Who, Where, and Why
Who: The Texas Triffid Ranch is a very small nursery specializing in carnivorous, prehistoric, and otherwise exotic plants.
Where: As the name implies, the Triffid Ranch is based in Dallas, Texas. http://www.txtriffidranch.com for details.
Why: I used to be a professional writer, but then I got better, and the plants are a major factor in this.
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- And of COURSE the new greenhouse fan blows out at the hottest time of the year, when I can't get to it until later. 2 hours ago
- RT @annbot: Inspired by Plants From Roots to Riches by @BBCRadio4 & Prof Willis @kewgardens it’s 7 Plants That Changed Your Life http://t.… 3 hours ago
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More class reunion considerations…
More class reunion thoughts, especially with the number of people who attend with the desperate hope that their missed loves won’t have changed at all…
As mentioned earlier, the Nicaraguan city of Grenada is absolutely festooned with beautiful Hibiscus trees, all of which were first starting to bloom during my trip at the end of May. Unfortunately for me, many of the most impressive specimens didn’t photograph well, as it’s remarkably hard to stop and get a good macro photograph when everyone else in your party doesn’t share your botanical zeal. The same was true of the photos I thought I had of hummingbirds feeding from those same Hibiscus blooms. Well, next trip, then.
Between the Day Job and working on big plant projects for the end of this year and the beginning of next, sharing photos of the work trip to Grenada, Nicaragua went onto the back burner, but not out of a lack of wanting to share. Actually, yes, it IS because I don’t want to share. Namely, I’ve found my perfect house, and now I need to figure out how to make it happen in Texas.
To recap, the end of May and beginning of June were spent in Grenada with co-workers at the new Day Job, where we were the overawed guests of local philanthropist Peter Kovind. Among many other things, Mr. Kovind took advantage of Grenada’s classic Spanish architecture (painstakingly rebuilt after its burning to the ground in 1856, and you might want to look up the name “William Walker” if you want to understand why) to convert one of Grenada’s beautiful houses into the Hotel La Bocona, literally across the street from the statue of the same name.
As a hotel, the Hotel La Bocona reminds me of why I dislike most American hotels: simplicity is a wonderful thing. The rooms are comfortable and roomy, the pool is exquisite, and the staff, without exception, absolutely wonderful. Just for the experience alone, I rapidly felt terrible about not making my own bed and saving the housekeepers the trouble. Were I insane enough to consider going back to professional writing, this place would be my perfect idea of a locale in which to lock myself and write for the next month, only coming out to improve my Spanish. (As it stands, my Spanish isn’t so bad that I’d believe that “¡gringo estupido!” meant “May the Lord be with you!”, but it desperately needs improvement.)
And then there’s the garden. Many of the houses and hotels in Grenada follow the same basic pattern: one big door to the front, usually at the corner, but no windows. Instead, the center of the house is open to the sky, and usually exploding with plant life. When the rains come, they don’t come with heavy winds, so an overhang in the courtyard keeps tables, chairs, and couches protected from water, and when the rains stop, the combination of sights at ground level and sights in the sky (such as the family of parrots yelling at each other from a nearby tree) is about as close to Tanelorn as I’ve ever found. Grenada is justifiably famous for its wide variety of hibiscus trees, and some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen were growing in the second courtyard, right next to the (shallow, warm, and inviting) swimming pool.
Oh, and I almost forgot the spa. Grenada has an extremely wide range of tourists visiting at any time, and the spa in the back of Hotel La Bocona turned out to be extremely popular with both German and Canadian visitors. Peeking inside, I could understand why. Let loose a few small dinosaurs in there, and I’d never want to leave.
I’ve already told myself, over and over, that with a new push toward travel, it’s better to visit twenty new places once than the same place twenty times. I’m reconsidering my decision as far as Grenada is concerned. In fact, if it means being locked up in Hotel La Bocona for a month, I might even take up someone on a book contract, and that’s saying something.
At the new Day Job, the relationship with my co-workers is still new enough that an idle conversation on any subject other than “so how was the weekend?” tends to veer off into “And how do you know this?” territory pretty quickly. At my age, it’s not as bad as it used to be: not only do co-workers expect at least a few interesting stories from anyone pushing 50, but the statute of limitations now usually applies to the better ones. Also, many of them are funny or at least curious now, but the old saw about how “comedy is tragedy that happens to other people” also applies when enough time has gone by that the stump no longer aches on cold rainy nights. Even so, some casual discourse still leads to my supervisor looking at me with that expression that says she’s looking for a convenient garbage can if in case she gets sick right then and there, and I have to remind myself that “C’mon, it isn’t THAT bad” isn’t always a suitable defense.
Even with the much more mundane stories, context and backstory is everything, as my writer friends often discover. Sometimes, the backstory becomes a bit of incipoient head explodey, as Saladin Ahmed discovered last week.
I’m going to go into further discussion on Saladin later this week, as his hugely enjoyable first novel Throne of the Crescent Moon made me consider how underutilized conventional and magical gardens are in contemporary fantasy novels and stories. His style and scope are regularly compared to that of the late Fritz Leiber, and I regularly joke with Saladin that, to quote another Texan, I knew Fritz Leiber and Saladin’s no Fritz Leiiber. HowEVER, I could see the two of them off in the corner at a conference or convention, gleefully comparing notes and asking “By the way, have you read this?” until they were kicked out for scaring the cleaning crew. (Me, partisan? You bet. Saladin was born not far away from where I was, and we Michigan kids stick together.)
Anyway, one of Saladin’s many interests is on how imagery from science fiction, comics, and role-playing games ends up in popular culture, and he recently shared via Twitter a collection of punk band flyers using classic Dungeons && Dragons illustrations. I could have told him about my adventures with introducing the Dallas skateboarding community to Stephen Jay Gould’s book Wonderful Life in 1992, directly leading to seemingly half of the band flyers in the city featuring the denizens of the Burgess Shale. Instead, since it was related to the subject at hand, I let him know that one of the remaining artifacts of my sordid youth still in my possession had more of a direct connection than he realized.
As mentioned, backstory is everything. At the end of 1987, I was a feckless twentysomething first encountering music that wasn’t in saturation airplay on our local AOR radio stations, and had become hooked on the backlist of famed Austin proto-punk legends The Butthole Surfers. Right about the time I started a new job at Texas Instruments, word got out that the Surfers were going to play at the Arcadia Theater, the famed and long-cremated live music venue on Dallas’s Greenville Avenue, and precious few things mattered to me more at that point than getting to the concert. Tickets were cheap, getting down to the Arcadia wasn’t as big a deal as they would be to someone who hadn’t already bicycled the length and breadth of the city, and the new job meant that the other bills were covered. And that’s when everything cratered. My roommate (now the famed glass artist Robert Whitus of Drink With The Living Dead) had a family crisis that required his moving back home, a slight bout of bronchitis that required a trip to the ER stripped out the extra funds, and working nights at Texas Instruments meant that there was no blasted way I could get that day off to hit a Surfers concert. Paul was a very sad boy, but he soldiered through, swearing that he was going to catch another Butthole Surfers show at another time.
(As it turned out, it never happened, but not for a lack of trying. When a big show promoting the album Independent Worm Saloon in 1993 was rained out in a nearly catastrophic thunderstorm that threatened to electrocute everyone on the stage, I took it as a sign that it simply wasn’t going to be. And wouldn’t you know that the rescheduled show conflicted with yet another new job, and I couldn’t even find anybody at the last minute to buy the tickets? I still have them around the house somewhere…)
Fast forward over two decades, to me wandering through the flagship Half Price Books store, up the road from where the Arcadia used to reside before it burned down in 2005. I can’t tell you why I started poking through that New Arrivals cart, but peeking from inside a box was a flyer from that very Butthole Surfers show that I missed. My own flyer had gone the way of all concert promotional material, but here was one in nearly pristine condition.
Now, its method of preservation also explained why I couldn’t just take it or just pay for the flyer and leave everything else. That flyer had been stuck inside a box for the last twenty years, where it had acted as a character sheet for a role-playing game. Specifically, it was a character sheet for the long-out-of-print TSR science fiction game Star Frontiers. If I wanted the flyer, I had to buy the whole game, and the stern crew at Half Price wasn’t about to let me get out of there without the full monty.
Now, that would have been enough of a solved mystery for the crew handling my estate sale, asking “Why the hell did he have this?” I haven’t bothered with gaming since I was in high school (although I used to paint lead miniatures for gifts for friends all the way up until about 1994), so it’s not like I had a stockpile of old games or something. Saladin’s notes about band flyers and role-playing games, though, made me want to get this out to the general public. Somewhere, someplace, is some fortysomething punk whose day is going to be made by a friend telling him “You remember that Dralasite character you used to play back in the Eighties? Well, he’s ONLINE!”
And to add to the embarrassment, I’m sending Saladin the whole game pack, flyer and all. He’ll probably have a blast of belated nostalgia going through the game rules. If he decides to auction off the flyer, though, he’ll probably pay off his kids’ college fund. I think Sludge the Dralasite would want it that way.
And continuing with the class reunion soundtrack selection, here’s one where it’s painfully obvious that its biggest fans didn’t bother to listen to the lyrics when the song came out…
As mentioned before, the big trip to Nicaragua at the end of May/beginning of June was work-related, which puts certain restrictions on botanical sightseeing. It’s bad enough being the only person in the general party actually thrilled to see my old friend Hylocereus costaricensis, the dragonfruit cactus, in the wild (or possibly its cousin H. undatus), and confirming that they grow best in medium to heavy shade during the hottest parts of the year. It should be understandable that my cohorts weren’t going to stop the bus every time I saw something vaguely interesting along the side of the road, and much of the area around Grenada had very handy cliffs and even a few volcano calderas to throw me into if I didn’t stop whining. Because this was business, I settled for biting my tongue, grumbling slightly, and trying my best to get decent photographs before the drivers had us on the other side of the galaxy.
(Incidentally, I learned something very handy and very thoughtful that hadn’t come up in years of bicycling in the States. For many reasons, Nicaragua is absolutely loaded with bicycles, and I watched fathers with two kids on the top bar cruise through traffic with grace and elan. Only recently have motorists in the States, particularly in Texas, accepted the increasing number of bikes on the road, so I still deal with the occasional jerk who thinks it’s still 1983 and that there’s something fundamentally wrong with someone over the age of 14 on a bike, under any conditions. Because of that, I was still rather defensive of anybody honking behind me, as that usually meant an idiot who expected the bikes to get off the road just for them, even if they were the only other person on the road. I’m serious: I had one bozo blast her horn from her SUV for a good half-mile, tailgating me the whole way, and then finally pull around just in time for us both to look at each other at the stoplight. Well, I looked at her: she stared straight ahead and did her best to avoid eye contact while her kids stared. I just told them “You’re all right, but your mom really needs to up her medication” before pedaling off.
(Anyway, it took a trip of this sort for me to make sense of a horn habit that hadn’t made sense before. As mentioned, I used to get defensive about people honking at me, and would get angry when a motorist would pass with a quick double-tap on the horn. “Yeah, I know, I’m in your way. I’m trying to get out of it.” What I discovered was that for Central America at least, this is a sign of respect: the double-tap is to inform the cyclist that a car or truck is coming up behind, and that the driver saw and acknowledged the cyclist’s presence. Now, when I get this at home, I don’t get surly. Instead, I wave and thank them, and the drivers are always surprised that the crazy white guy on the bike actually gets it.)
One of those minor grumbles came up over and over with a particularly beautiful tree that was so brilliantly orange that it was visible from the air well over the Managua airport. Everywhere we went, these trees followed, so orange that I thought the foliage was orange. Upon closer inspection, the coloration was from the blooms, but what blooms! I thought our native crepe myrtles did a great job of hiding their foliage among brilliant cascades of flowers, but this one could have taught the crepe myrtles about eight or nine lessons. My problem was being given a chance to focus in on an impressive canopy of them while moving at speeds that threatened to blue-shift the pigments.
Finally, I managed to get close to a small specimen, and just stood and stared at the blooms. Each was easily the size of my hand, looking more like something manufactured from steel or bronze than anything botanical. For the rest of the trip, I’d gaze contentedly at those trees as they passed by on the highway back to the airport, telling myself that one day, I’d come back and give them much more time and attention.
The real surprise on this is that while I and everyone else in the group thought these were indigenous trees, our not having seen them before was only because we lived far too north. We’d encountered Delonix regia, commonly and appropriately named “flamboyant”. Originally from Madagascar, the flamboyant tree grew enthusiastically and vigorously any place where the conditions were right, and went feral over most of the Earth’s tropics. In the US, they’re apparently only found in the Rio Grande Valley in far southern Texas and in southern Florida, but they’re as cosmopolitan a tropical tree as can be managed.
That was another big surprise: while the northern half of Nicaragua may be jungle, the area around Grenada was much drier and scrubbier, and I saw a lot of analogues to plants I would have seen in North Texas that were thriving under many of the same conditions. The surprise was seeing so many plants, particularly cacti, that I recognized from just about any garden center or commercial nursery back home. At first, I thought that these may have originated in Central America and gained their current popularity due to imports to America and Europe, but D. regia‘s range makes me wonder about that. Time for more research, and the hope that I might live long enough to finish it.