Monthly Archives: June 2011

Things To Do In Fort Worth When You’re Dead

This is a special weekend in North America, and it should be celebrated in an appropriate fashion. July 1 is Canada Day, and is usually celebrated around here by calling up Canadian friends and singing them the National Anthem in French. (Of course, this is the alternate universe National Anthem, the one sung in the South Park movie by Terrance and Philip that should have won the 2000 “Best Original Song” Oscar. It’s because I love them to death, and because I know, being of Canadian ancestry myself, that getting them angry enough to skin me is the only way to get them to visit.) The subsequent Monday, of course, is celebrated in the US as the name of a really, really lousy alien invasion movie from fifteen years ago. I won’t bring up Texas Independence Day, because our 175th anniversary was last March, but we usually save the fun for July anyway. It’s too cold for barbecue and iced tea at the beginning of March anyway.

So. This weekend is also a special one, because it’s one of those incredibly rare days where the Czarina doesn’t have to work on Saturday. Who’s up for combining Canadian, American, and Texan sensibilities and attending the Science Saturday open house at the brand new Botanical Research Institute of Texas building in Fort Worth? Just replace the cactus with Mounties, and it’ll be just like being in Calgary.

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Call in the burn squad

I don’t make a huge deal of my Scottish heritage, no matter how badly the Czarina wants to see me in a kilt. (She’s Welsh: it can’t be helped.) One aspect of my paternal ancestry, though, leads to a lot of trouble. Namely, the fact that you have no idea, no idea, of what the word “frugality” means if you’re not of the blood. I remember reading a book review in the Eighties that started out describing how the reviewer’s grandmother could stretch out a Thanksgiving turkey until she was trying, in mid-July, to figure out how to make turkey-flavored Jell-O from the bones. My first response was “Are we related?” This frugality should be celebrated, not mocked: I mean, how many other civilizations on the planet could look around at available resources and say “We have fresh water, peat, rye, and a big load of copper. What can we do with this?

(Now, I say this about my father’s side of the family. My mother’s is even better, as she came from classic Irish/German/Cherokee stock. I’m glad I don’t let old family and country rivalries affect my life, because otherwise I’d get a big stick and beat the crap out of myself.)

North Texas tends to bring out a lot of that, because it’s not like we have a lot out here. The trees are small. We don’t have big metal deposits. The soil is some of the richest on the planet, but only after it’s been worked for decades to break up the clay we lovingly call “black gumbo”. The two things we have to excess are both products of the yellow hurty thing in the sky that stays above the horizon for eighty days at a stretch this time of the year. Namely, a lot of sun and a lot of wind.

Capturing the wind is relatively easy, because the only time it stops blasting out of the south is during those few moments we laughingly call “winter” and it blasts out of the north. More and more wind turbines are going up to take advantage of our surplus. Since we literally have 300 or more sunny days per year, now it’s time to scoop up a bit of sun, and use it for good instead of for skin cancer and powdery automobile paint.

Now, two things to take into account. I have a good friend in the UK who’s well-known for her propensity to get into trouble, to the point where she has a List. Specifically, this is entitled “Things Arkady Is Not Allowed To Do,” and one of the top ten entries is “Anything suggested by Paul Riddell.” It’s like these people know me or something. That’s the first, and the second is that I’m a horrible enabler. I like to tell people that my little brother Eric is still the only five-year-old I’ve ever met who knew how to make black powder, and I innocently whistle when he points out that his seven-year-old older brother was the one who gave him the recipe. If Arkady and I were ever to meet in real life, well, I hope everyone’s prepared for the next few years when Earth gets blasted out of its orbit and goes wandering through interstellar space. (Another entry in Arkady’s List is “Anything that makes her giggle for more than 15 seconds.” A few minutes hanging around with me, and she’ll be giggling for years.)

And why do I bring this up? It’s because I’ve discovered that I have a need, a deep horrible primeval need, for a Fresnel lens. A big Fresnel lens. Even better, I discovered folks in Fort Worth that manufacture Fresnel lenses.

Now, I’m not going to say a word about what I have in mind, other than that it should be a very interesting heating system for the greenhouse in the winter, and a very important tool during that period when we pass from “spring” to “My daily commute requires me to swim through pools of molten concrete”. I promise, though, that if it doesn’t work, you’ll never know. That’s the good side to the shock of tossing Earth into the void between galaxies.

Now THAT’s garden sculpture!

My friend Chris Blakeley in Seattle just shared a little posting on the steel artwork of Andrew Chase. Specifically, of Mr. Chase’s tyrannosaur sculptures.

Oh, dear. I can hear the Czarina telling me “Where are we going to put it?” Naturally, the answer is “Out in the front yard. Add a tank and a Dalek, and we’ve got a life-sized Rowan Atkinson nativity set.”

Uh oh

After a few years of living in Dallas, you become a bit blase about shopping malls. Back in the Eighties, famed Chicago columnist Mike Royko referred to Dallas as “a shopping mall Shangri-La,” and he was nearly tarred and feathered. I note that the best documentary about life in Dallas was directed by George Romero…not so much.

Anyway, it should be interesting to see the latest confluence of shopping mall sensibilities and horticulture, brought to you by the folks behind Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie, becoming our second big tourist attraction. (You know, besides that little accident a few years back.) Namely, Terrain. Time for me to talk to the folks at Panoptikon, Dallas’s best goth club, about offering an antidote to “put a bird on it” before it gets here.

Prehistoric gardens

Five years ago next month, my in-laws were in the middle of a massive and thorough house renovation, so they considered “stay at home and watch as the air conditioning went blasting through the holes in outside walls and through the missing floorboards, or go someplace with more amenable weather.” To their credit, they decided that this was the perfect time to go to Canada. Banff, Alberta, specifically. Considering that at that point I hadn’t been in Canada in 30 years, and even then only to Ontario, I certainly wasn’t going to argue about a family expedition. That is, until we got into the rental car and the Czarina suddenly panicked about on which side of the road Canadians drive.

(Now you have to understand that I love the Czarina in the way I love oxygen, a steady supply of drinkable water, and the ability to pull off a really good fart joke when being chased by mobsters, ninjas, and dinosaurs. However, telling her that the Oxford Dictionary definition of “credulous” has her picture next to it works every time. A perfect example was when the whole extended clan went on a jaunt through the trails in Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park, and we passed what once was the hinge to a gate, still attached to a tree. It looked like a spigot attached to the tree, so the Czarina asked about its purpose. “It’s for gathering pine syrup,” I said. “Canadians only use pine syrup on their pancakes. They save that maple crap for Americans who aren’t smart enough to know better.” I had her going for a full ten minutes until she saw me fighting laughter, and then OH MY GOD THE BEATINGS, as Jeff Somers would say.)

I don’t want to intimate that I don’t love the Czarina’s family. Anything but. It’s just that usually their idea of fun is a bit different than ours. While everyone else wanted to go white-water rafting, we were loading the car for a sidetrip to the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller. After arriving in Calgary before driving to Banff, the car rental clerk asked our plans for our vacation, and when I brought up the word “Drumheller”, this poor Newfoundland girl just shuddered. “It’s so FLAT.” I simply responded “In other words, just like North Texas.” And it is. The only realy difference between Calgary and Fort Worth is that the latter has a surplus of cactus and a drought of Mounties, and the only way we were absolutely sure we hadn’t teleported to West Texas on our way to Drumheller was noting that all of the highway signs listed kilometers instead of miles.

Anyway, the Royal Tyrrell Museum actually managed to exceed its reputation in the US. Its Burgess Shale exhibit was the next best thing to seeing the actual formation, and its dinosaur collection is simply incredible. (This includes the life-sized Albertosaurus and Pachyrhinosaurus models out in front. With the latter, I couldn’t resist a Steve Irwin pose, and I’m glad I wasn’t deported.) The most intriguing draw, though, was the spectacular Cretaceous Garden. In particular, one glass wall looks over the Drumheller badlands, giving a particularly poignant comparison between the conditions 90 million years ago and now.

Not that the Cretaceous Garden is the only one of its type, even on the continent. For instance, the Zilker Botanical Garden in Austin has the Hartman Prehistoric Garden, similarly planted with flora comparable to that in the area during the Cretaceous. I just wonder, though, what would it take to set up a similar garden here in Dallas?

Have a great weekend

“Hi! I’m Johnny Knoxville, and this is ‘self-publishing’.”

Every once in a while, I feel the urge to write another book. Never mind that my previous three got more positive reviews than sales: instead of wasting my time with science fiction and essays therein, I was going to focus solely on horticulture. When this happens, I usually ask the Czarina for help, and four or five good stout cracks to the skull with a cricket bat relieves the pressure on my brain that causes these delusions.

It’s not that I don’t have a good viable subject. It’s also not as if I wouldn’t have an editor and publisher whom I trust like the big brother I never had: Warren Lapine has already offered to publish anything on the subject I care to offer him. It’s just, well, that the way the publishing business is going right now, there’s a little metaphor about micturating down a rodent burrow that keeps coming to mind.

Case in point, here’s the only link from Amazon.com you’ll ever see on this blog, on a subject that definitely deserves better coverage and consideration. I’m not even going to include the title or author’s name, because the last thing the author needs is the ego boost from seeing the listing in Google. (Just read the reviews and the excerpt.) Instead, I’m just going to sit back and collect notes, and wait until the situation with big-box bookstores, publishers, and distributors shakes itself out a bit. After all, if this is the competition, I want to wait until the stink dissipates a bit.