Tag Archives: 2021

Have a Safe Weekend

No events at the gallery this weekend (it’s time to clean up everything after Texas Frightmare Weekend), but you can see all of Caroline’s jewelry at her booth at FenCon. After that, though…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2021 – 5

While Texas Frightmare Weekend always starts off with the hope that it could go on longer, like for a week, the absolute reality is that by the time things close down on Sunday evening, we’re kaput. The staff has been running on pure adrenaline and doughnuts for the previous week, and that’s not talking about all of the prep necessary to get things organized in the first place. Some of the attendees stay for an extra day or so at the hotel, taking in the luxury and the company of fellow late-travelers, but the overwhelming majority have work, school, or other obligations on Monday, and they need a week to recuperate. The vendors…well, many of us have day jobs as well, others have to get going to get to their next show, and still others have to go back to workspaces to make more items for the rest of the season, as Frightmare patrons have cleared us out. With the Triffid Ranch, there’s the additional aspect of having to get remaining plants under lights, so Sunday evening after the vendors’ rooms close is a matter of packing up glass, plants, and water as best as possible, getting it loaded into the truck that brought everything out there, getting on the road east toward the gallery, and hoping that no idiot on the highway decides to check his brakes for no reason. The excitement doesn’t stop when the show’s over, and it’s only time to relax after the plants are loaded at the gallery, the truck gets returned, and the only vital activity remaining is to brush teeth and go to bed. Oh, and dream about plans for the next year.

The official announcement on the 2022 Texas Frightmare Weekend hasn’t been made yet, but all of us vendors are awaiting word to reserve our tables, and everyone else is making plans for accommodations and travel. Since TFW won’t be facing anywhere near so much competition for time next May, as so many other horror conventions will be spread out over the year instead of concentrated in September and October, expect a lot of old and new faces, and expect vendors pushing themselves to the limit to bring out the best they can get. At this end, this of course means lots of new plants (I’m waiting to see how Genlisea and Roridula seedlings turn out, and if we don’t get another massive freeze in February, expect a sideline of hot peppers), lots of new concepts, and a serious need to both wear myself out and recharge over those three days in April and May.

Finally, this proprietor wishes to thank everyone involved with Texas Frightmare Weekend and the Hyatt Regency DFW, particularly the security and support crew. You lot work harder than anyone else, and I’d bring steaks instead of doughnuts on Sunday morning if I thought any of you would take the time to eat. Take care, and we’ll see you next year.

Fin.

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2021 – 4

Two stories to explain why Texas Frightmare Weekend works as well as it does, and one involves doughnuts. The other, more important story involved a remembrance. With Frightmare running for 15 years, it’s inevitable that attendees, guests, and staff would have died in that time, and Frightmare took the time to remember them. It wasn’t just about remembering big stars who died in the last decade, such as Angus Scrimm and George Romero, but everybody who was touched by Frightmare and in turn remain in our memories.

One of the most touching involved the first security chief Jeb Bartlett: Jeb was such an integral part of what made Frightmare work that when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2018, we all came running to help. The last time I saw him was at the 2019 Frightmare, still giving grief to those of us who deserved it (and he was one of those guys who ribbed the people he liked the most, and we all loved him because he kept us honest), but he would have wanted to have been involved with the proceedings in 2021. In a way, he was: some of his ashes were scattered around a tree outside the hotel where he could be found during his breaks, because it just isn’t a Frightmare without Jeb in it.

The other story is much more minor, but one in which I’m involved. The second year that Frightmare ran at the current hotel in DFW Airport, Caroline and I were picking up a few items in a grocery store on Sunday morning before heading out for the convention’s final push, and I noticed a big box of doughnuts lying next to the checkout where someone had discarded them. Instead of simply cursing out someone’s laziness in not returning them, I figured “I wonder if anybody at Frightmare needs breakfast” and bought them. As it turned out, several of our fellow vendors hadn’t had the chance to get breakfast, but the security crew really needed a boost, and that empty box was left spinning like something out of a Chuck Jones cartoon. From then on, the message was clear: “Bring doughnuts on Sunday, no matter what.”

2021’s last day started the way I had hoped 2020’s last day would have: an early trip to our favorite doughnut shop in Garland, picking up six dozen random doughnuts for the staff and a dozen for fellow vendors, and dragging them down to the lower level of the hotel to pass them out. You have no idea how much both newbies and experienced staffers looked forward to a bit of extra energy to get them through the day, and those doughnuts didn’t go to waste. Even at the end of the show, when everyone else went home and only we vendors working with glass or heavy gear or both were still breaking down, the support crew that came in to break down the pipe and drape cleared out what was left.

That’s what makes Texas Frightmare Weekend unique among Texas and particularly Dallas conventions: the sense of community. In nearly 40 years of Texas science fiction/fantasy/comic/horror conventions, I couldn’t think of another that would have gotten together for a tribute to absent friends, or at least a tribute without drama. So many of the attendees and vendors had been going long enough that we knew each other by first names, and legitimately worried if someone was all right if they didn’t show. Fall 2021 is full of horror conventions and shows in Texas and elsewhere trying to make up for lost time, but you didn’t hear complaints about vendors and guests having to cancel because they had other obligations elsewhere. (Or, if complaints were made, they weren’t made in public.) Instead, the general attitude was “Well, we’ll see them next time,” with a firm understanding that they were coming back at the first available opportunity. The overwhelming emotion at Texas Frightmare Weekend 2021 was of a big and scattered family that was just glad to be able to get together again, and hoping that this would be one of many.

As it turns out, while it’s not announced on the Web site yet, expect 2022’s Frightmare at its usual date of the first week of May. All of us are making plans, and there’s always room for new folks.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2021 – 3

At my age, it’s always a little scary when something you love celebrates an anniversary in the double digits, because you’re always afraid that this might be the last one. That’s happened a lot in the last few years, especially in the last year. The very good news is that this isn’t happening with Texas Frightmare Weekend, either right away or in the foreseeable future. As someone with nearly 40 years of conventions and events under his belt, and someone who plans to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary in November of the one of the worst convention experiences I’ve ever endured, Frightmare is how you do it, folks. This is how you balance the needs of attendees, vendors, guests, staff, security, and hotel employees so everyone is happy, and any convention chair whose excuse for failure is “Well, at least we TRIED!” needs to talk to the Frightmare crew, at all levels, to rectify that or else have everyone assume that they like things broken and dysfunctional.

A discussion on why Frightmare works so well is upcoming, but the proof is in the pudding. At a time when many conventions, big or small, are lucky to celebrate three anniversaries, Frightmare reached 15 in 2021. Sure, it was a little late due to extenuating circumstances, but even during the worst of the lockdown, this was a convention that organized virtual events and outdoor events to keep up a lively and diverse community. When your weekly Twitch streams are so much more lively, friendly, and respectful than the 2020 Hugo Awards presentation, that’s a sign that you’re doing things right, and if conventions were run this well back in 1990, I would have spent my twenties being considerably less angry.

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2021 – 2

One really serendipitous situation with 2021’s Texas Frightmare Weekend being rescheduled for September? Most years, as much fun as the Sarracenia pitcher plants are, they’ve only just finished blooming (some years, because of late freezes, they’re still blooming when they arrive), and Sarracenia generally only start growing pitchers after they’ve finished blooming. Well, not all: Sarracenia flava tends to be an early bloomer than other species, and it usually has well-developed traps while other species still only has bloom spikes. This may be an adaptation to keep down hybridization: Sarracenia generally bloom first and then produce traps because their pollinators and their prey tend to be many of the same insects, and pollen is a good source of nitrogen, so flava catching insects loaded with other Sarracenia pollen has a dual benefit. S. flava’s early blooming offers one additional benefit at Frightmare: while other North American pitcher plants smell sweet, flava blooms smell like cat pee, and people attend Frightmare to get away from the smell of anime conventions.

The real benefit of a September Frightmare was that for the first time, attendees could see Sarracenia in their full late summer/early fall glory, instead of the botanical equivalent of bed head. This also led to object lessons, such as an attendee pointing out the caterpillar happily munching away on a young pitcher. Yes, it was hastily chucked down another pitcher, and the plant already had four new immature pitchers, but it’s the spirit of the thing. It may also be yet another sign of climate change: in their native habitat, Sarracenia are beset upon by a species of moth whose caterpillars eat young pitchers, climb into older pitchers, chew the inside so the top of the pitcher collapses, and then pupate in a handy new protective tube until emerging in spring. As if we don’t have enough to worry about.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2021 – 1

I’d be remiss in not mentioning that Texas Frightmare Weekend shows are joint efforts, with the lovely and talented Caroline of Caroline Crawford Originals right next door. This comes in so handy for bathroom breaks, spare change, and potentially dangerous levels of snark. Every Frightmare, we have a friendly wager on who has a higher total when we finish adding up sales, and every Frightmare, she smokes me. Understandable, really: every Friday evening when the doors open for general admission Frightmare attendees, the ones running to the back to see her latest work discover the VIPs who arrived an hour earlier grabbing the newest necklaces and rings, because they know they won’t see them again except worn on someone else.

In some relationships, this sort of gentle wager might turn toxic, but it all evens out. There’s a reason why we also work the open houses together at the gallery: visitors with no interest in the plants tend to latch onto the jewelry, and vice versa. It definitely makes for interesting customer conversations.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2021 – Introduction

It was a monumental effort by everyone involved with the show, but 2 1/2 years after the last one, the 2021 Texas Frightmare Weekend happened. After repeated cancellations and reschedulings, after understandable concerns about further lockdowns and insufficient social distancing space, Loyd Cryer and crew pulled off the biggest convention in the Dallas area since the beginning of lockdown in 2020. As such, everyone involved deserves sustained applause, because I don’t think anybody else could have made it work and made it work as well as it did.

For those unfamiliar with this greatest of horror conventions, Texas Frightmare Weekend celebrated its fifteenth anniversary this year. Normally, it runs on the first weekend in May (most of its crew are haunted house organizers and workers, and the idea was to hold a show that didn’t conflict with their getting ready for the Halloween season), but the decision last spring was that vaccination rates were high enough to give it a chance of running in September. Hence, we all piled into the Hyatt Regency DFW at DFW Airport, suitably masked and slathered with hand sanitizer, and conducted what had to be the most mellow convention I’ve seen in nearly 40 years. Naturally, carnivorous plants contributed: the Triffid Ranch location in the back of the Lone Star Hall meant that everyone got a good dose of green, whether or not they were expecting it as they came around the corner.

To be continued…

Have a Safe Weekend

No events at the gallery this weekend, because as you read this, the whole kit and caboodle is at Texas Frightmare Weekend at DFW Airport. No events the next weekend, either, partly because Caroline has her own show at FenCon on September 17 through 19, and partly because recuperation from Frightmare takes a while. But before we’re all gibbering wrecks, though, come out to see what’s going on.

The Aftermath: Labor Day 2021 Carnivorous Plant Weekend

The Labor Day 2021 Carnivorous Plant Weekend was particularly bittersweet: both Caroline and I realized exactly how much of the gallery was a direct inspiration from her mother, who died on August 29. Lots of little things: the odd little frog planter in the front window was one she gave me shortly after Caroline and I got married, several pots we proudly put on display, ornaments and accessories in enclosures, and the constant reminder that Nancy loved seeing pictures of people and plants after shows, and this was one that we couldn’t share. A lot of friends and longtime customers felt the same way, having met Nancy at shows and events over the last two decades, and her memory will remain strong for a long time thanks to them. Many thanks to everyone who came out to share memories, because it really made a difference.

One of the bigger surprises of the weekend was the range and influence of the Community Impact newspaper, given free to residents of the Richardson area. Fully half of the attendees on Saturday and Sunday were Community Impact readers, following a mention in the September issue about the gallery opening, and the writer came by on Saturday night for a followup interview. This led to a lot of exclamations from neighbors, some literally from across the street, who had no idea that the Triffid Ranch existed, and they left assured that we weren’t a variation on Fritz Leiber’s Bazaar of the Bizarre. With luck, they’ll be back for further events in the future.

As for the next Carnivorous Plant Weekend, the calendar conspires against us. The next three-day holiday weekend facilitating a two-day Triffid Ranch event is in November, and it’ll be a great way to start off the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas through November and December. Just don’t ask us about New Year’s Eve: that’s something that’s going to require a lot of planning.

As for future events, the next two weekends are out, as Texas Frightmare Weekend is nearly two years late, and we have a lot of catching up to do. Details on the next Porch Sale on September 25 are now available, so the fun keeps coming.

Have a Safe Weekend

The best thing about September 2021 is that it’s not August 2021, and we’re muddling through. The gallery opens at 4:00 pm on September 4 for Carnivorous Plant Weekend, and everyone who knew Caroline’s mother is welcome to come out and share memories.

The Last of the August Porch Sales – Cancelled

It’s last-minute notice, but today’s Porch Sale has to be cancelled: Caroline sustained a back injury, so it’s lots of bed rest until she recovers. She should be fine in time for the Labor Day weekend Carnivorous Plant Weekend, though: many apologies for today’s cancellation, but we hope to see you on September 4 and 5.

Have a Safe Weekend

The last August Porch Sale is this weekend, running from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, if only to avoid the afternoon heat. Don’t worry, though: we’re rapidly coming to the end of the summer heat…we hope.

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale – #27

(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 #27: “Horticultural Thunderdome”

Living in an older neighborhood has lots of interesting challenges already, as witnessed when the water main that blew out and left the front yard a sodden marsh last summer decided to go out entirely this spring. We were reasonably lucky, as February’s Icepocalypse left neighbors up and down the street with flooded-out living rooms and garages as pipes froze and thawed, and others discovered what subfreezing temperatures tend to do to electrical insulation that’s not rated for that sort of cold. (No fires, thankfully, but we’re seeing a lot of mood and porch lighting being torn out and replaced.) For the most part, it’s been the same with animal and plant life: the cold apparently thinned out the local squirrel population, but opossums clamber onto the porch to yell at each other and the cats with no sign of being affected by the freeze, and by the way the anoles and Mediterranean geckos act on the side of the house, you’d think they were campaigning for a reboot of the Mesozoic.

Things were considerably rougher for flora, particularly that better suited for areas further south. Dallas is right on the edge of safe growing zones for palm and saw palmetto trees, and neighbors with pools all figured “Let’s put palm trees in the back yard to add to the Polynesian ambiance.” That worked well since the last big freeze in 2015, which was over before anyone really recognized that it had arrived, but a solid week of subfreezing temperatures left those neighbors trying to figure out how to remove a 15-meter dead tree without hitting the pool, hitting the house, or requiring use of a crane. At this point, they’re better off pooling funds (pun intended) and just run that crane down the alley, plucking out palm carcasses like weeds.

The real problem, though, lies with actual weeds. Invasive exotics, to be precise. Being an older neighborhood, birds look at everything as a place to eat, rest, and nest, and that means they bring in all sorts of seeds from all sorts of plants, and many get established. This gets aggravated by those invasives that someone decides are suitably pretty or potentially useful, thus exacerbating the seed problem. Every little gizzard-bearing flying dinosaur in the area, with the possible exception of the two red-shouldered hawks who land atop my garage to yell at me as I’m trying to go to work, drags in more than their fair share of seeds, all lovingly scraped and scarified and tumbled with gizzard stones and grit, and 2021 is a particularly good year for them to find new places to take over. We don’t have kudzu yet, but two of the invasives could give kudzu a serious fight.

The first, morning glory (Ipomoea spp.) is about as ubiquitous in Dallas as roses in Portland or Spanish moss in Tallahassee, but these aren’t the gigantic-bloomed cultivated and domesticated variety grown for their lovely flowers. These produce much more subtle, but still beautiful, blooms, and the energy they’d use on ostentatious petals goes instead into vines that cover EVERYTHING. Pull them off shrubs and lawn furniture and vehicles left outside, and they’re back in a day or so, and Arioch help us all if they ever get a taste for blood.  Mowing and weedeating them just encourages them, and they have a wonderful habit of binding mowers and cutting blades.

And then we have the other green menace, scarlet trumpetvine (Campsis radicans), usually spread by yuppie homeowners told by Some Guy that a great way to hide telephone poles and other utility poles is to let them be covered by trumpetvine. Not only will the local lineman for the county want to set you on fire for doing so (trumpetvine sap causes contact dermatitis in many people), but the seeds are appreciated by a wide variety of birds, which then spread said seeds all over the area. Left unchecked, the vines collapse fences and squeeze between barriers, and most efforts to thin them back that don’t involve radioisotopes merely spread them further. Worst of all, since the roots spread through the toughest clay hardpan soil, new clumps pop up and start spreading meters from the original infestation, dislodging brick pathways and drowning bird feeders and barbecue grills with runners. As with morning glories, local garden centers sell trumpetvine to unassuming novices, thereby guaranteeing that subsequent residents curse their names years and decades after they’ve moved on and left their mess.

This year, possibly because of the freeze, both morning glory and trumpetvine are determined to take over. It’s not enough to pull trumpetvine: you have to let it dry until dead if it’s to be composted or mowed, and it thrives on weeding regimens that would get poison ivy to give up and die. Morning glory at least makes a good hide for assassin bugs and anoles, and it’s kept somewhat in check by leafcutter bees that strip big chunks from their leaves. Trumpetvine, though, has no controls, and the phrase “I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit” is a regular one from people fighting it for a decade or more. Then, when it’s finally held to a dull roar, that’s when an unknowing neighbor actually pays real cash money for the horrible stuff because “I hate that telephone pole out front, and I hear it attracts hummingbirds.”

That leaves the only real option: Thunderdome. Along one fence wall, I’m trying a little experiment, and letting trumpetvine and morning glory beat each other. So far, the morning glory seems to be choking out the trumpetvine, but the trumpetvine apparently discovered that hiding underneath rosebushes and behind hibiscus trees was a reasonable alternative, and it’s discovered a horrible trick of running tendrils underneath mulch and then emerging in multiple spots. Not that it’ll do any good: two weeks ago, when Dallas was getting unseasonable rains, I planted sweet potato, and so long as they don’t form an alliance to remove the animal scum keeping them from their destinies, the morning glories and trumpetvine are in TROUBLE.

Upcoming Gallery Events

Now that the heat has kicked in, the weekend Porch Sales have moved inside for the duration of the summer, but they’ll go back outside later in September. The holiday Carnivorous Plant Weekends were so popular for Memorial Day and Independence Day Weekends that we’re reprising it for Labor Day, with the next Carnivorous Plant Weekend running on Saturday, September 4 from 4:00 to 9:00 pm and then on Sunday, September 5 from 10am to 3pm. As always, admission is free and masks are mandatory.

Outside Events

In other developments, obviously the big show of the year is going to be Texas Frightmare Weekend at DFW Airport in September, and then it’s time to head back down to Austin for an extended weekend. Being invited as a vendor for Armadillocon 43 brings on all sorts of comments (mine is “I feel like Anton LaVey getting an invitation to the Pope’s bat mitzvah”), but it’s been a very long time since Austin’s premier literary science fiction convention ran in October instead of the middle of August, and Austin is lovely in October.

Other News

In yet more developments, the Dallas Morning News Best in DFW vote is now going, and keeps going until September 2, and the Triffid Ranch is on the ballot under “Best Art Gallery” and “Best Garden Center.” The gallery isn’t automatically on the ballot for the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Reader’s Poll, but it offers room for write-in votes, so do what thou wilt.

Shameless Plugs

One of the many reasons why I live in Garland, Texas, besides its obvious film reference, is that my town is just loaded with interesting food options. One of the absolute best came from discovering a regular Vietnamese food truck outlet at the Cali Saigon Mall at Jupiter Road and Beltline Road: unenlightened people may scoff or laugh at the concept of “Vietnamese tacos,” and they’re welcome to do so, because that’s just that much more for me. Anyway, should you decide to trundle out to the Dallas area for dinner, let me put a bug in your ear about Em & Bubba’s Home Cooking: As someone with 40 years’ experience in the subject, let me say that Em & Bubba’s barbecue brisket is some of the absolute best I have ever eaten, bar none. For vegetarians, they have a lot of options as well, and that’s not counting the other food trucks right alongside. This Saturday, after recovering from the Porch Sale, we’re probably heading there for dinner, and anyone caring to join us is welcome to do so.

Recommended Reading

Since we’re coming up on the fifth anniversary of the gallery’s move from Valley View Center, I’m going to have to dig out photos taken from those final days and add commentary on the ultra-slow-motion implosion of the mall. In the interim, I recommend picking up Capital by Mark Hage: for those who have never started a venue in an existing retail or gallery space, there’s an odd sense of archaeology that comes from the dribs and drabs left behind by previous tenants, sometimes ones gone for decades (mine was the surprising number of pennies dropped on the floor in the back storage area, as well as breaker box labels from the mall’s food court expansion in 1998), and Capital hits on that sense of mystery quite well.

Music

With the summer heat, pretty much the only way to get through August in North Texas is by dreaming of autumn. A touch of Emilie Autumn goes a long way toward that, as well as making a perfectly suitable soundtrack when the heat finally breaks.

The Aftermath: August Carnivorous Plant Porch Sales (August 21, 2021)

It’s been six years since a former clothing store opened up at Valley View Center in Dallas and presented “Dallas’s Pretty Much Only Carnivorous Plant Gallery” for the first time. For some reason, and not just because we were in the early stages of a pandemic this time in 2020, the sixth anniversary is more poignant than the fifth, if only because we’re still going after all of this. With luck, we’ll still be plugging on in another six, but right now is good enough.

With the end of August comes future plans, mostly involving being able to move back outside for at least a little while. That may be a problem because of upcoming shows and events through September and October, but we’ll still try our best to break out the tent and get out in the fresh air between now and Halloween. After that, it’s time to go back inside: the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas are now enough of a tradition that not having them in December would somehow be wrong.

And another reason to celebrate the sixth anniversary? Paul and Holly, the couple above, have been dear friends for a grand cumulative total of 73 years, and while they knew multiple mutual friends and cohorts, they’d never met directly until that original gallery soft opening in 2015. The big reason why we’re not having a Porch Sale on Halloween weekend is because we’ll be at their wedding: I’ve never been a bridesmaid before, but I can’t look much worse in a gown than anybody else.

For those missing the fun, the last August Porch Sale starts on Saturday, August 28 at 10:00 am and runs until 3:00, followed by the next Carnivorous Plant Weekend on September 4 and 5. After that, September is going to be full of shows outside the gallery, with Texas Frightmare Weekend on the weekend of September 10 being the most important. If you can make it in August, we’ll see you this next weekend.

The Aftermath: DFW Tap Talks, August 2021

As someone who can’t drink, going to bars and clubs can be problematic. Live music venues means dealing with dolts more worried about recording the whole show than the people whose views are obscured by their phones and tablets. Dance clubs always have that one jerk DJ who responds to patrons attempting to talk by cranking the music to levels that make communication other than semaphore impossible. Most other hooks to attract patrons involve copious purchase and consumption of alcohol, which gives no incentive for those of us who can’t imbibe, and Arioch help the involuntarily sober who turns down drinks from someone who insists “just have ONE.” After a certain age, it’s just easier to skip out than to deal with the aggravation, particularly in areas where blackout drunkenness was a badge of honor. (Thus, why I haven’t lived in northeast Wisconsin in 35 years and have no interest in returning.)

But what if you could mix both groups through a common goal? Like hard science, perhaps?

That’s not to say that mixing science and cocktails is anything new. Just in the Dallas area alone, the now-delayed Social Science exhibitions at the Perot Museum mixed the best of both worlds (pun intended) with open galleries and active cash bars. DFW Tap Talks goes in the opposite direction: instead of encouraging partiers to come out for science, why not encourage science to come out to the partiers?

The DFW Tap Talks formula is easy: invite a series of experts to an easily accessible alcohol establishment to expound on a specific subject for 15 to 20 minutes, followed by as many questions as the audience has, a quick intermission to allow patrons to stock up on both food and drink, This time, for the first Tap Talk since COVID-19 lockdown, the venue was Rahr and Sons in Fort Worth, where the science trivia competition started just before dusk, the conversations with and between physics majors was fast and furious, and the stage was filled with and surrounded by experts with much more robust educational credentials than I. It was the best open non-vending event to which the Triffid Ranch had been invited in YEARS.

For those unable to attend for various reasons, past Tap Talks are also available on YouTube for convenient viewing, with each new one being livestreamed in progress. As for new ones, I’ve already volunteered to put together something more Halloween-oriented in October, involving Nepenthes pitcher plants, and I’m just waiting word on particulars. Based on this one, I’d be honored to get up onstage alongside my presentation colleagues in the future and keep doing this for a while.

Have a Safe Weekend

It’s going to be a busy weekend: first, it’s a guest appearance at DFW Tap Talks on Friday, and then our sixth anniversary celebration on Saturday from 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm. Things are getting interesting…

State of the Gallery: August 2021

Six years ago on August 20, the Texas Triffid Ranch debuted at the now-long-defunct Valley View Center as Dallas’s pretty much only carnivorous plant gallery. Considering the other galleries and stores that opened and closed within months (and sometimes weeks) in that dying shopping mall, it would have been reasonable to assume that it would have followed, and the first 18 months were rather rough. 72 months after that first soft opening, though, not only has the Triffid Ranch hit its stride, but the next year promises to be even more entertaining.

Firstly, as regulars have noticed, the success of the outdoor Porch Sales through 2020 led to regular events pretty much every weekend through 2021, and that’s continuing through September. September itself is going to be an interesting case: between Texas Frightmare Weekend (and if you haven’t purchased tickets for Frightmare yet, get them NOW before they’re completely sold out), assisting Caroline the subsequent weekend for FenCon, and having a Day Job-mandated trip to New Jersey the week after, the first weekend after Labor Day with a gallery event will have to be September 25. And so it goes.

Otherwise, the ongoing deliberations and debates about public events through Texas continue, with lectures and presentations taking the biggest hits so far. Even so, they’re starting up again, carefully and quietly, and the first proper plant lecture in 2021 is the first DFW Tap Talk of the year as well. The festivities start at Rahr & Sons in Fort Worth at 7:00 pm on August 20: if you can’t make it or don’t feel comfortable going out, feel free to watch in on YouTube.

Speaking of YouTube, it’s time to get back to more videos, so keep an eye on new developments with triggerplants, Sarracenia pitcher plants, sundews, and getting your temperate carnivores ready to go into winter dormancy. (If the Triffid Ranch is going on the road this fall, I might as well be productive after the shows are finished for the night.)

Finally, commission season is starting, which means lots of coverage on custom carnivore enclosures between now and February of next year. Right now, the big one is a custom enclosure for the Heard Museum, which should be finished by the gallery event on August 28: it’s definitely not what you’d be expecting. Details and backstory WILL follow.

The Aftermath: August Carnivorous Plant Porch Sale (August 14, 2021)

It’s not completely unheard of, but it’s rare enough that it’s newsworthy: rain in Dallas in August. Not just a little bit of rain, but lots and lots of rain. Instead of a typical Dallas August, where “hot and sunny and dry” is the default weather forecast until Labor Day and sometimes until Halloween, today’s word is “soggy.” Don’t get me wrong: it’s a delightful change of pace, and the Sarracenia adore it. The humidity is so high that you could mistake Dallas for Houston, and going outdoors risks being asked how badly you lost the water balloon war. If you’re a carnivorous plant, it’s heaven.

It’s not just rain in August, but a torrential downpour blowing nearly parallel to the parking lot, that explains why the weekend Porch Sale on August 14 wasn’t held on the porch. Things were a little quiet because of that anticipation (to be honest, a few attendees were waiting to hear tornado sirens at one point), but the gallery was still full of enthusiastic carnivorous plant advocates, which makes it all worthwhile.

This coming weekend is special: the Porch Sale not only stays inside, but it’s moving to the evening (4:00 pm to 9:00 pm) to celebrate the Triffid Ranch’s 6th anniversary. (Technically, that sixth anniversary is on August 20, but the Triffid Ranch goes to Fort Worth on Friday for DFW Tap Talks.) We’ll see you then,

Have a Safe Weekend

On the gallery side, considering that we’re looking at a chance of thunderstorms, and I suspect that most potential attendees aren’t into being able to jumpstart cars with their bare hands, the weekend Porch Sale will once again be inside, running from 10 am to 3 pm. Even if that chance of thunderstorms evaporates as so many of them do this time of the year, inside is still a better option: as always, attendance is free and masks are mandatory.

In other developments, the Angry Candy dish keeps filling up, and it’s time to remember C. Dean Andersson, an old friend from my early writing days. Hail and farewell, Dean: I regret that we lost touch after I quit writing, but our long conversations in the Nineties still bear fruit today.

Enclosures: “Timeanchor” (2021)

Everyone entering knew they had one chance. The testing was sound: the world’s first time corridor was live, with timeanchors on either side of the chronal abyss keeping the fantastically complex mathematical construct complete and taut. The plan that day was to send the first scientific equipment through, in order to check atmosphere, photoperiod, gravity, and any other deviations from Here and Now Normal over such a tremendous timespan. That’s when the first reports came through: a previously undetected asteroid had passed through Earth’s orbital defense system and struck not far from the time laboratory. Everyone in the vicinity had about an hour to make a decision to pass through the time corridor or stay for the world-spanning shock wave and subsequent extinction event. Not surprisingly, only a few in the facility decided to stay, and approximately 500 made the jump just in time.

As the last stragglers ran out with whatever supplies they could bring with them, the time corridor flexed and shattered, and all that remained was the original anchor, embedded in a hillside overlooking a wide, low valley. As opposed to the humid forest surrounding the laboratory they had just left, the local flora was scrub and a strange ground cover, all completely unfamiliar. They hurriedly set up camp alongside the timeanchor before the sun set, and the animals that came sniffing around the campfires were just as alien as the plants. The good news was that the local predators were just as averse to fire as dangerous animals in their own time, but the visitors still stood guard with improvised spears and clubs in preparation for anything not dissuaded by smoke and flames.

The next morning was dedicated to a tally of existing resources and a discussion of strategies. There was no going home: the time corridor needed two ends, and the end designated as “home” was now blasted wreckage. Any attempt to build a new time corridor not only fought temporal paradoxes but also a lack of tools and equipment, and even trying to figure out what was needed would take time and effort away from more essential activities. Their available food and water was a limited resource, with the understanding of what local food sources existed taking priority over everything else. This was accentuated by several local herbivores investigating the camp’s activities and demonstrating that “herbivore” and “harmless” were not partners and probably would never be in this strange time. However, one positive to the subsequent damage: the interlopers were absolutely delicious, and their hastily-butchered carcasses gave confirmed edible meat in the camp for several days.

Even with the strangeness, the camp thrived, and started to turn itself into an actual city. The researchers from the time laboratory worked harder than everyone else to rediscover knowledge of stone and glass and metal. Others became scouts in search of ores and water sources, while still others took it upon themselves to experiment with every potential food item in the vicinity, attempting to domesticate every amenable plant and animal. Some, such as the big herbivores from the second day, simply couldn’t be domesticated, so hunters traveled outward, bringing meat back to the city after feasting by themselves. 500 years after the accident, no survivors of the original migration remained alive, but their stories were passed on through both legend and writing, and their descendants were ready to take over once again as the planet’s dominant intelligent lifeform.

What they didn’t know, what they couldn’t have known, was that as nature abhors a vacuum, time abhors an uncorrectable paradox. That paradox was the timeanchor itself: just over 500 years after its original excursion to the present time, a series of coruscating waves of pure temporal energy radiated out from the timeanchor, wiping out the city and the hillside on which it had been built in a microsecond and turning the fragments to dust. A few survivors picked themselves up after the blasts ended, but so few remained that any attempt to reestablish themselves was fated to fail, and the last descendant of the original time refugees died in the crook of a tree about 60 years later, stalked by a carnivore just small enough to climb the tree after the corpse instead of attempting to knock it over.

Eventually, traces not destroyed in the time quake would be discovered, but not by anything the survivors would have expected, fully 65 million years after they had left home. The discovery of the remnants of the city would happen about 200 years later, and wouldn’t THAT be a challenge to existing theories about the origins of intelligence on Earth.

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

Plant: Cephalotus follicularis “Elizabeth

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, found items.

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

Shameless Plugs and Equally Shameless Promotion

It’s August in North Texas, which means that everyone is making plans for what they’re planning to do when (a) the heat finally breaks in September and (b) the COVID-19 alerts signal “All Clear.” This also means lots of local awards intended to send readers, viewers, and listeners in the right direction. The Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Reader’s Choice Awards voting just opened, and as of this week, nominations are in for the Dallas Morning News Best in DFW awards and voting open to the general public. Interestingly, both allow votes every day until the ballots close, thus encouraging enthusiasts of a particular venue to keep coming back. This year, the Best in DFW nominations include the Texas Triffid Ranch for “Best Art Gallery” and “Best Garden Center,” mostly because there really wasn’t room for “Best Doctor Who/Red Green Show Cosplayer Photo Backdrop,” but you take what you get.

Anyway, for those so inclined, feel free to hype up your favorite Dallas venues (and note that the Triffid Ranch already received a Best of Dallas Award in 2017, so write-in votes are wide open), and also feel free to get the word out. We’re all in this together. And if you want to know exactly why you’d want to vote for a Dallas carnivorous plant gallery, you’re cordially invited to come out to see it in person.

The Aftermath: Attack of the Carnivorous Plant Workshop at Curious Garden

Back in the days before quarantine, when we still thought that 2020 was going to be a typical year, the plan was to host a series of carnivorous plant workshops at Curious Garden in Dallas. Jason Cohen, the co-owner, has had to deal with me for 30 years as of this November, when we were neighbors in Exposition Park, and most of our encounters make him regret not killing me when he had the chance, so when he suggested the first workshops two years ago, naturally I jumped at it. Previous events offered the chance for participants to go home with a complete sundew or butterwort enclosure, and it was time to move up into Nepenthes pitcher plants. 17 months after the originally planned workshop, we still made it happen.

Then as now, the concept was simple: getting a group together, lecturing about the basics on carnivorous plants, and then putting together a step-by-step enclosure. Thankfully, practice and a lot of time to rework the concept during quarantine made perfect, so all of the attendees walked in to find a box with components, a cup on top, and a tub nearby full of Nepenthes seedlings. Everything else was negotiable.

While the audience wasn’t quite as big as at previous Curious Garden events, not only was this completely understandable due to Delta variant concerns throughout Dallas, not to mention the beginnings of a typical August heat wave, but everyone who came out was extremely enthusiastic. The greatest compliment an audience can pay a lecturer is to ask really good questions, and the folks at Curious Garden asked some really, really good questions.

As for future events, we’re still deliberating on the next workshop: right now, the tentative plan is for waiting after the temperate carnivore growing season ends in November and running a set of holiday workshops. Details will follow as they come through, but rest assured that Jason isn’t rid of me yet.

Have a Safe Weekend

No Porch Sale this weekend, as the Triffid Ranch moves to Curious Garden for the Attack of the Carnivorous Plant workshop on August 7 from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm. (Seating is very limited, so if you haven’t snagged a space yet, do so NOW.) The Porch Sales return on August 14, though, with a celebration of the gallery’s 6th anniversary on August 21, and then show season starts in earnest in September. I hope.

“It’s got what (carnivorous) plants (don’t) crave!”

A little sidenote between shows and new enclosures: a friend and Day Job coworker took recommendations on carnivorous plant care in Dallas to heart and came across something that would have slipped between the cracks otherwise. As related elsewhere, the municipal water in the greater Dallas area is best described as “crunchy”: seeing as how we’re situated on what used to be North American Seaway ocean floor about 80 to 90 million years ago (with big areas of Arlington, Irving, and Flower Mound peeking up as barrier islands akin to today’s Padre Island), water out of the tap is full of dissolved salt and calcium carbonate. Up in Flower Mound, the water is also so full of dissolved iron that you can tell which residents have lawn sprinklers by the wide rust stains on driveways, sidewalks, and sides of houses. All of these are really bad for carnivorous plants, and a lot of people have issues with them, too, so Dallas people tend to drink a lot of bottled water. (Not me: I actually like the flavor, and the only bottled water that catches my interest is the even more mineralized Mineral Wells product, and I’m fairly sure that when I die, my bones will glow in the dark from the dissolved radium I imbibed as a kid in Saratoga Springs.)

Anyway, my friend noted the regular Triffid Ranch admonishment “Rain water or distilled water ONLY” with a recently purchased Cape sundew, and found what she thought would be a great source of distilled water with a new brand called Zen WTR. It makes a promise that it’s “100% vacuum-distilled water,” but not is all as it seems.

Let’s start by noting that for this discussion, we’ll take all of Zen WTR’s claims at full face value. No snark, no arched eyebrow, nothing. The claims of using 100 percent recycled plastics is a noble one, as well as using only ocean-salvaged plastics. (I’m currently working on a Nepenthes enclosure that asks what plastics would look like after 50 million years of burial, and the reality is that nobody’s quite sure what’s going to happen to all of the various plastics we’re turning into signature fossils for the Anthropecene.) I have no reason to doubt that the water isn’t 100 percent vacuum-distilled for maximum purity, either. But is it safe for carnivores?

Well, the first tipoff was noting that the contents at the bottom of the bottle read “Vapor distilled water with electrolytes for taste.” Even discounting the obvious jokes (which I imagine the crew of Zen WTR is as sick of hearing as I am of Little Shop of Horrors references), my heart sank upon reading “…with electrolytes for taste.” Flip over the bottle to read the ingredient list, and…

…and we get “Calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, potassium bicarbonate (electrolyte sources for taste).” None of these are bad in drinking water. If you ever get the chance to drink true distilled water, such as that used for topping up car batteries or keeping steam irons clean, you’ll note that while it’ll hydrate you, it’s not necessarily going to win any taste tests, and a big tall glass of lukewarm distilled water served to friends on a hot day is a good way to guarantee they never to come to your house again for summer activities. (Since cold water holds more dissolved gases than warm water, really cold distilled water is okay, but as with vodka left in the freezer, you’re more likely mistaking the chill for any actual flavor, but that also isn’t necessarily a bad thing.) Spring waters are popular because of naturally dissolved salts and other minerals as part of their makeup, and most bottled water has a pinch of various salts per bottle to improve their flavor and make sure you buy more. Zen WTR does the same thing, and for us humans, there’s nothing wrong with this.

(A little aside, sometimes water that’s too pure can be dangerous in other ways, and not the ones you suspect. When I lived in Portland, Oregon in the late 1990s, the city made a big deal about how the Bull Run reservoir, filled from snow melt, was some of the purest municipal water in the world. What was left out was that it was so pure that it tended to leach chemicals and various metals out of plumbing, and if you lived in a house or apartment in Portland built around the turn of the last century, as my ex and I did, odds were good that Bull Run water and lead pipes put in before World War I and never replaced led to tap output with potentially dangerous levels of lead and cadmium when drunk for long periods. This wasn’t always limited to metal, either: while I haven’t found any confirmation one way or another, small amounts of salt in bottled water may possibly have an effect on the amounts of plasticizer, the chemicals added to give plastics, well, their plastic and flexible properties, from leaching into the bottle’s contents. A bonus fun fact: with most plastic packaging, such as bread bags and Fritos packages, the “Best if used by…” date isn’t the predicted date when the contents go bad, but the predicted date when levels of plasticizer and solvent are detectable within.)

Now, humans are very good at removing minerals from our ingested water: as anybody suffering from kidney or bladder stones can tell you, sometimes we’re a little too good. with most plants, a little salt is completely beneficial, and most accumulations wash out with the next rain. The problem with carnivores is that most live in areas inundated with enough regular rains to wash out most dissolvable minerals after a few thousand years, and more live in sphagnum bogs, which both exude acid and a polymer that bonds to magnesium. In a pot or container, those salts, as little as they are, tend to accumulate. It may not happen right away, and it might not even happen soon, but eventually enough salt will build up in a captive carnivore that it will start burning the roots. In a remarkably quick time, that salt content goes from “minorly irritating” to “lethal,” and with precious little warning.

A few more astute readers may note that technically rainwater can have similar problems with dissolved minerals from dust atop roofs and in containers, as well as dissolved dusts and pollutant accumulated while falling. That’s completely fair, but these are in considerably lower levels than those from Texas tap and drinking water. Please: keep drinking Zen WTR if you enjoy it, but keep in mind that it eventually won’t be safe for your Venus flytrap. And next time, we’ll discuss reverse-osmosis filters and “drenching”…

The Aftermath: July Porch Sale (July 31, 2021)

Most of the time, July in North Texas just drags on and on. The weather report is the same every day: “Hot and sunny.” The general response to outdoor events invokes the Ray Bradbury novella “Frost and Fire,” where everyone has eight days to live on a planet where staying to watch the full sunrise is an excellent way to die. The last weekend in July is usually especially severe, and smart people emulate Gila monsters and move deep into shelter until the yellow hurty thing in the sky goes down. Most of the time.

The last day of July kept up with tradition, and the afternoon and evening were torrid in anticipation of the brutal thunderstorms that passed through the area on August 1. That’s why everything started in the morning, with laudable results.

Sadly, no Porch Sale for the weekend of August 7: that’s the day of the big Nepenthes Carnivorous Plant Workshop at Curious Garden by White Rock Lake. However, the indoor Porch Sales continue through August starting on August 14 (with a special evening event on August 21 to celebrate the gallery’s sixth anniversary), and the two-day Carnivorous Plant Weekend on September 4 and 5. August probably won’t drag, at least based on the weather forecast, and the Porch Sales will move back outside before you know it.

Have a Safe Weekend

In ongoing efforts to stir things up and make the gallery more accessible for those with odd work/life schedules, the next indoor Porch Sale is this Saturday (July 31), running from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm so we can all avoid the worst of the heat. After that, no Porch Sale next weekend: not only does the Triffid Ranch move to Curious Garden for a carnivorous plant workshop on August 7, but Caroline‘s birthday is the day before, and that needs some serious celebrating. If you want to join the festivities a week early, we’ll see you on Saturday.

Enclosures: “Gagak” (2021)

Nilwii Janss iw-Raan wasn’t a particularly dedicated student, but she knew rocks. Her hatchclub, his collective, and the greater alliance that protected the hatchclub and collective from scavenger onslaughts lay at the foot of some of the greatest mountains of her world, not that she or anybody else she knew had any idea of other mountains elsewhere. The foothills on which they lived was The World, with plenty of anecdote and myth to explain how they got there, and as far as the surrounding plains stretched, nobody she knew had ever traveled so far that the mountains were no longer visible on the horizon. The scavengers saw to that.

Among her hatchclub, the assemblage formed when multiple egg-clusters were gathered and hatched in the same place at the same time, Nilwii was the only one who knew rocks. Others hunted wild animals on the plains, others cared for other domesticated ones, and still others cared for the plants growing from the domesticated animals’ flanks. Those plants they knew for a fact were edible. Others could be, but depending upon where and when they grew, a previously perfectly safe batch of bluethorn could turn out to be poisonous or, worse, parasitic. Still others watched for wild animal herds and scavengers, and a few were particularly skilled at putting walls, animals, and people back together after the scavengers came to visit. Nilwii argued that “scavenger” was a poor word, because that implied that they were only interested in things that had fallen down instead of actively pushing them down. When she started this argument the rest of the hatchclub ignored her.

A few others in her assemblage knew rocks, and she learned everything she could from them. It wasn’t just the matter of knowing which rocks were best for cutting blades and which ones for fat lamps, but which portions and how to prepare them. Nilwii was already famed for rolling boulders of sharpstone into the middle of the collective’s huts, starting a fire around the boulders, pulling them out to cool, and then demonstrating how much better they fractured for delicate blades and tools. However, she kept experimenting, learning that some types of sharpstone turned brilliant colors when heated this way, and blades made from her stone were in demand all through the greater alliance. She was searching for boulders of just this sharpstone when she came across the Thumper for the first time.

She originally found it at the base of a landslide, where several huge boulders had formed a cave that protected it from the worst of the slide. Much of the slide had washed away from the boulders over time, leaving a hole atop that allowed the white sun to shine in from time to time. Because of that light, she not only noticed it while poking through the cave, but saw it glistening in a way she’d only seen once before, when a trader from the far side of the greater alliance gave her angular stones that could be mashed flat and bent. Those whitish lumps had the same sheen as this block, which itself reflected light back like ponds and streams under the sun.

Nilwii had four eyes, two for long-distance observation and two for closeup examination. She wiped her close eyes carefully to remove any speck of dust from their lens covers, and carefully sidled up to the thing protruding from the rock face. it was unlike any rock she had ever seen. She touched it, first with her manipulating nozzle and then with one of the claws that unfolded from her chest. Remarkably cool, with a polish also unlike any rock she had ever seen. She rapped a spot with a claw, four times, and heard it clank. Several of the shapes coming out of the slab were able to move, but as much and as far as she did, she got no response. She finally started to head back out of the little cave and promise to look further when the slab knocked. Four times.

Shocked and intrigued, Nilwii knocked again, three times, this time with a rock in her nozzle. She waited, and waited, and then the slab thumped back, three times, with the same space between knocks as she had made. Thus began an experiment: different series of knocks with the stone, faster and slower. After a time, it came back, but in a completely different order.

Thus began a regular semicommunication. After her hatchclub and collective responsibilities were finished for the waking period, she returned to the Thumper, trying to learn more. She tried a series of thumps followed by a scrape and then more thumps. They came back with the total number of thumps. She discovered that some attempts at abstracts on the Thumper space, such as using shell or plant stem, were perfectly audible at her end but were apparently unable to pass through the slab. Tapping some of the extensions produced different thump tones, and she rapidly assigned values to those tones: live, dead, light, dark, new, already existing. The Thumper gave comparable tones back. It wasn’t a conversation, but she learned that she could share large numbers by using multiple extension tones to set up longer multiples. After a time, she noted that whoever was working the Thumper tended to use a base of ten knocks and then use the extension tone to elongate it. Nilwii started assigning names to each of the end results, and within a week, she was able to send back the end sum of ten times ten times ten times ten.

It wasn’t enough.

While her people generally treated new things as novelties to be celebrated instead of harbingers to be feared, Nilwii still waited most of a hatchclub development cycle before sharing her Thumper knowledge with anybody else. She finally shared it with Muumtil, a hatchclub mate who kept a particularly open mind. Between the two of them, they managed to improve both on recordkeeping and on creating codes to get across more complex ideas. They rapidly discovered that they needed more help, and they oversaw a clutch of ten times three hatchclub mates, collective elders, and alliance specialists by the time the Thumper divulged a method to code-share its other user’s own language. The response, “Hello,” meant nothing as far as the assembled clutch was concerned, but it was the beginning of so much more.

Eventually, the mountains became a source for new building materials, “metals” as the code listed them, and with those metals came ways to drive off the scavengers. Every new major development changed everything, and by the time Nilwii and Muuumtil were elders, they barely recognized the small city that had been their little mountain enclave. They never met the person or people on the other side of the slab, even after removing the whole Thumper from the mountain and mounting it in a place of honor in the middle of the city. However, their descending hatchclubs would, eventually, even with half a universe between them. On that day, they finally got the chance to hear how “hello” was expressed by the concept’s creators, coming from their own communication organs. On that day, they not only met old friends, but discovered the perfect host organisms in which to raise the next generation of hatchclubs.

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

Plant: Cephalotus follicularis “Elizabeth

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, found items.

Price: $150US

Shirt Price: $125US

The Aftermath: July Porch Sale (July 26, 2021)

Well, the inevitable finally happened: it got hot in North Texas. Don’t you dare laugh at me: two things get us through July in Dallas: the possibility that for the first time since the Pleistocene, we’ll get through a whole summer without a solid month of monotonous hot-‘n-sunny every day, and the opening of Spirit Halloween popup stores in long-dead strip mall spaces. (Well, for me, it’s the arrival of the first Spooky Town decorations at Michael’s stores, but you take your joy where you find it.) The fact that the heat finally hit at the end of July wasn’t unexpected, but we all enjoyed the delay for as long as we had it.

As to be expected this time of the year, this Porch Sale was more an opportunity of exploration, mostly to see either if enclosures could fit into a particular space or to see what options were available for outdoor plants. No big deal: that’s what we’re here for. I’m just glad that we didn’t NEED to be outside when the worst of the hot southern wind hit on Sunday afternoon, because that’s not fit weather for plants or people.

Anyway, as mentioned last week, we’re continuing to shake things up on the schedule, so the next Porch Sale is this coming Saturday (July 31) from 10 am to 3 pm Central Time, for those whose schedules preclude coming out on Sundays. After that, the Triffid Ranch moves to Curious Garden near White Rock Lake for a carnivorous plant workshop on August 7, so no Porch Sale that weekend. After that, we’re still working out the particulars, so keep checking back.

Awards season

Because the July heat set in, and because reasons going back to December 1991, I’m not saying that you HAVE to nominate the Triffid Ranch for the upcoming Dallas Morning News Best in DFW Awards. I’m not saying that there aren’t plenty of categories in which the gallery would qualify. I’m certainly not asking anyone to vote as often as allowable under ballot rules. However, if you vote, you have until midnight on Wednesday, July 28, 2021 to get your nominations in. If you’re undecided, then feel free to come out to either of our two Porch Sales this week, either on Sunday, July 25 or on Saturday, July 31, both from 10 am to 3 pm, to look around. And thank you in advance.

Have a Safe Weekend

The event calendar is starting to fill up, starting this coming week: we’re opening up the gallery on Sunday, July 25 and Saturday, July 31, both from 10 am to 3 pm. Time to get back to it…

The Aftermath: July Porch Sale (July 17, 2021)

While not as hot as in previous summers (compared to 2011 or 1980, North Texas is almost chilly), the heat and humidity were oppressive enough to consider moving the traditional Porch Sale inside, so that’s what we did. We also shifted the schedule from Sunday morning to Saturday evening, giving opportunities for those having other obligations on Sunday to wander about and take everything in. It definitely worked: the gallery had an audience that would have been shocking during the Valley View days.

And that’s part of the discussion on plans for the near future: through August, just to stir things up, we’ve been contemplating alternating between Friday nights, Saturday mornings and nights, and Sunday mornings for Porch Sales, even when it’s cool enough to move the show outside again. We’re also contemplating inviting other vendors when the outdoor Porch Sales start again (probably in mid-September), but that’s a little ways off. Either way, things are getting busy all the way to the end of the year and beyond.

And on the subject of schedules, the Porch Sales continue through July, starting with Sunday, July 25 from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, and then again on Saturday, July 31, also from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. After that, the Porch Sales get delayed to make room for the Attack of the Carnivorous Plant Workshop at Curious Garden on August 7, and then we go back to it. As the schedule changes, you’ll know about it first.

Have a Safe Weekend

This weekend, the Porch Sales return, even if we’re moving them inside for the duration. This weekend, the gallery opens from 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm on Saturday, July 17, and we’ll be open on July 25 and 31, too. After that, well, you’ll need to check back, won’t you?

State of the Gallery: July 2021

Six years ago this month, things changed drastically for the Triffid Ranch. That was when we signed the lease for what turned out to be the first gallery space, out at what was Valley View Center in North Dallas, and started to put together the first gallery. It took a while – nobody expects the effort necessary to get set up from scratch until they get started, which might help explain why so many art galleries shut down within their first year – but we went live two months later, and never looked back. Now, just over four years in our current location, things are busier that we ever could have predicted back in 2015, and the rest of the year is going to get even weirder.

To start, after years of only being able to squeeze one event per month due to day job schedules and learning curves on enclosure construction, we’re now at the point of having regular weekly events, which is about as much as anybody can handle. (Having the gallery open on a daily basis simply isn’t an option right now, both between day job demands and customer interest, but we have PLANS.) The Porch Sales that started last year have become so popular that we (that is, both the Triffid Ranch and Caroline Crawford Originals in the front) kept them going, and now they’re moving inside for the duration of the summer. Keep checking the schedule for all of the details, but through the rest of the month, based on customers asking for non-Sunday events due to work schedules, we’re alternating back and forth between Saturday and Sunday open houses. This culminates with the Carnivorous Plant Weekend on September 4 and 5: holding these on holiday weekends has been enough of a hit that they’re going to keep going through the rest of the year and beyond.

In slightly related news, thanks to a very considerate series of contributors, a brand new custom Nepenthes enclosure is going in at the Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary in McKinney, and attendees at weekend events get to watch its construction in progress over the next few weeks before it debuts. It’s simultaneously a brand new construction challenge and a concept that’s been rattling around in my head for the last three decades, and it should surprise everyone once it’s complete.

And then we have the traveling lectures. After discussing this with owner Jason Cohen (and boy howdy, is he regretting not killing me when he had the chance when we first met 30 years ago this October), we’re going to try another run of the popular Carnivorous Plant Workshops at Curious Garden near White Rock Lake. The first will be a limited run on August 7 (contact Curious Garden about reservations), and then we’ll attempt more through the rest of the year, schedules and COVID-19 willing. Keep checking back for particulars. (This is in addition to the DFW Tap Talks lecture on August 20: that really will be on the gallery’s sixth anniversary and two weeks after Caroline’s birthday, so we have to plan something impressive.)

As for going on the road, things are tightening up for the upcoming Texas Frightmare Weekend on the weekend of September 10, and I didn’t realize how many people needed Frightmare this year until it came out over and over at the last Carnivorous Plant Weekend. Well, we’re going to be out there, along with several new enclosures debuting for the show (including one specifically intended to horrify planned guests Clive Barker and David Cronenberg, both of whom unfortunately had to cancel due to other issues), and a lot of Sarracenia starting to produce their fall pitchers. TFW has always run in the end of April/beginning of May for the last 12 years the Triffid Ranch has had a booth out there, so this should be intriguing.

Speaking of returns to old friends, the forms are filled out, the booth fees paid, and plans made for a return of the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays two-day weekend in Austin on November 20 and 21. Three trips to Austin in a single year: maybe it’s time to try setting up a show outside of Texas for the first time…um, before the Chicago Worldcon in September 2022, anyway.

And now the last bit of news, which was only confirmed today. People who remember my sad excuse for a literary career between 1989 and 2002 have reason to chuckle about my getting confirmation as a vendor at Armadillocon 43 in Austin: most use the term “Anton LaVey getting an invitation to the Pope’s bat mitzvah” when they aren’t laugh-crying about the hotel room. Well, it was a request by an old and dear friend planning to revitalize a longrunning literary convention getting everything in stride after its forced shutdown last year, and it’s also an opportunity to get back in touch with old friends in the science fiction literature community who lost touch after I quit pro writing. Yeah, and it’s also an excuse to show off plants and enclosures and talk everyone to death about carnivores, so it’s time to pull ALL of the stops. Best of all, this is scheduled for October 15 through 17, when Austin is at its most comfortable before the blue northers start blasting through in November, and I’ve desperately missed the days of October Armadillocons for precisely that reason. (Well, that, and a lot of people who couldn’t attend for business or health reasons when Armadillocon would run in the middle of August, the weekend before classes started at UT-Austin, now have an opportunity to come out for the first time in decades. We’re going to boogie ’til we puke.)

Have a Safe Weekend

No events this weekend: this weekend is dedicated toward essential work at the gallery, and that precludes opening it to the public. However, the rest of July and the beginning of August have plans, including a couple of surprises, and more as we nail down a schedule for August, September, and October.

Enclosures: “Agak” (2021)

“Okay, it’s like this. Someone is knocking.

“No, I don’t mean ‘standing on the other side and knocking. Well, maybe, but that depends upon how you define ‘the other side.’

“Okay, backtrack. We know it’s a mechanism of some sort. We’ve known that for years. The radio signals coming off it were how we picked it up, 5 light-years out. The problem is what kind of mechanism. X-rays, laser spectroscopes…the thing repels neutrinos. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was immune to gravitic wave resonation.

“That just means you don’t want to have your ear next to it the next time a black hole and neutron star collide with each other in the vicinity. You’ll probably have other concerns.

“As to what it does, we don’t know. We know that it absorbs energy from all across the spectrum. We used to think of it as a conduit to the core of the planet, but it’s not taking energy from the planet, and it isn’t adding to that energy, either. Right now, it’s quiet, but based on effects that it’s had on surrounding rock, it’s withdrawn a lot of energy from the vicinity. at least 5 times in the last 30,000 years. At least enough to freeze half the planet. At LEAST.

“I wish I knew where that energy is going. The radio waves it puts out don’t coincide with the energy it takes in. The weird part is that I don’t think that this signal is coming from it at all. The radio waves are, but the content in the signal is coming from somewhere else.

“That’s a good question, and if anyone ever comes up with an answer, buy them a beer. But I have a suspicion, and it’s a weird one. I think this thing is unique, all of them.

“Hey, you knew I was like this when you married me. What I mean is that this thing is absolutely unique, and so is the thing on the other side of whereever. They’re quantum entangled, so if something happens to one, it happens to them all. Of course, that means that if you try to destroy one, the others are entangled with it and they’re not being destroyed, so nothing happens to the one you’re shooting at.

“Well, that’s the weird part. If they’re quantum entangled, you could knock on one and the vibrations would pass through the others with no time delay. One of the survey team accidentally hit it with a vibration hammer, and we got a responding knock. About five minutes later.

“As I said, that’s the weird part. No matter how quickly we receive a response, it’s always five minutes, to the microsecond. We’ve taken into account the communication methods and possible language of the knocker. We call it ‘Dave,’ by the way. We know that Dave depends upon sleep or some other form of rest, because he’ll go quiet for hours, and based on when he starts and stops, we suspect that the world he’s on has a rotation period of a little over 23 hours. We know that he’s hearing air vibrations because the knocks won’t transmit if something is touching the face of the device, so you have to stop and listen to hear anything. We also know he’s dedicated. Dave makes an attempt to knock every day, at different times every day, but he’s not there all day. That means it’s just one Dave, and that Dave isn’t truly solitary, because he has to break away to do other things.

“Well, it’s like this. We’re trying some of the same things on both sides, like getting across mathematics. Dave is pretty good at basic math, by the way. It’s just that tapping out messages without a common language is just so slow. I mean, what good is Morse code if the only person hearing it has only spoken Japanese all their life? We’re trying to go for more complex codes, but I don’t think Dave has access to computers or anything like that. If he has any way to store information, it could be something like an Incan quipu, but he doesn’t have anything to translate, say, binary code into something he could understand.

“And that’s the problem. We’re going to stay here and keep going, because Dave is trying his best. We don’t know where in the universe he is, and we definitely don’t know when, but we’ll keep going until we stop getting knocks back.

“Of COURSE we’re recording everything. Wouldn’t you?”

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

Plant: Cephalotus follicularis “Elizabeth

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, found items.

Price: $150US

Shirt Price: $125US

Enclosures: “Magma” (2021)

Strictly speaking, the classic definition of a Dyson sphere is “an artificial shell intended to capture all energy emitted by a star,” and of the known artificial worlds in our galaxy, most are intended just to capture energy. By the time a civilization becomes advanced enough that a Dyson sphere becomes a necessity, it is also advanced enough that it has ways to get around having to live on or in the structure so constructed. Of 87 Dyson spheres and 7 Alderson discs so far known, 70 of the Dyson spheres are the sole province of the AllEnders, who use that truly stunning amount of captured energy to maintain a pocket universe lovingly modified to their specifications and special needs. (60 stars are for the pocket universe maintenance, and ten for the equally mind-shaking amounts of energy needed just for wormholes to pass information between their universe and ours.) While theoretically a Dyson sphere has the potential for the interior surface area equal to roughly a billion Earths, without finicky and energy-hungry gravitic generation to keep people and fixtures with their feet in the right direction, setting up homesteads on the interior surface is problematic. Only two Dyson spheres known rotate to produce enough centrifugal force to simulate Earth-typical gravity, which means their atmospheres coalesce around the spheres’ equators and leave the rest of the spheres in low-gee or zero-gee vacuum. Only one produces an atmosphere safe for oxygen-breathing lifeforms (the other is a toxic smog of nitrogen compounds and methane, used as a reservoir for industry), and its maintenance is an example to the rest of the galaxy on maintaining their own atmospheres.

When creating an Earthlike biosphere within an artificial construct, it’s not enough to build a rock and soil substrate on which to grow plants and their analogues for oxygen production. The obvious issue with that substrate is that wind and precipitation break down rock and move soil, eventually leaving it all in the lowest portions of the sphere’s rotational area. The less obvious issue is that during erosion and deposition, sediments and solutions react with available oxygen, producing carbonates, silicates, and oxides. After enough time, without a way to break these down, any available oxygen finds itself bound within rocks and rust, and the atmosphere thins accordingly. On worlds with tectonic plate subduction or comparable processes, those rocks and rusts are shoved into the mantle of the planet, where they melt and outgas via volcanic outlets. On a world where the available rocks lie on a relatively thin layer of base construction material, those volcanic outlets could never form on their own, so they have to be created.

Dyson Sphere 10 was either abandoned approximately 2 million years ago or never inhabited by its builders in the first place, but it has a habitable zone roughly comparable in surface area to 2 million Earths. Instead of having rivers and oceans carved into the shell, the whole zone is a series of rock flows like glaciers, all gradually sliding via erosion and gravity toward the equator. There, self-repairing machinery gather and grind rock, soil, artifacts, and anything else sliding that far, transport the debris to the edges of the habitable zone, and melt it and extrude it into gigantic piles that repeat the process. The resultant gases are then gradually released into the atmosphere, keeping up a nitrogen/oxygen/carbon dioxide/water cycle that might require an addition of supplemental material to replace that lost into its star or through airlocks…in about 300 million years.

The gas vents and extruders themselves aren’t concealed or hidden in any way: apparently the sphere’s designers preferred to remind all as to the tremendous efforts made to make such a world as gentle as it is. Because of that, and the missing designers, the habitable zone is home to at least 30 sentient species, three of whom only known from this Dyson sphere. While the sphere’s rock reclamation system is nearly foolproof, it requires occasional maintenance, and the efforts by all 30 species to work together to do so is without compare within the known universe.

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

Plant: Nepenthes ventricosa x hamata

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

Price: $300

Shirt Price: $250

The Aftermath: July 2021 Carnivorous Plant Weekend

This time of the year, the weather in Texas can be wildly variable: it’s still possible to get rain, or we can fall right into a summer inferno that doesn’t relent until October. This time, July 4 weekend in Dallas coincided with some of the coolest and rainiest weather seen in decades, which definitely made the first July Carnivorous Plant Weekend all sorts of special. Of course, this means that we’ll be getting the same temperatures Portland and Seattle had last week, but here that’s expected.

With impending and expected heat, things may change with the Porch Sales compared to last year. All through 2020, the idea was to have SOMEthing open and outside to help relieve the monotony of quarantine: between masks and vaccines, it’s now safe enough to avoid the worst of July and August and move everything inside for the summer. We’ll probably go back to outdoor events in September and October when the air stops smelling of burning flint, but for right now, both plants and attendees probably appreciate access to air conditioning.

Another major change instigated by the Carnivorous Plant Weekend is that we’re going to try stirring up the schedule a bit. In 2020, Sunday was the default day of the week, mostly for the severe cabin fever cases, but now a lot of people can’t attend because they work Sundays. Hence, we’re still trying to nail down the whens and wherefores, but the idea is to alternate between Saturday and Sunday mornings for the rest of the year, only interrupted by outside events. (For instance, anyone coming by the gallery the weekend of September 10 is going to be horribly disappointed, because both people and plants will be set up at Texas Frightmare Weekend.) This way, since having the gallery open every day isn’t an option, most folks will have an opportunity on one day or the other.

As for next weekend, the secret words are “rest,” “recuperate,” and “restock, so look for us the weekend of July 17. Until then, keep your eye out for more enclosure debuts and backstories.

Have a Safe Weekend

With the extended weekend (at least in the States) comes a new ongoing Carnivorous Plant Weekend, starting from 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm on Saturday, July 3 and continuing on July 4 from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for some creative destruction in the gallery.

Enclosures: “Nift” (2021)

Approximately 30 million Earth years ago, a vast civilization known today as the Catesby Hegemony dominated a significant portion of what is now called The Broken Galaxy, an irregular galaxy orbiting the edges of Andromeda. Getting its name because stellar movements within the cluster could not be explained by standard celestial mechanics, analysis of the current positions of stars within the cluster suggests that the stars within were held under a very tight control for millions of years, both in position and in star stability. For a period of approximately three million years, the cluster had no novas, no supernovae, no cepheid variables, and not so much as an unstable stellar interloper. Then something happened that ended that regime of stability, tearing stars large and small out of the cluster, causing some to collide and others to eject themselves from the cluster entirely. A few are still in the gulfs between galaxies and on their way to our galaxy, with the first arriving in approximately 40 million years, suggesting that the process that produced the Broken Galaxy also produced incredible gravitational stresses if it could fling systems at that velocity.

Aside from radio archaeology that mapped its outer extent and confirmed when the Broken Galaxy incident occurred, almost nothing was known about the Catesby Hegemony. The name was coined after one of its most dedicated students, the first to realize the exact extent and shape of the pre-incident cluster: to this day, nobody knows exactly what the people of this civilization called themselves. While geniuses at stellar manipulation, they apparently had no interest in spreading out further, and the incident that ripped the galaxy apart also removed every possible planet or construct upon which the residents had been living. Some archaeologists suggested searching for wandering exoplanets outside of the Broken Galaxy, and others managed to get the funding to search for them, but the few that met the criteria were blasted and stripped, with only radioisotope dating of the strata at the surface showing a connection to the Hegemony. And so the research ended.

That remained the case until after a breakthrough in a star within Andromeda itself. Around this unassuming yellow dwarf star on the rim of Andromeda orbited five worlds, all rocky. One had its own indigenous life, and as such held a successful research station, while the other four had strange incisions across their surface and deep into the planets’ bodies, like the foundations to unknown and unknowable mechanisms that ranged across their surfaces. The lifebearing one , Kocak III, seemed to be completely untouched, but this was before the discovery of the Obsidian Gel.

The Gel kept piling on mystery after mystery. It was composed of a material resembling obsidian, but that gave slightly under pressure and was otherwise unbreakable with any current technology. Inside its body appeared to be stars and galaxies suspended therein, with some moving slowly over months and years. Much was made about this being a possible starmap, until the most elaborate pattern recognition software ever developed found no connection between current stars and galaxies within 100 million light-years of Kocak III, nor with any time in the past or future for an estimated 5 billion years in either temporal direction. The breakthrough came with the xenoarchaeologist Madelyn Catesby, working on a completely unrelated issue before discovering that the Obsidian Gel emitted a very tight-beam microwave transmission from the center of its main face, apparently intended for machinery gone for millions of years. This led to decipherment of the tiny bits of information coming from the Gel, and discovering that the “stars” in the Gel were representations of data stored within. Only about 3 percent of the total information storage in the Gel has been retrieved and deciphered, but that should keep spare computer cycles throughout four galaxies busy for decades.

The connection between the Obsidian Gel and the Broken Galaxy revealed itself suddenly, upon discovering that the Gel was originally the processing center for a wildly complex and advanced net of dark matter wormholes and gravitic generators intended to keep the Broken Galaxy in its original pristine state. The Gel was just one of seven storage stations for the incredibly elaborate algorithms needed to keep the galaxy in position, with the other worlds containing gravitic generators , and the Gel’s storage gives hints as to the spectacle it must have been at its height.

As to what happened, whether by sabotage or incompetence, the Gel was being used on the side for ongoing equations intended to track bits of data and encrypt their whereabouts. This was used to lock down chunks of cultural detritus, the equivalent of cat videos and contemporary memes, and one day the computations on those equations overwhelmed the incoming buffers. Suddenly the algorithms were wiped out with storage for Catesbian knock-knock jokes, and a whole galaxy ate itself over the space of a year as the mechanisms maintaining a galactic stellar artwork were coopted for their versions of webcomics. Two years later, the Broken Galaxy lived up to its name, the whole of the Catesby Hegemony was completely stripped of life and mechanics, and all that was left was one storage device packed to the limits with convergently evolved versions of “I Can Has Cheezburger” and the occasional Goatse.

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

Plant: Nepenthes x hookeriana (rafflesiana x ampullaria)

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

Price: $250

Shirt Price: $200

The Aftermath: June Porch Sale (June 27, 2021)

And now we hit the end of June, with the real summer heat still to come. Unlike last year, the outdoor events may have to come to an end for a while, or at least move inside, just because this summer could go in any number of directions, and “dangerous levels of heat by 3:00 pm” is usually at the top of the menu. That’s not to say that we’re stopping: it’s just to say that customer safety and gallery owner safety are very tight Venn diagrams.

If we needed a swan song and separation layer between “beginning of the year” and “end of the year” Porch Sales, June 27 summed it up. Thanks to unusual but not completely unheard-of rainy weather, the air was best described as “too thick to breathe, too thin to waterski on,” and getting close to optimal hot tub temperatures by the end of the day. That didn’t keep people from coming out to visit, but it definitely made the bicycle trip to the gallery that morning just a little less effortless.

It may have been hot and sticky for humans, but the plants seemed to love it. Compared to the usual Dallas blast furnace, a bit of Tallahassee crock pot was exactly what they needed. Right about now, the Sarracenia will slow down on growth and get ready for an explosion of new pitchers when things start cooling off in October, and that’s worth the wait.

Anyway, time to get back to the linen mines: the rest of the week is dedicated to getting everything ready for this weekend’s Carnivorous Plant Weekend event, starting on Saturday, July 3 from 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm and continuing on Sunday, July 4 from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. After that, the subsequent weekend is one for resting, recharging, and repotting, so keep an eye on the schedule for announcements on new events. And after THAT? Let’s just say that September, October, and November are already booked.

Have a Safe Weekend

Last weekend in June, and would you believe a chance of rain through Dallas all next week? Like anyone’s complaining. The last Porch Sale of the month runs Sunday, from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, and all of that is preparation for the Carnivorous Plant Weekend running July 3 and 4. (And for the record, this marks just over 2000 posts on this silly site over the last 10 years. Since nobody’s going to give me a cookie, I’m buying my own.)

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2021 – 5

Come into the story midway? Try starting at the beginning.

And in the end, the Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo was over. Eight hours after the doors opened, the gigantic crowds finally trickled out, and all of the vendors took assessment of what we had left and what we had to replace before our next shows. I just looked at one neighbor and said “If I’d sold just a little bit more, I could leave the van and fly home.” Slight exaggeration, but it came close.

Obviously, everyone who came out was VERY happy. It wasn’t just a matter of people wanting to get out of the house: The Expos keep proving that not only is there a market for the macabre in Texas, but that audience keeps growing. Between these and Texas Frightmare Weekend, Halloween really will be that day when we let the amateurs have their fun. As someone who took decades of grief over “why can’t you just be normal?”, vindication is sweet, especially when it’s shared with friends, cohorts, and fellow unindicted coconspirators.

With such a massive show, many thanks are in order. Obviously, the crew behind every Oddities & Curiosities Expo deserves accolades for pulling off such massive shows without so much as a hiccup, but the fellow vendors do as well. (A tip: go check out Nicole Pangas Ceramics not just because her work is fascinating, but because we Michigan kids stick together. Meanwhile, I’ll always plug The Curiositeer because you always take care of your little sister, even if neither of you share common DNA.) An additional plug for Green Mesquite BBQ on Barton Springs: I only survived breakdown on Saturday evening because I knew I had a few kilos of sausage and pork ribs waiting for me at the hotel once I was done. Most of all, thanks to everyone who came out, whether or not you bought anything, because your interesting and unexpected questions are why this whole shebeen goes on tour. Now to get back to work and finish restocking, I haven’t come back from a show with so little since Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018, and this was after just one day, not three. I don’t think any of us would have survived if the Expo had run on Sunday as well, although I’m willing to test that in Dallas next year.

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2021 – 4

Come into the story midway? Try starting at the beginning.

Visitors to Texas in May and June might notice what appears to be snow accumulating in random spots, particularly in places near water. No, this is not snow, and natives and longtime residents will scream that fact with an underlying cosmic horror. THIS IS NOT SNOW. What you’re witnessing, as I personally experienced when stepping outside my hotel room for the Oddities & Curiosities Expo in Austin, is the reproductive cycle of what could qualify as the most typically Texan lifeform in existence, the cottonwood tree (Populus deltoides).

Most residents have a decided love-hate relationship with cottonwood trees, and take great pains to relate the “hate” part. P. deltoides is found all over Texas and New Mexico, usually concentrated around water in otherwise dry areas. They’ve found a second life as opportunists in urban and suburban areas, where their roots head straight for the nearest water, gumming up sewer and drainage lines. The trees themselves are very short-lived on average, and tend to drop large branches during storms, usually directly atop houses. The “fluff” transports seeds long distances, and after the seeds drop off in gardens and on the edges of ponds and streams, the fluff clogs air conditioner vents and car air filters. The fluff also sets off allergies and contact dermatitis among those sensitive to such things, and most summers are spent fighting horrendous itches that only get worse after a shower or swim. The wood is so lightweight that downed branches make poor firewood, and burning green cottonwood makes everything smell like cat urine and/or an anime convention. They choke out other trees, destroy sidewalks and driveways, and cut off light to gardens. Worst of all, they grow so rapidly that someone who accidentally lets one grow next to their house finds out the hard way exactly how expensive they are to remove, especially when grafted into a sewer line or (worse) septic tank.

And then there are the positives. Yes, cottonwoods are very short-lived, but in the process, they produce valuable habitat for everything from beetles to raccoons, through all stages of their life cycle. The seeds borne on the fluff are a valuable food source in summer for birds and ants, and many late-nesting birds use the fluff for nesting material. The trees provide shade without killing the grasses and bushes underneath, and usually come back from storm damage faster than introduced trees. They take in tremendous amounts of water, but through transpiration create microclimates for other organisms that otherwise couldn’t handle Texas summers. The wood that’s so terrible for firewood makes great habitat for everything living and growing around a decaying log, and ultimately breaks up Texas clay and chalk and produces increasingly rich soil in the end. The Spanish word for cottonwood is “alamo,” and many Texas cities started around missions and villages founded around the water sources that the cottonwoods revealed. (As palaeontologists are sick of repeating, the titanosaur Alamosaurus wasn’t named after THE Alamo, but after Ojo Alamo in New Mexico, which translates to “Cottonwood Spring.”) Yes, they’re cantankerous and annoying, but ultimately they do good, like so many of the humans here. I just wish the fluff wasn’t so ridiculously itchy.