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.
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 Alamosauruswasn’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.
To be continued…
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There’s a lot of good things to be said about the general organization of the touring Oddities & Curiosities Expo shows from an attendee’s POV, but most people don’t have a perspective from the vendor’s side. There’s a lot to be said about the professionalism and efficiency of the Oddities crew from setup to final breakdown, but they do one thing I’d love to see at other events, all over the place.
Complimentary cart service.
You see, Oddities & Curiosities vendors carry all sorts of interesting stuff. Besides the narcissistic jerkwad with the carnivorous plants at the Texas shows, you have everything from ceramics to vintage taxidermy, and not all of it is easy to move. Unless you came prepared with a cart, this is a major problem for a lot of customers, where they’d love to get something nice and hefty but don’t have any easy way to get it to their cars, and it’s way too heavy to carry. The vendors would love to help, but between surging crowds and only having one person to watch the booth, the only option is to arrange pickup after the room closes for the day. If that’s not an option, then the customer walks away from something they really want, the vendor watches a sale walk away, and nobody’s happy. This is especially bad at events such as reptile and amphibian shows, where the critters aren’t anywhere near as heavy as new cages and accessories. The world for a handcart and someone to hold open doors.
That’s where the Oddities & Curiosities crew particularly excels. As I watched, several members patrolled the aisles with handcarts and blankets, ready to move someone’s new purchase out front so it could be picked up and taken home with a minimum of aggravation. This was particularly pertinent to a neighbor at the Austin show, who had an absolutely beautiful hippopotamus skull for purchase but no way to break free to move it for a buyer. The Oddities crew was right on it, with everyone happy, and a crowd of interested passersby turning the trip to the front doors into an impromptu parade.
Because of the sheer glee of customers happy with their purchases, I’d like to see more of this at other shows. Speaking from experience, I’d like to see a cart rental service at ZestFest alone: you have no idea how much just “a few” barbecue sauce and salsa containers weigh until one arm is permanently longer than the other and you’re walking like a Japanese waltzing mouse for two hours after the show.
To be continued…
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Even with longtime and native residents, there’s always something about Texas summers that brings out the desperate optimist. It won’t be that bad this time. June will be nice, and the real heat won’t hit until July. Oh, we’re going to get a break in August. No, really: we’ll finally start cooling off in November. You know, New Zealand, South Africa, and Antarctica are really nice this time of the year. My first summer here was during the Heat Wave of 1980, which set records only exceeded in 2011, so after that trauma, it’s hard not to engage in magical thinking and see all sorts of hints that yes, it won’t be that bad.
That magical thinking doubles when traveling between cities, as with the trek between Citadel and the Bullet Farm, erm, I mean, between Dallas and Austin for the Oddities & Curiosities Expo on June 19. The trip always takes longer than predicted because the midway point runs through the town of Waco (contrary to popular perception, the town’s name is pronounced WAY-co), and any time gained from an otherwise clear highway the rest of the way is burned off from the perpetual hours-long traffic jam passing by Baylor College. Then there’s the fun of having a van full of live plants and glass, stuck in motionless traffic as the van’s thermometer keeps reminding you that the hoped-for cool temperatures for that Friday are turning back into pumpkins and mice. By the time the perpetual traffic jam in downtown Austin let up enough to allow traffic off the highway and into downtown proper, those “unseasonably cool temperatures” teased the previous Monday hit 106F (40C), and with maybe 15 minutes to unload the truck at the Palmer Event Center before they had to kick everyone out for the night. Ah, Waco. Is there anything you can’t do?
To be continued…
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Much is made about the perceived rivalry between Austin and Dallas, but both cities share one very important common trait: dust. Oh so much DUST. Most of the year, the southern wind that blows across the center of Texas from the Gulf of Mexico picks up untold tons of dust from the Austin area. It’s mostly carbonate rock dust, both from natural erosion of limestone and chalk deposits in Central Texas (there’s a reason why one of the major rock formations in the state is called “the Austin Chalk”) and from incessant construction, and it’s supplemented by passing over the cement kilns that make up the main tourist attraction for the town of Midlothian, which swears that the kilns no longer use toxic and/or low-level radioactive waste as fuel. It comes down in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and lingers like a hipster houseguest, working its way into eyes and throats, gumming up lubricated surfaces, and making Dyson vacuum cleaners and air filters work for their living. We get revenge, though: starting in October, the winds shift and start blasting out of the north, and all of that dust that accumulated on every surface all summer long blows right back to Austin. Enough remains, though, to remind us: when it finally gets cool enough in autumn to justify turning on heaters in Dallas, the accumulated eight months or so on heater coils burns off, and the whole city smells a little like Austin for a day or so.
All things considered, we could have worse things than dust. There’s the distinctive chemical plant fug of Manistee, Michigan, or the burned green bean aroma of the multitude of microbreweries in Portland, Oregon. We SAY this, and then we make road trips in either direction, get out of our vehicles, and spend the next six hours washing off, brushing off, or vacuuming off what was once Cretaceous seabed mixed with bits of dinosaur dung. Yeah, and it tastes like it, too.
To be continued…
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With the gradual reopening of venues and events closed for the last year, one of the bigger surprises has been the rebirth of the touring Oddities & Curiosities Expo shows. Completely unknown in Texas three years ago, the Expo set up shop in Dallas in March 2019, with a subsequent event in Austin in August, and took both places by storm. Specializing in the exotic and the macabre, it was a natural for a Triffid Ranch show, and both shows in 2019 were so successful that 2020 looked like an even bigger year. In fact, because of the Austin 2020 show being scheduled for June instead of August, the plan as of February 2020 was to do shows in Austin and Houston in June, and then take a big leap with the first-ever Triffid Ranch event outside of Texas, at the New Orleans Oddities & Curiosities show at the end of August. Well, we know how 2020 turned out.
As COVID-19 vaccination rates increase, so do crowds wanting to get back out and do something, ANYTHING, far away from a computer screen. When the Oddities & Curiosities crew announced that they had worked out a post-COVID arrangement with the city of Austin and were reviving the show for June, there was no way I’d pass that up. Little did I know that a significant portion of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and New Mexico felt the same way.
Posted onApril 30, 2021|Comments Off on The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale – #25
(The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale is a regular Email newsletter, with archives available on the main TTR site at least a month after first publication. To receive the latest newsletters, please subscribe.)
Installment #25: “Chicago: City of the Future!”
Originally published April 1, 2021
Last year, the plan for the Triffid Ranch was to start moving outside of the Dallas area. Shows in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio were a given, but the original idea was to expand to the first show outside of Texas with a debut at the New Orleans Oddities & Curiosities Expo last August.. Explanations as to why might be needed…for someone whose TARDIS broke down in mid-Devonian Greenland, and the wait for rescue was just long enough that getting up to speed in the present was too much aggravation. (And don’t worry: my grandmother is fine. She even rescued her favorite umbrella.) Suffice to say, with early plans to restart shows and events in 2021, a lot of events were kicked to autumn, and so many had no option but to schedule themselves on the very same weekend as others. (For instance, as much as I would love to show plants at the Deep Ellum Arts Fest, after finally making it through the backup list, this year’s Arts Fest runs the same exact weekend as Texas Frightmare Weekend, and Frightmare obviously takes precedence.) Combine that with a new day job to keep the plants in light and food, and that 2020 schedule looks a little threadbare.
Not to worry, though. The big out-of-state event was just upgraded. The Triffid Ranch is going to Chicago!
Very technically, it’s “going back to Chicago”: I lived in the suburb of Hazel Crest for a year, from the end of 1978 to 1979, where a lot of interesting stuff happened. John Gacy, filming of The Blues Brothers, the Blizzard of 1979, and the moment when two local film critics by the names of Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel took their discussions on movies and movie trends to PBS. On a very personal level, this was when I personally encountered my first carnivorous plant: a Venus flytrap purchased in a local garden center. (As I relate at shows and events, it was doing great in Chicago, and then my family moved to Flower Mound, Texas at the end of 1979. The first time I watered that flytrap with Flower Mound tap water, the plant died within an hour, and I didn’t discover why for another 23 years.) Other than passing through in 1982 on the way to Michigan, and one transfer through O’Hare Airport in 1999, the opportunity to return hasn’t been available since then.
As for the event, it’s Chicon, the 80th World Science Fiction Convention, being held the weekend of September 1-5. Right now, everything other than the actual trip is tentative: I’ve volunteered for programming and for art show presentations, and current logistics involve figuring out how to move a truck full of carnivorous plant enclosures closer to the 45th Parallel than I’ve traveled in at least a decade. And yes, someone has already made the joke about the 300-pound Sontaran attorney.
One of the bigger reasons why this is so intriguing isn’t just to meet Chicago online friends in meatspace for the first time, and inflict silent vomiting in a few attendees assuming that I’m returning to pro genre writing. (As I tell my parents when they nag about moving “back” to Wisconsin, a place I left 35 years ago in May, I’ll return the moment the Dallas Cowboys win a shutout World Series pennant, and not a second earlier.) It’s also because of several cohorts who pointed out that the IGC Show, the country’s largest independent garden center show and convention, runs roughly at the same time. With news that the IGC Show might not have a 2021 event due to Illinois COVID-19 lockdowns, this leads to all sorts of mischief, er, plots, um, ideas. Yeah, IDEAS.
The reality is that both the concept of Worldcon and the IGC Show could use a boost, particularly to attract new audiences. Right now, both tend to skew toward the older side of the US demographic bell curve: I’ll be 56 when Chicon starts, and I’ll probably still be in the bottom 10 percentile of attendees sorted by age. (Thankfully, it won’t compare to the San Antonio Worldcon in 2013: for multiple reasons, I skipped out on being a vendor at San Antonio, and one of the most prominent was “If I wanted to waste a perfectly good birthday weekend listening to a herd of seventysomething xenophobes cry impotently about how the world changed without their written permission, I’d go to a family reunion.”) They both tend to be rather insular, with a lot of attendees worrying about the way things should be instead of what their customers really want. So why not merge them?
Hear me out. Anybody going through a publisher catalog, especially from science fiction publishers such as Baen and Tor, notices that science fiction needs a lot more biology, a lot more flowers, and a lot more exposure to interesting symbiotic and paraparasitic relationships. Anyone going through a garden center catalog notices that garden centers really need a lot more in the way of mysterious and surreal sculpture and topiary. A joint literary science fiction/garden center convention is the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of pop culture: these two need each other more than they realize. Just look at these talking points:
Dealer’s Rooms. Worldcon not only needs a much wider variety of items for sale in its dealer’s room, but items that convince the longtimers to leave the bar for a while. The IGC needs items for sale and order for those desperately sick and tired of the twee in garden ornamentation. Roses, Tillandsia, carnivores, fluorescent minerals. Swords, dragons, robots, and wrecked starships. Plan things right, and edge out the book dealers who just sit in the corner and grump at anybody wanting a book published after 1970, and dealers on both sides would make a killing.
Music. The IGC Show is famed for its regular free rock concerts for all attendees, usually from acts who last hit major radio airplay back in the days of Reagan and Thatcher. Half of rock music of the last half-century has at least some influence from genre themes. DragonCon in Atlanta already has a reputation of (a) running on the same weekend as Worldcon and (b) hosting big concerts for attendees, so this is a perfect opportunity to amp things up slightly and get the longtimers out of the bar. I recommend a headliner of GWAR.
Cooking. Not only does Chicago offer some of the best cuisine in North America, but the IGC Show has lots of panels and demos involving new and existing vegetables and herbs. Worldcon attendees, though, have a reputation of being perfectly happy with $15 overcooked hot dogs from the convention hotel restaurant. Hot peppers, rosemary skewers, mesquite wood, wonderful cooking scents from the food tents out in the parking lot and inside the hotel, and something something out of the bar.
Costuming. Okay, so the costumes at the IGC Show are accidental. Worldcon, though, has a reputation for attendees creating their own costumes that goes back all the way to the beginning of science fiction fandom. Lots of cross-pollination, pun intended, here: Triffids, Delvians, vargas, Krynoids, Vervoids, Vegetons, Pink Bunkadoos, Violet Carson roses, and Slaver Sunflowers, and who knows what attendees will think up after coming across hammer orchids, triggerplants, and cycads. And let’s face it: every garden center show could use at least a few Freeman Lowell and Dr. Pamela Isley cosplayers, just to make things interesting.
Okay, we have 17 months to make this happen, or die trying. And if it doesn’t happen in Chicago, it might have to be done, to a suitable scale, in Dallas. Heh heh heh.
Since all of the plants that survived February’s freeze are starting to emerge, it’s time to start up spring video presentations, particularly as the sundews, flytraps, and pitcher plants start blooming. Naturally, teachers, museums, or anybody with an audience of interested bystanders looking for something different are welcome to send an email to discuss setting up a unique virtual experience. (Now is also a great time for print, online, television, and/or radio interviews, too, because things might get a bit more exciting as the growing season gets going.)
Well, the old computer had reached its planned end-of-life shortly after I received it, and that was a decade ago, so a new computer was called for, because there’s a lot that can’t be done with an iPad after all. Among many other things, this gave the opportunity to purchase the whole of the Affinity professional creative suite, Among other things, this gives the opportunity to start working on PDF zines on carnivore care, and some of the publishing options are going to be dangerous. Watch this space.
Regular readers already know about my love of wasps, and the book Wasps: The Astonishing Diversity of a Misunderstood Insect by Eric R. Eaton. Besides being loaded with interesting wasp information, this book is one of a dying breed: a book that starts at a level of “almost no knowledge about the subject in the reader’s mind” without being patronizing or childish. If anything, the section on wasp fossils and relationships is worth buying it alone, because the illustrations and photos are absolutely top-notch.
In the ongoing quest for both work music in the gallery and tunes for the bike ride to the gallery, the band T3rr0r 3rr0r kept turning up, much to the distress of anyone hearing it seep out from headphones. No matter: more for me. This is the soundtrack the 1990s were supposed to have, back before everything turned into dotcoms and whiner rock.
The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feed Lot Clearance Sale #25 is copyright 2021 by Paul Riddell, and may be reproduced in its entirety and forwarded at will. The Texas Triffid Ranch is Dallas’s pretty much only carnivorous plant gallery, located in scenic Richardson, Texas, and is open by appointment. More information is available at www.texastriffidranch.com. Since nobody else read this far, the key for the device can be found on page 44 of the book Didn’t You Kill My Mother-In-Law? by Roger Wilmut and Peter Rosengard. It’s page 44: page 42 is a trap that initiates detonation immediately.
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Posted onNovember 12, 2020|Comments Off on Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 1
Many moons back, back when the Triffid Ranch was purely a venue that popped up at local shows and events, this site ran a regular series of recommendations for annual gift-giving, on the idea of spreading the wealth and giving further recommendations to venues that needed wider exposure. Starting the brick-and-mortar gallery, along with day job obligations, cut into opportunities to continue, but the ongoing kidney stone and appendicitis cosplay known as 2020 gives whole new opportunities to pay back old favors, hype up respected friends and cohorts, and generally spread the wealth. It may have been a rough year, but that makes helping out your friends that much more vital.
To start off this series, which will keep going every Thursday through the end of the year, it’s time to start with the regular question brought up at Triffid Ranch shows: “Do you ship?” The reason why you don’t see a handy online store on this site is because of the size, heft, and relative delicacy of the enclosures and containers available for sale, and the inability to guarantee that any of the finished enclosures could survive a trip through any currently available delivery service. Even if any given enclosure could handle hauling, lugging, flying, and disembarking, there’s no guarantee that the plants would. (It’s enough of a white-knuckle ride to drive them around the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex to make deliveries.) I may not be able to ship, but it’s time to look at carnivorous plant dealers who do.
With that in mind, below is a basic list of excellent carnivorous plant dealers with whom I’ve had good encounters in the past, and some of whom for whom I’d take a bullet without hesitation. All are very good about the plants they offer, and for those looking for particularly exotic species should give them all a viewing. These include:
California Carnivores: on this side of the Atlantic, it’s hard to talk about the carnivorous plant hobby without bringing up one of the oldest and largest carnivorous plant nurseries in the United States. Owner Peter D’Amato has probably done more to promote carnivores in the US than anybody else in the last 30 years (his book The Savage Garden is still one of the essential texts on carnivorous plant care), and his crew gleefully expand what we know about carnivores as often as they can.
Black Jungle Terrrarium Supply: Located on the opposite side of the continent from California Carnivores, Black Jungle already has a justified reputation for its variety and quality of dart frogs, but it also carries a wide selection of carnivores, including an enthusiastic collection of low-elevation and high-elevation Nepenthes pitcher plants.
Sarracenia Northwest: Back to the West Coast, Sarracenia Northwest is one of the gems of the Portland area. While its regular open houses aren’t happening under current conditions, its online selection is always full of very healthy plants (one Brocchinia I purchased six years ago is so enthusiastic in producing pups that if it turns out to qualify as a unique cultivar, I’m naming it “Martian Flatcat”), and the newsletter stories of Sue the Sarracenia Pup are worth subscribing all on their own.
Pearl River Exotics: One of the reasons to check out Pearl River is for its regular Nepenthes presales, with a great combination of pure species and hybrids.
Carnivero: A relatively new carnivorous plant nursery, Carnivero is already a good reason to plan a road trip to Austin once the pandemic is over. In the interim, Carnivero’s online selection is always interesting, and I expect we’ll be seeing a lot of their unique Nepenthes hybrids before too long.
Jersey Devil Carnivorous Plants: Lots of people who don’t know any better make jokes about New Jersey, and folks in New Jersey make jokes about the Pine Barrens. The Pine Barrens are a place I’ve wanted to visit ever since this strange trip began, because of its variety of endemic carnivores and orchids, and Jersey Devil pays special attention to the Barrens’ most famous carnivore, the purple pitcher plant Sarracenia purpurea. (Keep an eye open for next spring, because I want to be the first Texas carnivore dealer to carry Jersey Devil specials.)
Plano Carnivorous Plants: It’s a common misconception that the Triffid Ranch is the only carnivorous plant dealer in the greater Dallas area. Not only is this not true, but when customers ask about particular plants that I simply don’t have room to carry, I send them to talk to Dylan Sheng at Plano Carnivorous Plants. Dylan is a little more than a third of my age, and I want to be just like him when I finally grow up.
Well, this is a start: in the interim, take advantage of the relatively calm weather this week and get in your plant orders now, before it starts getting cold out. You won’t regret it.
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Posted onNovember 30, 2019|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 2019 – 4
Ever since the gallery went live, the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show has been a good excuse to go to Austin, a good excuse to see old friends who moved out of Dallas, and a great way to end the year as far as outside events were concerned. Thanks are in order for the Blood Over Texas crew, all of the attendees of the Horror For the Holidays show, and the staff of Green Mesquite BBQ on Barton Springs in downtown Austin, who kept me fed all weekend. I’ll see you all next November.
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Posted onNovember 28, 2019|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 2019 – 3
Now, people outside Texas may be a little concerned at the thought of a horror-themed holiday market such as the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays shows, as monsters and nightmares don’t seem to fit the traditional holiday spirit. These are folks who may not be familiar with the history of the German and Czech settlers who moved into Central Texas in the 19th and 20th Centuries, and they brought a lot more than their traditions for beer, sausage, and cheese. (Handy travel tip: Central Texas is full of caves eroded into the underlying limestone, which is one of many reasons why Texas has some of the best cheese caves on the planet. Don’t even get me started on how a breakfast without kolache is like a broken pencil.) Krampus parades are as much a Texas tradition as chili, and the Blood Over Texas crew knows how to throw a good one.
To be continued…
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Posted onNovember 26, 2019|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 2019 – 1
Three years after the first out-of-Dallas Triffid Ranch show, and the crew at Blood Over Texas in Austin decided to punch up the annual Horror For the Holidays show this year. Having wildly outgrown its old location, both in attendance and in vendors, the plan this year was to relocate to the Travis County Expo Center, which allowed a lot more usable room, more natural light, and a schedule that allowed both Saturday and Sunday operation. They offered the venue, and we vendors took it over.
As far as the last out-of-town Triffid Ranch event of 2019 was concerned, it went out on a great note. Lots of old friends (including three who happened to be out from Dallas that weekend), lots of new faces, and several folks whose assistance will be of great help with future projects. Best of all, many attendees were very helpful with ideas for next year’s shows in both Austin and Houston.
To be continued…
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Posted onNovember 21, 2019|Comments Off on State of the Gallery: November 2019 – Special Edition
A lot has happened in November so far, and more is gearing up for the rest of the month, in what the author Harlan Ellison called “the hour that stretches.” November has always been an, er, interesting month in my life, what with layoffs, moves, new jobs, and more than a few deaths. November 2019 follows in that tradition, and the plan is that the window that opens when the door closes is a greenhouse vent and not an airlock. Yeah, it’s been one of THOSE Novembers.
Anyway, the practical upshot is that appointment availability for Triffid Ranch consultations just became a lot more open. The Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas Saturday night open houses starting on November 30 remain unaffected, but now the gallery will be open a lot more often during the week, too. Just excuse the mess: the events over the last two months (of which no more will be said) interfered with new projects, so the idea now is to rectify that situation. Among other things, this frees up storage space, it gives new homes for older plants to stretch out, and it gives more reasons for all of you lot to come out to multiple Nightmare Weekends to see what’s new THIS time. If you’ve had an eye on a particular enclosure but haven’t made the move to take it home just yet, this may be the perfect opportunity.
And the rest of the year? That’s dedicated both to a wedding anniversary blowout (17 years as of December 28, and people still assume that we’ve been married for weeks) and to getting ready for 2020. This includes a stem-to-stern renovation of the gallery, other essential updates (after all, we’ve been in the space for three years as of February, so we have plans), and scheduling for the largest list of outside events yet. Among other things, a quick perusal of the calendar revealed that next Valentine’s Day falls on a Friday, and between this and Leap Day on a Saturday, it’s time to call some people and plan a multi-venue event. As always, details will follow as they happen: if it doesn’t happen, you’ll never know about it.
Speaking of venues, if you’ve attended an open house and never stepped across the doorway to our neighbor Visions of Venice, consider yourself encouraged to investigate. Besides being the absolute best business neighbor a boy could ever want, the amount of crossover interest between carnivorous plants and Italian glasswork continues to surprise me. Even better, the storefront is open during the week, so don’t be afraid to head out during a lunch break with a whole group of coworkers and peruse the stock of masks and chandeliers. (Yes, they actually go together. Don’t argue with me on this.)
Finally, before loading up the van and heading out to Austin for this weekend’s Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show at the Travis County Exposition Center, a little note: some of you may have noticed that the new URL for this Web site changed to http://www.texastriffidranch.com within the last week. It’s a funny story as the old URL still works, and you’ll have to come out to one of the Triffid Ranch events for an explanation. In the meantime, if you haven’t been exploring through the archives in a while, please indulge your curiosity, as WordPress and Google are fighting over whether or not this is new content. Besides, you don’t have anything better to do the week before American Thanksgiving when you’re trapped at work and everyone else is taking off on early vacations, right?
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Posted onOctober 16, 2019|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Spooky Science on Tap 2019 at the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History
Remember my mentioning earlier in the year that 2019 was going to be the big year for the Triffid Ranch stretching its legs? Well, an opportunity presented itself at almost the literal last minute, as with the Perot Museum in Dallas, the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History hosts regular after-hours adults-only events, and its Spooky Science on Tap costume event had room for a certain carnivorous plant rancher to show off representative genera all night. Before you knew it, I had a space on the second floor next to a model of Sputnik, and the rest of the night belonged to patrons wanting to know more about the differing pit traps with each pitcher plant genus and explanations on how flytrap traps reopen after capturing prey.
All told, the whole show was a resounding hit, and after quick talks with the FWMSH crew, I’m keeping the calendar open for their events. I’m particularly hopeful for events in mid-April, as the Manchester United Flower Show could always use a larger audience.And the only problem? The FWMSH has featured a life-sized Acrocanthosaurus model out front for decades, just begging for it to participate in the pre-Halloween shenanigans. Why some enterprising museum volunteer didn’t fit it with a speaker playing “This Is Halloween” is beyond me.(And one advantage to firing blind with a phone camera after everyone else went home and I was preparing for the long drive back to Dallas. Even in daylight, most people wouldn’t have noticed the dragonfly sleeping on the model’s nose. Since it was beyond dark that night until the moon rose, it was just one more surprise discovered after I got home.)
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Posted onApril 6, 2018|Comments Off on Upcoming Events: The Second Annual Manchester United Flower Show and Other Vagaries
One classic comment about life in Texas states “If you don’t like the weather, hang on five minutes. This ties directly to a less commonly stated but equally apt phrase, “Don’t count on Texas weather.” Getting the reminder that some 12 tornadoes passed over my house six years ago this week, while Day Job co-workers and I huddled in a building seemingly made of nothing BUT windows, and the admonition “keep watching the skies” isn’t just for bicycle commuters. As of right now, the National Weather Service is predicting near-freezing temperatures for Friday and Saturday nights, along with a wind advisory and thunderstorm watches for all evening Friday. Considering that this is the time where traditionally all of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex outdoor festivals and events start, I truly feel for everyone who has to be outside to run those outdoor festivals. A shoutout to the folks running the Deep Ellum Arts Festival, in particular: last year’s event was so absolutely perfect that it’s heartbreaking to realize that the weather will only be decent on Sunday afternoon. (incidentally, don’t let that stop any of you from going out there: just make sure to bring a coat and a plastic sheet for any art you bring home.)
This, of course, doesn’t affect the gallery: the Second Annual Manchester United Flower Show still runs tonight and Saturday, even if our wild fluctuations in temperature over the last month mean that some of the carnivores are being tetchy about blooming. The Venus flytraps, which normally have full and lively flower scapes by this time of the year, are only now starting to bloom, and don’t even get me started about the hopes for Australian pitcher plant blooms. On the brighter side, this is a good year for Heliamphora pitcher plant blooms, for the first time since the Triffid Ranch started, and the Sarracenia pitcher plants are currently going berserk. Okay, so the flytraps and sundews are delayed, but seeing why Queen Victoria so loved the flower emblem of Newfoundland and Labrador makes up for it. There’s no point in hyping up the bladderwort and Mexican butterwort blooms, because this is definitely their year.
After the flower show, expect a bit of radio silence, mostly because it’s time to get caught up on seriously delinquent support work, especially as far as plant care guides are concerned. That’s because as of today, we’re only a month away from Texas Frightmare Weekend, one of the largest horror conventions on the planet, and it’s time to amp up the Frightmare booth to a whole new level. Expect to see plants that have never appeared at a previous Frightmare, along with ones that most Americans have never seen, as well as other surprises. (Now’s the time to mention that not only do Shirt Price discounts apply at Texas Frightmare Weekend, but I have plans for special surprises for attendees wearing Triffid Ranch shirts that are just a perk.)
And after that? It’s time for a road trip. The original plan was to visit Chicago during the Independent Garden Center show in August, but the 300-pound Samoan attorney is still in the shop and rentals are prohibitively expensive. That’s when a much more lively event opened up. This year’s International Carnivorous Plant Society conference is being hosted by the Bay Area Carnivorous Plant Society on August 3 through 5, which means (a) being in the vicinity of California Carnivores with an expense fund, (b) a demonstration of imposter syndrome-inspired meltdown in the presence of some of the greatest experts on carnivorous plants in this arm of the galaxy, and (c) an extra day in San Francisco for my beloved’s birthday. Working vacations are the best, and the plan is to come back to Dallas with an even larger collection of plants in time for the Triffid Ranch third anniversary party on August 25. August may be a slow month for art galleries, but not here.
And after THAT? well, that depends upon the weather, as always. Details will follow, but expect some surprises for September and October in addition to the annual November drive to Austin for the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show. We have such sights to show you…
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Posted onDecember 12, 2017|Comments Off on Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 4: The Aftermath – 3
Plans for next year’s Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show: more comfortable van seats. Finding a more regular source for Lava Lamp bottles. Explaining to the cats that we won’t be gone forever and ever and ever. Other than that, don’t change a thing.
Comments Off on Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 4: The Aftermath – 3
Posted onDecember 12, 2017|Comments Off on Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 4: The Aftermath -1
It’s a one-day show. At top speed, the commute between Dallas and Austin is still over three hours. Highway I-35, the only artery offering a direct route between two cities, has been under perpetual expansion and repair since I first moved to Texas 38 years ago. Oh, and Austinites apparently consider allowing fellow drivers to merge into traffic to be a mortal sin. With all that, not only is the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show an essential event, but I have only one complaint about it: it’s ONLY a one-day show. Two or three days with the sort of people attracted to a horror-themed gift market? Where do I sign up, and where was this 30 years ago?
Comments Off on Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 4: The Aftermath -1
As can be told from the last year, managing the gallery means a dearth of posts. This is a shame on one level, because it means that an ever-expanding collection of photos builds up on backup drives, just waiting for a few minutes between plant maintenance, enclosure design and construction, ARTwalk setup and teardown, home maintenance, relationship maintenance, Day Job essentials, laundry, mowing the lawn, and the regular nervous breakdown every third Friday. If I had the time to find a definitive and permanent vaccine for sleep, I’d be all set.
With that said, with things cooling down and the temperate carnivores going to bed for the winter, it’s time to start updating and revising. Let’s start with a little palaeobotany trip down to Glen Rose, Texas, best known for its dinosaur trackways but full of all sorts of other surprises.
The original idea, such as it was, was to get out of Dallas for a day during Memorial Day weekend and hit someplace that presumably hadn’t been flooded with May’s torrential rains. This time, it meant hitting Glen Rose, almost directly due south of Fort Worth, and stopping by Dinosaur Valley State Park. Neither of us had been out that way for a decade, but the idea of nature trails, antique stores, and possibly finding some of the Paluxy River’s famed Cretaceous petrified wood. The wood could wait: the dinosaurs couldn’t.
Besides the draw of Dinosaur Valley State Park’s hiking and biking trails and campgrounds, there’s the real reason why people travel from all over the planet: its famed dinosaur trackways. Back in the 1930s, the fossil prospector Roland T. Bird rode into Glen Rose on a hot summer day on his Indian motorcycle and stopped for a drink of lemonade. While cooling off, he inspected a recently constructed bandshell next to the county courthouse, which was constructed of local stone. Among the huge chunks of gypsum and petrified wood was a fossil track of a predatory dinosaur, and inquiry by Bird led locals to show him the river bottom, which was literally paved with dinosaur tracks and trackways. Not only were the first scientifically described sauropod tracks found in the river, but they kept coming across tracks on multiple planes of what used to be muddy beach: one of the great surprises was of a whole trackway, most likely of the big predator Acrocanthosaurus and the sauropod Paluxysaurus, as the former chased the latter across mudflats. Those trackways were cut out and archived decades ago, but the river bottom still had other tracks to see, right?
Well, as luck would have it, the Paluxy probably had plenty of new tracks visible to the naked eye…if the bearer of that eye also had gills. The river was as high as I’ve ever seen it, and about as clear and attractive as week-old coffee. It was also as close to white water as it could come, so taking a boat on it, even if that were allowed, was a remarkably bad idea. That didn’t stop innumerable innertubers on the nearby Brazos, but if the idea was to view geology instead of lining the banks with beer bottles, this was a bust.
Maybe not a complete bust: on the far shore was a smooth softshelled turtle (Trionyx spp.) taking advantage of a lack of humans to get in a good bask. It stayed on the bank for about ten minutes, long enough to get photos, but it didn’t take well to spectators. Enough people collected on the near shore that the noise or the motion spooked it, and it slid off the sandbank and disappeared into the roiling river. Considering that the genus Trionyx is at least 45 million years old, and probably a lot older, it may not have been a dinosaur contemporary, but at least it added some ambiance. Besides, softshelled turtles are famously cantankerous, and since this one was the same diameter as a garbage can lid, anybody stupid enough to catch it would learn soon enough exactly how hard it could bite.
Not far from the river were two old friends: the Tyrannosaurus and Brontosaurus statues from the 1962 World’s Fair, where they joined other life-sized dinosaurs in an outdoor exhibition sponsored by Sinclair Oil. These days, they’re in exceptional condition: when I first viewed them in the fall of 1980, they’d been neglected for decades since they were donated to Dinosaur Valley State Park. The Brontosaurus had been constructed in segments in order to make it easier to ship by boat to the New York World’s Fairgrounds, and the sparkle used to cover the seams had fallen out, giving it a strange checkerboard look. Meanwhile, the Tyrannosaurus had suffered from the loving attentions of the residents of Glen Rose: in 1980, it had all of two teeth left. Apparently, having a fake dinosaur tooth was a status symbol among Glen Rose teenagers, so the rest had been shot out with .22 rifles and picked up. That changed in the late Eighties with a big restoration and location change, though, and they look today as if they could go for a walk.
(thick northern Australian accent) “Now, this is a mature tyrannosaur! He’s about fifteen meters; that’s about 50 feet! Now, I’m gonna sneak up behind and jam my thumb up his butthole! That’ll really piss him orf!”
Incidentally, there’s a very good reason why this tyrannosaur has a trapdoor for a cloaca. By 1962 standards, the World’s Fair dinosaurs were marvels of animatronics, and this trapdoor allowed access to the mechanism that opened and closed the tyrannosaur’s lower jaw. I’d known for years that other dinosaurs had similar mechanisms (the Triceratops had a head that moved back and forth, and the Ankylosaurus had a tail club that wagged), but I’d been told for years that the Brontosaurus was completely immobile. Imagine my surprise at Caroline spotting guide at the front of the corral that described the brontosaur’s neck moving from side to side. Nearly 55 years later, and you still learn something new.
Another drastic change from late 1980: in a strange way, this was a more accurate locale for a big sauropod than anybody thought. In 1980, the scientific consensus still held that the big sauropods were swamp-dwellers that used water to buoy their massive bulks. The Paluxy dinosaur tracks seemed to confirm this: although plenty of sauropod front and hind footprints showed up in the river, not a single tail dragmark showed, up, supposedly confirming that the tracks were made under enough water to float the tails out of the way. What’s understood now is that sauropods held their tails out of reach of a wayward herdmate’s foot, and that most sauropods actively avoided swamps in favor of well-drained floodplains. Ironically, while the conditions most favored by tyrannosaurs are best represented today by southern Louisiana and the Florida panhandle, most of the big Jurassic sauropods would have been most at home in plains like the ones around Dallas and Fort Worth. If they could deal with the drastic changes in vegetation, that is.
And on the subject of Texas climate, the seeming dead-fish eye on the Brontosaurus has a slightly disturbing story. This is the third head on this statue: when the big restoration project on both statues started in the mid-1980s, an effort was made to put a new, scientifically accurate head on the Brontosaurus, when “Brontosaurus” became a nomen dubiam for the previously described Apatosaurus. Unfortunately, as is often the case with a lot of science art, the proponents of accurate sauropods ran right into proponents of preserving art in its original form, even if it’s wildly inaccurate. Ultimately, molds were found of the original head, and this fiberglass replacement was made from those mold and reattached. The eyes, though, were made of clear resin, which has fogged and crazed from just a few years of Texas’s wildly high levels of ultraviolet light. Texas cars very rarely rust out due to our climate removing any need for salting roads in the winter, but the tradeoff is cracking car dashboards from heat and auto paint that turns into watercolors in ten years.
Surprisingly for the whole foofarol about redoing the bronto’s head, nobody talks about redoing the tyrannosaur to match current theories. Namely, covering it with feathers. Here, I argue that this statue needs to be left alone to illustrate how dinosaurs were portrayed in the Twentieth Century…and put in a new accurate one just down the road a ways. You have to admit that seeing a “Roadrunner From Hell” tyrannosaur once you enter the park is a great way to make lasting impressions on first-time park visitors, right?
The main reason most people have for visiting Glen Rose, Texas is for dinosaur tracks. Whether it’s to visit Dinosaur Valley State Park or the oxymoronic Creation Evidence Museum up the road, it’s all about dinosaur tracks. Before one Roland T. Bird came into downtown Glen Rose for a glass of lemonade and found a dinosaur track incorporated into a WPA-built bandshell next to the courthouse, the town was one of a multitude of towns southwest of Fort Worth boasting scenic views and excellent diners, but nothing that would convince people to travel from the other side of the planet to visit. Now, Glen Rose has a plethora of antique stores and art galleries to give a reason to stay, just so long as you don’t spend so much time stomping around in the Paluxy River that you lose track of daylight.
Since the original plan to go slopping around in the Paluxy was capsized by the closest thing to white water that I’ve ever seen on it, this meant lots of daylight for other endeavors. The dinosaur trackways are on what used to be muddy beachfront, so they tended to catch lots of other items during regular rounds of sediment deposition. While I have yet to come across any reports of actual dinosaur bone preserved in Glen Rose, that mud preserved a lot more. In particular, the area is simply rotten with exquisitely petrified driftwood, most of which looks as if it came out of the surf last week instead of 120 million years ago.
Those familiar with the fossilized logs at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona might be a bit disappointed with Glen Rose petrified wood, or most of the stuff in Texas for that matter. The Glen Rose deposits rarely preserve whole logs: the vast majority of pieces resemble the chunks and bobs that wash up in the Gulf of Mexico today: the bark is gone, but the surf wasn’t strong enough to move big logs and stumps onto land, so most of what’s here are smaller pieces that were broken up elsewhere. However, it’s beautifully silicified, preserving knotholes and insect damage, and it’s considerably more forgiving of erosion than its mudstone matrix, so it once collected in large piles. A tough but workable stone, with obvious attractiveness and durability: when given that sort of resource for construction, of course the people Glen Rose put it to use.
Based on the buildings still extant incorporating local petrified wood, you’d think that the area would remain loaded with logs. Making a trip out to Glen Rose 15 years ago, I heard some of the backstory from the former mayor, who ran a now-defunct bookstore in the town square. According to her, most of the available logs and larger chunks that weren’t already incorporated into local buildings were picked up and sold for the rock shop trade in the 1950s, and the high quality of the wood meant that people were keeping a close eye on the buildings. She related how a gas station near the square, made almost completely out of local petrified wood, had shut down and the land purchased by a local church for possible expansion. According to her, the church was evenly split between those who wanted to restore the gas station as a piece of local history and those who wanted to sell the petrified wood to a wholesaler, and this was settled when the gas station “accidentally” came down in the middle of the night. The petrified wood was salvaged and sold, and half of the congregation hasn’t talked to the other half since.
Even acknowledging that (a) the story might be apocryphal and (b) I should have taken notes rather than depending upon memories from a decade-and-a-half ago, the gas station story is believable upon seeing the structures still standing. So long as Cretaceous rock remains in the Glen Rose area, additional petrified wood will eventually erode out and gradually migrate to the bottom of the valley, but all of the easy pickings have been gone since the Great Depression. With luck, though, enough will remain that some aspiring palaeobotanist should be able to identify and classify the local flora, and give as much of a view of the plant life of Creataceous Glen Rose as the trackways give of the fauna.
Posted onMarch 12, 2015|Comments Off on Things To Do In Richardson When You’re Dead: Dr. Delphinium orchid open house
A quick signal interrupt, and an excuse for my fellow Dallasites to stay as far away from the Greenville Avenue St. Patrick’s Day parade as possible. (Dallas is particularly good at turning ethnic Catholic holidays of celebration and glee into excuses for Anglo Protestants to feed vast rivers of booze vomit running through our streets, which is why you avoid Greenville Avenue at all costs on St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo.) For the last several years, I’ve had to skip out on the legendary Gunter’s Orchids open houses in Richardson because the open houses coincided with my first spring show at All-Con. Not that I’d tell you to skip out on All-Con for any reason (especially since the dealers, particularly Tawanda Jewelry, will appreciate the attention), but my not having a booth means that I’m free to head out for the open house. Much to its credit, when the florist company Dr. Delphinium bought out Gunter’s two years ago, the old traditions remain, and Dr. Delphinium hosts its open house this Friday through Sunday at its Richardson location. This means lots and lots of freshly-blooming orchids, and you might even luck out and see the revived Tahitian vanilla orchid in full bloom.
Me, I’ll be out there on Saturday at around noon, so anyone who wants to join me is welcome to do so. If you can’t, well, I’ll get plenty of pictures. One way or another, see you then.
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The person who first described March as “coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb” apparently slept through July every year. This one in particular keeps getting better and better. Among other things, my niece Hailey and her husband DJ (one of the two best nephews-in-law a guy could ever have) just had their first child this weekend, which officially makes the Czarina and I a great-aunt and great-uncle. (Because she argues that she’s already a great aunt, the Czarina told me that she plans to encourage the next generation to refer to her as “Auntie”. In response, I’m planning to teach all of the kids to ask her “Who run Bartertown?” When I do it, she hits me.)
Even with all of the craziness coalescing within the next few months, we made tentative plans for a working holiday at the beginning of August. Nothing much: I figured that it might be nice to visit Michigan without needing a grandparent’s funeral as justification, and let the Czarina see my childhood stomping grounds when they aren’t decorated with carved blocks of frozen oxygen. (Or at least, that’s her perception. The first time she saw a snow broom in the back of a rental car, I thought she was going to have a heart attack when I explained what it was for. I didn’t have the heart to tell her about how the mosquitoes in summer were so thick that their carcasses tended to sandblast the paint off the front of vehicles, so we were actually glad for the snow when I was a kid.) When we heard about a combination independent garden center conference and music festival called “Bloomapalooza”, running maybe a thirty-minute drive from my childhood house, we both figured “Why the heck not?”
In the meantime, life intruded, and I learned today that Bloomapalooza’s organizers just canceled it. No trip to Michigan, and no music festival. I guess that means I’ll have to organize the “Manchester United Flower Show” after all, doesn’t it?
The mantra “If I could be in sixteen places at once” becomes particularly forceful these days. Well, I wouldn’t say “forceful” so much as “whiny”. At this point, the Czarina no longer tries to wake me up when I start crying bitterly in my sleep. Instead, she just acts the way she does when she dreams that I’ve done something wrong: one punch to the throat, and the sounds of my choking on my own blood eases her back to slumber. These days, she gets so much practice that she could take down Mike Tyson with one shot.
The reason why I’m whimpering and sobbing when I should be dreaming of repotting Sarracenia? Let me count the ways. Among other things, discovering that the Australasian Carnivorous Plant Society is hosting a carnivorous plant show at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden in Mount Tomah, New South Wales next month…yeah, I heard that catch in your throat.
Oh, but it gets even worse. I’ve wanted to hit the Philadelphia Flower Show for a while, and discovering that it’s running on the same two weekends as the ACPS show is rough enough. Discovering that it’s paying tribute to the centenary of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show by going with a British theme is worse. Of course, being the wiseacre that I am, I’m wondering how far they’re going to go with the theme, or if some enterprising individual starts offering distinctive potting sheds for sale.
We all deal with it at one time or another: commit to some interesting activity because the calendar is full of fluff and barf, and you find something new and much better about thirty seconds after you pay for the plane tickets. Or you discover the event of a lifetime, scheduled for the same weekend as something else that simply cannot be moved. My life story involves repeated instances where, as much as I’d love to break commitments and peruse something new, I acknowledge that I’m already on the line for something as important and do the grown-up thing. (Remind me to tell you the free lobster story one of these days.)
And then there’s the real bonecruncher: staying home and getting ready for a major show the weekend before, so I’m not frantically potting plants right after coming home from the Day Job, and then finding something that, if it were any week, running that credit card plumb dry in order to get plane tickets. Or selling body parts. Heck, selling my body parts.
And so, for those wanting to explore the frontiers of aquaria, terraria, and vivaria, get thee hence to MICROCOSM in San Diego the weekend of March 1. Of course, I only learned about this today, and of COURSE it’s the weekend before All-Con, the first really big Triffid Ranch show of the year. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I’m just going to ask for a volunteer who’s already heading to MICROCOSM to grab as much promotional material as possible at the show and mailing it this way. I’ll definitely make it worth your while, so give a yell if you’re interested. And then there’s next year’s show.
Posted onJanuary 31, 2013|Comments Off on Upcoming shows, probably not involving the Triffid Ranch
In every hobby and business, you get years where the calendar is as bereft of excitement as a terrestrial radio playlist. Other years, you’re practically tripping over exciting events and opportunities. 2013 is one of those years where I’m going to need to invent something really life-changing to be able to afford the garden show trips.
Likewise, this year also marks the centenary of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and I’d probably head out there if I could get proper pontoons for my bicycle. Sadly, this isn’t a likely show, but if it coincides with the opening of the Manchester United Flower Show, I may have to make it happen. Between that and a trip to Kew Gardens, all I’ll need is clothes, money, and my pet ferret.
The last time I was in Michigan to see the old ancestral stomping grounds was in 2009, for my maternal grandfather’s funeral. The last time I was in Michigan for any appreciable length of time was in the summer of 1982, shortly after my paternal grandfather had the first of a series of heart attacks. I haven’t been to my birthplace since shortly after I moved from there in 1976, and I have a lot of new friends whom I’ve met since then who still live there. I’ve been looking forward to the idea of a working vacation for a while, I’d like to see the place one last time, and I’d love to show the Czarina my childhood haunts. Anybody else interested in meeting us at Bloomapalooza in Litchfield next August for a very overdue homecoming?
Back on October 13, I accepted an invitation from the Dallas-Fort Worth Herpetological Society to show carnivorous plants at its first annual Reptile & Amphibian Day. The photos continue, starting with the one reptile most herpetophobes can tolerate. Yes, it’s time for turtles.
As far as local turtles and tortoises are concerned, the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) is about as large as we get. To see a truly exceptional specimen, make plans to visit the Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park Dallas to see one the size of an 18-wheeler tire. This Aldabra tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea was about as large in life, but nowhere near as snuggly.
And then we come to the stalwarts. The Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) doesn’t make it this far west, more’s the pity. One of the first turtles I ever kept was a beautiful male Eastern rescued while attempting to cross a highway in northern Michigan, and if you’re able to get out to the Fenner Nature Center in Lansing, you can still see him. One of these days, I need to head up that way to visit: I know perfectly well that the turtle won’t remember me, or recognize me, but I know I’ll recognize him.
Texas, though, isn’t lacking in box turtles, and these two are native to my immediate area. On the left is a classic example of a three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis), and on the right is an ornate or Western box turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata). Both are steadfastly terrestrial turtles, although they both like the occasional soak, but the ornate box turtles are generally found more in cattle fields and plains, while the three-toes tend to stick to scrub and forested areas. Either way, I’d recommend them as pets, but I heartily recommend working with captive-bred turtles, as they’re rapidly disappearing in the wild thanks to fire ant depredations of their nests and habitat destruction.
A few friends may remember “Stella,” the three-toed box turtle I rescued in the late Nineties. Stella became best-known for falling madly in love with Leiber, and she’d chase him all over the house, desperately trying to get him to notice her. What’s funny is that she actively tried to attack humans, earning her the nickname “The World’s Meanest Box Turtle,” and I joked that this was a turtle so hostile that she had zimmerit on her shell. She looked harmless but tried to wipe out all mankind: by comparison, ornate box turtles all look vicious, but they’re almost always sweethearts. Go figure.
Finally, we have the height of herpetological cuteness: box turtle hatchlings. Well, they’re almost as cute as crocodile monitors, but you can’t convince the Czarina of this. And so it goes.
Posted onOctober 24, 2012|Comments Off on Catching Up: the First Annual Reptile & Amphibian Day – 1
Whew. It’s been an interesting week. Between strangeness at the Day Job, weather fluctuations, preparations for moving a greenhouse from underneath a dying silverleaf maple, and a resolution of the issues with Cadigan and Leiber (it turns out that Cadigan’s issues lay with cat litter that was too rough for her to use), the last few weeks have been a bit different. I haven’t even started with discussing the upcoming Shadow Society Halloween event this weekend and the upcoming Funky Finds Experience show two weeks after that. *deep breath* You know it’s a rough time when I do the math and realize that if I live exactly another six months from today, I’ll have outlived H.P. Lovecraft.
Anyway, on October 13, I accepted an invitation from the Dallas-Fort Worth Herpetological Society to show carnivorous plants at its first annual Reptile & Amphibian Day. As opposed to most Triffid Ranch shows, which are intended to show and sell plants, this one was purely a “look, but don’t purchase” show. Not that this was a problem: it meant that we had a lot of attendees who simply wanted to learn more about carnivorous plant care, as well as more who had never seen any carnivore other than Venus flytraps This worked out remarkably well.
Partly because of more abnormally dry weather, and partly because I was rebuilding and propagating stock after last month’s FenCon, the examples were a little small. This time around, it was a basic presentation of the major groups of carnivore (sadly missing both a Heliamphora or Cephalotus this time around, due to the insane dryness), with demonstrations on how their traps worked. This led to one of the most satisfying things a carnivorous plant enthusiast can hear from interested laypeople: “You mean that there are other carnivores besides flytraps? COOL!”
And don’t think I was the only purveyor of botanical wonders at the show. Shawn Crofford of the Greater Dallas/Fort Worth Bromeliad Society was out as well, demonstrating the value of bromeliads in providing nesting habitat for arboreal frogs and other amphibians. (And yes, that’s a life-sized cutout of a saltwater crocodile in the background. One of the draws was a whole set of Masonite cutouts of various giant reptiles, from leatherback turtles to reticulated pythons, to give attendees a sense of scale. It definitely confirmed that if I’m going to raise salties in the back yard, I’m going to need a bigger pond.)
And then there were the folks out to see the real beasts perform. Snakes, turtles, lizards, frogs, salamanders, toads…I think someone brought a few caecelians, and only the regular influx of new attendees kept me from exploring the far side of the display hall. Next year, then.
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I’ve officially reached that age where everyone stops sending me the latest memos. For all intents and purposes, I’m residing in the basement, with only my red Swingline stapler to keep me company. Nobody loves me enough to let me know that the world changed while I was taking a nap, and it’s all to make it easier to laugh at me when I ask where the VHS tape rewinder went.
Well, that’s okay. I’ve wanted to visit Aquarena Springs near San Marcos for decades, mostly because it still preserves a host of flora otherwise wiped out when Texas warmed and dried out at the end of the last ice age. Another reason is because Aquarena Springs is the closest I’ll be getting to Wakulla Springs in the Florida Panhandle for a while. (Nearly ten years away, and I still desperately miss that place.) But the most entertaining reason? For years, I was tantalized by the various tourist flyers for the amusement park at Aquarena Springs, including the star attraction, Ralph the Swimming Pig.
Well, I’m too late to watch Ralph, or one of the many Ralphs trained over the years, perform his famed “Swine Dive”, after discovering that the amusement park was acquired by Texas State University in 1996, and the attractions removed in order to protect the indigenous and often highly endangered wildlife in the springs. Even the Submarine Underwater Theater is gone, having been pulled up with one of the world’s largest cranes last May.
Well, a life without Ralph also means a life with the unique fauna and flora of San Marcos Springs. Schedule permitting, a weekend trip down that way next spring is in order.
It’s been nearly four years since the Triffid Ranch officially launched, and the Czarina still goes into a slow burn over the celebration at Convergence 14, the big goth culture convention in Ybor City, Florida. It wasn’t because of the show itself, or the people, or even the drive from Dallas to Tampa. No, the grinding of her molars, like tectonic plates, was when we tried to make a nonstop straight burn from Dallas to Tallahassee, based on my memories of moving back to Dallas from Tally six years earlier. What I remembered, in my vague sleep-deprivation hallucinations, was a 12-hour drive, which was extreme but still doable. Apparently, I actually did closer to 17 hours of straight driving, and we learned that the hard way on the rush down the Florida Panhandle. Oh, and did I mention that we arrived in Tally about five hours late on her birthday?
Not that the trip itself wasn’t worth the effort. Convergence and its attendees were still recovering from the disastrous show in 2007 in Portland (often referred to by Convergence survivors as “Gothapalooza”), and we started our trip right at the beginning of the big economic meltdown of 2008. Naturally, gasoline prices peaked the very weekend we made the trip, so when we were done tallying costs versus returns, we chalked it up as a working vacation and left it at that. Not that we wouldn’t do it again: we met a considerable number of people who are still good friends today, we had a chance to see Ybor City at its peak (as well as understanding why everyone talks about the food there), and we both learned exactly how far we could drive at one time before the Czarina threatens to go Big Barda on my skull.
In subsequent years, we’ve considered bringing jewelry and plants to another Convergence, but the logistics kept getting in the way. Moving large numbers of carnivorous plants across the US is problematic at the best of times, and the trip has to be balanced between the cost of fuel and vehicle maintenance versus the actual return. In the meantime, we both figured that if a future Convergence was held in Texas, we’d both consider the possibilities.
Welp, it’s good news and bad news on that front. Alt.Gothic just released the bids for next year’s Convergence, and the devil vomits in our faces again. The first bid is for Seattle, which is a great city for spooky things, but it’s scheduled the weekend after next year’s World Horror Convention in New Orleans. That’s in addition to crossing a fair amount of the North American landmass and at least three mountain ranges to get there. Sorry, but with that kind of distance, this is the sort of road trip where Oscar Zeta Acosta himself would stay home and say “Let’s just watch television instead, okay?”
The only problem? If Austin gets the bid, then Convergence is two weeks before Texas Frightmare Weekend, and previous attempts to do shows with such short time between them hasn’t worked out well. We may have to reconsider that thinking for next year, because this looks too good for us to miss out.
EDIT: naturally, after all of that agonizing, I got word from this last weekend that Austin has the bid. Time to make plans for a road trip next year, eh?
Posted onMay 31, 2012|Comments Off on Things To Do In Galveston When You’re Dead
The Czarina and her best friend are absolute suckers for visiting Galveston in the off-season, but I’ve had to beg off their previous trips because of Day Job and plant schedules. (We love each other dearly, but sometimes our taking vacations by ourselves is the only way the other can get anything done without interruptions, such as starting an idle conversation that ends sometime around 3 in the morning.) However, hearing about the new Amorphophallus titanum bloom at the Moody Gardens Rainforest Pyramid in Galveston means that I may have to tag along on the next trip. Besides, how could I resist visiting a plant nicknamed “Morticia?
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Until very recently, I’ve been reserved about doing out-of-town Triffid Ranch shows for many reasons. Not that I haven’t had convention and event promoters asking. At least three times a year, I’m asked, very nicely, by the folks at a big steampunk convention in Oklahoma about attending, and I decline, very nicely, and explain why. Namely, it comes down to pure economics. Doing a show in Texas outside of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex is expensive enough with gasoline, vehicle rental, hotel accomodations, and food allocations. Combine that with the necessary legal permits required to transport plants across state lines, and I do NOT want to make Wikipedia for being the guy who introduced some horrible invasive species or deadly floral disease to a new area, and the finances get a bit thin. When I explain to the steampunk convention crew how many plants I’d need to sell just to break even, they blanch and apologize for up my time.
(As a sidenote, I’ve been planning to compose a little essay on why vendors to shows and conventions choose the shows they do and why. In the interim, let’s just say that repeated nagging to attend a gaming convention with an admitted attendance of 200 to 400 people, screaming “You never got back with me!” at another convention, and literally whining about how it was in my best interest to cancel an existing commitment and reschedule isn’t the way to do it. And yes, that really happened last year.)
Recent news makes me reconsider this assessment. For the last fifteen or so years, I’ve received regular postcards from the folks at the World Horror Convention, a big traveling show hosted by a different city each year, asking about becoming an attendee. I had considered being a vendor at the 2011 WHC in Austin, until I saw it was scheduled opposite Texas Frightmare Weekend, and the logistics came into play. (The fact that I’d sooner live in Houston than so much as soil a gas station restroom in Austin had something to do with it, too.) This year’s WHC is in Salt Lake City, which is just a little too far to travel in the summer with a truckload of plants. In 2013, though, World Horror comes to New Orleans.
I reiterate: New Orleans.
My first encounter with New Orleans was fourteen years ago this coming November, when I was invited by the god-in-human-form Robert Fontenot to be a guest at a new genre and pop convention in New Orleans called ExotiCon. I’m still good friends with many of the people I met there in 1998, and I came back for the next two shows run by Robert. So did the Czarina, with her now ex-husband, and she’s still famous for running the world’s most quiet convention party at the 2000 show. I still tell him, to this day, that were he insane enough to try this again, we’d both come down, without hesitation, and do our best to promote the show as much as we were able. In the intervening years, we’ve looked at other excuses to head down that way, and just haven’t quite had the opportunity.
Well, now that may change. I’ve already contacted the WHC 2013 crew for further information, but the thought process ran roughly similar to this:
Negative: One solid day of driving between Dallas and New Orleans, and flying down there with plants isn’t an option.
Positive: New Orleans.
Negative: Considering the cost of renting a cargo van, including mileage, it may actually be cheaper to buy one.
Positive: New Orleans.
Negative: A big portion of the trip entails going over the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge, which is one of the most knuckle-whitening, anus-puckering trips I’ve ever made…in a truck full of carnivorous plants.
Positive: New Orleans. Oh, and did I mention the food?
Negative: Phytosan permits, hotel reservations, trying to go anywhere outside of the hotel, old writing acquaintances terrified of leaving the hotel for fear they might miss out on an editor they haven’t already harangued, going back home, and all of the usual logistics of doing a big show combined with the logistics of doing one outside of Texas.
I haven’t brought this up with the Czarina, but that’s on the plate for this evening. I pretty much know what the answer will be, though, without asking. If I don’t check, I know what that answer will be, and if I’m going to be rolled up in a fetal ball while she beats me with a rolled-up magazine and screams “WHAT the hell is WRONG with you?”, I’d prefer for it to be something worthy of the offense.
Posted onApril 30, 2012|Comments Off on I get by with a little hemp from my friends
One of the greatest gifts I’ve yet received in the past ten years is the collection of friends, cohorts, and interested bystanders gathered together through a mutual love of plants. I get calls and E-mail at all hours, asking “Do you know about [this]?”, and I answer them as best as I can. In return, they keep an eye open for particularly intriguing additions: they understand more than I do that the slogan for the Triffid Ranch is “Odd Plants and Oddities For Odd People”, and they do their best to live by that slogan.
For instance, I’d like to introduce you all to Jeremy Stone, a friend who lives southeast of Dallas near the town of Ennis. Jeremy’s wife Jamie has been a friend for nearly a decade, but I’ve only recently had the opportunity to make his acquaintance. He has quite the commute to work (it’s a bit hard for most people outside the state to understand why none of us balk about driving for three and four hours to get to anything, because sometimes that’s the only way we’re going to see the best things about the state), so he had quite the surprise when he found something very odd along the northbound side of Highway I-45.
For instance, the photo above illustrates the main features of the Texas thistle (Cirsium texanum), a very common weedy plant through the state. It has a lot in common with the citizenry: prickly if disturbed, able to thrive in conditions that kill just about everything else, and ignored at your peril. This time of the year, it can produce flower scapes about 1.5 meters tall, and it usually grows rapidly and goes to seed before the really bad summer heat hits. The surprise, really, is that such a beautiful flower is so ignored, but that’s mostly because it thrives in superficially poor soils, so it’s everywhere.
Anyway, Jeremy was heading to work one day when he spotted something unlike any other Texas thistle he’d ever seen. Like the rest of us, he figured that if he didn’t get some kind of proof, he’d leave out valuable details on his discovery. Worse, he knew that the state could mow the grass alongside the highway at any time, so he had the fear that it might not be there by the time he got back that evening. He took photos, posted them on Facebook, and asked me “Do you know what this is?”
As can be told, this was a bit, erm, unorthodox. I could joke and say “The last time I saw something like this, it was trying to convince me not to follow my ex-wife to Z’Ha’Dum,” but that doesn’t really answer what this what is. I’d seen dandelions with multiple fused stems, but nothing quite on this level. And with this being south of Dallas, Jeremy wanted to know if this was some aberration produced by low-level radioactivity, overuse of pesticides, excessive solar radiation, residue from the cement kilns in Midlothian or fracking operations, or just sheer perversity.
As it turns out, “sheer perversity” comes closer to the situation than I knew. Lorie Johnson, an old friend and and fellow heliophobe, took a look at this and did a bit of research. In the process, she came across what’s probably the best general-knowledge guide to cristate and monstrose plant forms I’ve yet read. Both unusual plant growth patterns are well-documented in succulents, but that’s mostly because cristates in particular have a tendency to survive for years. This, though, was an example in an aster, not in a cactus.
And let’s not forget the Czarina. I showed her pictures, and she didn’t question my sanity. I suggested “You want to go out to Ferris, dig up this monster, and drag it home?”, and she didn’t call a psychiatrist and ask about the cost of Thorazine by the gallon. In fact, she figured that if there was any way to rescue it from the lawn mowers, we should give it a shot. Saturday was spent dealing with a truly horrible allergy fit, but Sunday’s air wasn’t quite to our usual “a bit too thick to breathe, a bit too thin to plow” pollen standard this year, so we tossed plastic crates, shovels, cameras, and other implements of destruction, and made a road trip of it. Jeremy sent photos for context to show its exact location, and after wandering along the highway’s service road for a little while, seeing firsthand how the area was still recovering from this month’s tornadoes and killer thunderstorms, we finally found it.
Well, we would have been better off if we’d been able to get out on Friday. Unfortunately for us and the thistle, the winds on Friday night had been particularly bad, and they snapped the two main cristate stems at about the level of the surrounding grass, also breaking off a normal stem at the base in the process. By the time we found it, the plant was obviously dying, and we figured that putting it through the stress of transplantation would only compound the situation.
Jeremy wasn’t the only person to ask “Why don’t you collect seed from it and see if you can grow new ones?” If only I could. The factors that cause cristate and monstrose plants are still completely unknown, and they almost always show up without warning. Almost all cristate succulents fail to produce viable seed, and apparently this is also true of other cristate plants.
The worst part was that with the combination of a dying plant and the ridiculous intensity of the sun that day, most of the photos of the plant’s structure didn’t come out well. This was probably the best view to the thistle’s stem: instead of expanding outward evenly, the stem grew laterally, making it resemble an organic old-style ribbon cable. That was also the source of its doom, as the wind cracked it right along the flat of the stem, and it may have survived if the edge had been facing the prevailing winds. Combine the increasing dryness of the season and the stronger winds, and it just didn’t have a chance.
The Czarina and I finally left the ailing plant, hoping that it might go dormant over the summer and come up when the rains returned this fall, but we didn’t have too much hope. We just counted ourselves incredibly lucky that we spotted it in the first place, and that the local police didn’t assume that we were looking for ditch-weed instead. As it was, we couldn’t get over the impression that we were being watched, and not just by the drivers on I-45 asking “What the hell are they doing?”
Texas. With high weirdness like this, I really can’t imagine living anywhere else.
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I haven’t had any reason to visit Denton, home of the University of North Texas Flying Worms, since my best friend moved back to Dallas a decade ago while fleeing a hipster infestation. After reading about next April’s Redbud Festival, I think I now have reason. The show specifically states that vendor space is only open to home and garden-related services, and it may be time to bring a carnivorous plant show to the Home of Happiness. (And don’t think that I’m picking on Denton. Anything but. I still have nothing but fond memories of my time on the UNT campus, even as I’m also insanely glad that I never got my journalism degree from there. Or from anywhere else, for that matter. Talk about throwing my money into a tree mulcher.)
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It all started innocently enough. It started as a request from very old and dear friends Martin and Jen, asking for advice on a frog enclosure. Jen is a bit of a frog enthusiast, so in the midst of a major updating and repainting of her house, she thought “You know, that wall support in the living room would be just the perfect size for a vivarium.” I couldn’t agree more, so I promised her that I’d take her to the next reptile show on the schedule so she could search for just the right amphibians. Oh, and to get that vivarium as well.
Now, luckily for her, the next big reptile show in the Dallas area was the North American Reptile Breeder’s Conference show in Arlington, halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth. This wasn’t just a regular reptile and amphibian show: this the event for which I waited the entire year. Lizards, snakes, arrow-poison frogs, T-shirts, vivarium plants, enclosures of every shape and size…for us herp junkies, this isn’t heaven, but it’s close enough for government work.
Anyway, Jen was enthused and thrilled by the prospects, but I worried about Martin. I’ve known Martin for nearly 13 years, and to say that he’s one of the most understated men I’ve ever met is itself an understatement. He’s a man of particular tastes, and he wanted to come along partly to see why Jen and I were glibbering and meeping about the possibilities. The other reason was so he could make absolutely sure that we didn’t come back with something that would have no choice but to snuggle at the foot of the bed in the middle of the night until the spare bedroom was converted into habitat. I tried to tell him “You know, crocodile monitors prefer to sleep on your head, not your feet,” and he was strangely unreassured by this news.
Making matters more problematic was that the Czarina was out of town for that weekend. At the moment all three of us started on our little jaunt, she was on the other side of the continent, and she was terrified that I was going to come home with a critter we could call our own. What really scared her is that I’m very literal in my promises to her. It wasn’t just enough for her to beg “Promise that you won’t get a crocodile monitor,” “Promise that you won’t buy ANY reptile,” or “Bring home a lizard, and I SWEAR that my elbows will be buried up to my shoulders in the top of your skull until you twitch like a galvanized frog carcass.” That’s just a challenge. For instance, as I told her later, she said absolutely nothing about critters that followed me home, and if that Salvator’s water monitor or matamata just jumped into the car of its own volition, I couldn’t be held responsible. She didn’t have to say anything, but the sound of her elbows sliding out of their sheathes and drooling venom onto the floor was enough. I couldn’t actually hear them from San Francisco, but the sound of the venom burning holes in the hotel carpet travels almost that far.
Besides, my real personal interest was in the plants. After a particularly anaemic garden show at Market Hall in Dallas, I nuhdzed the folks at the Greater Dallas/Fort Worth Bromeliad Society about talking to the folks at the NARBC about a booth. The attendees were thrilled, because they usually have problems getting good bromeliads for frog and gecko enclosures. The Bromeliad Society folks were thrilled, because they were running out of plants by the time I left on Saturday afternoon. Everyone wins, as I like to put it.
Now here I went (relatively) mad, picking up a large collection of Tillandsia for future arrangements. No Catopsis berteroniana at this show…yet, but I already have one at home, so that just meant more for everyone else.
Now, if I hadn’t been a man of my word and told the Czarina “I really don’t want to twitch like a galvanized frog carcass,” I could have come across some real surprises. One of these was Ruby, a red tegu (Tupinambis rufescens) with the sweetest disposition I’ve ever seen in a tegu. Technically, it wasn’t a monitor (just being the South American equivalent), but I knew that this would be a minor caveat when the Czarina went digging for my occipital lobes with a melon baller. Sadly, I had to leave Ruby for someone else, because the plants are enough work on their own.
Zac Freer wasn’t one of the subjects of the show, but that’s not for lack of trying. You know how people assume I’m insane because I get all squidgy and sappy about giant lizards? Zac gets that way about crocodilians. He and his wife were out at the show to look around, and he’d already adopted a Dumeril’s boa for the trip home. I’d already turned him into a carnivorous plant junkie at a show last year, so now I got to see him in his native habitat.
Oh, and remember how the Czarina kept insisting “No crocodile monitors”? I checked several times, and she said absolutely nothing about Australian blue-tongued skinks.
And she absolutely said not a peep about not getting a black tree monitor. Problem is, there’s that issue with subtext, such as when she insists that “have fun on your weekend off” does not give me permission to install concrete dinosaurs in the front yard or heckle the Pope while dressed like Colin Baker. I swear, if she wasn’t such a good cook, I’d have problems with her being so arbitrary and unreasonable.
And for Martin and Jen? Well, while Martin isn’t exactly a herper, he wasn’t waving a marlin spike around while yelling about reptiles. (He was yelling about getting a pair of golf shoes because that was the only way to get around with all the blood on the floor, but he does that every time we hang out.) Jen, though, was in heaven, and we had to talk her, very gently, out of getting a stunning pair of red rat snakes to go with the four Dendrobates auratus arrow-poison frogs she purchased for her new vivarium. When I’m recommending to friends that they might want to start out a bit small, it’s only because I know that Jen will be breeding her own by next year and running a small zoo full of exotic frogs by the beginning of 2015.
Very seriously, it’s not just a matter of doing this next year. The plan, the grand glorious plan, is to become a vendor for next year’s show. True, most of the most interesting carnivores available will still be in winter dormancy, but there’s a lot to be said about tropical sundews and bladderworts, early-rising butterworts, and lots and lots of Nepenthes. Now I only have another 11 months to get everything together, and then we’re golden.
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Posted onJanuary 20, 2012|Comments Off on Ensuring marital bliss, one aneurysm at a time
The end of January, particularly this January, can be the most cruel of times for Texas gardeners. The wild fluctuations in temperature and humidity, one day below freezing and the next too warm for jackets, tempt even the most wizened souls to attempt something in the garden. Logic tells you that anyone planting anything frost-intolerant in North Texas before the middle of March is an idiot, and that your only options are putting in dormant fruit trees and maybe a batch of brassicas, such as bok choi or Brussels sprouts. One look outside on a morning like today, though, and logic gets shouted down: “C’mon. LOOK at it. We could probably get in a good two dozen orange trees and a row of tomatoes before lunch.”
It’s especially rough on me because of the weather. Having barely survived the big bout of flu that took us both down over the last two weeks, the Czarina listened to my coughing nearly to the point of vomiting and stated with authority “You are NOT allowed to get pneumonia this year.” Although I fear her proclamations as much as her elbows, I think she’s being completely unfair. If I get pneumonia, syphilis, Dutch Elm Blight, and kuru before May, I’ll have enough purchase points to get Captain Trips and hemmorhagic fever for free. The dealer will even throw in a couple of intestinal parasites and an ingrown toenail if I get in before the deadline.
The Czarina’s complete and total inflexibility on these matters is why I don’t tell her about some of the new projects I have planned. She won’t let me get a crocodile monitor, she won’t let me get a display case for a crocodile monitor, and she definitely won’t let me set up my orbital laboratory and death ray, even if I pay for it from my own allowance. Is it really my fault, then, that I spend my rainy day fund on new garden sculpture?
And yes, the sound you hear from the horizon is the sound of Czarina elbow piercing the top of my skull. You’d think I’d have learned after I told her I wanted to have a Meet the Feebles-themed birthday party just after we got married.
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Of course, like a dying weasel, the previous year has to get in one or two more good bites before going back to Hell. Or, as the Czarina notes, “The Year of the Rabbit lives up to its name. Ever notice how, when you try to put a rabbit back in its hutch, it’ll always kick and claw you one last time before you let go?” The fun started on Saturday, when an old friend of ours announced that he was coming back to town, and that he was throwing a party way out in Waxahachie. Waxahachie is an old Comanche name for “What the hell are you doing out there?”, so I fueled up the car, stocked up on food and drink (mostly for the party, but I wanted at least a little something for myself), and moseyed down the road a spell. About a mile away, the timing belt on the car decided to give up its life in sacrifice to the Lords of Chaos, leaving me stuck in the middle of long-dried Cretaceous seabed. At about midnight.
Oh, and did I mention that the Czarina was stuck at home with a bad bout of the flu?
If years and years of moviewatching actually did some good, it was in teaching me the importance of “never get out of the boat.” I knew better than to wander around in the dark instead of staying with my vehicle. Worse, one of the ranches down the road actually has castle towers out in front, and I already knew how that would turn out. I can’t sing, I look terrible in fishnet stockings, and honestly, Tim Curry doesn’t do anything for me. Suffice to say, the adventure actually started when the tow truck arrived, and I had the singular pleasure of hanging out with one of the flat-out funniest tow truck drivers I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve known some wits of the highway in my time. (As a recommendation, should you be stuck anywhere south to southwest of Dallas, I can’t give the guys at 3D Towing in Midlothian a high enough compliment. Fast, competent, honest, and exceedingly friendly on a Saturday night, and that’s hard enough to find anywhere.)
As of this moment, the car is locked up for repairs, including a replacement timing belt and a new radiator. Considering what I paid in repairs on my old car circa 2002, I’m not complaining, but let’s just say that I’ll be doing a few more plant shows this year to replace the chunk of liver and lights that this took out.
And then there’s the saga of the tree. Last summer’s insane drought was rough on most of Texas’s trees, but it demonstrated the inherent weaknesses of some introduced species. One of the big silverleaf maples in our back yard had been there since the house was built, and survived the droughts of 1980 and 2006 with aplomb. The one-two strike of our bad freeze in February and the drought all summer, though, stretched it beyond its tolerance, and it finally gave up sometime in September. And so it goes. I suspect that the woodpeckers are going to miss it more than I will, but there’s still something sad and diminishing about seeing what seemed to be such a gigantic tree cut up into lengths and stacked at the edge of the front yard, and the stack isn’t even chest-high. Better there, though, than landing atop the garage in our next big snowstorm.
Well, as another booster of local delights used to say, “Aside from that, Mrs. Kennedy, what do you think of Dallas?” Here’s hoping that the Czarina is right and the new year really starts the week after next, because I’m looking forward to turning the Year of the Rabbit into hasenpfeffer.
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Posted onNovember 28, 2011|Comments Off on Next season, on “The Texas Triffid Ranch”…
As of Saturday night, the official Triffid Ranch show season ended for the year. This doesn’t mean that individual events and opportunities won’t open up between now and December 31, or that folks in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex can’t order custom arrangements. It just means that the next next big Triffid Ranch event, at ConDFW in Dallas, starts on February 17. As always, keep an eye on the main Triffid Ranch site for updates and revisions.
As for the MetroPCS Fair Park Holiday show last Saturday, let’s focus on the positives. We met a lot of very interesting folks, including one very considerate woman from Chicago (who unfortunately left without giving a name) who reminded me of why I miss Chicago at times. It may be time for a road trip up that way before too long.
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Posted onNovember 23, 2011|Comments Off on Triffid Ranch events: MetroPCS Fair Park Holiday
For the most part, this weekend is the one I recommend as Dormancy Day for anyone keeping temperate-climate carnivorous plants in North Texas. Temperate carnivores, particularly Venus flytraps and Sarracenia pitcher plants, are already battening down for the winter, and will remain so until at least the middle of March. Now’s the time to put them to bed, or at least a place where they can get outdoor temperatures and photoperiods, and leave them there until St. Patrick’s Day.
For the tropical carnivores, though, they get one more big show before the end of the year. This Saturday, look for the Triffid Ranch booth at the MetroPCS Fair Park Holiday in Dallas’s Fair Park, benefiting the Friends of Fair Park. I don’t know exactly where we’ll be located, but we’ll be in the Holiday Gift Market between 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.
After that, the next Triffid Ranch shows will be in 2012, starting with ConDFW the weekend of February 17. For the rest of the year, please feel free to keep tabs via the Upcoming Events and Past Press page. And now, back to getting ready for this coming Saturday.
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Last weekend, the folks at the Museum of Nature & Science in Fair Park were considerate enough to invite the Triffid Ranch to display plants at its regular Discovery Days event on reptiles and other critters. This year, the “other critters” extended to flora, both by showing off carnivores that live in symbiosis with various reptiles and amphibians (in particular, a big display of Nepenthes ampullaria, based on its relationship with the frog Microhyla nepenthicola), so it was time to show off temperate carnivores before they went into winter hibernation and tropical carnivores before the new greenhouse goes up. Naturally, the Czarina wanted pictures.
The first sign that We Have Arrived: a literal sign stating who, why, and where. It’s probably time to write up a standard lecture rider that explains what we need at shows, probably plagiarizing heavily from Iggy Pop’s standard concert rider.
Being right next door to the “Bob the Builder” traveling exhibition meant that this guy right here was my nemesis and my salvation. “Nemesis” as in how every child under a certain age (I suspect below retirement age) wanted to drag Mom and Dad inside to see Bob, and “salvation” in that the kids and parents all went nuts over plants after they’d received their Bob fixes. The little disc at Bob’s feet was a motion sensor that normally set off one of three different affirmative comments. Apparently, so many little feet had tromped on it that the sound card went off randomly, and then it stopped working entirely by Saturday evening. I didn’t want to ruin the fun for the kids coming out to see Bob and Pilchard, so I filled in for that wayward sound card with the expected Canadian twist. Every kid should learn “Remember, if the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy,” right?
A basic cross-section of carnivores and containers for display, along with a particularly ugly brute brought in to haul the big hexagon tank and scare wasps away from the pitcher plants. That beast could make a sundial run backwards, couldn’t he?
“Just because I only have nine fingers doesn’t mean my name is ‘Frodo’.”
Accompanying the main display was an additional table, giving plenty of room to show off a cross-section of the best books on carnivorous plants on the market today.
The two magazines in the Riddell household that get read first, without question.
We were located right around the corner from a display demonstrating the fluorescence of scorpions. “Twenty bucks says I can hit the back wall with the next sneeze. Thirty if I replace the scorpion with a cockroach.”
And before anyone asks, yes, I’ll gleefully return for next year’s Discovery Days, or any other event held by the Museum that requests my presence. This was just too much fun.
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Posted onOctober 19, 2011|Comments Off on Things To Do In Cleburne When You’re Dead
Just as an aside for those living in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex or who plan to visit this weekend. Yes, I know that Arlington is going to resemble the Atlanta scenes from The Walking Dead on Saturday. Yes, I know this is the last weekend of the State Fair of Texas. You have a real reason to come out this way, and that’s to show up for the Jam 4 Bats benefit at Garza’s Famous Hot Dogs in downtown Cleburne this Friday night. The intention behind Jam 4 Bats is to finance the construction of bat houses to hold the bats currently roosting in Garza’s building. The Czarina and I plan to head out that way as soon as she gets off work on Friday night, so, with luck, we’ll see you there.
In incidental points, as I mentioned a while back, this has a horticultural component. Ultimately, the bats roosting above Garza’s will migrate to southern Mexico and Brazil for the winter, at which point the building gets its renovation so the bats don’t move back in come spring. (Hence, the reason behind the bat houses for downtown Cleburne.) Part of the renovation involves cleaning out the significant amounts of bat guano built up in the building, so I’m trying to organize a volunteer event in conjunction with local gardeners in need of guano and Bat World Sanctuary out in Mineral Wells. The bats leave by the beginning of December, and the guano and dermestid beetles that feed on the guano should be dead or hibernating by the end of December, so I need to work out particulars with both Bat World and Garza’s as to when would be the best time to shovel out guano. Details as I get them, but I should have some idea of what’s going on after this weekend.
Comments Off on Things To Do In Cleburne When You’re Dead
I live in a city that’s relatively bereft of tourist sensations. That’s not to say that Dallas doesn’t have a lot of reasons to visit. It’s just that most of us learned a long time ago that you have to keep the fun stuff on the QT, or else it’ll be overrun by SMU brats and subsequently ruined. Music, art, fun things to do outside…when the horsefaces and hipsters show up, it’s all over. This is why Dallas’s official attractions consist of proving that George Romero was directing documentaries and explaining why our official slogan is “Aside from that, Mrs. Kennedy, what do you think of Dallas?” These keep the Cokespoon Contingent busy, mostly so they don’t notice that the rest of us are going to Fort Worth.
Because of this, we don’t tend to express surprise when locals and tourists haven’t heard of a particular offbeat attraction. Or at least we try not to do so. For instance, when the Czarina calls me at work to tell me about some new and intriguing event, I don’t scream “Oh. My. GOD. You didn’t know about this?” Instead, I simply point out that I tried to tell her about it three weeks earlier, but that my voice apparently had more of an annoying mosquito buzz than usual. That’s perfectly reasonable, and I don’t blame her in the slightest. (Saying anything else usually leads to tears, concussions, and the Czarina rubbing her elbows and grumbling “Your head gets harder every single day, you know that?”) We only save derision and incredulity for real cluelessness, such as those who assume that Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club is still going.
This is why I wince when I share with local friends the discovery of something well outside, such as the Garden Museum in London. Out here, the snort of “I can’t BELIEVE you didn’t hear about this” is the province of the horseface. Besides, do you have any idea how many of us dedicated Texas gardeners would set fire to a bus full of paraplegic nuns for the opportunity to see a museum dedicated solely to 400 years of gardening history, much less enter it?
Yes, we now have yet another reason to visit Mother England. The only other option is to start up our own gardening museum on this side of the Pond. I’ll definitely get involved…the moment I discover, perfect, patent, and license the 78-hour day.
It’s Wednesday, which means you have two days to buy tickets to this weekend’s open house at Sarracenia Northwest, just outside of Portland, Oregon. If you haven’t been to a Sarracenia Northwest open house, you’ll have a great opportunity to see the nursery with the plants “in action,” so to speak. If you have, you understand exactly why I’m gnashing my teeth.
Now, some people may wonder why I’m hyping up shows and events for companies that could be considered competitors. I actually have lots of reasons. The first is that they’re not really competing with me, as the Triffid Ranch tends to grow plants that are far too large for affordable shipping. The second is that we all have to start somewhere, and it’s because of Sarracenia Northwest that I now have decent information on growing Cephalotus in Texas conditions. The third? Jacob and Jeff, the owners, are very dear friends, and I figure that the carnivorous plant community is small enough that the “a rising tide raises all boats” economic theory works particularly well here. Besides, I owe them a lot for not killing me when they had the chance, so it’s time to return the favor.
The 2012 show schedule is already packed pretty well, between shows and the International Carnivorous Plant Symposium next August, and the Czarina is insisting upon a trip to San Francisco as a very late honeymoon event. (When I say “insist,” don’t think that I’m complaining about this in the slightest. At bare minimum, we both want to see the Conservatory of Flowers while we’re out there, and that’s in addition to everything else to visit. I haven’t been to the Bay since 1996, and she’s never been there at all, so any escape to feed my addiction really won’t be an escape so much as a sidetrack.) Additional trips? The only way we can afford them is by my selling body parts, and I’m down to only three kidneys and a handful of hearts to last me until Christmas.
Certain friends know me originally from my days writing essays and articles for various science fiction magazines in the Eighties and Nineties. (Don’t worry about which ones: without fail, they had all of the impact and influence of the CueCat and Microsoft Bob, and half the mockery value.) They also know that I quit in rather spectacular fashion in 2002, and aside from a couple of relapses (which were, without fail, catastrophic), I haven’t been back since then. These are the ones who sidle up to me and ask “So, Paul, if you state quite openly that you’d sooner get a hot Clorox enema than have anything to do with science fiction, then why do you do so many plant shows at science fiction conventions?” This is most often voiced by my best friend, who has been playing Adrian Edmondson to my Rik Mayall for going on a third of a century.
Well, I have several reasons. The first is that I still have a lot of friends in the business, and I’ve learned from experience that they can be in town but it’s almost physically impossible to get them to leave the convention hotel. The second is that many of these friends have kids (and, increasingly, grandkids), which gives me all sorts of opportunities to pass on horrible stories. “You know how your mom says she hopes you have a kid who’s just like you? Oh, trust me: I have tales that will curl your nose hair.” The biggest one, though, is that convention attendees and their family and assorted cohorts are a seriously underappreciated horticulture market. For the most part, their childhood memories of gardening consisted, as did mine, of having to do the zut work of weeding and cleaning in the garden without any opportunity to see a return. They don’t hang around garden centers because there’s nothing in it for them, and standard gardening options bore them to tears. However, show them that there’s more to carnivorous plants than the same old Venus flytrap, and they’ll attend regular shows just in the hope of seeing something they didn’t know existed but that they’re willing to buy right there and then.
Because of this, the Triffid Ranch has a regular presence at Dallas conventions, starting the year with All-Con in March and ending the con season with FenCon in September. In the future, the idea is to show off plants at conventions outside the state, but considering the cost of inspection permits to transport plants across state lines, that may be a little while.
Anyway, the first bit of good news is that Texas Frightmare Weekend, a horror convention in Irving, just announced the initial lineup for its 2012 show. Loyd Cryer of Texas Frightmare Weekend has been very supportive of the Triffid Ranch at previous shows, and I try to return the favor as much as possible. The 2012 guest list is still embryonic, so keep an eye on status updates. Since the convention moved to the DFW Hyatt at DFW Airport, thereby allowing an increase in display space, expect to see some surprises in arrangements and in new plants.
The second bit of news is a bit further off. Unlike most conventions, the World Science Fiction Convention moves to a new locale every year, based on bids made by committees and votes from current or previous attendees. As of today, the official winner of the bid for the 2013 WorldCon is Lone Star Con 3, located in San Antonio. Any excuse to go to San Antonio is a good one (it’s not quite as much fun as Fort Worth or Galveston, but at least it isn’t Austin or Lewisville), so I’ve already contacted the convention committee about Triffid Ranch dealer’s room space. Details will follow, but at least we have two years to worry about it.
That’s it for the moment, but should you know of a convention that could stand a hearty selection of carnivorous plants, feel free to let me know.
It’s been a bit crazy as of late. As the newsfeeds keep noting, the drought in Texas is now comparable to the big drought in the early 1950s. This is particularly significant because my parents-in-law were married in the middle of that, and they have lots of particularly disturbing stories. (Among other things, discovering that the plethora of reservoirs built in North Texas by the Army Corps of Engineers over the last fifty years was the direct result of the water rationing imposed by that drought. It says a lot about how rapidly North Texas grew after the reservoirs were built that they’re not enough any more.) It’s also been particularly brutal to state agriculture, between the heat and the utter lack of moisture. I keep joking about how if it gets any dryer, we’ll all have to walk without rhythm so as not to attract sandworms, and it’s pure gallows humor.
Anyway, it’s a bit quiet around the Triffid Ranch, mostly due to the lack of humidity. The Sarracenia are squeaking by, but they generally stop producing traps once the humidity consistently goes below 50 percent during the day. Flytraps have it even worse: between the heat and the dryness, they tend to shut down, and sometimes come back in the autumn. This year, though, I can’t make any promises, considering that the summer has killed all but two species of triggerplant in the collection, including seedlings from seed given to me by Ryan Kitko. (I’ve become convinced that nothing but nuclear flame can destroy Stylidium debile, as it survives both freezes and ridiculous heat, and keeps coming back after I’m certain that it’s already dead.) The Nepenthes are all in the greenhouse, and said greenhouse is getting fitted with a full mister system tonight so as to keep the humidity high and the temperature (relatively) low. I don’t even want to talk about what happened to the Darlingtonia I raised from seed five years ago.
If there’s any joy in Triffidville, it comes from renewing my membership with the International Carnivorous Plant Society. I could mention the seed bank, which allowed me to learn a ridiculous amount about the growth and habits of the devil’s claw (Proboscidea lousianica). I could mention the Carnivorous Plant Newsletter, which is one of the best benefits of joining the ICPS. (I’m now at the point where it’s one of the few print magazines I read from cover to cover any more, and considering my voracious reading appetites, that’s saying something.) I could mention the cultivar registration list, which should prove beyond a shadow that carnivorous plant enthusiasts have a good warped sense of humor. I could, but then I’d have to beat you with a pool noodle, yelling “Join, you scurvy shysters! JOIN!” at the top of my lungs, and that’s no fun in this heat.
I’d also like to pass on the announcement of the 9th International Carnivorous Plant Society Conference in Seekonk, Massachusetts, running from August 11 through the 13th of 2012. The Czarina has already promised that I can go, but only after we make a trip of her choosing before then. (She wants a nice quiet trip to San Francisco, and I only plan to disappear for a day or so while we’re there.) Only 384 days to go, and I understand that my 300-pound Samoan attorney should be out of the shop by then.
One of the reasons why I have so much fun in horticultural endeavours is due to the character of the people involved in them. Oh, and I’d like to introduce you to some real characters. Jacob Farin and Jeff Dallas of Sarracenia Northwest, located just outside of Portland, Oregon, are inspirations the likes of which you can’t imagine, and I want to be just like them when I grow up. Really. Okay, maybe I don’t need Jacob’s addiction to Voodoo Doughnut, but that’s because I’m more of a Red Hot & Blue kind of guy. (DON’T JUDGE ME. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating your birthday with $75 in wet ribs and a George Romero movie marathon. Nothing.)
Anyway, Sarracenia Northwest is closed to the public for most of the year, but Jacob and Jeff host two open houses per year. The latest one is this weekend, with a second set on the weekend of September 10. If you happen to be in the vicinity of Portland this weekend, or if you’re looking for a good excuse for a road trip, buy your tickets now, and see why I’m so painfully jealous of their location. The only way I’m ever going to grow Darlingtonia plants outdoors is in a refrigerated greenhouse, grumble grumble…
Posted onJuly 7, 2011|Comments Off on “We were somewhere outside of San Marcos, on the edge of hill country, when the botany began to take hold.”
I’ve reached a point in some of my researches that I’ve realized the only way I’ll read a book covering my questions that I’ll have to write it myself. (Not that this is going to happen any time soon. I still have to get the unyielding horror of my old writing days behind me.) Barring that, it’s time to talk to the real experts. I had no idea that the Upchurch Paleobotany Lab at Texas State University existed until today, but it gives me the first really good excuse to visit San Marcos, Texas since the Wimberley Hillacious bike races ended in the Nineties. When the heat lets up, say during the horrors of Texas-OU Weekend, I may need to head down there and pick a few brains about prehistoric garden design.
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A little bit earlier, and further up the Pacific coast, we have the early summer open house at Sarracenia Northwest, just east of Portland, Oregon. This open house is scheduled for July 16 and 17, with a second set on September 10 and 11. The crew at Sarracenia Northwest is always good for a great presentation and exemplary plants, so you might as well plan a vacation over that week and hit both events. Just make sure that your 18-foot truck’s axles can handle the weight of the plants you’ll be bringing home.
And in much smaller but equally important events, the Triffid Ranch is getting in on the game as well. I’ll be at the Seagoville Public Library in Seagoville, Texas (just east of Dallas) on June 21 as part of its summer reading program. Considering how badly Texas’s public libraries are being stretched in the current budget cuts, this is purely a pro bono event, and anybody with questions can and should attend. See you then?