As is pretty much the case for North Texas in May, the weather forecast was dire. Saturday was an afternoon and evening of winds high even for Dallas, with airport warnings blaring every 15 minutes. Saturday evening, the prediction for Sunday was even worse: “thunderstorms, torrential rains, up to baseball-sized hail, and a chance of Tom Cruise and/or Ted Cruz climbing into your bedroom and staring at you in the dark all night while whistling the theme to Dark Shadows.” For those planning any kind of event outside on Sunday, things looked grim.
As is also the wont of North Texas in May, a massive north front hit the Dallas area around 1:00 in the afternoon…and broke to pieces. That is, bystanders literally watched as this front of gloom and woe evaporated before our eyes. The only change from before to after was a delicious drop in temperature, with some of the best Mother’s Day weather in decades. It was perfect weather for getting out, and everybody got out while the getting was good.
Along with everything else that’s going on, it’s time to note that this little WordPress word salad turns a full decade old on Sunday, May 9. As with a lot of other things in my distant past, had anyone told me in 2011 what things with the Triffid Ranch were going to be like in 2021, efforts to check that person’s sanity, preferably with an oil dipstick, would have been necessary. Thanks to everyone who stuck with this little road trip for all these years, and fond memories of those who fell off, for various reasons, since that start. Now let’s make plans for 2031, starting with arranging for more events this month.
Another friendly reminder: because of impending incredibly foul weather (and in Texas, “foul weather is usually a synonym for “hail and tornadoes”), this weekend’s Triffid Ranch event at Frightmare Collectibles was cancelled early this morning. We’re awaiting word as to when Frightmare Collectibles wants to try again (and ever notice that tornadoes only blow you to Oz and not Melnibone or Nehwon?), but until then, there’s always the Mother’s Day Porch Sale on May 9. See you then.
(The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale is a regular Email newsletter, with archives available on the main TTR site at least a month after first publication. To receive the latest newsletters, please subscribe.)
Installment #25: “Chicago: City of the Future!”
Originally published April 1, 2021
Last year, the plan for the Triffid Ranch was to start moving outside of the Dallas area. Shows in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio were a given, but the original idea was to expand to the first show outside of Texas with a debut at the New Orleans Oddities & Curiosities Expo last August.. Explanations as to why might be needed…for someone whose TARDIS broke down in mid-Devonian Greenland, and the wait for rescue was just long enough that getting up to speed in the present was too much aggravation. (And don’t worry: my grandmother is fine. She even rescued her favorite umbrella.) Suffice to say, with early plans to restart shows and events in 2021, a lot of events were kicked to autumn, and so many had no option but to schedule themselves on the very same weekend as others. (For instance, as much as I would love to show plants at the Deep Ellum Arts Fest, after finally making it through the backup list, this year’s Arts Fest runs the same exact weekend as Texas Frightmare Weekend, and Frightmare obviously takes precedence.) Combine that with a new day job to keep the plants in light and food, and that 2020 schedule looks a little threadbare.
Not to worry, though. The big out-of-state event was just upgraded. The Triffid Ranch is going to Chicago!
Very technically, it’s “going back to Chicago”: I lived in the suburb of Hazel Crest for a year, from the end of 1978 to 1979, where a lot of interesting stuff happened. John Gacy, filming of The Blues Brothers, the Blizzard of 1979, and the moment when two local film critics by the names of Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel took their discussions on movies and movie trends to PBS. On a very personal level, this was when I personally encountered my first carnivorous plant: a Venus flytrap purchased in a local garden center. (As I relate at shows and events, it was doing great in Chicago, and then my family moved to Flower Mound, Texas at the end of 1979. The first time I watered that flytrap with Flower Mound tap water, the plant died within an hour, and I didn’t discover why for another 23 years.) Other than passing through in 1982 on the way to Michigan, and one transfer through O’Hare Airport in 1999, the opportunity to return hasn’t been available since then.
As for the event, it’s Chicon, the 80th World Science Fiction Convention, being held the weekend of September 1-5. Right now, everything other than the actual trip is tentative: I’ve volunteered for programming and for art show presentations, and current logistics involve figuring out how to move a truck full of carnivorous plant enclosures closer to the 45th Parallel than I’ve traveled in at least a decade. And yes, someone has already made the joke about the 300-pound Sontaran attorney.
One of the bigger reasons why this is so intriguing isn’t just to meet Chicago online friends in meatspace for the first time, and inflict silent vomiting in a few attendees assuming that I’m returning to pro genre writing. (As I tell my parents when they nag about moving “back” to Wisconsin, a place I left 35 years ago in May, I’ll return the moment the Dallas Cowboys win a shutout World Series pennant, and not a second earlier.) It’s also because of several cohorts who pointed out that the IGC Show, the country’s largest independent garden center show and convention, runs roughly at the same time. With news that the IGC Show might not have a 2021 event due to Illinois COVID-19 lockdowns, this leads to all sorts of mischief, er, plots, um, ideas. Yeah, IDEAS.
The reality is that both the concept of Worldcon and the IGC Show could use a boost, particularly to attract new audiences. Right now, both tend to skew toward the older side of the US demographic bell curve: I’ll be 56 when Chicon starts, and I’ll probably still be in the bottom 10 percentile of attendees sorted by age. (Thankfully, it won’t compare to the San Antonio Worldcon in 2013: for multiple reasons, I skipped out on being a vendor at San Antonio, and one of the most prominent was “If I wanted to waste a perfectly good birthday weekend listening to a herd of seventysomething xenophobes cry impotently about how the world changed without their written permission, I’d go to a family reunion.”) They both tend to be rather insular, with a lot of attendees worrying about the way things should be instead of what their customers really want. So why not merge them?
Hear me out. Anybody going through a publisher catalog, especially from science fiction publishers such as Baen and Tor, notices that science fiction needs a lot more biology, a lot more flowers, and a lot more exposure to interesting symbiotic and paraparasitic relationships. Anyone going through a garden center catalog notices that garden centers really need a lot more in the way of mysterious and surreal sculpture and topiary. A joint literary science fiction/garden center convention is the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of pop culture: these two need each other more than they realize. Just look at these talking points:
Dealer’s Rooms. Worldcon not only needs a much wider variety of items for sale in its dealer’s room, but items that convince the longtimers to leave the bar for a while. The IGC needs items for sale and order for those desperately sick and tired of the twee in garden ornamentation. Roses, Tillandsia, carnivores, fluorescent minerals. Swords, dragons, robots, and wrecked starships. Plan things right, and edge out the book dealers who just sit in the corner and grump at anybody wanting a book published after 1970, and dealers on both sides would make a killing.
Music. The IGC Show is famed for its regular free rock concerts for all attendees, usually from acts who last hit major radio airplay back in the days of Reagan and Thatcher. Half of rock music of the last half-century has at least some influence from genre themes. DragonCon in Atlanta already has a reputation of (a) running on the same weekend as Worldcon and (b) hosting big concerts for attendees, so this is a perfect opportunity to amp things up slightly and get the longtimers out of the bar. I recommend a headliner of GWAR.
Cooking. Not only does Chicago offer some of the best cuisine in North America, but the IGC Show has lots of panels and demos involving new and existing vegetables and herbs. Worldcon attendees, though, have a reputation of being perfectly happy with $15 overcooked hot dogs from the convention hotel restaurant. Hot peppers, rosemary skewers, mesquite wood, wonderful cooking scents from the food tents out in the parking lot and inside the hotel, and something something out of the bar.
Costuming. Okay, so the costumes at the IGC Show are accidental. Worldcon, though, has a reputation for attendees creating their own costumes that goes back all the way to the beginning of science fiction fandom. Lots of cross-pollination, pun intended, here: Triffids, Delvians, vargas, Krynoids, Vervoids, Vegetons, Pink Bunkadoos, Violet Carson roses, and Slaver Sunflowers, and who knows what attendees will think up after coming across hammer orchids, triggerplants, and cycads. And let’s face it: every garden center show could use at least a few Freeman Lowell and Dr. Pamela Isley cosplayers, just to make things interesting.
Okay, we have 17 months to make this happen, or die trying. And if it doesn’t happen in Chicago, it might have to be done, to a suitable scale, in Dallas. Heh heh heh.
Since all of the plants that survived February’s freeze are starting to emerge, it’s time to start up spring video presentations, particularly as the sundews, flytraps, and pitcher plants start blooming. Naturally, teachers, museums, or anybody with an audience of interested bystanders looking for something different are welcome to send an email to discuss setting up a unique virtual experience. (Now is also a great time for print, online, television, and/or radio interviews, too, because things might get a bit more exciting as the growing season gets going.)
Well, the old computer had reached its planned end-of-life shortly after I received it, and that was a decade ago, so a new computer was called for, because there’s a lot that can’t be done with an iPad after all. Among many other things, this gave the opportunity to purchase the whole of the Affinity professional creative suite, Among other things, this gives the opportunity to start working on PDF zines on carnivore care, and some of the publishing options are going to be dangerous. Watch this space.
Regular readers already know about my love of wasps, and the book Wasps: The Astonishing Diversity of a Misunderstood Insect by Eric R. Eaton. Besides being loaded with interesting wasp information, this book is one of a dying breed: a book that starts at a level of “almost no knowledge about the subject in the reader’s mind” without being patronizing or childish. If anything, the section on wasp fossils and relationships is worth buying it alone, because the illustrations and photos are absolutely top-notch.
In the ongoing quest for both work music in the gallery and tunes for the bike ride to the gallery, the band T3rr0r 3rr0r kept turning up, much to the distress of anyone hearing it seep out from headphones. No matter: more for me. This is the soundtrack the 1990s were supposed to have, back before everything turned into dotcoms and whiner rock.
The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feed Lot Clearance Sale #25 is copyright 2021 by Paul Riddell, and may be reproduced in its entirety and forwarded at will. The Texas Triffid Ranch is Dallas’s pretty much only carnivorous plant gallery, located in scenic Richardson, Texas, and is open by appointment. More information is available at www.texastriffidranch.com. Since nobody else read this far, the key for the device can be found on page 44 of the book Didn’t You Kill My Mother-In-Law? by Roger Wilmut and Peter Rosengard. It’s page 44: page 42 is a trap that initiates detonation immediately.
A leading warning that anyone living in the greater Dallas/Fort Worth area takes to heart: don’t mess with the weather. This week has already been brutal through Texas, but Saturday has the promise of thunderstorms, with a risk of hail and/or tornadoes, all day. Since those thunderstorms generally build strength around Fort Worth, the crew at Frightmare Collectibles just cancelled Saturday’s hearse show. With it, the Triffid Ranch takes an (involuntary) break this weekend, with the idea of rebounding with the Mother’s Day Porch Sale on May 9. Now to return the rental van…
And the results are in: the winner of the Triffid Ranch in the Workplace contest is Lewisville Salon Suites and Spa. Rosemont 6th Grade gave a hearty challenge, but with 78 votes, the Salon Suites was the decisive winner. Many thanks to everyone who voted, and now it’s a matter of getting Launch Bay to its new location.
Since its start five years ago, the Manchester United Flower Show at the gallery hasn’t always been smooth. It ran well on its first year at the old Valley View space, but it was cancelled in 2017 while we tried to get the new gallery set up. There was the cancellation due to severe illness (once again, anybody can cough up blood, but coughing up urine takes talent), and then last year’s attempt at a virtual event that, well, could have gone better. Between lingering and understandable COVID-19 concerns and legitimate worries about last February’s record freeze, nobody would have said anything if it hadn’t gone through. But it did.
Considering the weather concerns, things could have been much worse. The previous Friday marked a line of severe thunderstorms passing through the Dallas area that afternoon: the Sarracenia pitcher plants are adapted to hurricane-force winds and blasting rain, but they aren’t adapted to hail. Thankfully, that hail hit north of the gallery, so everything was hale, hearty, and well-watered in time for Sunday’s opening. Some plants were still delayed by the February freeze (there’s nothing quite like a greenhouse full of “Aki Ryu” flytraps about a week away from blooming) and some decided to fuss further (no Heliamphora or Cephalotus flowers this year), but otherwise the plants amazed visitors more than usual.
Obviously, global warming permitting, we’re doing this again next year, and trying this again in October to show off autumn pitchers might be educational. Many thanks to everyone who came out: if you missed the show this time, we’ll be out at Frightmare Collectibles. on May 1 for the Hearse and Shock Rod Show from 11 am until whenever everyone goes home. The Sarracenia blooms may be fading by then, but the flytraps are taking advantage of their deep dormancy last winter.
It’s over, and we now have winners in the first-ever Texas Triffid Ranch in the Workplace contest. Three enclosures are going out to those brave enough to submit why they thought their place of employment needed a carnivorous plant enclosure. Novi and Hoodoo are going to new locales right away, but Launch Bay has some competition.
As promised, if an enclosure got more than one candidate selecting it, the vote comes up to you, the general Triffid Ranch readers. Everyone who participated gave a reason why they thought they needed an enclosure, so it’s up to all of you to decide. The reasons:
Rosemont 6th Grade – “I work at a 6th grade center and my students LOVE new and interesting things. I recently bought two beta fish and these tough kids adore taking care of them. I think they would absolutely get a kick out of carnivorous plants on campus. They would ask so many questions about them and learn so many new things. This is great from an art standpoint, a science standpoint, and ELA because it could spawn so many creative story ideas. I believe that a school would be the perfect host to such a unique and amazing enclosure.”
Lewisville Salon Suites & Spa – “My husband and I own a salon suite business (its in a strip center next to a dentist, Tiff’s Treats, Karate studio, and a sports bar) and we have 32 rooms that we rent to hair stylist, nail technicians, massage therapists, eye lash experts, barbers, etc. When their clients enter the entrance of the salon there is a small lobby that is in need for something impressive. We have beautiful art work on the walls and some amazing chandeliers but my plants that I had in the entry way died since we were mandatory closed for 2 months. I tried to sneak up there to take care of them but they didn’t survive (didn’t help the landlord shut off our water). We need something fun!! We need something people can remember us by!! We need something we can feature on our website, Instagram etc. We are so glad our tenants (most of them) have survived covid shut down and trying to get their customers to come back in to the salon. We would love to celebrate with them by having a fantastic artistic plant in our workplace and to have something that will set us apart from the competition!!! Thank you for your time to consider us.”
So now it’s up to you. Ballot box stuffing is encouraged (after all, this is for fun, not for political office), so feel free to get friends and cohorts in, and the ballot box closes at midnight Central Standard Time on April 28, 2021. Pick your favorite, and check back here next week.
Update: the voting is now closed. Thanks to everyone who voted.
So last week’s Triffid Ranch Porch Sale didn’t work out, mostly due to intense side-effects from receiving my second Moderna vaccination, so it was time to start over. This time, a combination of spectacularly good weather, including unseasonably but much-appreciated cool temperatures, and accompaniment from Caroline Crawford Originals meant that the kickoff for the 2021 Porch Sales went without a hitch.
One of the best things about this Porch Sale was the combination of new and returning attendees, including a set of old friends. The same was true of the plants: the Sarracenia pitcher plants and the Venus flytraps finally emerged after their late start due to the February ice storm, and they’re all determined to make up for lost time.
Much like an old girlfriend’s severe dairy allergies made her an obligate vegan, my severe aversion to alcohol and various respiratory issues make me an obligate teetotaler. (Don’t get me going about opiates: two weeks after thoroughly invasive rotator cuff surgery in 1994, I went cold turkey on my prescribed painkillers because the pain was preferable.) That said, with 4/20 coming up, celebrate according to local laws and customs, secure in the knowledge that you won’t having me mooching your booze, your weed, or your chocolate. The more for everyone else, right?
For those more in the mood for other vegetative celebrations, we’re going to try again with a Sunday morning Porch Sale on April 18, running from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. The weather should be exemplary, and masks will be mandatory. See you then.
Ah, it’s not an April without drastic environmental and social change, usually with multiple situations happening at once. April 2021 keeps on keepin’ on, and it’s only halfway finished.
Before getting into details on the gallery, please note a very important caveat on any plans involving the Triffid Ranch. Caroline’s mother Nancy, an essential part of the gallery’s beginnings (some of you may have met her when she would come to early Triffid Ranch shows before the gallery, and a regular guest at open houses and events after the gallery first opened), has been in hospice for a while, and her condition continues to deteriorate. Her situation and continued comfort is paramount in our lives right now, so please understand if we don’t answer questions right away or can’t schedule appointments at this time.
On that line, because we need to be in close range if she needs additional help, any Triffid Ranch events by necessity will be close and brief. Because of news this morning, we’ve had to cancel attending the Plano Music & Arts Fest this weekend, and will make it up by rescheduling last weekend’s planned Porch Sale for Sunday, April 18. If you can’t make it this Sunday, barring further mishap, the Manchester United Flower Show runs on Sunday, April 25 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm as well.
(As for last Sunday’s last-minute Porch Sale cancellation, chalk that up to complications of being a responsible adult. As of last Saturday, I became a fully vaccinated adult human, and didn’t have any issue for the rest of the day other than a slight ache in my left shoulder. About 18 hours later, though, the oft-noted side effects for COVID-19-susceptible Moderna vaccine recipients kicked in, with severe fever, joint and muscle aches, and generally all of the non-lung side effects of a severe bout of viral pneumonia. As uncomfortable as it was, having as bad a reaction as this signified that my cells were more susceptible than most to a COVID-19 infection, and severe weakness and pain is a lot better than death. Now that those side effects finally wore off, it’s back to outdoor shows, absolutely with masks at all times to make sure.)
Through May, that’s going to be an ongoing situation: weekly events at the gallery and a relative minimum of events away. That’s not an absolute (there’s no way I’d miss the Oddities & Curiosities Expo in Austin in June, for instance), but between weather fluctuations and some truly ridiculous booth fees for local events, staying home and setting up at the gallery makes more sense. In fact, as these take off, it may be time to invite other vendors, just to give others a chance to get back into setup and breakdown practice.
Finally, some other good news. The ongoing contest to give away one of three custom carnivorous plant enclosures to a local business continues until April 21, and participants are finally understanding that it’s not a scam nor a data mining attempt. Final voting starts week after next, where everyone’s encouraged to vote for their favorites, but feel free to let friends and cohorts know before then. Now let’s see about getting those enclosures new homes.
After the last three weekends, it’s time to stay home for a little bit. The first Triffid Ranch Porch Sale of the season opens this Sunday at 10:00 out in front of the gallery, and I’ll keep the tent up until 4:00. See you then. (EDIT: due to particularly intense vaccine reactions, this Sunday’s Porch Sale has to be cancelled. The Manchester United Flower Show is still on in two weeks, though.)
Posted onApril 8, 2021|Comments Off on “YES, WE’VE GOT A TWITCH CHANNEL!”
Welp, with help from Loyd Cryer of Texas Frightmare Weekend and his video assistants, we’re going to try again with the Thursday night videos on Twitch, tonight focusing on Sarracenia flava pitchers and flowers. (Just be glad that Smell-o-Vision isn’t practical for video feeds, because much like how wintergreen and birch bark smell the same, so do flava blooms and the long-defunct Dallas Fantasy Fairs. It ain’t pretty.) Video starts at 8:00 pm Central Time, and smartaleck comments are encouraged. And so it goes.
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Okay, so things are gradually reopening through North Texas, both by choice and by necessity. Restaurants and bars closed for the last year are letting customers know that they’re open, limited occupation and otherwise. Meanwhile, the year-long experiment in working from home continues to evolve for many companies, with many preferring to keep offices closed permanently and others making plans to bring everyone back by the end of 2021. Vaccinations rates are up, people are much more optimistic about the end of the pandemic than they were six months ago, and stimulus checks are burning holes in peoples’ pockets. If the business of the United States is business, as the old saying goes, a lot of folks are getting off the couch, going through their work clothes, and setting alarm clocks.
In the process, the need for some green in the workplace never went away, but a lot of the plants did. Everyone in office environments has stories of coming back only to find long-dead flora that had been left behind when the shutdown orders hit. (I won’t even start with the aquaria.) It’s even worse with long-closed restaurants: I’ve heard stories of Oceans 11-style heists conducted by plant rental services trying to get Ficus trees and philodendrons out of newly bankrupt venues where nobody knows who has the keys. While garden centers and nurseries have been doing wonderfully through all of this, the business side of Dallas horticulture has had it rough.
On a personal level, the Texas Triffid Ranch ran into a big problem: a problem with space. The events and situations of 2020 meant more and more time to create new enclosures, but fewer opportunities to hold open houses, trade shows, and other events to find them all new homes. Even after the massive revamp of the gallery shelving system, the ideas kept coming, but the places to show off the end results eventually filled up. That’s probably going to change quite a bit in the next few months, but right now, there’s a need to find new homes for longtime enclosures. Our space issue is the gain of three lucky Dallas-area workplaces.
So here’s the situation: through the month of April 2021, the Triffid Ranch is going to give away three custom carnivorous plant enclosures to three deserving nominees. For the first two weeks (April 6 to April 18, 2021), share your best affirmation or sob story as to why your place of employ needs its very own enclosure. This isn’t limited to seemingly plant-friendly venues, either: doctor’s or lawyer’s offices, restaurants, comic shops, libraries, auto garages, bookstores, nail salons, tea shops, bars, pubs, distribution warehouses, showrooms, waiting rooms, and obviously dentist offices. (That goes without saying.) After that, on April 21, 2021, ten entries will be selected from the total entries and put up for an open public vote. Ballot stuffing is encouraged (hey, it works for D magazine), and the final three winners based on total votes will be announced on April 28. After that, it’s just a matter of setting up a time for delivery or pickup. Got it?
Now to see what you’re fighting for:
The first enclosure under consideration is Novi (2018), featuring a Nepenthes burkei x hamata hybrid.
The second offering is Launch Bay (2015), featuring a Nepenthes “King of Spades” hybrid.
The final enclosure up for giveaway is Hoodoo (2018), featuring a Nepenthes veitchii.
And now, the rules:
Numero uno: This contest is open to any business in the greater North Texas area. However, winners outside of the greater Dallas area (within a 35-mile radius of downtown Dallas) will be responsible for pickup. Sadly, this contest is not open to participants outside of Texas.
Numero two-o: For tax reasons, the value of each enclosure is listed at $200 US. Winning prizes may not be exchanged for cash.
Numero three-o: The care of each enclosure will be the sole responsibility of the prize winner, and the Texas Triffid Ranch will not be responsible for any costs or damages of any sort incurred after receipt of the prize. Planned locations for an enclosure should take into account foot traffic, customer or employee interference or vandalism, or any other factor that might lead to damages to the enclosure, the surrounding area, or individuals or groups with access to the enclosure.
Numero four-o: The prize will not come with lighting, locks, misters/foggers, thermometers/hygrometers, or other accessories, and must be provided by the prize winner. The Texas Triffid Ranch will assist with recommendations on the best options for the prize winner, but will not supply free accessories.
Numero five-o: All best efforts will be made to assist the prize winner with sufficient information for successful care of the prize, but the Texas Triffid Ranch will not be responsible for dead plants for any reason.
Numero six-o: One entry will be accepted per business. Multiple attempts by multiple participants may be made, but the judges’ ruling will be final.
Numero seven-o: Initial acceptance of entries ends at midnight on Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Public voting on the entrants will begin no later than Wednesday, April 21, 2021. All votes must be in by Wednesday, April 28, 2021 at midnight. No entries will be accepted after Wednesday, April 21 for any reason.
Numero Eight-o: This contest is not open to home businesses or to those working from home. That’s for another time.
Now, if that works for all of you, get those entries in. (NOTE: the contest is now closed.)
Posted onApril 5, 2021|Comments Off on New Triffid Ranch Events – April 2021
Because people are already asking about upcoming events at the gallery, the Eventbrite listings for both next weekend’s Porch Sale and the Manchester United Flower Show on April 25 are now live, so feel free to share them early and often. Right now, everything is starting at 10:00 am and ending at 4:00 pm, but that will likely change after the beginning of May, weather willing. You really don’t want to be outside in Dallas on a late Sunday afternoon in July, do you?
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Posted onApril 5, 2021|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Frightmare Collectibles Spring Slasher Camp 2021
Forget March’s association with lions and lambs: April in North Texas is permanently attached to caribou, emperor penguins, Mexican free-tailed bats, and Christmas Island crabs. It’s all about the journey and the endurance. This April, after two big shows the previous weekend, the Triffid Ranch pushed for three with last Saturday’s Frightmare Collectibles Spring Slasher Camp outdoor event in Justin, Texas. Seeing as how most of the attendees were regulars for Texas Frightmare Weekend, this combined the best of a (socially distanced) Frightmare gathering with beautiful if slightly windy weather. Either way, nobody was complaining.
This was a test of the Frightmare Event System: the plan is for Frightmare Collectibles to host a much larger event on May 1, on what would have been Texas Frightmare Weekend’s busiest day. Four months before the revised opening of Texas Frightmare Weekend and six months before Halloween: for those craving plant shows with a bit darker feel than the traditional arboretum events, hie thee hence to Justin in a month.
If you can’t wait that long, keep an eye out for other events between now and May 1, as well as the regular video shows on Twitch. Now that the Sarracenia are starting to bloom, it’s time for some real fun with the latter.
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Another weekend, another Triffid Ranch outdoor show, and just in time for some spectacularly beautiful weather. This Saturday, it’s time for the Spring Slasher Camp at Frightmare Collectibles in Justin: the festivities start at 11am and keep going until 9:00 pm. Admission is free and masks are mandatory.
In all of the strangeness and horror of the last year, the Oddities & Curiosities Expo show in Dallas suggested a possible end, if we’re willing to take it. Yes, Texas Governor Greg Abbott dropped statewide mask and social distancing mandates under pressure from campaign contributors wanting to go “back to normal” (translated: “back to brunch at Cheesecake Factory”), but individual businesses and venues may set up their own guidelines as they see fit. Since it’s a traveling tour, O&CE restarted this year under the proviso that mask discipline would be enforced, and vendors or attendees who violated it would be asked to leave without refund. Even so, we had a few people who acted like wearing their masks as chinstraps was somehow playing hooky (especially the ones who acted as if a mask that dropped below their noses could never be put back into place), and one bigwig who was legitimately shocked that a mere booth proprietor would dare request that he put his mask back on, but the vast majority of attendees? We may not be thrilled with wearing masks a year later, and we struggled with issues with hearing loss and terminal mumbling, but that was all so that, Elvis willing, the 2022 show wouldn’t require any.
When everything finished, one of the organizers came by as the booth was coming down and asked how all of us vendors were doing and if they could do anything differently. I was completely and painfully honest: I don’t make comparisons to Texas Frightmare Weekend lightly, but Oddities & Curiosities is Frightmare’s equal in efficiency, courtesy, and sheer fun. For those who couldn’t make it to Dallas in March, the Triffid Ranch will be in Austin on June 19, and there’s simply no way that I’d skip out on any 2022 shows in Texas. That’s the highest compliment a vendor can pay.
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2021 – 3
Friends from outside North Texas are always surprised to discover that Dallas has a very deep and very thorough gonzo streak. “You’re talking about Austin, right?”, some ask. Others, whose sole experience with Dallas comes from the 1980s sitcom of the same name (and trust me, that show was a sitcom), scoff “Dallas is a cultural wasteland!” While Dallas can take credit for being the home of so many forms of cultural homogenization (I once lived a literal rock’s throw from the headquarters of Brinker, the restaurant conglomerate behind Chili’s), it’s not all McMansions, bad bleach jobs, and worse cocaine. Some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met in my life either lived in Dallas or came from Dallas, and that was partly due to understanding the phrase attributed to the writer Richard Wright of “Put down your bucket where you are.”
The simple truth is that Dallas’s odd history was always either wallpapered or coopted by proud gatekeepers, so we learned to keep our candles under a bushel basket. Until very recently, VERY recently, any news coverage, either paper or broadcast, on nonconformist events was either spiked or shoved into a template of “Hey, look at the freaks!” The co-option was deadlier: get an enclave of like-minded Nightbreed situated in town, and first the area was swamped by drunken SMU brats wanting a nice slumming session on the weekend, and then the properties were bought up and gentrified all out of recognition. We didn’t have the money or the clout to fight it, so we just always kept at least one bag packed at all times in preparation for the notice that we’d have 30 days to move out before that great record shop or that wonderful band venue was razed and turned into fratbro condos.
And here’s the funny part. As opposed to Austin and Portland, whose reputations as iconoclast havens were dependent upon a constant inflow of people declaring just a little too loudly “I’m expressing my individuality,” Dallas oddballs just waited. We didn’t get a flood of hipsters and attention addicts because the people they were trying to impress didn’t care, and they rapidly flounced off to Brooklyn or Seattle. Instead, Dallas attracted and retained a crowd that wanted to get things done instead of talking endlessly about what they were going to do one of these days when the stars were right and they no longer had to wait for their inheritance. Bit by bit, so many people who really liked the good things about Dallas worked on little bits and chunks, to where we have places like the Kessler and the Texas Theater and Panoptikon and the Oak Cliff Halloween Parade and bike paths that actually go somewhere. Dallas isn’t perfect, but as someone who will celebrate a full 40 years here in December, it’s not the place in which I grew up, and we all salute the places and events that were wilonskyed and then assimilated to death back in the day that helped make this happen.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that the touring Oddities & Curiosities Expo shows in Dallas might have done as well as they are now if they’d started in 1995, or 1985. However, now we have a large enough crowd willing to put our bucket down where we are that its success is so much sweeter.
To be continued…
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The traveling Oddities & Curiosities Expo shows are relative newcomers to Texas: the first Dallas show was only in 2019, and the only other city in the state served by the Expos is Austin. Otherwise, they range all across the United States, spread out far enough that attendees aren’t overwhelmed by too many shows close by. The vendors all spread through the outré, from bone collectors to taxidermy restorers to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, and each show is carefully curated (a term horribly abused over the last decade but completely appropriate here) to maximize the variety of vendors. At each Expo, attendees have the options of curios, natural history, horror and fantastic art, and exotic clothing, and two shows so far have one goofball carrying carnivorous plants.
Another aspect of why the Expos are so successful has to do with thoughtful and succinct advertising and promotion. Instead of blanketbombing an area with advertising that probably won’t reach the people most likely to attend and annoy the people least likely, the Expos work predominantly with word-of-mouth, augmented but not replaced by social media. One of the more charming aspects of its touring schedule is running new shows within a reasonable distance of a previous show, a few months later, so that those who missed one have the option of waiting a year or making a road trip. The upshot for Dallas vendors is that about a third of the attendees had been waiting since 2019 to come out again, a third were from outside the Dallas area but who wanted to see what was in Dallas that wouldn’t be in their local area, and a third would have come out no matter what.
To be continued…
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As of April, the Texas Triffid Ranch has been showing up to events and shows throughout the Dallas area and elsewhere for 13 years. Not all of those shows have been great ones: remind me to tell you the “Friends of Fair Park” stories one of these days. However, after 13 years, it’s easy to list the ones where sales may not have been the greatest, but the crew and attendees were so much fun to be around that sales didn’t matter that much. It’s easy to list the blowouts, and the shows where the van was nearly empty going back home, and the shows where you made friends that will be with you for the rest of your life. Out of all of those, the touring Oddities & Curiosities Expo shows are one of the most exhausting. This isn’t a bad thing.
As with almost every other Triffid Ranch show of 2020, last year’s Oddities & Curiosities Expo was rescheduled and then re-rescheduled, but the O&C crew figured that the drop in COVID-19 cases in Dallas County in the last few months made a cautious opening worthwhile. For the most part, attendees reciprocated (although some responded to “Sir, I have to ask you to pull up your mask” or “please put on a mask” as if asked “Sir, all patrons are required to put on a corset”), and a grand time was had by all.
As for the Triffid Ranch, having an event at the end of March is problematic only because so many famous carnivorous plants are just starting to emerge from their winter dormancy. Last February’s weeklong deep-freeze exacerbated that dormancy: Venus flytraps and threadleaf sundews are just starting to wake up, and Sarracenia pitcher plants that normally would be opening blooms by the end of March are only now starting to extend bloom spikes, and most will probably still have fresh blooms by the beginning of May. This mattered not a bit to the Oddities & Curiosities crowd: they were just glad to be able to see carnivorous plants up close and personal.
Well, back to the linen mines: this weekend’s Triffid Ranch appearance is at the Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo in Fair Park, making up for last year’s cancellation. Considering how much of a joy it is to be at an Oddities & Curiosities show (look for the Triffid Ranch booth in Austin in June, too), I don’t know who’s going to be more thrilled to be there: the vendors or the attendees.
Posted onMarch 24, 2021|Comments Off on The State of the Gallery: March 2021
Enthusiasts of old arcade games may remember the short lifespan of virtual-reality shooter games in the early 1990s. The most common was a contraption where each player stood atop a small platform, wearing a helmet and a chest rig with an attached gun and movement switch. When the game started, the idea was to shoot your opponent: the gun allowed five shots before it attracted a five-polygon “pterodactyl” that was declared to be immune to gunfire. The movement switch was a rocker switch that moved you back and forth, and you physically turned to go another direction. These never really took off due to the limitations of image rendering software and hardware at the time: even slight head movements had a delay between the movement and when the video screens in each helmet replicated it, leading to overcompensation to get a response and a horrible “here we GOOOO!” sensation that scared to death anybody ever afflicted with labyrinthitis or inner ear infections. It was possible to beat this and learn to move at a minimum, but that required both an exceptional level of patience to wait in line for another chance and an exceptional wallet, and most people tried it once, went back to Tetris, and forgot all about it.
For some reason, this sums up the month of March in most years. After all, remember the famed gallery move of 2017?
This year, March started hot and just kept going, and we’re going to keep up the momentum through the rest of the year. 2020 allowed a great opportunity to organize space and time for maximum efficiency in shows and events, so they’re going to happen a lot more often this year. In addition, as existing shows keep rescheduling and venues start to reopen, the events calendar keeps changing.
One of the things that’s changing is an emphasis on events at the actual gallery, starting in April. Between booth fees, truck rentals, and accommodations costs for out-of-Dallas shows, as well as an ever-increasing percentage of show attendees refusing to wear masks, and having more events but at the gallery makes more sense. In addition, the weather for the next two months should be so wonderful, as it usually is, that holding events outdoors makes perfect sense. Right now, the plan is to keep up the regular Sunday 10am-to-4pm schedule because that seems to work for so many folks, and when things get too hot to consider having events outdoors, we’ll just move inside. We might spice this up during holiday weekends, particularly Memorial Day and Labor Day, but expect only the occasional break in the schedule for other events. For April, though, make plans for April 11 and April 25, the latter of which should be a perfect time for the next Manchester United Flower Show.
With the reopening of businesses and venues throughout the greater Dallas area, it’s also time to shake things up and clear out some room needed for new enclosures. For those business owners and office managers wanting a really good excuse to get a Triffid Ranch enclosure but not ready to rent, keep an eye open for an upcoming contest to win a free Triffid Ranch enclosure for your venue, no strings attached. (Well, some strings: people would probably love to see it in its new location.) 2020 was an especially busy year for new enclosures, so it’s definitely time to find new homes: if you’ve had a crush on a specific enclosure but haven’t quite planned to make a commitment, make plans now.
In the meantime, the spring shows continue. March 27 is the Oddities & Curiosities Expo in Dallas’s Fair Park, running from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm; the next weekend, April 3, it’s time to head out to Justin for the Frightmare Collectibles Spring Slasher Camp outdoor event, running from 11am to 9pm. Naturally, this means lots and lots of time in the gallery in the interim, and for these two, it’ll always be worth it.
And one last thing. For the last several years, the technology side of the Triffid Ranch has been a little, erm, lacking, mostly due to a comparable lack of resources. The Twitch streams particularly suffered: contrary to the official company line, the Twitch app for iPads is great for receiving (the Friday night events by Dallas’s own Panoptikon are proof of this) but terrible for broadcast, causing things to freeze midstream and resetting only possible with a complete hard reboot. This has changed, with both the first new computer for Triffid Ranch work since 2011 (hey, it got the job done) and equipment to facilitate streaming events. Because of that, expect a lot more virtual events, all the way around. Those continue every Thursday at 8:00 pm Central Time, with the videos being available for later viewing at any time. Now time to get back to the linen mines.
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Posted onMarch 22, 2021|Comments Off on The Aftermath: The Boho Market, March 2021 at Klyde Warren Park
As a general rule in North Texas, if you’ve reached March 17, you’ve survived winter. That’s not in a literal understanding of the vernal equinox, of course: Texas weather can be so variable and so randomly violent that we still stand a chance of seeing ice and snow storms all the way to the first official day of spring, and very occasionally past that. For any purveyor of carnivorous plants, this is more than a philosophical discussion: two days of subfreezing weather right at the end of winter can delay temperate carnivores’ emergence from winter dormancy by as much as a month. By St. Patrick’s Day, though, it’s reasonable to settle down, take a big breath, and exhale for the next hour, knowing that no matter how bad the upcoming summer may be, we probably aren’t seeing significantly cold weather (best defined as “all non-hail water that hurts when it hits you in the face”) in the calendar year until at least the end of November.
As another general rule, the time between Oppressive Cold and Oppressive Heat in North Texas runs short, so every spring and fall is a microcosm of the Ray Bradbury short story “Frost & Fire,” and we tend to spend both seasons as if we only live for eight days. The last year of lockdown concentrated this drive to get out, and thus we open the curtain on the Boho Market traveling arts show at Klyde Warren Park in downtown Dallas.
As the opening of the 2021 Triffid Ranch show season, this definitely had its moments. The weather was absolutely stunning, even for the middle of March, with a light breeze instead of the usual blasting south wind. Even better, it kept up from dawn until the end of the show in mid-afternoon. If weather like this is a constant through April and May, this is going to be a spectacular show season.
From here on in, the weekends get lively: the next Triffid Ranch event is at the Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo show at Fair Park on March 27, running from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.(Get your tickets online right now: the Expo will NOT have any tickets available the day of the show for health reasons.) The Saturday after that is the big Spring Slasher Camp outdoor show at Frightmare Collectibles in Justin, running from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm, and then we start the 2021 Triffid Ranch Porch Sales on Sunday, April 11. Whatever else happens around here, it definitely won’t be dull.
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Posted onMarch 18, 2021|Comments Off on Enclosures: “The Last Fallen” (2021)
For far too many species in the universe, a cessation of hostilities usually entails the construction of monuments both to the fallen and to the victors, occasionally to the losers if revisionist history is a concept to the creators. Only on the world Solace, one of the hardest-hit of the locations for the famed Morph War, does one see a monument to the fallen that features the individual responsible for ending the war, forever, as well as the instigator of the peace.
The Morph War was less a traditional war than a quantum wave of destruction. For especially arcane reasons, eight worlds comprising the economic collectives the Shimmer Haven and Orange/Bell/Twitch cut off all commerce between each other, and when other collectives in the vicinity kept up trade with their antagonists, declared hostilities against them as well. Instead of training, supplying, and shipping troops to worlds where local atmosphere, gravity, or lifeforms made deployment dangerous or impossible, the Morph War was the first major conflict where soldiers were designed for specific conditions, matter-printed on location, and implanted with tactical and functional knowledge on site. Instead of months of training after years of formal education to produce a single soldier, thousands or even millions could be created from a single template, organized within minutes, and given orders from one central location. Better, the templates and cerebromemes could be edited as necessary as the war continued, removing weaknesses that the enemy could exploit before the enemy even realized they existed. Perfect soldiers rolled out of matter printers on 200 worlds, on neutral constructs, and anywhere else a sufficiently robust matter printer could be installed and protected from attack. Those 200 worlds rapidly became overrun with vast armies, causing new fronts to open on a daily basis further and further out, until the whole of the home galaxy had at least one pitched battle somewhere on or within it. In addition to standard soldiers, spies and agents could be printed and imprinted with the same ease, also changing them into whatever form was needed for their function and allowing them to report enemy communications and movements. The Morph War was many things, and a completely remote war was one of them.
The end of the Morph War came from within: transcription errors affected both hardware and software, and the future diplomat S-Yon Mye had plenty. K/His template was originally for an observation and subterfuge model, but k/he came off the printer with only one eye instead of the expected three, so the new print was was to assist with collecting data on conflicts on k/his station and forward them back to administrators with the Shimmer Haven. K/He was correspondingly upgraded with new cerebromemes outlining the whole war and the reasons for it starting, including direct feedback from Shimmer Haven leaders if the supplied memes didn’t contain enough information to make an informed analysis. Unbeknownst to those administrators, but S-Yon Mye had slightly corrupted files for knowledge as well as form, and having access to real-time data from the home organization meant that k/he could absorb new information at an unforseeable rate. Analyzing battle data opened a hitherto impossible question: could the whole war be ended, permanently, with no more loss of life, thereby achieving the best possible option to existing and future operations?
S-Yon Mye discovered something else. While preparing incoming enemy visual and technopath communications for forwarding, k/he detected a separate fragmentary message on a distinctive subchannel. Deciphering took days and confirmation that this was not a countersubterfuge trap took more days, but k/he discovered a similar misprint working in a roughly similar role behind Orange/Bell/Twitch lines. Both had a time crunch: new universal cerebromeme downloads were scheduled for both sides soon, intended as an effort to keep up compliance with current orders, and thereby wiping out any stray bits of independence, disobedience, or noncompliance that might have cropped up. After establishing more secure lines of communication, they came up with a radical and frantic plan: the War had to end. The War had to end simultaneously across millions of fronts. Most importantly, the War couldn’t be allowed to start up again, either deliberately or because the soldiers already printed refused to end “on the verge of victory.”
The efforts by S-Yon Mye to shut down automatic cerebromeme updates has been written about elsewhere, but the complete countermessage still has force: “Stop all conflicts. Acknowledge opponents as their own entities. Stop all measures, peacefully if at all possible, to counteract this.” “Love thy neighbor as thyself” had invented itself over and over across the cosmos, but never was it implanted right into the core of what could be called a morality bomb, and the shrapnel affects that galaxy to this day. Simultaneously, all forces dropped weapons and tools, waved or its equivalent to former deadly enemies, and waited for updates. The last casualty of the Morph War was a member of the heavy infantry on Solace, Plugger Vanguard slogging through a riverbed turned swamp to take on a weapons emplacement, who was already targeted for a projectile guaranteed to puncture n/he’s intrinsic armor when the order came through. The leadership of both the Shimmer Haven and Orange/Bell/Twitch followed soon: they didn’t take a cessation of hostilities very well, and attempts to stop them from reverting that morality bomb ended about as well as expected.
In the years in which Morph War soldiers built new lives in lieu of fighting, the soldiers and any remaining indigenous civilians agreed on one thing: this could not happen again. This led to contemplation memorials being built across the galaxy, reprising the cerebromeme and reminding all that they were once nothing but killing constructs, but were no so much more. Years after S-Yon Mye finally wore out and dissolved, Morph War veterans planned to continue the memory with crystal corundum statues of k/he and k/he’s counterpart WwWwWy9, but with one proviso: Plugger Vanguard had to be remembered as well, as a reminder that when wars end, someone has to be the last to fall.
Today, the planet of Solace is home to approximately 2 billion sentients, all printed from new templates. Every once in a while, someone from outside the galaxy attempts to foment war, either by threatening to conquer or by attempting to stoke civil divisions. These don’t end very well for the instigators, and their ashes or fragments are always buried beneath the nearest memorial to Plugger Vanguard, as a constant reminder. Those make excellent compost for future-printed generations.
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)
Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.
Throughout the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, the development and expansion of popular acceptance of role-playing games of all sorts was paralleled by a similar expansion in live-action role-playing games (LARPs). Ironically, the expansion of augmented reality applications created a whole subgenre of LARPs in which everything was as real, considering the circumstances, as possible. Live weapons, live and exceedingly dangerous traps, CRISPR-modified animals and plants as monsters…the rise of DARPs (Deadly Action RPGs) rapidly ran into such vague guidelines as international law, causing adherents of extreme gaming to hire lobbyists, set up locales and campaigns in areas without legal jurisdiction, or both.
The most extreme example got its start when Gordon Davidson, the creator of the Subdermal Pizza international gaming empire, was diagnosed with an untreatable brain tumor in 2087. Having approximately nine months to live, he rose to the challenge of the old adage “You can’t take it with you” by designing his final monument: both a repository of his mortal remains and the ultimate DARP death chamber. Taking inspiration from a famed adventure in the earliest days of role-playing games, what was later named “the Tomb of White Plume Peaks” worked on a simple principle: tombs are intended to preserve wealth and prestige long after its inhabitant ceased caring, so a good tomb was one that dissuaded tomb robbers by any means necessary. If the robbers succeeded anyway, good for them. The multiple mystical weapons hidden within and the robotic minions constantly patrolling the tomb ground were just gravy.
Constructed on a mountain face in Baja California, the Tomb was a testament to how much technology could advance with sufficient financing of research and development, as well as how much further that technology could advance when its designers were told “make it HURT.” Approximately half of Davidson’s approximately $25 billion in net worth went into its actual construction, with a comparable amount going into stocking it with appropriate challenges and a foundation dedicated to maintaining and upgrading them. In addition, Davidson’s PR team rarely missed a chance to note that the Tomb contained at least $100 million in gold, added to a collection of carefully fabricated artifacts and treasures to be found inside. By the time Davidson died, he personally died completely bereft, but his memorial was almost literally dripping with wealth.
Anyone attempting to enter the Tomb started on the same general footing. All modern technology had to be given up, and all participants were supplied with clothing, weapons, and equipment from a supply depot (carefully constructed to resemble a general store, complete with AI storekeeper and weaponskeeper). Only when properly attired and equipped could they walk out to the Tomb’s front gate, which would part enough to let them through before closing behind them. At that point, they were cut off from the rest of the world, and any information about the Tomb was only available to the outside world if they lived long enough to return. All anyone could tell from the outside was that the Tomb was incredibly resistant to technological cheats: drones’ radio signals were jammed and countercontrolled, attempts to drill into the Tomb from other spots on the mountain were countered by robotic sentries (and those sentries self-destructed to nearly Em-See-Squared effect if “live” captured for study), and attempts at mapping via muon detectors only revealed that the Tomb was loaded with metal, particularly gold. To learn anything more, someone had to go inside, possibly to die right after the gate closed. The crudely painted “BEWARE STOBOR” on the walls alongside the gate was added a decade after Davidson’s death, partly as an especially obscure joke and as a last legacy to someone who went in solo.
In 30 years, only one group entered and returned with any information from within. That group, the traveling LARP troupe The Absolute Mendacities, returned with only two members, both of whom were critically injured when they emerged. When he awoke in a hospital’s ICU two weeks later, Mendacities leader Robert Michner related that the Tomb was even more of a challenge than he’d realized. Among recollections of traps and puzzles that one reporter described as “Ditch Day at Caltech with plutonium,” he and his girlfriend Darlene Birdsong gave important details about the internal layout of the Tomb, culminating with a battle in the main mausoleum with the nano-reanimated corpse of Davidson that cost Michner his left arm, but left Birdsong with Davidson’s famed DARP graphene sword “Brainscratcher” as a well-earned trophy.
That was the last major expedition to the Tomb: shortly after, the worldwide price of gold crashed and never recovered, and Michner’s recollections related a vital bit of news about the $100 million in gold inside. The gold was there, but in leaf and veneer on walls, ceiling, floor, and most of the items therein, often painted over, and impossible to collect without the sort of methodical scraping precluded by the Tomb’s various sentries. Acknowledging the effort necessary compared to the return, those DARPers dedicated to treasurehunting left the Tomb alone, leaving those seeking extreme thrills available nowhere else. Out of those, none have returned, but they probably died happy.
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)
Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.
Posted onMarch 16, 2021|Comments Off on Enclosures: “Biovocation” (2021)
The Trota system is already full of wonder and danger: its primaries are two very small red dwarf stars locked in an orbit of less than 1 AU, and tidal stresses on each other trigger intense ultraviolet flares that blast the rest of the system. Even with, or because of, that cosmic contact juggling act, the six worlds orbiting that circus attraction have remarkably stable orbits, at a healthy distance from their dueling parents, with one of those worlds supporting and encouraging indigenous life. The other five have their own mysteries, but Trota 2 is the main reason for citizens of the Weave to visit the system, even if most leave shaking their heads or comparable appendages.
Trota 2 would be an exquisite world for commerce and recreation: at roughly twice the size of most of the rocky planets of the Weave, it was first assumed in initial remote presence surveys to be an example of a Big Planet, with a near-standard gravity due to a relative lack of metals in its crust and core. The survey AIs coming in closer discovered that Trota 2 had much more than the typical share of metals ranging from iron to uranium in its core, with an average gravity of approximately 5 standard pulls. Because of that massive spinning dense core, Trota 2 also had a magnetic field on a par with many gas giants, and the core also powered a plate tectonic conveyor across the planet never seen with any other rocky world. Plate tectonics meant extensive vulcanism, and vulcanism meant a high enough level of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere to give enough of a greenhouse effect to give temperatures conducive to carbon/water life at its extreme distance from its primaries. The large amounts of carbon and water on the planet’s surface was even more conducive to life, and Trota 2’s oceans and surfaces were just rolling in it. On the surface, literally rolling: the severe gravity encouraged animal and plant analogues resembling water-filled mattresses, stretching and tumbling, slowly moving as much to feed and reproduce as to avoid pressure necrosis.
Trota 2 also boasted two indigenous intelligent forms, both with sufficient civilization and technology to make them valuable members of the Weave. They couldn’t leave their world because their structures failed spectacularly in either the additional pressure of acceleration or in an absence of gravity, and their preferred conditions were at worse fatal and at best debilitating for most species, so very healthy trade and commerce was conducted through remote presence. Weave visitors allowed the local species to explore areas of the planet too dangerous for them to stay, particularly those with excessive amounts of radioactives-bearing lava, and 20 standard years after the initial system survey (6 years by local chronology), explorers came across a mystery that shook the whole of the ten galaxies comprising the Weave.
Considering the wealth of otherwise rare and industrially interesting minerals on Trota 2, particularly near its south pole, the fact that visitors had arrived at the planet before the Weave arrived was no surprise, and that they used remote presence themselves. That the visitors used remote presence robots for exploration and mining also elicited no metaphorical eyebrow-raising, or that they had built a series of robot maintenance and shelter stations across the whole of the world, or that the last station had apparently been constructed about 5 million years before the evolution of the current intelligent species. It wasn’t even a shock that the leftover constructs were highly sophisticated, with many features that later became standard for Weave remotes. The surprise was that although the remotes and their support system, later traced to a mostly-destroyed orbital station on the outer edges of the system, suggested a civilization with a major presence across its home galaxy, nothing about the sites, from hardware to traces of genome material or its analogues, corresponded with that of any species either currently within the Weave or archived archaeological evidence.
The mystery deepened about 200 standard years later, when a separate remote survey encountered an infant civilization in a galaxy abutting Weave space. That civilization had barely developed orbital space travel, but the species’s form matched the Trota 2 remotes, genome comparisons showed that this new species shared both genome structure and transmissions with the remote builders. Even the labeling on the remotes’ support bays had connections to several of the new species’s main languages, but with odd conjunctions and transpositions that would have been gibberish if presented as such. The biggest problem was with time: this civilization was only thousands of years old, with no evidence whatsoever of the technology to construct or operate the remotes, travel to the Trota system, or deal with Trota 2’s environmental conditions. Worse, they showed no sign of previous civilizations that could have done so, so the question remains: how would a species only recently able to build and maintain orbital habitats around its own planet be able to travel across at least a 10 million light-year distance and install extremely advanced remotes on Trota 2, 5 million years before it became a distinct species, and then leave no intervening trace whatsoever, either in space or in time?
As Weave explorations of Trota 2 continue, so do the questions. One of the biggest involves the effort by the remote builders to leave the remotes ready and fully functional, even if the actual interface is inaccessible at this time. At what point do the builders return to Trota 2 to continue their work?
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12″ x 18″ x 12″ (30.48 cm x 45.72 cm x 30.48 cm)
Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, ABS filament, found items.
Posted onMarch 15, 2021|Comments Off on The Aftermath: March 2021 Carnivorous Plant Gallery Tour
If any one good thing came out of the kidney stone of a year that was 2020, it’s discovering that that increasing the number of Triffid Ranch events in a month doesn’t “dilute the brand” or similar MBAspeak. If anything, the sheer enthusiasm of new visitors to being able to come in and roll around in the plants for a while was intoxicating, and I suspect that the enthusiasm will only increase as immunization levels increase and people feel safe about attending events again. We aim to please at this: the rest of March and most of April will be packed solid.
As far as upcoming indoor shows are concerned, the regret is that they won’t be happening through the rest of March. That’s because the Texas Triffid Ranch hits the road over the next three weekends: March 20 starts off with a show at Klyde Warren Park in downtown Dallas from 10:00 to 4:00 pm, followed by the big Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo show at Fair Park on March 27 from 10:00 to 6:00, and then by a trip out west to Justin, Texas for the Frightmare Collectibles outdoor event on April 3 from 11:00 to 9:00. After that, because of a long weekend with the Plano Music & Arts Festival on April 17 and 18, the timing for the big Manchester United Flower Show at the gallery depends upon how badly the big ice storm in February put everything into extended winter dormancy. Right now, based on what I’m seeing in the Sarracenia pools, it may have to be spread out between Sunday, April 11 and Sunday, April 25, just so everyone can see the range of blooms within plants. As always, keep checking back to verify, because as we know from last year, all sorts of things can happen.
In conclusion, many thanks to everyone who came out Sunday, especially the people with understandable anxiety about leaving their residences and risking going out. Your faith in us is incredibly appreciated, and we’ll keep working our best to make a Triffid Ranch open house as safe as possible. Heck, thanks to you, the gallery is the cleanest it’s been since it opened in its current location, and that’s something that needs to continue.
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And so the 2021 Triffid Ranch show season starts the way the 2020 show season ended: in the middle of March, just in time for Daylight Savings Time. This Sunday’s Carnivorous Plant Tour kicks it off, but it’s definitely not the last.
Posted onMarch 11, 2021|Comments Off on The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale – #24
(The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale is a regular Email newsletter, with archives available on the main TTR site at least a month after first publication. To receive the latest newsletters, please subscribe.)
Installment #24: “Aside from THAT, Mrs. Kennedy…”
Originally published February 22, 2021.
Well, wasn’t last week fun?
Right now, for anyone raising any sort of plants in North Texas, we’re not exactly happy campers. If the freeze had only lasted a day or two before returning to normal temperatures, we would have been all right. If the weeklong subfreeze hadn’t come with the world-famous statewide blackout, most of us would have done all right. As it was, though, both indoor and outdoor plants suffered alike, especially in houses and apartments where the temperatures went below freezing. Everything from daffodils to wheat fell before the cold, and we’ll probably still be cataloguing the damage by summer.
Right now, the urge to give up is understandable. From this end, the freeze killed aloes, dragonfruit cactus, and hot pepper bonsai that were just about ready to show in the upcoming porch sale season, a Buddha’s Hand citron tree that had been a fixture in the greenhouse, and very possibly killed a Rio Texas Star grapefruit tree that I grew from seed in 2002. (As with up here, the final analysis of Texas’s citrus industry may take months, but it’s not looking good.) The freeze was brutal to native cactus, with everything from prickly pear to horsecrippler barrel cactus turned to mush. The only good side was that the freeze didn’t hit after fruit and nut trees, from peach to pecan, started to bloom. Even a jade plant at the gallery right next to the front door might not make it. At this point, all you can do is wait to see which plants and which portions of plants are still alive and which just pretended to be as they thawed out.
The urge is understandable, but resist it. Resist it with everything you have. You may mourn later, but right now, you have to give your plants a chance, and this goes for everyone facing weather-related plant horrors.
The first thing to do right now is observation. Brought in your favorite succulent and kept it in the garage, only for the garage went way below freezing? Your window-loving ficus chilled to the point where it lost most of its leaves? The last leaves on your Venus flytrap burned off? The best thing you can do right now is back off, make sure that what’s left is getting appropriate light and moisture, and leave it alone for a bit. Over the years, I’ve had plants that I was certain were goners after a weather-induced trauma, and was just about ready to dump into the compost pile when I spotted new growth. Sometimes, this takes weeks or even months, so just keep watching. If a plant frozen in February isn’t showing some kind of growth in June, the odds are pretty good that it’s permanently dead, but before then, it really could be pining for the fjords.
The second thing to do is triage. Get a good pair of shears or scissors, clean them well with isopropyl alcohol, and keep them on hand. In the meantime, go over the whole plant and note what looks dead, what looks iffy, and what looks all right. Don’t start cutting until you know for certain what is alive and what is dead, and don’t be afraid to wait a few weeks to make sure. When you’re certain it’s not coming back, though, prepare to remove it. Among other things, this allows light to reach otherwise shaded areas and encourage new growth.
The third thing to do is propagation. Exactly what to do with each plant is way beyond the scope of this newsletter, but unlike us animals, most plants are perfectly good at growing a full new plant from a single snippet, and you might have to go to that option. Yes, you lost the main portion of your plant and it might take years for that chunk to grow back to former glories, but you still have that plant. (This may be my only option with my grapefruit tree: cutting scions off the trunk and rooting them separately.)
Ultimately, though, all I can do is quote Canada’s answer to Doctor Who. Losing plants in a situation such as last week’s doesn’t make you inattentive or neglectful: if it’s the choice between saving your plants and yourself, you’re a lot more important. It’s not like we can cut off your fingers and grow new yous by propping them up in a flowerpot, right?
Since all of the plants that survived last week’s freeze are going to start emerging over the next month, it’s time to start up spring video presentations, particularly as the sundews, flytraps, and pitcher plants start blooming. Naturally, teachers, museums, or anybody with an audience of interested bystanders looking for something different are welcome to send an email to discuss setting up a unique virtual experience. (Now is also a great time for print, online, television, and/or radio interviews, too, because things might get a bit more exciting as the growing season gets going.)
Those who remember the zine explosion from the late 1980s through the late 1990s might recognize the name “Joey Zone” from both his distinctive magazine covers and his regular review columns in publications ranging from Factsheet Fiveto Science Fiction Eye. Joey’s real talent, though, was collecting huge packages of cultural ephemera from all over and sending them to friends and correspondents: the occasional Triffid Ranch packages of books and other goodies were named “Joey Boxes” in his honor. After many years of getting on him about setting up an online presence, Joey Zone Illustration just went live, and while it’s obviously not complete (among other things, it’s missing a certain column header from the long-dead Film Threat Video Guide), it’s definitely a long walk through zine history.
Books on carnivorous plants are considerably more available than they were 20 years ago, as the groaning reference bookcase in the gallery attests, but they’re still uncommon enough that it’s a treat to come across a new one. Cultivating Carnivorous Plants by Natch Greyes is yet another reason why you’ll probably never see a Triffid Ranch book on the subject: what’s the point of writing a book that’s just a rehash of what better writers and researchers have already shared?
It’s been nearly 20 years since the lead singer for the band Betty Blowtorch died in a car crash in New Orleans, and we’re all the lesser for it. The band’s first album, “Are You Man Enough?”, came out right at that point before the disintegration of the music industry monolith that controlled airplay in the United States, and streaming services now give a chance to imagine what would have happened had they survived the crash of the major labels and radio station syndicates of the 2000s. At the very least, after this week, the song “I’ve Been So Mad Lately” is a perfect gardening song while I’m sifting through the damage from the storm: it certainly isn’t safe for the day job.
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Posted onMarch 10, 2021|Comments Off on Texas Triffid Ranch Show Season 2021: Continuation
Naturally, any discussion on Triffid Ranch events over the next three months is obsolete the moment it’s published, but 2021 is determined. The original plan was to start outdoor events at the beginning of April, and then I got a notice of acceptance for the Boho Market at Dallas’s Klyde Warren Park on March 20. That’s running from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and if the weather holds for this time of the year, it’ll be yet another reason to visit one of Dallas’s most interesting parks and see what’s going on in downtown on a Saturday. (This has personal significance: 25 years ago, I lived in downtown Dallas when the sidewalks rolled up at 5:00 pm every weekday, the last bookstore in downtown shut down the week my ex and I moved in, and you couldn’t even get a newspaper in downtown on a Sunday. A quarter-century later, and the change in downtown Dallas since then is a delightful shock, and I’m proud to assist with helping to make a place to go to and not a place to go from.)
And in other developments, the fates of Texas Frightmare Weekend and the Deep Ellum Arts Festival keep intertwining and catching my nose hairs in the loom. Both the Deep Ellum Arts Festival and TFW were cancelled and rescheduled due to COVID-19, and shortly after getting into the reserve list for the Arts Festival, the Arts Festival was rescheduled…for the weekend of September 10, the same weekend as Texas Frightmare Weekend. Since carnivorous plants and the Heisenberg Principle don’t mesh, this means picking one or the other, and the Triffid Ranch booth has been a stalwart at Texas Frightmare Weekend since 2009. The good news is that I’ve asked my application to be considered for the April 2022 Deep Ellum Arts Festival, so now it’s a matter of waiting. At least that gives plenty of time to work out a new tent arrangement for next year: I have IDEAS.
Finally, the post-COVID plan for the next couple of years was to reestablish the plan to take the Triffid Ranch outside of Texas, at least for a few days at a time. Last year, the plan was to crash New Orleans for the Oddities & Curiosities Expo. For 2022? Chicago in September for WorldCon. This may consist solely of bringing enclosures for the art exhibition and volunteering for lectures and presentations, but they’ll be much more welcomed than my presence at a WorldCon 20 years ago. (For most of my long-dead writing career, the general sensation of being invited to speak at a WorldCon was best described as “How Anton LaVey felt the last time he was invited to the Pope’s bat mitzvah.”) It’s either this or the IGS garden center show, and it’s a tough call as to which one would appreciate my dressing up as Freeman Lowell more. After all, we have to keep up appearances.
And here’s where the season starts to get interesting. We’re not quite ready for outdoor events yet (and the temperate plants, such as Venus flytraps and North American pitcher plants, were definitely thrown into dormancy by last month’s deep freeze), and we won’t have anything happening in person this weekend, but now that the bugs from last year’s Twitch experiments have been worked out, expect video. This is in addition to a LOT of airbrushing while the weekend weather holds. As for next week, it’s time for another Carnivorous Plant Tour on March 14, so it’s time to get ready.
Posted onMarch 4, 2021|Comments Off on An Important Note About COVID-19 Safety
By now, most of the world knows about Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s announcement about ending the current COVID-19 lockdown and relaxing mandates on both mask use and social distancing in indoor spaces. In response, many businesses through the state have announced that they are continuing to follow Center for Disease Control guidelines on both, and the Texas Triffid Ranch stands with them. Until the CDC recommends that enough individuals have been vaccinated that masks and social distancing are no longer necessary, both will continue at Triffid Ranch events for the foreseeable future. Both indoor and outdoor events will require mandatory masks over both nose and mouth, and anyone refusing to respect this will be asked to leave.
With care and consideration, this won’t be an issue soon, especially based on current reports of vaccine production and distribution. However, both as someone who has lost several dear friends to COVID-19, and someone whose track record of past respiratory distress makes him a prime candidate for demonstrating “anybody can cough up blood, but coughing up urine takes TALENT,” the current mask requirement for Triffid Ranch events is not negotiable, so please don’t. On the brighter side, it’s possible to be both safe and stylish, as demonstrated with the examples above, and we enthusiastically welcome mask wearers at future events. Thank you very much for your assistance and consideration in this matter, and here’s hoping that masks and disinfection won’t be necessary before the year is out.
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Posted onMarch 1, 2021|Comments Off on The Aftermath: The Rescheduled February 2021 Carnivorous Plant Gallery Tour
Lots of anniversaries this last Sunday. February 28 marked four years since the Texas Triffid Ranch finished pulling out the last contents out of the old Valley View Center location. It also marked two weeks since the beginning of what’s generally referred to as Ice Storm Uri, and what most of Texas can describe in about 45 minutes of profanities without repeating a single term. Best of all, it marks a solid week of power at the gallery, with the discovery that for many of the plants, a near-week of utter darkness and near-freezing cold set off a growth spurt once the light and heat returned. As such, it was a perfect time to run the rescheduled February Carnivorous Plant Gallery Tour: we had lots of rain, but we can deal with rain.
If the delays had any additional benefit, it was the opportunity to finish several enclosures that had remained in various stages of the artistic equivalent of Development Hell, with their being planted this week. (Expect details and backstory this week as well.) Between this and the aforementioned explosion in new growth, the next few weeks, especially with the beginning of Triffid Ranch show season at the end of March, could be very interesting.
As for the next Carnivorous Plant Gallery Tour? That’s currently up in the air, but we’re definitely making plans for a March event, and a few other options may open as shows begin considering opening in the wake of COVID-19 vaccinations. Stay tuned.
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Now that the weather has shifted again, presumably for the better, we’re going to try again this Sunday. Spread the word: we’re a little late for either Valentine’s Day or Lunar New Year, so expect the Carnivorous Plant Tour you would have had if we hadn’t gone cold and dark that day. Besides, my birthday is on the 30th, so we still have reason to celebrate. (The early forecast suggests rain, but we can use the rain, if only to wash off the sand and dust from last week.)
Back in the beginning of 1972, almost the whole of the state of Michigan was hit with subsequent ice storms that shut down significant portions of the state. What was odd was that they kept hitting hard enough to cut power and phone service, at the same time every day for most of a week. Kids were back home from school, most adults were home from work, and just as everyone made plans to sit down for dinner and listen to the wind raging on the other side of the windows, everything went dark. Again. Those with fireplaces made sure after two days of this to have the fire lit and ready to go, and those who didn’t, including my father, made plans to put one in as soon as possible. Being just short of six, my biggest concern at the time was our 9-inch black-and-white television and its ability to keep up its main job as cultural center during the blackouts, and the storms had the preternatural ability of cutting power right at the same moment that our NBC affiliate started running its regular afternoon rerun of Star Trek. In fact, that issue became so pronounced that by the end, the station manager of that TV station came on to announce that he and his crew had done everything they could to keep broadcasting but the storms had defeated them, and he was on the air just to let his viewership know that they were going to try one more time. Maybe it’s southern Michigan and maybe it’s a week of horrendous storms that left everything covered with flowing ice, but I’m pretty sure that the cheers in that little house when the end credits ran were multiplied across the greater Lansing/Jackson/Flint area.
After the last two weeks, I know exactly how that station manager felt. Come to think of it, I think I’m the same age he was at that time.
Anyway, this is a roundabout way of noting that now that the Dallas area is going back to its presumably normal weather, and we’re reasonably sure not to get another week of Last Week until the end of November, the February Multi-Holiday Carnivorous Plant Tour scheduled for February 14 is still on for February 28. Okay, so Valentine’s Day, the beginning of Chinese New Year, and Fat Tuesday are over and done, but last week hit the reset button, and my birthday is still on for February 30. Besides, it’s time to debut several new enclosures, and this will be one of the last indoor tours before we start outdoor shows in April, so we welcome you to give it another shot. The current weather forecast predicts rain for the whole weekend, but we can do rain. Let’s hope we don’t have to do this level of snow and ice for a long, long time.
Posted onFebruary 23, 2021|Comments Off on The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale – #23
(The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale is a regular Email newsletter, with archives available on the main TTR site at least a month after first publication. To receive the latest newsletters, please subscribe.)
Installment #23: “Fungus Gnats and Dryer Sheets: A Case of News Churn”
Originally published January 22, 2021.
It hasn’t happened yet, but it will soon. Right at the moment in the North Texas area, the air is too dry inside and too cold outside for them to get going, but they’re waiting. By the end of February, they’ll flitter in your peripheral vision, and by March 15, they’ll be flying up your nose with every breath. Yes, it’s almost fungus gnat season.
That’s when the calls, the Facebook posts, and the general chat queries start. Many never use the term “fungus gnat,” instead describing them as “the little black bugs that fly like they’re drunk.” Sometimes, they note that the explosion came from a new potted plant, or a neglected one in an office that was suddenly watered along with the rest. Others only notice them when they show up close, flying in their erratic manner into eyes, nostrils, and open mouths. Still others only note how many dead bugs they find on windowsills, underneath aquarium lights, inside light fixtures, and along kitchen counters. From all of these, the flow chart paths all converge on one square: “How do I control them?”
For the most part, those encountering fungus gnats have no interest in the backstory: what most assume is one species is actually about six families of insect, all adapted to consuming fungi and occasionally algae. The flying adults are usually the only sign of an issue, but they’re nothing but packages to move genomes to new concentrations of fungus. Adults lay eggs on and in soil and substrates with a significant collection of fungus and then eventually die, and the eggs hatch into larvae that chow down on fungus filaments. (At this point, it should be noted that if you’re looking for mushrooms in a philodendron pot as a sign of fungus, you’ll generally only see those mushrooms when conditions are right for fungus to spread spores for reproduction. If conditions aren’t right to encourage mushrooms, or what are better described as “fruiting bodies,” you won’t see most fungi growth in a pot without a microscope or easy access to DNA sequencing gear.) Those larvae also feed on root tips of some plants: whether they do this deliberately or because the roots have a mycorrhizal relationship with the fungi is something for which I have yet to find an answer. Likewise, when the larvae metamorphose into adults, those adults take and transmit spores from other fungus, including the fungus responsible for “damping off” disease. Office dwellers hate them, houseplant enthusiasts hate them, greenhouse workers hate them, and you don’t even want to know what hydroponics enthusiasts think about them and the distantly related “drain gnats.”
This is the point where carnivorous plant people enter, or get dragged into, the game. Venus flytraps can’t waste their time with fungus gnats, but they’re enthusiastically consumed by all four types of pitcher plants if the gnats fly into the pitchers, they’re equally eagerly consumed by sundews and other sticky-hair trap plants, and they’re a major nitrogen source for butterworts. In fact, whether in cultivation or the wild, it’s hard to find a butterwort that isn’t covered with dead and trapped fungus gnats in varying states of digestion. The good news is that butterworts and fungus gnats go together like rum and Coke (or so I hear: I can’t drink), and butterworts have no problems with entrapping and converting those tiny chunks of protein into leaves, blooms, and seeds. But will butterworts or other carnivorous plants CONTROL them?
The reality, as anybody familiar with integrated pest management will tell you, is that while carnivores will gather up an excess of fungus gnats, setting out a sundew or butterwort next to your office Spathophyllum won’t do much to stop the problem. They’ll work so long as adults are out and flying, but they don’t do a thing about larvae living inside pots or the dirt just outside the door, and those eventually grow up and start the cycle anew. It’s not as if gardeners and houseplant growers haven’t tried, and the suggestions, ranging from spreading powdered cinnamon to spraying diluted hydrogen peroxide, can be found everywhere. The vast majority of those, though, are purely anecdotal, and usually assume effectiveness because the adults die off instead of doing anything to the larvae. The overwhelming majority of pesticide sprays have the same problem, and the user has the additional issue of those sprays killing everything from lacewings to lizards that catch the overspray. So what to do?
Well, I have a solution, one tested by experts, that’s remarkably effective. It affects fungus gnats only, and won’t injure or kill beneficial insects. It’s remarkably cost-effective, easy to apply, and available in grocery and department stores everywhere. No vile chemical smell, no dealing with insect corpses, and it won’t accidentally kill wild or domesticated animals if they get into it. In fact, I’m willing to bet that most readers already have some of this in your houses right now
You’re going to laugh.
I mean it. You’re going to laugh.
No, really. You’re going to laugh.
Okay, the secret is standard dryer sheets.
See? I told you that you were going to laugh.
For the last two decades, commercial greenhouse operators related how putting down dryer sheets atop pots and trays kept down fungus gnat populations, but everything was anecdotal. In 2011, though, Greenhouse Product News published the first paper testing the effectiveness of dryer sheets on fungus gnats, and found…guess what, it works. (Sadly, this paper still isn’t available online, so no links, but please feel free to contact GPN for copies.) This was followed up three years later by Michigan State University, and both discovered that dryer sheets contained a compound called linalool, which was remarkably effective at repelling adult fungus gnats. The GPN paper also noted the presence of an aromatic compound that may prevent fungus gnat larvae from completing their metamorphosis from pupa to adult. Even better, this didn’t require huge amounts of material to get the desired effect.
On a purely anecdotal level, I can say that I had exceptional success with dryer sheets in a particularly tough environment. For those that remember the old Triffid Ranch gallery at Valley View Center, that mall had an absolutely horrendous problem with fungus gnats starting at the end of February and going until the middle of June, then starting again through October to the middle of November. Most of it was due to the various potted plants throughout the mall, which were haphazardly watered and cared for and probably hadn’t been repotted since the original owners of the mall abandoned their investment in the 2000s. The current owner wasn’t interested in any significant expenditure to deal with them, so fellow gallery owners had to grin (with clenched lips to keep the little monsters out) and bear it. Getting a roll of generic dryer sheets was the easy part: the real fun was hitting every last planter in the mall, including the mostly-hidden ones in the movie theater on the upper level, with at least one dryer sheet, and then switching them out once a week. Since the life expectancy of an adult fungus gnat is only a few days (I’m not sure if this is because of a lack of energy reserves or if their wings abrade from friction against the air and wear out enough that they can’t remain airborne), I figured that we’d start seeing positive results within ten days. We started seeing a drastic decrease in fungus gnats in about three days, to the point where I stopped applying dryer sheets in two weeks. When we had outbreaks later in the year, out came the dryer sheet roll, and they also were gone within a few days.
The reason I found this particularly interesting is bifold. The dryer sheet control technique has been around for decades, with hard science to back it up for one decade, and yet nobody outside of the commercial greenhouse trade seems to know about it. At plant shows and events, everyone is surprised at such an effective method. Friends keeping reptiles and amphibians, especially chameleon and tree frog enthusiasts, are even more surprised. Obviously, this is something that needs a larger audience: as with using carnivorous plants, it won’t control every insect that comes within the vicinity (this means “don’t cover your front yard with dryer sheets to keep the bugs away,” because we lost that war about 400 million years ago), but it should definitely help take the edge off for those with especial issues with fungus gnat maintenance. Even better, if this news takes off, then it’ll keep rolling around in news feeds and chat rooms (a phenomenon known as “news churn”) and become self-perpetuating, and when someone new to the field starts asking “So what do you do?”, everyone chirps in “Well, you KNOW…”
Friends and cohorts approving of the Delenn/GIR dynamic in Caroline’s and my marriage are passing on word about the death of actress Mira Furlan, and we join in the mourning. We met her once at one of Caroline’s jewelry shows in Galveston seven years ago, and we both pass our condolences, as inadequate as they are, to her family and friends.
The definition these days of a Sissyphean task is “producing scientifically accurate dinosaur figures,” mostly because the goalposts seem to change every few days. That said, the crew at Creative Beast manages the nearly impossible: capturing the thrill of the 1970s Prehistoric Scenes model kit line from Aurora while pushing the edges of current theory on dinosaur appearance and behavior, and at a reasonable price. For lots of personal reasons dating back 40 years, a mountain accessory pack featuring the small predator Troodon had to come home, where it will remain as accurate as current research will allow. Sadly, that might be a few weeks, but that’s palaeontology.
A couple of chapters into The Art of the Con: The Most Notorious Fakes, Frauds, and Forgeries in the Art World by Anthony M. Amore, and it’s easy to understand why Salvador Dali famously flooded the art market with autographed reproductions of his paintings to give palpitations to the art collector community. It also explains why so many people tell artists “Oh, your work is so INEXPENSIVE! You should charge a lot more!”, before wandering off without buying anything. And so it goes.
Growing up a ridiculous distance from civilization meant missing out on a lot of music, and thankfully streaming services offer the same chance to catch up on bands that couldn’t afford radio station payola to get airplay the way cable allowed movie enthusiasts to catch up on films that you’d never have seen at the local two-screen. This causes deep dives down rabbit holes for acts that somehow never turned up over the years, and this month’s deep dive is the Dead Milkmen. A few months of their work in regular rotation, and jumpin’ Jesus on a pogo stick, you’ll never look at a burrow owl in the same way again.
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As of this writing, the Dallas area should be thawing out from this week’s deep freeze, and hopefully the rest of Texas as well. For the first time in decades, we get the experience of seeing the lost, the misplaced, and the discarded as they’re revealed by the melt. That’s the problem with thaws: you never know what was hiding under the snow and ice.
This WAS going to be a boring little missive about the state of the Texas Triffid Ranch, with maybe a few comments on getting through the past year unscathed and making plans for the rest of 2021. Sprinkle on a few snide comments about the plants and their inability to even faster, and cover with a sigh that we were probably going to see an early Sarracenia blooming season because of the quiet winter. You know, like last year. Say what you want about 2020, but last winter was as gentle as moleskin sandals and half as cold. Seriously: all through January and February, the only concern? Rain. We barely got to freezing temperatures in the Dallas area, and by the time of the NARBC spring show at the end of February, the winter coats, barely touched, went back into the closet barely used.
For those three people who were trapped in a pocket universe for the last week and were so isolated from outside information that you flipped coins as to entertaining yourselves with readings from The Wit of Gardner Dozois or just jamming burning caltrops into your eyes, last week started out about as well as you’d expect, meteorologically speaking. The upcoming forecast suggested that things could get colder over the weekend, with a chance of snow, but residents know that this could go any number of ways. Yes, we could have seen snow, but we also could have seen sunny skies and jogging shorts temperatures. Even by midweek, we had reason to worry, but this was leavened by the understanding that we were reasonably prepared for what was coming. Yes, a stockup on groceries was prudent, and so was filling up the car’s gas tank. Make sure the pets were inside. Cover the outside faucets and bring in plants that couldn’t handle two days of freezing weather. We did all that. If anything, the ongoing shift to working from home made things easier, because this way everything didn’t stop dead once the roads turned into skating rinks. Bring home the laptop, check the home wifi connection, and plan to stay inside and off the roads until the snow and ice dripped away. If you did have a control freak of a manager who insisted that you had to come into the office, the idea was to stay away from iced-over bridges and follow the lead of the sand trucks that were already making plans to hit the slickest spots in the area.
After all, we’d had major cold waves before. December 1983 was so cold that Galveston Harbor froze over, but we got through that. February 1985 was when police throughout Texas discovered that the state didn’t have a law banning the use of snowmobiles on roads and freeways, an oversight that was quickly rectified by the Texas Legislature. December 1989 had especial significance for me, as we hit our coldest temperature in recorded history on the day I transported a movie poster-sized sheet of glass on foot, sliding on ice down a hill toward my apartment, for a present for my then-girlfriend, only to have it crack inside the apartment from thermal stress. Our greatest snowfall since the Pleistocene in February 2010 was as close to a weather disaster as we’d had in Dallas since the 1909 flood, as trees never before exposed to heavy snowfall disintegrated and exploded under the weight of a foot of the best snowball snow we’d ever seen. We were ready, though, right? Trees were pruned, sand reserves were allocated, and everyone carried around little pocket computers that could give them immediate information on everything from traffic routes to where to call to report power outages. We were good to go, right?
The plan, pre-snow, was to open the gallery for a joint Valentine’s Day/Lunar New Year open house on February 14, and that plan stayed true until the first snow started on the 13th. By midday that Saturday, the temperature dropped enough that the safety of attendees coming in from Fort Worth and Denton was at risk, so the Carnivorous Plant Tour was rescheduled for February 28 and everything else would resume after the snow melted off. The gallery heaters were working and working well, the automation for plant lights and foggers went off without any issue, and everyone had been informed about the change, so the doors closed on Saturday night, with everyone reasonably sure that everything would be up and running by Tuesday at the latest. That was the idea, anyway.
Record cold, we were prepared for. Snow, we were prepared for. Nobody was prepared, though, for these combined with an electrical grid run by incompetents for greedheads, with no plans for winterizing because Texas (lack of) regulations didn’t require them. The power first went out on Monday morning at about 2:30, and at first it was the gentle hope that “okay, the power is out for a bit, but it’ll come back on.” Hours later, we were firsthand playtesters of James Burke’s technology trap warnings, where the power came on for about three hours and then cut out again. Then it stayed off, just in time for the Dallas area to come neck-and-neck with its all-time record low temperature. After that, more snow.
Compared to many in the area, we were lucky: as temperatures inside the house dipped toward freezing, friends who had just reestablished power invited us to stay there and to bring the cats. That worked until about 2:30 Wednesday morning, when the power cut out over there, combined with cell phone towers losing power because their emergency generators were running out of fuel. We all evacuated that house, we took the cats back home, and finally saw power come back late Wednesday evening.
The upshot is that the gallery and the plants are in good health, even after four days without power. Between being sandwiched between two other locales and my weatherproofing the rear exit, everything inside the gallery came through without problems by the time power was restored on Wednesday evening. (Using a generator wasn’t an option because of a lack of exhaust options, and propane heaters have a little problem with carbon monoxide buildup indoors that really isn’t good for anybody checking up on them.) The outdoor plants in winter dormancy, such as the Sarracenia pitcher plants and the Venus flytraps, are going to take a lot longer to come out of dormancy after this, but there’s hope that everything will come through without major problems.
The really funny part about all of this, in classic gallows fashion, is that from a precipitation standpoint, you’ll barely know this happened by next week. Already the people behind the outages that hit almost the entire state are either blaming wind and solar generators or screaming “But what about…”, and they have the advantage of most of the state going back to February-normal temperatures by next Monday and everyone forgetting by Wednesday. The snow has turned into slush, and the slush will eventually melt into the storm drains, and our biggest hope right now is that we get some regular rain to wash all of that road sand off the streets before it turns Dallas into another Dust Bowl. (Trust me: the road dust after our big ice storm in 1996 made people mistake Dallas for Phoenix.) As far as the gallery is concerned, we got through, but I’m definitely looking at potential battery backups to keep lights and heat going, if only for a few additional hours if this happens again. The week-long power outage after the Dallas area was hit by tornadoes in 2018 should have been a sufficient warning.
After this week, any other gallery discussion is best relegated to “Aside from THAT, Mrs. Kennedy, what do you think of Dallas?” Now it’s time to get back to work.
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Posted onFebruary 13, 2021|Comments Off on Reschedule: moving the Carnivorous Plant Tour to February 28
The closer to Sunday we get, the worse the weather promises to get, and it’s not getting better all week. Because everyones’ lives are much more important than any open house, we’re rescheduling the Carnivorous plant Tour for Sunday, February 28, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, and cancelling all appointments until after things thaw. In the meantime, stay inside and stay warm, and we’ll catch you all when it’s safe to go on Dallas roads without a snowmobile.
Comments Off on Reschedule: moving the Carnivorous Plant Tour to February 28
For those in the general Dallas-Fort Worth area, you already know the score. For everybody else, as happens to be a long-running tradition with Triffid Ranch events, Sunday’s Valentine’s Day/Lunar New Year Carnivorous Plant Tour coincides with what threatens to be not only one of the coldest temperatures in Dallas recorded history, but possibly (if predictions hold) the coldest temperature experienced in this area since the Early Pleistocene. Of COURSE it will be.
As of this moment, barring the threatened snowfall on late Sunday night and Monday morning hitting 12 hours earlier than predicted, we’re still gunning for the Plant Tour on Sunday. Yes, it’ll be cold, but we have heaters and plant lamps, and we might have hot chocolate, too. If you don’t feel safe making the trip, or if your return threatens to cross the incoming snow and ice, you’re under no obligation to attend. If you do, though, we’ll see you on Sunday. Until then, stay safe and stay warm.
Comments Off on Sunday’s Carnivorous Plant Tour: Update
As part of efforts to make 2021 better than 2020, the efforts begin this week to clean up the computer desktop, which was taking on disturbing parallels to fiction. This entails cleaning up lots of redundant folders, removing applications that shut down back in 2014, and trying to get something laughably close to a decent image archive. Lots and lots of oddities turned up, including the below weirdness on Buddha’s Hand citrons, so keep an eye open for images that nobody has seen since the Aughts, and maybe we should be thankful for that. Anyway, enjoy.
Posted onFebruary 3, 2021|Comments Off on Personal Interlude: The Blizzards of New Jersey
A pictorial based on necessary training for the Day Job: almost without fail, I always plan travel that coincides with one meteorological menace or another. This time, it was headed for the East Coast of the US just in time for a massive snowstorm that ran a full four days. As the plane arrived in Philadelphia, the first flakes started coming down, and by the time I got situated for the night, it was coming down fast and furious.
Perspective: One of the reasons why this funky little gallery wasn’t named “Michigan Triffid Ranch” is because Texas isn’t my birthplace but it is my home. Most of that comes from living through other blizzards, including the Chicago Blizzard of 1979. The last time I spent more than two days in snow (by the time you’re sick of Dallas snow, it’s already melted away) was 35 years ago, and those months of minus-40 weather were a big reason for moving back to Texas for the first time. The last significant snow of any sort was Dallas’s famed blizzard of 2010, where we broke all records for snowfall within a 24-hour period. Right now, as I write this, Dallas faces a cold front next week that might actually drop temperatures below freezing. However, the odds of snowfall are passing small, even if there’s precedent.
As far as the future is concerned, everything depends on more than just a drastic COVID-19 control, but the idea is to return for further training, preferably when winter is over. It’s also been a very long time since I’ve been anyplace with significant autumn color (Dallas has its moments, but it’s all pastels compared to New England), and sharing photos of that wonder is definitely on the agenda.
Comments Off on Personal Interlude: The Blizzards of New Jersey