumens, but if you can’t remember that, the labels on most LED packages offer a handy alternative. Almost always in the upper right corner, those packages list the light output equivalent of an old-style incandescent bulb, and what you want to get is a 100-watt equivalent. The actual power consumption will be between 13 and 17 watts, depending upon the brand and the particular colors inherent in the light (full-spectrum LED bulbs tend toward 17 watts), but the light output will be the same. Whatever light option you want, get a 100-watt equivalent, and screw it into your desk lamp.

IMPORTANT: Go for a 100-watt equivalent LED bulb, not an actual 100-watt LED bulb. Not only is that amount of power consumption not necessary, but most desk lamps were designed for 40 to 60 watts of power consumption. While the bulb may not be throwing off the ridiculous amounts of heat that an old 100-watt incandescent bulb did, the wiring and socket can overheat and become a fire risk.

LED bulbs produce less heat than compact fluorescent bulbs and a lot less than old-style incandescent bulbs, but they’ll still generate some heat. Therefore, unless your workspace is considerably colder than most, and I’ve worked in some horrendously cold offices, set your lamp head about a handspan away from your plant and turn it on. If you want to get fancy or to make sure your plant gets light over the weekend or over vacation, consider getting a timer, analog or digital, to set the light output to match day/night hours over the year. With this setup, it’s possible to keep many species of Asian pitcher plant and tropical sundews, butterworts, and bladderworts well away from other available light sources.

A few things to consider:

  • Many offices turn off air conditioning over the weekend as a cost-saving measure, and some carnivores such as Cape sundews (Drosera capensis) have issues with temperatures going above 26 degrees C/80F. Cape sundews react to excessive heat, either from the light or from other sources, by burning back, and Asian pitcher plant leaves turn a brassy color when getting too much light. If these happen, pull back the lamp another handspan and watch to see if the situation improves.
  • Even though you and your plant may enjoy the high levels of light from your lamp, coworkers and supervisors may not, and this situation is particularly exacerbated in the ongoing nightmare of the open office. To keep stray light from annoying coworkers and control freaks alike, consider using a light shield made of cardboard, polycarbonate plastic (old political campaign banners cut to size and painted work well), or Mylar to keep the light reflecting back on the plant and not in coworker eyes.
  • In a typical work environment, you may get well-meaning coworkers or security crew who see a light on without you at the desk, and think they’re doing you a favor by turning it off, or busybodies who don’t like having it left on over the weekend. Signage can minimize a lot of this, even if it’s a sign over the light switch reading “This Light Is Running On Purpose.”
  • It may be perfectly obvious that the light is there for a carnivorous plant, but take into account roommates, coworkers, and supervisors with a phobia of reptiles or arthropods that might assume that your container is a home for a snake or insect. Again, a sign or tag stating “Nothing But Us Plants” is a good idea, as well as one reading “Please Do Not Feed Me” for those who decide they want to watch your plant feed and drop in whatever they find. If they keep it up anyway, well, at least you have a portable lamp to move your plant to home…or to work.

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feed Lot Clearance Sale – #16

(The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale is a regular Email newsletter, with archives available on the main TTR site at least a month after first publication. To receive the latest newsletters, please subscribe.)

Originally published on April 14, 2020.

Installment #16: “What I Did On My Cross-Country Trek Across The Cursed Earth”

So…about all those plans for 2020. Funny, huh?

If there’s anything approximating a silver lining to the last month, it’s that we’re all discovering which of us have the ultraviolet senses of humor. I mean, no zombies, no Daleks, no triffids, no rampaging bands of mutants attacking the walls of Mega City One, no Australian motorcycle punks in bondage pants tearing down the highways with stolen guzzoline, no teenage crack shots with telepathic dog companions, and not even a sardonic name for COVID-19. I mean, “Captain Trumps” is close, but it’s probably not going to catch on, more’s the pity. If humor is the psyche’s way to deal with an interrupted defense mechanism, then the smartalecks will be the ones to inherit the Earth…if they can keep it away from singing roaches, re-emerged dinosaur men, and the constant need to roll for beneficial mutations.

After the snark comes the urge to help. The Triffid Ranch is going to be fine (check out below for details), but it’s hard not to worry about friends, cohorts, and interesting bystanders. For those without means or motivation to keep up with Dallas news, the whole of Dallas County is still on shelter-in-place orders until the end of April, and it’s becoming likely that the existing order may be extended. Most school districts have given up on classes returning to finish out the school year, more and more businesses are letting everyone work from home (although plenty are already itching to require their employees to come back; we’re rapidly recognizing the sheer number of managers who want to oversee large groups of organ donors solely because they aren’t allowed to stick their family members with hatpins), and any kind of social interaction is increasingly virtual. Yeah, it’s rough, and it might be rough for a while.

Again, the urge to help. Given a few minutes, we could all think of several people and venues to which we could point and say “Don’t worry about me: go help THEM” and mean it. Let me start the ball rolling. Friends who have never been to Dallas, and whose total knowledge of this city comes from that godawful TV show from 40 years ago, wonder why I stay and why I keep fighting to make this place better. Here are some of the reasons why.

Firstly, it’s time to give a shoutout to a friend and a cohort, one of the biggest smartalecks in Dallas journalism, and someone who also believes that We Can Be Better. I’m talking about Pete Freedman of the Dallas news site Central Track. All of the local news venues are hurting: I’m also giving a shoutout to the Dallas Observer, and I’m even willing to let slide 40 years of bad blood with the Dallas Morning News now that the James Lipton of Fandom moved on. However, Central Track is exactly the sort of gonzo news source that Dallas has needed for decades: it’s smart, it’s concise, and its staff is more interested in punching up than in catering to fevered egos, both outside and inside the newsroom. The reason I bring up Pete and Central Track is because its emphasis was on culture and local events, and when the events all shut down, so did all of Central Track’s advertising. If nothing else, go digging through the archives (the breakdowns on the State Fair of Texas are priceless), subscribe to its newsletter, and let the staff know that they’re appreciated. Me, I’m sending doughnuts.

Secondly, Dallas also suffers from a reputation for corporate dining that’s also 40 years old, even if it’s hard not to take licks for being responsible for the Brinker restaurant empire. We also have a reputation kept inside for some really incredible options from a huge array of ethnic cuisines, especially in the Richardson and Garland areas. With the lockdown, all sit-in dining is banned, so a lot of great places are having to squeak by with pickup and delivery sales. Recommending all of the places worthy of inclusion would take all week, so I give two recommendations for restaurants right next to the gallery that are especially near and dear to our hearts: Sababa for Mediterranean cuisine and Tasty Tails for New Orleans-style seafood. Sababa is literally across the street from the gallery, and Tasty Tails is about a block north (dangerously close to the Richardson Half Price Books), so when things get closer to normal, it may be time to invite everyone over for one big gathering and see why we stay.

And then there’s the stuff to do while sheltering in place. I personally owe Keith Colvin of Keith’s Comics a whole series of debts for kindnesses and considerations over the years, and that has nothing to do with recommending his shop for takeout orders of the best in comics and graphic novels. Likewise, although the flagship Half Price Books location is closed to visitors along with all of the others, they’re also filling pickup orders from requests made online and by phone. And when this is over, I have a very big Nepenthes attenboroughii enclosure waiting for the flagship store, so the sooner it’s all over, the better, eh?
Okay, that’s the help list from over here. Let’s see yours.

Other News

Well, since all of the previous drama has made things awfully entertaining around here, should I mention that it’s bluebonnet season in Texas? Seriously: if you live in the North Texas area, take advantage of the opportunity for exercise outside to go stare at wildflowers for a few hours. If you don’t, then there’s always photos, right?

Recommended Reading

It’s up for the Hugo Award. It’s been all over NPR. Just trust me: go out and snag a copy of This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. As always, I’m biased: Amal and I have been friends for years, even though she worries about how and why I know about the prevalence of carnivorous habits among nominally herbivorous animals in the Scottish Highlands, but don’t let that stop you. As always, I feel an enclosure coming on, and it’s a matter of making it do justice to their book.

Music

A benefit of shelter-in-place? It’s getting caught up on music I’d meant to check out but hadn’t the opportunity. In this month’s case, it meant falling down the Calling All Astronauts rabbit hole, and it’s a deep hole. As it turns out, that works really, really well as gallery background music while working on new enclosures. Uncle Zonker says check it out.

Flash Sale: May 2, 2020

Let’s try this again. Both due to confusion with the date of the official State of Texas executive order allowing pickup and delivery for non-essential businesses, and confusion between the executive order and the current Dallas County shelter-in-place order, last weekend’s flash sale was a bit, erm, quiet. Well, that and only having about 24 hours’ notice as to the state’s change on shelter-in-place policy. This just means that in solidarity with Texas Frightmare Weekend’s HQ virtual convention, the Texas Triffid Ranch will be hosting another pickup-only Flash Sale on Saturday, May 2.

To reiterate from last week, starting at noon, patrons can come out to buy a particular set of plants, with those plants being placed in their cars after selection. The sale will continue until 6:00 pm Central Time or until everything is sold out, whichever comes first. All of the specials are beginner plants, already potted into appropriate containers, including the basic care guide instructions on the container as expected from Triffid Ranch shows. If this works well, this will continue every weekend until the shelter-in-place order is lifted and regular shows can continue. In the meantime, if you’ve been craving a touch of green and want something different, you live in the general Dallas area, and you enjoy the novelty of curbside service, this is the best option when standard appointments aren’t possible.

(NOTE: the larger enclosures as highlighted in the Enclosures Past & Presentsection may always be purchased and picked up by appointment. Unfortunately, we cannot allow patrons to enter the premises to view them, and they have to be brought out for inspection and purchase. If you have any questions, please contact us.)

For the Frightmare Flash Sale, we offer four species: three types of Asian pitcher plant (Nepenthes x ventrata, Nepenthes ventricosa, and Nepenthes sanguinea), and Cape sundews (Drosera capensis). As shown below, the pitcher plants include a one-gallon glass container, substrate, and decorations for $35.00US plus sales tax. The Cape sundews include an Erlenmeyer flask and substrate, and sell for $25.00US plus sales tax. In addition, not only do the Shirt Price discounts apply ($30 for the Nepenthes, $20 for the cape sundews) for those wearing Triffid Ranch shirts, but it also applies for those wearing Texas Frightmare Weekend shirts, from ANY year. If we’re going to get out, we’re going to do this right.

For pickup, calling or emailing in advance isn’t necessary: just pull up to the building and let the handy but a little dim attendant take your order. (For larger enclosures, please call or email in advance.) Masks and gloves will be mandatory, for your safety and mine. Payment can be made in cash or credit card, and ask about PayPal information to reserve larger enclosures. For directions, follow the map. If things work well, expect this to be the first of many flash sales, at least until the current situation ends. Selah.

Flash Sale: April 26, 2020

Okay, so the limitations on non-essential retail businesses opening in Dallas County just expired, on the proviso that those non-essential businesses only conduct sales via curbside pickup. As it turns out, the Triffid Ranch has a whole slew of plants already potted and ready for several March and April shows that have been cancelled, and since the Dallas County orders require that any purchases HAVE to be made via curbside pickup, with no entrance into the premises by the customer, it’s time to skip the usual open house and try something different. It’s time for a flash sale.

Here’s the situation for the foreseeable future. Every Sunday starting at noon, patrons can come out to buy a particular set of plants, with those plants being placed in their cars after selection. Each Sunday, a different set of plants will be offered for sale, and the sale will continue until 6:00 pm Central Time or until everything is sold out, whichever comes first. All of the specials are beginner plants, already potted into appropriate containers, including the basic care guide instructions on the container as expected from Triffid Ranch shows. If this works well, this will continue every weekend until the shelter-in-place order is lifted and regular shows can continue. In the meantime, if you’ve been craving a touch of green and want something different, you live in the general Dallas area, and you enjoy the novelty of curbside service, this is the best option when standard appointments aren’t possible.

(NOTE: the larger enclosures as highlighted in the Enclosures Past & Present section may always be purchased and picked up by appointment. Unfortunately, we cannot allow patrons to enter the premises to view them, and they have to be brought out for inspection and purchase. If you have any questions, please contact us.)

For the first Flash Sale, we offer four species: three types of Asian pitcher plant (Nepenthes x ventrata, Nepenthes ventricosa, and Nepenthes sanguinea), and Cape sundews (Drosera capensis). As shown below, the pitcher plants include a one-gallon glass container, substrate, and decorations for $35.00US plus sales tax. The Cape sundews include an Erlenmeyer flask and substrate, and sell for $25.00US plus sales tax.

Nepenthes ventricosa
Nepenthes x ventrata
Nepenthes sanguinea
Drosera capensis

For pickup, calling or emailing in advance isn’t necessary: just pull up to the building and let the handy but a little dim attendant take your order. (For larger enclosures, please call or email in advance.) Masks and gloves will be mandatory, for your safety and mine. Payment can be made in cash or credit card. For directions, follow the map. If things work well, expect this to be the first of many flash sales, at least until the current situation is over, and I’ll see everyone starting at 12:00 on Sunday.

State of the Gallery: April 2020

A solid month after the COVID-19 lockdown started, and everyone understands my hometown’s unofficial motto: “So…aside from THAT, Mrs. Kennedy, what do you think of Dallas?” For those having issues with shelter-in-place orders, I sincerely sympathize and empathize with your plight, and here’s hoping that the Triffid Ranch can help take the edge off. For those suddenly finding ourselves with the opportunity to live our preferred hours, “If I’m not back in my coffin by sunrise, I turn back into a pumpkin,” there’s a lot to do. Hang on.

To start off, the virtual Manchester United Flower Show on April 18 was an experiment in terror, but it also worked. Yeah, the video froze at the beginning (a glitch in its iPad app means that everything freezes if texts or other notices come through, requiring a hard restart to get everything going again), but it was a grand start. This, of course, was the beginning: the archives are up on Twitch, and expect new installments every Sunday evening. (During the duration of the lockdown, don’t expect any Saturday evening virtual open houses for one very important reason. I refuse to make anyone choose between Triffid Ranch streams and those of Panoptikon Dallas, myself included. Dallas’s best goth club is having issues with the lockdown as well, the DJs and crew are friends, and the Friday and Saturday night playlists are a great comfort in the gallery late at night.)

And on the subject of virtual events, it only gets better next week. Until March, the biggest Triffid Ranch show of the year was the planned Texas Frightmare Weekend horror convention that traditionally runs the first weekend of May. Frightmare has been moved to September, and we’re all awaiting word as to whether it’ll be safe for the show to run then (and whether we’ll all be wearing masks and not just for costuming), but Grand Poobah Loyd Cryer decided that if we couldn’t have the show in May, we at least needed something. That’s why, starting on April 25, the new Frightmare HQ streaming show promises to give everyone a taste of what makes TFW such an event. The first broadcast runs on April 25 and runs through the weekend of May 2, and those who missed out on the last virtual open house get a good look at the inside of the gallery starting at 2:00 pm Central Time. And yes, if you can’t watch live, the archives will be available on YouTube and Twitch.

In other developments, it’s official as of today: the governor of Texas signed an executive order today that allows non-essential business to conduct pick-up and delivery business, which means that the Triffid Ranch is back to limited operation. Because (a) customers cannot enter the premises, (b) only curbside delivery is allowed, and (c) the gallery is currently full of plants that had been potted in anticipation of the Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo show scheduled for March, we’re going to try something different. All enclosures listed in the Enclosures Past & Present section are available for purchase at any time (just schedule an appointment for pickup or delivery), but most of the sales at shows such as Oddities & Curiosities and Texas Frightmare Weekend were for smaller, individual plants and containers. Because setting up tables and letting customers go through a complete inventory isn’t an option, it’s time for a Sunday Flash Sale. For the foreseeable future, from 12 noon until we’re out of plants, the Triffid Ranch front porch will have one specific species or group available, all generally identical, and all for the same price. Check back each Saturday to find out what the Flash Sale special is going to be, and call or write to reserve a plant once the special is announced. For those who want to drive by first, we accept drive-up visitors, but everyone will HAVE to stay in the car while doing so. (On my side, it’s masks and gloves all the way around, with containers cleaned before the sale starts.) For obvious reasons, the sale starts with tropical carnivores, but expect to see Sarracenia and other outdoor carnivores in the next few weeks once growing season gets going.

Well, it’s not the same as normal operations for an April, but things could be a lot worse. After all, three years ago, the gallery was a packed-up mess after its relocation, and it took six months of work to get it ready for its official reopening. If we survived that, we can survive anything.

“Ooh! Have we got a video?”

Well, that was an interesting weekend. Technical issues, getting people over to the channel, and the realization that a virtual open house doesn’t have to run for hours the way a meatspace one does…it was harrowing and more than a little goofy, but the Manchester United Flower Show 2020 went remarkably well, all things considered. Because of previous confusion and for the convenience of those who couldn’t watch the stream while it was running, you may notice the new Video page. Among other things, this is the place for schedules for impending streams, crossovers with others (just wait until I can tell you what Texas Frightmare Weekend has planned for the next couple of weekends), and a direct link to the video channel. As soon as I can embed the Twitch stream directly on the page, I’ll let everyone know.

The Manchester United Flower Show 2020: It’s ALIVE!

Well, we had a few technical difficulties, but the Manchester United Flower Show is live on Twitch. The next tour starts at 8;00 Central Time, so hie thee hence.

The Return of the Manchester United Flower Show 2020

Sometime back in the mists of the Late Cretaceous, the plan was to host a special gallery open house in April that took advantage of blooming season. With one known exception, carnivorous plants bloom like any other angiosperm, with the height of the spectacle hitting in Dallas in the latter half of April. Sometimes the blooms last into May, and some species just never stop blooming through the growing season (yes, Stylidium debile, I’m looking at you). The last few years have been particularly rough on this idea, with last year’s flower show cancelled due to illness, but this year it was going to happen. Absolutely. Sure of it.

Well, as you may have noticed, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and the gallery is just a little too small to allow easy social distancing: at least, allowing social distancing and access to the restroom. With the current lockdown and shelter-in-place order for the entirety of Dallas County, currently extended to April 30, large gatherings are not just discouraged but open to fines and arrest, so the original open house was regretfully cancelled. Heck, when the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is cancelled for 2020 because of COVID-19, there’s no reason to risk life and health even if the shelter-in-place order wasn’t an issue. We can still have one in 2021, but a live show isn’t an option right now, and probably not until well after all of the blooms are gone for the year.

Into this comes a possible solution. Between the crew at Glasstire calling for short videos of Texas art exhibitions in lieu of personal appearances and Pete Freedman of the Dallas news site Central Track hosting regular video conferences on Twitter with readers, it may be time to take the Manchester United Flower Show online. Among other things, so many friends and cohorts regret not being able to get to Dallas to view an open house, so this is an opportunity to include them with no obligation and no plane tickets. For everyone else sick to death of online conferences for work and otherwise, it’s an opportunity to sit back and let someone else drive. We’re still working out the details, but we’re going back to the original date and time of Saturday, April 18 at 6:00 pm Central Time, with a repeat later in the evening for those on the other side of the International Date Line. Keep an eye on the site for more details, but the idea is to have an opportunity for as many people as possible to watch, so it probably won’t be attached to a particular platform. We’ll burn those bridges as we come to them.

To reiterate, the Manchester United Flower Show is back in place on April 18, barring life imitating art, and without issues with parking. See you then.

Enclosures: “Raven Well” (2020)

The locals refer to the days before the Well as “The Belonging,” when the veil between worlds was weak and people were better than they were afterwards. Not that they knew much other than that: those who asked too many questions were either asked to leave or disappeared suddenly in the night. The foothills and valleys around the mountains were perpetually shadowed by clouds that never broke, with the only motion being a constant swirl around the tallest mountain in the region. Occasionally travelers spotted flashes of lightning from the vortex, getting stronger the closer they approached the peak. At least, this was what was reported by travelers who related what they saw to others: other travelers trying to get closer tended not to return at all, and others returned but became extremely enthusiastic about shutting down further questions.

Every once in a while, particularly brave travelers specifically went to view the lightning’s source, and a very few were willing to whisper about what they saw. They described a tremendous stone block on the side of the mountain, flanked by tremendous metal chains affixed to the mountainside and struck repeatedly by the lightning and backed by a cyclopean multicolored bas relief that could have been stone or glass or metal or a combination of all three. In the center of the block was a well bored into the mountain’s roots. Nobody asked about the well’s depths, because those bravest of the brave rapidly left after hearing what sounded almost like voices, soft and sibilant, coming from the depths. Some described the well as being half-full of water, and others said it was only full of darkness. One, though, visited right at the spring equinox, when a sudden break in the clouds shone sunlight directly down into the well and onto a garden of brilliant yellow flowers unlike any seen elsewhere. The explorer claimed she had climbed down to gather a flower but lost it in the forest, along with most of an arm, and refused to explain the circumstances under which both were left behind.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 24″ x 36″ x 18″ (60.96 cm x 91.44 cm x 45.72 cm)
Plants: Nepenthes ampullaria and Utricularia subulata
Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, resin, found items.
Price: $400
Shirt Price: $350

Bluebonnet Season 2020 – 3

Even in better times, Texans and tourists rushed out every spring to view the return of the Texas bluebonnet, Lupinus texensis, bringing family, loved ones, and pets into the mix. This didn’t always end well for the bluebonnets: the plants themselves are reasonably tolerant of abuse, but the flowers are very easily crushed. This was really a problem for actively trafficked areas: for the most part, bluebonnets are common enough and widespread enough that the species can handle the occasional trampled cluster. In these days of social distancing, that dose of blue, purple, and green is even more important than ever, as is the need to give everyone a chance to see them who wants to do so. Please, please be careful when taking family photos in bluebonnet patches, if only by sticking to the edges and not flattening the whole thing. Most importantly, clean up after your pets, unless you want that kind of karma in an age of security cameras everywhere. Everyone else will thank you for this in the future.

For everyone who has followed this little trek so far, thank you very much, and keep an eye open for future posts. Bluebonnet season is just getting started, and there’s no telling what we could find among the undergrowth in a week or so. No telling at all.

Bluebonnet Season 2020 – 2

One of the things that amazes so many initiates to Texas bluebonnets is exactly how much animal life can reside inside one bluebonnet clump. No, not bluebonnet rattlesnakes: a thriving field of bluebonnets captures dead leaves and other debris to feed detritivores, and the leaves provide sustenance for a whole legion of foragers and grazers, while the flowers attract a wide range of pollinators that themselves depend upon the flowers’ pollen and nectar. With those herbivores come predators to take advantage of the largesse, and bodies of predator and prey themselves feed the detritivores. It’s a short-lived cycle that ends when the plants die off and burn back in May, but it’s absolutely essential for a wide variety of fauna, mycota, and other flora to continue their own life cycles. Give the land a chance to cool and rest over the winter, and the cycle starts all over in spring.

To be continued…

Bluebonnet Season 2020 – 1

For those outside of Texas, and for everyone sheltering in place, the Texas wildflower season started about the time we all started self-quarantining, and it now gets going with the beginning of bluebonnet season. Lupinus texensis is a denizen of poor soils throughout the state, growing thickly on roadsides, fields, industrial parks, and anywhere where nitrogen is at a premium. Part of their appeal is the tremendous clumps of blooms at the height of the season, but also their transitory nature: by the end of April, they generally burn off and deposit seeds for next year’s crop. By July, most people who hadn’t witnessed the waves of blooms in April would never have known they existed: the stems and flowers turn to powder and are overgrown by grasses and other summer flora.

Because of this temporary display, many bluebonnet habitats throughout Texas will not mow until the bluebonnets and other wildflower species go to seed. With the bluebonnets come legions of wildflower tourists to get photos of family and/or loved ones among the bluebonnets, in addition to utter idiots fussing about bluebonnet rattlesnakes. This is all fine and good, but these photos generally avoid one important fact: L. texensis is a fascinating plant when seen from the ground, to the point of seeming unbearably exotic.

It’s easy to be flippant about plant blindness, the cognitive bias that prevents people from seeing the plants in their everyday environments. It’s an understandable heritage of being taught over and over to look for the animals in various environments: look back on the number of pictorials of exotic environments and then consider how many focused solely on the plants and ignored the animals. You might be considering for a while: everything from National Geographic foldouts to dinosaur books focus on the animals big and small, with the accompanying flora a sidenote at best. The phenomenon of plant blindness is even worse with documentary films and videos: show a field of Sarracenia pitcher plants, and interest only perks up when the viewer sees tree frogs in the pitchers. On a personal level, I deal with this at Triffid Ranch shows on a constant basis: not only do people look at an enclosure in a quest for the animal they’re sure is inside, but after being told that the enclosure holds nothing but plants, they check again just to make sure. Plant blindness isn’t innate and it isn’t genetic: it’s a learned behavior, and it’s one that can be broken with enough practice.

This is why, in the tradition of Sir David Attenborough, it’s time to go among the bluebonnets. Expect more pictures in the very near future: after all, bluebonnet season is only just starting up, and they’re going to get thick in the next few weeks. Most importantly, though, try to remember that plant blindness. Don’t focus on anything else: focus on the plants. Note the foliage as well as the blooms. Only this way can you break the curse of plant blindness.

To be continued…

Enclosure: “Conjunction of the Million Spheres” (2020)

In which an artist, in an attempt to create backstory for a recent artwork, dives headfirst into obscure fanfic.

On that particular morning, Lietyran awoke with a sense of responsibility. She awoke every morning with a sense of responsibility, considering her position and her heritage, but this was different. From the moment the tower servants awoke her, her responsibility to those she and her family ruled was the same: she was the ruler and they were the ruled, deferring only to traditions of the royal court and the specific orders of her parents. That day, though, had an extra veneer of obligation. Her father, Taurik XXIII, the emperor and total ruler of the Bright Empire of Melnibone, was attaining his 55th birthday the next day, and Taurik always expected his subjects to at least try to surprise him on what was, after all, a national day of obligation. The fact that Taurik’s birthday coincided with the five thousandth anniversary of the founding of the island nation of Melnibone just made Lietyran’s concerns more focused. A day before such a pair of momentous holidays, and she had yet to find her father a suitable present.

Climbing out of her bed and staring out the tower window, she beheld the main and sole city on the whole of Melnibone: Imrryr, the Dreaming City. tens of thousands of citizens rushed below her, attended to by hundreds of thousands of slaves and servants, between the city center and the fantastic sea-maze built in the harbor. In the surrounding towers, all of which appeared more grown than built, the greatest sorcerers the world had ever seen conducted countless rituals and sacrifices, traveling to alternate planes of existence or trading with demons and elementals alike. Squinting a bit with her witch sight, she could see the seemingly endless progressions of elementals of the air repairing towers, transporting messages, or simply gathering the smoke from hundreds of fires both mundane and magic and shuttling it outside the city. To her window rose the sounds of Imrryr life: horses and mastodons, fervent conversations, droning incantations, and the occasional scream of terror. So did the smells: sweet wine, sour sweat, bitter regret, acrid fear, and occasionally the clean crisp scent of exultation. From time to time, dragons would swoop near the tower, their riders returning from the furthest edge of the empire with news or tribute. The Melniboneans were a cruel and capricious race, solely interested in maintaining their power and fending off their boredom, and the best the humans hauled in every day by the hundreds could hope for was relative indifference. To Lietyran, the sounds and sights she beheld had been a part of Imrryr life since the days of the first emperors, and would be a part centuries after she and everyone else she knew was dead. Not knowing anything else, she accepted it and moved on.

That moving on involved subterfuge that day. Her father was a late sleeper, attending to affairs of state by midday after others had made sure that anything that passed under his gaze was worthy of his attention. Even she dared not wake him early unless he had specifically requested it, as his nights were devoted both to his own esoteric research and to his wife, Empress Salaee. The emperor indulged his only daughter and doted on her as best as Melnibonean traditions allowed, but he had his limits. Because of that, she quickly donned travel clothes and hat and her most quiet slippers and cleared the floor reserved for the royal chambers, only switching to riding boots after she was on the ground level. She quickly picked ten of the most loyal of the royal guard, ordered a meal basket with wine from the kitchen slaves, and walked to the tower stables, where her favorite horse awaited her intentions. She was a princess, they were her subjects, and nobody questioned why or where she was going that early in the morning.

There were others who would, which was why the real reason Lietyran was up early. The Melnibonean royal court was affectionately referred to by her father as “a pit of vipers,” to which she strenuously objected. She had been raising vipers and other venomous snakes for most of her 17 years, both for their venoms and for pure curiosity, and she never saw even the most aggressive viper bite itself. Some of the noble families of Imrryr were boorish enough to hint as to their intentions of taking the fabled Ruby Throne for themselves, although none were ambitious or stupid enough to state their intentions openly and risk the Emperor hearing of them. Taurik also had his traditions and obligations as ruler, but this never prevented his enjoying the Royal Inquisitor’s very precise and very slow interrogation as to the extent of any treason that usually doubled as a public demonstration of the subtleties of agony. Most settled for watching for any opportunity for favor with the Emperor, particularly involving any intrigues surrounding his daughter, and she learned practically in the womb to feint and double-feint as to her true intentions, even among those she legitimately considered friends. Sometimes the feints were physical: her mother discouraged her from learning warcraft, recommending and preferring undetectable poisons and minuscule alterations of grimoires so that summoned demons were able to escape and wreak revenge before they could be returned to the Lower Hells. Lietyran learned much from her mother, and also sword and dagger play from the Lords of the Dragon Caves alongside lessons in riding horse and dragon. The royal guard was expected and required, but she knew she would not be completely helpless.

Upon leaving the stables and trotting up the main street, Lietyran looked from under her wide-brimmed riding hat, adorned with the royal dragon sigil, to about halfway up a nearby tower. One of her surrogate vipers, Inarris, stared down blearily, still recovering from her nightly celebrations. Inarris was a novelty in Imrryr, proudly flaunting blonde curls in a court where brown or black hair was the standard, and her huge blue eyes caught Lietyran’s equally blue gaze and slitted: in no way would she have the time to dress and ride out to see what Lietyran was doing that day. The princess subtly saluted, knocking some of her black hair back over an ear so narrowed as to appear to come to a point, and slowed so Inarris could see exactly where she was headed. The eastern gate, leading out into the forests and wilds of Melnibone. By the time she could get there, though, Lietyran would be long gone.

Lietyran’s destination would have been a surprise to anyone who had asked, and nobody had. Another one of the grand traditions of Melnibone involved subtlety when presenting gifts to the Emperor. Taurik appreciated novelty leavened with subtlety and wit, and appreciated the adage that the best joke was a slight distortion of the truth. On previous birthdays, many came to him with intricate puzzles and viewers, both created specifically for his amusement and gathered from nearby planes, but he also enjoyed storytellers and explorers. With the whole of the world under his boot, most had little in the way of unique perspectives, and the same went for sorcerous effects and fireworks. This was why Lietyran was heading toward a secret location she had recently discovered in a chronicle in the royal library: six months of feverish translation of the magician’s cipher gave her the location of the presumed-lost laboratories of Terhali the First, the most famous of Melnibone’s guiding empresses.

Most of of the island of Melnibone outside of the city walls was wild, interspersed with small orchards and farms dedicated to growing the rare plants used for spells and incantations throughout Imrryr. Other herbs and trees were impossible to cultivate and grew where they chose, so the island was covered with flora from across the Bright Empire, brought back on battle-barge and dragon alike. Over the centuries, emperors claimed magical laboratories built by their predecessors or built their own, both to keep secret new avenues of learning and to prevent accidents from damaging life and property. Of the ones never found and exploited, the most sought-after was the laboratory of Terhali the Demon Empress, rumored to have been mothered by a demon as an explanation for her deep green skin. As with the others, it was almost definitely built on a nearby plane of existence for security and discretion, but could be reached via demon-constructed doorways and gates in hidden locations, but only with the correct password. If Lietyran’s translations of the cipher were correct, she had both a password and a map.

Lietyran and her royal guard rode for about two hours, occasionally backtracking based on referral to the cipher and her notes. Eventually, they reached the cliffs at Melnibone’s northern shore, and she ordered her guard to spread out and watch for any interlopers. With the guard preoccupied, she carefully walked along the edge of the cliff, stepped down onto a nearly invisible pathway running just below the edge, and even more carefully inched to one of dozens of cave entrances on the cliff face. Most of these were dark and shallow, only going in about ten feet or so. The one she selected had light coming from the back, about 200 feet back, and she tiptoed over branches and bones that had collected at the mouth. The light turned out to be filtered sunlight coming through the collapsed roof, and the tunnel eventually opened out into a natural caldera. The caldera was surrounded with thick forest, thus explaining why it had evaded discovery for the 500 years since Terhali last lived, and the only thing in it was a tremendous rock slab, weathered and pitted. This had been carved with a large circular window in the center, and runes both around the window and on the rest of the slab seemed to make the slab appear even older than what Lietyran expected.

Looking back to make sure that nobody had followed her into the caldera, Lietyran pulled her handwritten notes from a riding bag at her side, followed by a small metal pick and a clear blue crystal. One set of runes suggested the incantation necessary to awaken the monolith, but she knew far too well about the traps set by Melnibone’s sorcerers to prevent unauthorized pillaging of their secrets. She took off her riding hat, brushed hair out of her eyes, and put the crystal to her right eye. There, she thought: through the crystal, another series of runes were made visible, and those suggested a different cantrip. Lietyran put the crystal back in her bag and walked up to the monolith, spitting on her palm while doing so. She used to pick to pull away dirt and detritus from a space directly underneath the window, revealing a small triangle carved into the stone. She pressed her spat-upon hand onto the triangle and whispered “Gol mek ta ke,” and jumped in spite of herself as two gigantic crystals, each much taller than she was, erupted on either side of the window.

Now she knew she was on the right track, as no crystal of this type existed anywhere on Earth. Their extraplanar origin was obvious, and although she wasn’t foolish enough to touch them, she knew that they were rapidly chilling in the morning sun. Right at noon, with the sun directly overhead, the cipher hinted, and the gate could be opened.

Lietyran had time to kill, and she regretted not taking the food basket with her when she came down this way. No matter: she would have plenty of time to eat if everything worked. Instead of going back for food or wine, she settled for studying the remaining runes as the sun rose and the crystals froze. Finally, with a course of action, the sun at its height, and a thick fog forming around the base of the crystals, she stood between the two, gathered her notes, and began to read aloud.

When starting, Lietyran had no expectations of a spectacle. Indeed, she was too busy concentrating, focusing on magical concepts whose perception was as essential as the spell itself. However, she knew it should have been straightforward: a slight glow to the monolith, and the gate inside the window would open into whatever fantastic plane to which the stone had been anchored. She was so focused on the spell that at first she didn’t notice the sparks flying off the stone face, the twin vortexes of fog and dead leaves forming over the crystals, or the sudden wind blasting through the caldera. She noticed when one of the sparks broke free and passed over her head, though, and stared in surprise when the whole of the circle opened and a blue-topaz light shone through. She definitely noticed as a silvery metal barrel about the size of her horse launched through the circle and bounced to the wall of the caldera. The sparks and dust-devils stopped, the light stopped, and the wind stopped. The only sound coming from the area came from the barrel, which was slowly pinging like cooling iron.

As a princess of the greatest empire the world had ever known, Lietyran had no time to cower, or stare, or run off. This thing could have been a threat to the Bright Empire, or a serendipitous opportunity, and as such must be investigated. She also looked at the barrel as the perfect birthday gift for her father: even empty, she knew that the circumstances of its arrival would make an interesting tale, with the appropriate omissions as to the exact location and the circumstances leading up to its discovery. She may have been a princess, but she was also a Melnibonean, and traditions on what and where to share ran through her veins along with her blood. She walked forward as the barrel stopped pinging, noting what appeared to be a door on the side of the barrel. That door swung open, discharging a large cloud of sour greenish smoke, and two figures crawled out, coughing and waving the air to dissipate the smoke.

“Are you all right, Garanik?”, the first figure asked, as he, unmistakably he, removed a strange round black hat off his head and waved that in the air at the smoke. The figure’s clothing was odd by any standard: a white shirt of unknown material under a dark blue vest covered with pockets and straps and loops. Breeks of a coarse faded blue cloth, and blue shoes with odd lacing with magenta stripes on the sides. The most surprising was the hair. As mentioned before, Melnibonean hair ranged brown to black, with the occasional blonde for variety. The stranger’s hair was a deep auburn, like that of the winged men of Myrrhn, and his sideburns suggested that his beard would be the same color. As if taking that into account, the stranger ruffled that hair for a second as if trying to dislodge sand, put the round hat back on, and took a quick look around, completely missing Lietyran.

“Well, THAT was different! Terrestrial world, average gravity…I’m just glad it has a breathable atmosphere. We may be here for a while if we need to make repairs.”

Another voice came from the other side of the barrel, deep and sonorous, with a different accent than that of the stranger. In all of her studies and all of her experiences, Lietyran had never heard accents like these in her life. “Do you know what happened?”

“Not a clue. Bell’s Theorem spits in my face again.” The stranger turned, noted Lietyran for the first time, and took off his hat slightly, “Hello.”

Lietyran was in unfamiliar territory, but she was neither stupid or cowardly. Regretting that she had neither sword nor dagger, that her guard had no precise idea where she was, and that her little pick made a terrible weapon, she made a show of relaxing in order to free her arms for a possible fight, looked up at the stranger through her eyebrows, and asked “I presume you know who you are and where you are?”

The stranger smiled, turned to the side and yelled over the barrel “And the Machine’s translator carrier is working this time!” He then turned to her, took off the hat entirely and put it over his heart, and bowed slightly. “Apologies. My name is Benetalistantrumaine, but everyone calls me ‘Bennett.’ As to where I am, I was hoping you could help. We’re a little off course.”

“We?” Just as she asked, she turned toward the near end of the barrel. Standing over her was a giant. The first stranger at least appeared human, if not Melnibonean. The giant could never pass for human. It stood a full eight feet high, with greyish skin and longish dark hair, the latter held in place with an elaborate circlet of golden metal with a white jewel in the center. From what she could see, the giant wore similar unfamiliar attire, with a brown billowing blouse and dark brown breeks tucked into black boots. The giant’s had two deep brown eyes that stared down with obvious amusement, and its short muzzle split open for a gesture that might have been a smile. Big stout teeth like a horse’s were visible, suggesting that if it planned to eat her, it would have to work at it. In spite of herself, Lietyran stepped back slightly, tripping on a rock, and fell backwards. The giant reached out a hand that gave her a larger shock: instead of the five fingers she and the first stranger had, the giant had six: four fingers and what appeared to be a thumb on either side. She warily offered her hand in return, and the giant lifted her easily. She started to brush herself off, and then stopped, speechless.

“And you’ve met Garanik. He’s an engineering student from Iscaris III, which is…er, that’s a long story. Say hello to the lady, Garanik.

“‘Hello, Garanik.’ Are you all right?” She suddenly realized that they both spoke Low Melnibonean, the tongue used for everyday activities.

“I’m all right,” Lietyran said in High Melnibonean, the tongue used exclusively for magic and communication with elementals and beings of the Higher Planes. They both understood her, which meant either they were from the Higher Planes themselves or someone had made a potentially fatal error in teaching the language to his servants. They didn’t look like anybody’s servants, which confused her further.

“Pardon my bad manners,” Bennett said, indicating the barrel, “but I have to take a look inside. Just a minute.” He opened the door further and climbed inside, and Lietyran and Garanik listened to shouts, whistles, curses, and grumbles from within. Lietyran looked at Garanik curiously: the barrel was large, but there was no way he and Bennett would fit comfortably inside. The door swung out and Bennett stepped out, sneezing for a second at the last of the smoke.

“The good news? The good news is that we’re not stuck. Any repairs we need to make can be made after we leave. The bad news is that this place ranges closer to Chaos, so we’re going to need more time to recharge before we can leave. Want to see the sights?”

“Of course,” Garanik rumbled, “That’s why I came along in the first place.” Garanik looked at Lietyran expectantly. “Could you tell us where we are?”

Lietyran was back in familiar territory. “You are on the island of Melnibone,” with the two silently practicing the pronunciation: “Mulnehbooney.” “We’re just outside of the city of Imrryr.” The both of them looked unfamiliar and just a little unimpressed.

“And you are…?”

Lietyran’s voice gathered up in its full royal majesty, as befitting her station. “I am the Princess Lietyran, daughter of Emperor Taurik and Empress Salaee, heir to the Bright Empire of Melnibone. The real question is where are you from and what are you doing here?”

Bennett removed his hat again and scratched his scalp for a moment. “As to what we’re doing here, that’s a good question. We can’t say we were ‘pulled off course,” but that’s pretty much what happened. When the Machine dematerializes, it simultaneously exists in all alternate realities at once, and then maps onto a specific one before we can disembark. The difference is that this is drastically different from the reality we were expecting. Does that help?”

“I know the words you used, but not in that order. So who ARE you?”

Bennet chuckled. “Well, I’ve already introduced myself, but I’m from…well, that’s a confusing situation. Let’s just say that my people solved the secrets of travel through the time-space continuum, but thanks to an accident, I’m able to travel sideways as well as back and forth”

Lietyran suddenly grinned, rushing up expectantly. “This can travel in TIME?”

“Yes.”

“Anywhere?”

“Pretty much.”

“Could you let me see?”, Lietyran said, trying to push Bennett aside so she could reach the door.

“I’m afraid it’s not that easy. The Machine’s power source is back in my reality. That’s all I’m trying to do: get home. Little bits of that power seep between dimensions, so it can gather that up for another jump, but that takes time.”

“‘The Machine’?”

“Our faithful steed, the Silver Machine.” Bennett patted the side affectionately. “Back, forth, and sideways through time and space, with little complaint and no clue as to where we’re going half the time.” He sing-songed; “Don’t you know what I mean?”

“So how long do you need?”

“Normally, a day is more than enough time. However, in realities with more of an inherent level of chaos, it can take longer. Give us about two days, and we’ll be on our way.”

“Let me understand you. You two are from a different…reality? And you can travel to other realities, and not just to other planes?”

“That pretty much sums it up. Garanik here is from a different reality and a different world, and he asked to come along to see the multiverse.”

“‘Multiverse’. Now that’s a word I understand. But I thought travel through the multiverse was only possible during the Conjunction of the Million Spheres, when the barriers between planes was at its most fluid.”

They looked at each other. “News to us,” Bennett said.

Lietyran thought for a moment. Her thoughts roiled. If she got them back to Imrryr, not only would their tales make a perfect gift for her father, but Inarris would chew glass in envy. And then there was the thought of traveling beyond anywhere any Melnibonean had ever been. All of this happening on the anniversary of the Empire’s founding…if the gods intended this as a joke, they were evidently in the mood for slapstick.

“In my power as Princess, I welcome you as honored guests of the Ruby Throne, and invite you to a special audience before the Emperor. We can bring back your…Machine as well. I just have one last question.”

“Please ask.”

“Would there be room in it for a third?”

Melniboneans created by Michael Moorcock

Ganymeans created by James P. Hogan

Silver Machine created by Hawkwind

All use of existing characters and situations is done for the purposes of comedy. No copyright infringement is intended.

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

Plant: Nepenthes sathulata x hamata

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

Price: $250US

Shirt Price: $200US

Enclosures: “Stasis Bunker” (2020)

A regular comment about military history involves the trope “every peacetime is spent preparing for the last war.” Across four galaxies, with approximately 10,000 sentient species per galaxy, the trope holds true: whether an intraspecies conflict, a formal war between one or more civilizations, or a galaxy-wide beatdown, most plans, equipment, and strategy are battle-tested and ready…for the previous conflict. This isn’t to say that these are necessarily ineffective or useless.

Long before the scions of a little mid-arm world deep within the AAaches Spiral called Earth started spreading out across what became the Delegation Collective, they kept focusing on the lessons they thought they had learned from a major war just before the development of spaceflight. In this case, two nation-states had just fought a long and incredibly bloody war declared The War To End All Wars, and the nominal victor was determined never to face another invasion from its neighbor. To that end, it built what was one of the most impressive military structures in its history, running nearly the entire length of the mutual border. Most experts on Earth history considered that line to be one of the universe’s great military failures: the neighbor bypassed the line by moving troops and weapons through a neighbor to the north, with the line’s collective firepower unable to turn on its own territory to repel the invaders. What is rarely discussed is that the line only surrendered after months of heroic repulsion of every attempt at infiltration, the surrender was only because the invaders threatened to murder civilians until resistance ceased, and that the line’s resistance took enough attention and manpower to delay a further invasion of surrounding states, allowing an alliance to gather strength and destroy the invaders. The line may have appeared to have been a failure, but the reality was much more subtle, and without it, the actions leading up to the formation of the Delegation Collective probably never would have occurred. Whether that action was for good or ill is still being debated, particularly among armchair alternate historians. (These pseudo-historians tend to freeze up in actual alternate history exercises, which is why their survival rate in paratime generator tests tends to be exceedingly low.)

To find a nearly perfect example of this trope, students and experts need to look to the world of Solace, a rocky body orbiting a mid-sequence star in one of the satellite globular cluster galaxies in gravitational thrall to the AAaches Spiral. Approximately 15,000 standard cycles before the present, Solace’s name roughly translated to “All,” and All’s dominant government, a military dictatorship led by the notorious narcissist Joluus, attempted what it thought was a quick and easy conquest of a technologically similar civilization a short ultraspace hop away. What Joluus assumed would be a decisive and nearly casualty-free conquest turned into a hideously expensive and pointless campaign, and All’s forces returned exhausted and broken. Joluss’s insistence that they complete their mission led to a mass revolt across the planet, and Joluss quickly found himself in charge of only one small landmass and All’s innermost moon, with the rest of his species demanding that he step down and stand down or be excised from history. This he couldn’t bear.

Joluss’s plan, or rather that of his advisors and sub-colonels, involved everything Joluss craved at all times: a glorious annihilation of his opposition and a return of a regime that would conquer the stars. The first step was a strategic retreat to the innermost moon, currently covered with weapons emplacements, strategic ultraspace buffers, and research facilities. The moon had been terraformed, or rather Allformed, about a century before, which gave his forces literal breathing room while finishing the last stage. On the face of the moon’s greatest mountain was an intended symbol of Joluss’s invulnerability and invincibility: a bunker that led to the moon’s core and a staggering amount of raw material for building an even larger military force than before.

The real surprise about Joluss’s bunker came with a discovery from one of the research zones about a year before. One team confirmed that they could create a small bubble of space-time with a wildly varying temporal progression: tens to thousands of cycles could go by inside in an instant outside. Although the team begged for more time to confirm their results, Joluss’s commanders immediately pushed for a larger model that would encompass the bunker and the interior of the moon. The logic was clear: a quick retreat inside the temporal bubble, set the bubble to collapse after approximately ten cycles had progressed inside, and then sweep All of its traitors with a decicycle’s worth of military development conducted nearly instantaneously. As soon as the signal arrived announcing that the bubble generator was ready, Joluss’s command transport sped to the bunker door, to spend the next decicycle preparing for swift and terrible doom upon the upstarts that dared try to subvert his destiny. And after that, both his galaxy and the gigantic spiral galaxy that took up a significant portion of the night sky.

The temporal bubble generator was employed with a standing wave effect: anything entering as it was engaging would gradually pull in, meaning that Joluss would arrive inside the bubble as most of the vital war materiel work was nearly completed. He couldn’t be expected to wait for his war fleet, after all. The weapons bays and ultraspace buffers went silent as all available energy was diverted to the bubble generator, giving the opportunity for a retaliation force from the planet to swoop in and attempt to capture Joluss before he was beyond reach. They chased his command transport and two others running interference to the bunker door. The other craft were crushed against an invisible wall just short of the door, while Joluss’s vehicle just…sat there.

As seen over and over in the history of 40,000 known extant sentient species and easily 100,000 extinct ones, the one true military truism was “Haste makes waste.” In their efforts to avoid their leader’s anger, the bubble designers made one tiny error in millions of units of computer code that controlled the bubble and its effects. Instead of rushing time within the bubble, time was now stopped nearly entirely. Worse, another tiny error meant that the bubble’s effects were increased by a factor of 1000: instead of 10 cycles running inside the bubble before its collapse, everyone outside it watched 10,000 go by. It was completely impregnable, too: as the rebel force secured its position, every weapon capable focused on Joluss’s smirking visage, only to deflect away without hitting him. Joluss was in plain sight, and completely untouchable.

That was 15,000 cycles ago. One of the effects of the standing wave that saved Joluss from his judges was that it collapsed in waves, too. Joluss emerged from the bubble about 8000 cycles before the rest of his command vehicle, or at least part of him did: his head emerged from the bubble and attempted to laugh, only to choke as his internal organs remained behind the bubble’s wave. The head gradually fell free after a few hours, with the skull preserved to this day in one of the Museum of Folly franchises imported from AAaches Spiral. Every thousand cycles, another chunk of the command vehicle emerged from stasis, to tear free and collect at the base of the bunker door. After a while, everyone stopped waiting for the bubble to collapse right away, and the moon was ignored by all but a few Museum of Folly chroniclers looking for a better example of military failure. They looked for a long time.

And the ultimate irony? By the time the bubble collapsed completely and the soldiers inside realized that something was wrong, everything changed. 10,000 years is a long time for most intelligent species, and the newly liberated people of All had a constant incentive not to repeat the past. By the time the soldiers emerged, All had been renamed “Solace,” the people had evolved into a new species, and the soldiers found themselves a vestigial remnant of an otherwise extinct life form. They still live on the moon that preserved them, but the constant reminder that their fellows had better things to do rides over their entire consciousness. Outside of the Museum, the only remnant of Joluss is his name as an empty, now-obsolete profanity, and the former warriors of All and the current inhabitants of Solace now ignore each other out of embarrassment: one out of shame of what they could have been, and the other out of humiliation of what they used to be.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 36″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 91.44 cm x 45.72 cm)
Plant: Nepenthes ampullaria
Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, resin, found items.
Price: $350
Shirt Price: $300

COVID-19 Schedule Changes

The best-laid plans, and all that. The old Chinese curse about living in interesting times definitely applies through this month, and apparently beyond. The news about the Dallas County shelter-in-place order requiring all residents to stay at home unless conducting essential business is now international news, but the subsequent mandatory orders applying specifically to Richardson and Garland are just as big a deal. Right now, the Dallas County order will be up for review on April 3, the Garland order until at least April 7, and Richardson cut to the chase and set its order to run until at least April 29. Any way you look at it, anyone in the greater Dallas area isn’t going anywhere, especially since local police are empowered to ticket and/or arrest anyone running about without good reason.

And how does this affect the Triffid Ranch? Quite honestly, it stops everything for the next month, and directly affects the rest of the year. Unlike the twerp at the mail drop last Monday who wanted to argue that the Dallas County order didn’t apply to him because of one tiny issue that he assumed invalidated the whole order, the orders aren’t up for debate over here. As anybody in US Army Basic Training learns on the first day of Nuclear/Biological/Chemical training, you do NOT take off your mask until someone with the proper authority gives the proper “ALL CLEAR” signal. You may be melting in the heat, and you may want the freedom to take it off and relax, but it’s there for a reason.

So what this means is that every Triffid Ranch event scheduled for March, April, and May has been rescheduled, delayed, or otherwise put on hold. The planned April 18 Manchester United Flower Show open house is delayed. This also means that all appointments will have to wait until Richardson’s order is lifted, although remote consultations are still open. (If anything, if you’re looking for a custom enclosure, the delay should give it plenty of time to get established by the time you’re able to pick it up.) Among the important events:

As always, keep an eye on the Shows, Lectures, and Other Events page for changes to the schedule: everything depends right now on how well the COVID-19 situation flattens out, and what gets scheduled against what. Until then, stay safe, stay distant, and we’ll see you when we see you.

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feed Lot Clearance Sale – #15

(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 February 21, 2020.

Installment #15: “What To Do When Jimmy Hoffa Gives You The Final Logs of the Marie Celeste. And Tells You How He Got Them”

So the last couple of months have been a wonderful time at the Triffid Ranch. The last open house was a blowout, the NARBC Arlington reptile show booth was a hit (and yes, I’m signed up for the September show), and the biggest problem right now is constructing new enclosures to replace ones going out the door. With that came an extensive cleaning, both of the gallery and the Web site, with more to come. Among many other things, the Enclosure Gallery section of the site was finally stripped of its endless scrolling option and everything put into separate links, for further perusal at the reader’s convenience. Oh, and we have stories.

A little backstory here. People who knew me in the days before the Triffid Ranch know that I was a professional writer between 1989 and 2002. “Professional writer” as in “actually getting paid for publication,” even though a lot of the muck shoveled out of my typewriter and computer didn’t quite qualify on either category. (Everyone brings up the tropes of “People DIE from exposure” or “pay the writer,” but amazingly nobody brings up the number of articles, stories, essays, and reports commissioned for publication that are then spiked because they inconvenience a friend of the editor’s, thrown back because the editor saw some other bright shiny object and says “this isn’t what I wanted,” kicked down the road and then tossed back because “it’s no longer timely,” or, my favorite, simply neglected because the editor is more worried about getting attention than in doing his/her job. With all of these, does the writer get paid for lost time, lost effort, or lost hair and stomach linings? Oh, it happens…about as often as the Dallas Cowboys come home with a shutout World Series pennant.) With a few relapses, I’ve stayed away from pro writing since then, because the aggravation isn’t worth the strain, and this comes from someone who had to threaten to dox every senior executive at SyFy in order to get payment, one per day until either I received a check or the president was getting phone calls on her personal number about why this freelancer hadn’t gotten his check, because nothing else made a difference to them. Others can do the pro writer tango, and that’s fine.

That said, when the gallery opened in 2015 and the first plant enclosures first went public, a strange thing happened. When the gallery first opened, I relished the sense of mystery, and when people would ask “So what’s the story behind this?”, I assumed they meant a discussion of themes or materials or concepts. No, what they meant, quite literally, was “what is the story?” The first response was “What story do YOU want from this?”, and it wasn’t wiseacre: it was serious. The problem was that viewers and purchasers both didn’t want their story about what they were viewing. To an individual, they wanted my story. In many ways, the enclosures were like museum displays or zoo exhibits: people could stare at them all day, but they wanted context and an explanation of what they were viewing. They didn’t always need one, but they wanted to know that one existed, and that there was more to the enclosures than carnivorous plants with neat backgrounds. 

At the same time as that was going on, it was hard as the enclosure creator not to create “What if?” scenarios, instead of leaving everything to the viewer. Asking a viewer to answer the question “So what story do YOU want?” became an internal comparison between the scenario suggested and the one roiling around in my head. Think about it for a while, and the stories became more and more elaborate: who put this here? Why are the plants here? Are they interacting, or did one come before the other? Most importantly, if an unknown protagonist came across that scene, what were the characters and situations that led to that moment? It’s now up to the viewer: how does this story end, and why?

To help that along, every enclosure debuting at the gallery from here on out has its very own backstory, available at your convenience. Much as with the QR codes on museum or zoo displays offering further information, the nameplate on each enclosure has a QR code, readable by the vast majority of smartphones and tablets, so that it can be pulled up right then, or you can go to the Enclosure Gallery section of the Web site to read at your leisure. Some may be silly, some may be humorous, and some may be really, really dark. With the exception of ones that are obvious tributes to other writers or artists, though, they’ll be as unique as can be managed.

Don’t look at this as a return to writing. To paraphrase the old Mel Brooks movie High Anxiety, “I don’t hate writing! I hate publication!” Look at this as “augmented fiction.”

Other News

It took long enough, but the Triffid Ranch presence on Facebook is now as dead as cathode-ray tube monitors, and it was for a lot of reasons. The biggest and foremost was needing to focus on the gallery, but recent developments with Facebook’s algorithms as to which posts would and would not be shared with Page subscribers, as well as how much getting them boosted was going to cost, made being on that platform intolerable. Instagram and Twitter are both still destinations, but getting off Facebook was a plan for the better part of a year, and the current gallery efforts just expedited that. (And yes, this is a shameless plug for subscribing to this newsletter, early and often.)

Recommended Reading

Because more enclosures have gone out the door this year than in all of 2019 (and it’s mind-boggling when considering that the original gallery at Valley View Center opened up five years ago next August), it’s time to recharge the creative batteries by immersing in other people’s dreams and seeing how they influence mine. With the next newsletter, this section splits off recommendations into fiction and nonfiction, but for now, go out and buy yourself a copy of Medusa Uploaded and its sequel Medusa in the Graveyard, both by Emily Devenport. I refuse to hide my partisanship, as Emily and her husband Ernest Hogan have been friends and cohorts for three decades now, and that’s aggravated by the fact that the two consistently write fiction that plays Whack-a-Mole with my subconscious. By the time I’m finished with Medusa in the Graveyard, I should have some really interesting dreams that need to be turned into carnivorous plant enclosures.

Music

Friends joke and grumble about this being “the worst timeline,” but they’re not entirely wrong. If it weren’t, then blues musician Cricket Taylor would be coming back home to Dallas to sold-out shows, heading back for yet another world tour, and taping the latest opening song to the biggest shows on Netflix. Let’s fix the timeline by making this happen, shall we?

Enclosures: “Inverter” (2020)

Let me tell you something about Some Guy.

I first heard about Some Guy nearly 30 years ago. An ER nurse friend was relating her horrendous day when she mentioned the standard discourse. Someone is brought in, or crawls in, or hobbles in, with a horrendous injury, usually one bad enough that the police need to be involved. Without fail, when the obliging officer queries as to what happened, the patient has the same story: “I was at home on my porch minding my own business, when Some Guy came up and shot me/stabbed me/soaked me with pepper spray/shoved a broken bottle up my butt for no reason whatsoever.” Ambulance drivers and EMTs backed her up: during full moons, Some Guy was busy in rich and poor neighborhoods alike, usually in incidents involving alcohol, firearms, and big knives or bigger swords. After an incident involving model rocket engines and Everclear that disrupted his wedding anniversary dinner, one EMT told me that he was putting up posters in his spare time offering a reward for anyone who found Some Guy, and received all sorts of calls giving the whereabouts of Some Guy. The source? “Some Guy.”

It was about that time that I discovered where Some Guy got the money for all of his ammunition and bladed weapons. During the dotcom boom of the late 1990s, friends came to me to tell me aaaaaaaaall about this great investment opportunity, legal stratagem, or career change that was absolutely sure to beat the odds. The investment opportunity might have been a plan to sell action figures of various sports figures remodeled as superheroes, with no actual business plan other than “taking bets as to how much cocaine the CEO could shove up one nostril before a company all-hands meeting,” but it had the potential for a multi-billion-dollar IPO before it all crashed and the stock turned back into pumpkins and mice. When confronted with the sheer inanity of some of these, I was told, over and over, that it had been checked and verified, and backed up by an expert. And who was that expert? You guessed it: Some Guy.

It was hard not to see Some Guy in just about everything if you looked, but he tended to stick to entertainment, business, and real estate, where the ratio of money over brains tended to run in opposite directions. Some Guy had a thing about working on multiple layers. I once worked with The Dumbest Guy In Tech, who proceeded to regale everyone in the office about how he’d heard on the radio about a species of rattlesnake was now colored to blend in with bluebonnet blooms, so anyone wanting to enjoy Texas wildflowers had to watch out for snakebite if they went for the traditional photo poses in bluebonnet fields. When I pointed out that (a) bluebonnets only bloomed for about a month, thereby making the rattlesnakes a blue-purple target for 11 months out of the year, (b) there was no earthly reason why rattlesnake colors would be selected toward blending in with bluebonnets, and (c) rattlesnakes had better things to do than distill venom solely to bite flower tourists on the tuchis, The Dumbest Guy In Tech proceeded to tell everyone “Well, the DJs said they’d verified that it was true.” Knowing perfectly well that the only things a morning terrestrial radio DJ would ever verify are the results of paternity or STD tests, I decided to check on it anyway, and called up the station to learn the name of the government authority or professional herpetologist who described a snake color morph unknown to any reptile authority within the United States, Mexico, and Canada. After hemming and hawing on the air, they finally admitted who had sent them the obviously Photoshopped photo on which they’d based their entire report: “Some Guy.”

At this point, I was wondering if Some Guy was an actual human, or some horrific deity mixing the worst excesses of Loki and Nyarlathotep. Maybe he was a hereditary title, passed on down the centuries by individuals or organizations unknown to challenge and remove the overly credulous. That theory took extra credence when suddenly “Some Guy” switched to “A Lot of People.” Every idiotic idea being given credence in popular culture could be laid at the feet of A Lot of People and their mocking king. Pivoting to video. Texting while driving, especially while driving a stick. Living mermaids and creation science. Tying pension funds to Enron stock values. Government should be run like a business. Giving credence to anything Cory Doctorow had to say about anything. With that realization came the realization that any sufficiently developed incompetence is indistinguishable from conspiracy, and that Some Guy and A Lot of People are just as dumb as the people who parroted them. The difference was that Some Guy had dumb ideas that tickled the brain just enough to make them happen, or attempt to happen.

The finale came, as so many do, with someone who should have known better. One fine day in June, an experimental quantum generator went live, with the idea of using quantum units, or “qubits,” to detect possible dimensions that exist in conjunction with our own. The important aspect was the recent confirmation that contrary to previous assumptions, the human brain wasn’t too warm and too wet to allow quantum effects, and the generator was created to test the possibility of human memory and cognition having a specific quantum component. The researchers behind the whole project were very forthright about what they were attempting, and encouraged responses from the public as to ethics and responsibilities with the experiment results. Based on one particularly enthusiastic comment, once the generator went live, a major new feature was added for the public’s benefit: a second generator that, if it worked correctly, would allow the alternate dimensions to be seen with human eyes, like a polarized lens for afternoon sun. The second generator worked beyond all expectations, including that of its instigator, Some Guy.

What happened next is common record among the survivors. Backing previous research by the psychiatrist Harold Shea and the neurologist Crawford Tillinghast, research that didn’t exist in our reality until the second generator switched on, the second generator didn’t just allow those dimensions to be visible with human sensory organs unsuited to the task. It confirmed that human imagination, the stacking of seemingly unconnected data until they collapsed into a final result, was also a quantum function, and both generators gave that imagination form. Not just one imagination, mind. The effect ranged worldwide, suddenly mapping an infinitude of alternate worlds and scenarios onto the globe and everyone crawling on it. The world’s script was being written by the famed infinite number of monkeys banging away at an infinite number of typewriters, and the generators gave them a good goose and a shot of ketamine and told them that they were writing a miniseries for HBO.

For approximately ten minutes, every imaginary scenario bouncing around in every human’s head got its chance to get up on stage, take a bow, and throw feces at the audience. The whole of the Atlantic was disrupted and displaced as multiple Atlantises attempted to rise and fall at once, much to the consernation of their residents and those living within 1000 kilometers of a coast. Within five minutes, Tokyo was literally smashed flat with kauju and robots falling from the sky. The multiple asteroids, flying saucers, and random plates of spinach ravioli that hit Chicago punched a hole through the Earth’s crust and turned Lake Michigan into the planet’s largest hot tub. Dallas being full of shopping malls that were themselves full of flesh-eating zombies was no longer a metaphor. London witnessed a spectacular battle between Daleks and triffids as the prime minister appeared on television to scream “Hands up: who likes me?” New York, Los Angeles, Beijing, and Moscow and everyone in them simply disappeared, converted into raw churning chaos by all of the possible horrific scenarios. And few talk about the new moon that used to be Lewisville, Texas: that many banjos playing at once knocked the area into orbit.

At about ten minutes in, someone or something had enough presence to turn off both generators, with partial effects. At that point, every scenario stopped, and the ones that required drastic changes to basic laws of physics evaporated. Many of those that could exist in our reality disappeared within seconds, but others were mapped onto our reality, mixed in like a scoop of cigarette butts into birthday cake batter and served with a smile. We got a slew of new neighbors, all of whom remember a drastically different world than the one in which they wake every morning, and some handled it better than others. We’re all working together to get by, mostly to deal with all of the other surprises dumped on us. The worst were the rocket-propelled atomic hamsters. It’s bad enough giving one of the most vile-tempered creatures in our reality ramjets and unlimited atomic fuel, but what sort of sick monster gave them a taste for fresh human bones? It’s a good thing that so many of us woke up with iron-based or silicon-based bones, or else things would have gotten so much worse.

And Some Guy? Not only did he survive, as did most of the Lots of People, but he was stupid enough to advertise that he was still around. This time, though, people started to pay attention to what he was saying, track his comments, and track him. What aided these efforts was the amount of unlikely, implausible, and devastatingly effective hardware and ordnance left behind when what was now called the Quantum Inverter turned off. As Earth was cleaned and sorted, the Lots of People were winnowed and blown away one at a time, with everyone else participating. You have no idea how much you’re loathed until a Jain kicks your head off like Chuck Norris and uses it as a street sign, and some of them gave common cause between the Daleks and the Spectroscope Nuns to take turns.

This is where we are now. Some Guy is truly alone for the first time: he tries spreading his baloney, and it’s picked up and neutralized via the telepathy webs within microseconds. We finally cornered him in the one portion of Antarctica still frozen and undeveloped, after being chased into the wastes by dinosaurs and terror birds on land and anomalocarids by sea. After all this time, I get to lead the assault team to reach him, and we’ve had the better part of three years to collect the absolute cream of destructive hardware left after the Inverter incident to make sure he doesn’t walk out. “Terminate with extreme prejudice” doesn’t begin to describe his fate: anyone comparing him to the Devil would be asked “And how many times did the Prince of Lies knock up your little brother to deserve THAT comparison?”

About five minutes ago, we received a radio message: Some Guy was wanting to negotiate a surrender in an effort to be disintegrated and wiped from this reality with the tiniest bit of dignity, and he was STILL trying to dissemble and confuse. That’s it. He has five teams waiting behind ours to make sure he doesn’t make a break for the ocean, three ribbon drones able to track him based on the random bits of DNA he breathes out, two continents’ worth of missiles, darts, spears, blowgun pellets, cane toad skins, emitters, and disruptors trained on his location, and about five kilos of mother-prime unflavored antimatter waiting to drop on him if he somehow gets past us. It won’t matter, though, because even if the anomalocarids didn’t get one of his feet, we know exactly where he is. We know because Some Guy told us.

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

Plant: Nepenthes unknown hybrid (#1 BE-3172)

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: $250

Shirt Price: $200

The Aftermath: Leap Day 2020 Open House

Even despite its temporal brevity, this was a long February, so holding a gallery open house on February 29, the Day That Stretches, made perfect sense. The weather was wonderful, the company the same, and the gallery was full of people being the first to view a series of new enclosures created just for the weekend. The only problem the whole night involved calendars: every one we could find was defective, and they all switched over from February 29 to March 1 without the intervening February 30. I guess my birthday will show up on next year’s calendar, then.

Because of both a series of shows and the vagaries of the weather, March won’t have an open house, but April will. Check back on April 18 for the Manchester United Flower Show, and maybe by then people and plants alike will be recovered from the switch back to Daylight Savings Time.

Shoutout for Leap Day

One poster, and everything’s melting down. To everyone who came to this site thanks to the new poster that went out two weeks ago, or who arrived via Glasstire, welcome, and feel free to dig around. If you like what you read, the Leap Day at the Texas Triffid Ranch open house is this coming Saturday, starting at 6:00 pm, and it’s open to the public, the sporting press, and any art critics looking for easy targets. (With the last, I’m dead serious: we’re very fluent in constructive criticism here. So long as the response isn’t huffy demands for freebies followed by bad reviews because the freebies were freely given, known in the Dallas music and film communities as “getting wilonskeyed,” fire away.) And so it goes.

The Aftermath: NARBC Arlington Spring 2020 – 4

The spring 2020 NARBC Arlington reptile show is over, but the application for the September 2020 show just went out. Expect a much wider range of plants in September, as the Venus flytraps and North American pitcher plants were still in winter dormancy in February, and expect a whole new range of enclosures as well. Thanks to everyone who came by the booth this time, and I look forward to seeing all of you in seven months.

Fin.

The Aftermath: NARBC Arlington Spring 2020 – 3

Astute readers might notice that the enclosures at the gallery and at shows through 2020 so far have nameplates with both basic information on the enclosure and a QR code. Triffid Ranch displays already started phasing out individual business cards as of last year and using QR codes for the main Web site, with overwhelmingly enthusiastic results. The QR codes on the nameplates was based on extensive study of museum display design: the overwhelming number of smartphones today read the QR code with the camera and ask “Would you like to go to (Web site)?” as soon as it’s detected. Among many other things, the individual nameplates are for those who want to take a further look when the booth is overcrowded: take a quick shot and read the enclosure listing at your leisure.

The biggest surprise upon implementing QR codes was with younger attendees: they know about the codes, but overwhelmingly they only see it used for advertising, and advertising for products where they have absolutely no interest, in an attempt to be “edgy”. When they discover someone who uses QR codes that actually impart information, instead of trying to get their email addresses in exchange for a discount coupon, they practically squeal with joy. When I get back to technical writing, this is going to be part of an ongoing discussion on usability that needs to be elaborated further. As Vincent Flanders has been noting for the last two decades, people are willing to use new technology if it actually does something for them, and not because some marketing rep is looking to pad his/her resume with yet more buzzwords. Suffice to say, expect the Triffid Ranch to expand in their use, particularly with more elaborate plant care guides in the near future.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: NARBC Arlington Spring 2020 – 2

One of the best things about attending the NARBC Arlington reptile show for the last decade is watching the evolution of the venue and the attendees. While Texas had excellent reptile shows on its own in the past, the real conversations involved big shows on either coast of the US, and we were left on the sidelines. The last time I was a vendor at NARBC, back in 2013, one of the regular questions asked by attendees was “Are you going to be at (big East Coast show)?” This time, all focus was on Arlington, with a remarkable number of attendees coming in from outside the state, and some coming from outside the US.

(This leads to an apology in advance: this show and Texas Frightmare Weekend are the two Triffid Ranch shows with a significant number of attemdees who fly in from elsewhere, so a lot of patrons point to a bottle or jar and ask “Could I take this on the plane?” That’s a question I honestly cannot answer, because it depends upon the airline, the baggage handler, and whether or not the TCA rep inspecting your carry-on luggage has issues with you having a flask full of sundews among your lacy unmentionables. The best thing I can recommend is to check two sources before flying out to an event like this: the first is to check with the airline in advance as to its policies about glassware in carry-ons, and GET IT IN WRITING in case someone has an issue during boarding. The second is to check with the state or country to which you will be returning about any necessary inspections or permits needed to bring live plants back home: the last thing any of us want is for you to have your new plant confiscated and/or destroyed because of a regulation or ordinance of which you were unaware.)

This in itself led to interesting conversations with regulars from the NARBC Tinley Park show in Illinois, many of whom hoped that the Triffid Ranch might go transcontinental. Sadly, as much as I would love to attend any show in the Chicago area (I haven’t been in Chicago in 40 years, and a lot of online friends have been nuhdzing about making a trip north for a while), the thought of a trip of that duration depends upon how well the New Orleans Oddities & Curiosities Expo show goes this August. If New Orleans works out, well, it’s high time to head up to Chicago.