Monthly Archives: July 2013

Personal interlude: the Czarina’s first encounter

Deep Ellum on a Saturday night

For those outside of Dallas, the photo above is of a parking lot on Elm Street in Dallas, in the famed Deep Ellum area. Just about half my life ago, it was just an empty field, with scattered patches of hardened mud mixed with the weeds. In September 1990, I met the Czarina in that field for the first time, although we didn’t know it at the time. I was there with my then-girlfriend after buying a new pair of motorcycle boots from a shop across the street, investigating a cluster of small vendors selling T-shirts and jewelry in the middle of the field. All I knew was this cute girl was selling handmade necklaces and rings from inside a guitar case, and if I’d known then that I’d marry her a full cycle of the Chinese calendar later, things would have been VERY different.

Anyway, the Czarina’s birthday is next week, so even if you don’t know her, wish her a happy birthday anyway. This year, I need to come up with something to top that initial bout of kismet, and that may be a bit tough.

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One moment of perfect beauty

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Personal Interlude: Preparing for Cyber-Conversion

It’s quick and smartaleck to describe the air of North Texas as “a bit too thick to breathe, and a bit too thin to plow,” but it works. Even without Governor Rick Perry’s incessant efforts to give the Environmental Protection Agency the finger every time the EPA tries to improve Dallas’s air quality, our local and immediate atmosphere continues to work its absolute best to kill all life in the area. Dust blown off the Edwards Plateau from West Texas, more dust alternating from either Oklahoma or Central Texas Hill Country, junk blowing in from the Gulf of Mexico, and a whole contingent of fungus and mold spores, pollen from gymnosperm and angiosperm plants, cow belches, and the hydrogen sulfide from the mudflats of the Trinity River in the summer…in case of tornado, just separate off chunks of air with a chainsaw and build a shelter strong enough to withstand a nuke strike.

The practical upshot is that Texas hates me. Three years ago, trying to find a solution to an inability to get restful sleep led to a trip to an allergy clinic, and the initial allergen tests showed me allergic to most of Texas’s life forms. This, of course, makes working anywhere outside of a silicon chip fabrication facility rather problematic, so the immediate solution involved a long series of allergy shots. Considering that I share an aversion to needles with one of my childhood role models, and for much the same reason, going through the regimen demonstrated that I valued a decent night’s sleep much more than I wanted to scream and hyperventilate over a needle barely able to catheterize a mosquito. Three years of shots, and then a re-evaluation: I’m now immune to the various things in the aerosolized manure we cheerfully call “air”. The injections just encouraged previously barely noticeable allergies, though, leading to a whole new line of shots. At the rate I’m going, I may be immune to everything short of hard vacuum and death by fire by February 2061.

Ah, but there was that little issue with being unable to breathe, so it was time to go to a sleep clinic for further evaluation. I’d been to one clinic back in 2010, but never got a reasonable evaluation of my sleep habits: such things happen when the evaluating doctor is too busy trying to refer his customers to buddies offering medically worthless dentifrices and polishing his D magazine “893 Best Doctors Willing To Buy Full-Page Advertising In Our Special Issue” award to give it. This time, though, new doctor, new sleep clinic, and a whole new breakdown on how inefficient respiratory structures conspired against sleep during the summer.

The upshot, after being rigged up with cranial electrodes and heart monitors and watched in my sleep with infrared cameras, was a diagnosis of moderate apnea. Enough apnea that it affected REM sleep, which explained the crippling bouts of depression every summer. (Of course, that could have just been from looking at the thermometer.) Enough apnea that neglecting to treat it would probably lead to heart damage or a possible stroke, and that’s nowhere near as fun as my planned manner of demise. All that remained was to ascertain the best method of treatment.

“Okay, we know the problem,” I told the Czarina one afternoon after the initial test. “All I need is a tracheotomy, and I can both breathe and smoke through the same hole.”

“What are you talking about? You don’t smoke.”

“Hey, Bill Hicks was onto something here. Get me an apple corer, and I’ll take care of it right now. Ker-CHUNK!”

“You are NOT giving yourself a tracheotomy.” See, this is why I can’t win with the Czarina. Most people would sit back, grab some popcorn, and watch the show. She actually fusses about my staying alive and stuff. She obviously married me for the money: my current net worth is $4.81, and that’s if she cashes in the glass Dr. Pepper bottles in the garage for the deposits.

The doctor, who is a joy to hang out with by the way, noted that the ongoing allergy shots were doing quite a bit of good, but proper treatment required being a bit more aggressive. The most extreme required surgery to remove or tighten up pharyngeal tissues in the back of my throat, keeping them from jamming up my windpipe and generally acting like wearing a prom gown to a chainsaw duel. (I offered again to try essential knowledge from my people’s wisest savant, but the Czarina both hid my Dremel tool and changed the lock on the shed, keeping me away from the hedge trimmers. She’s just trying to keep the value on the internal organs she can sell: that part is obvious.) The more reasonable solution, though, involved continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP. Back to the sleep clinic, this time to be tested with a CPAP machine to ascertain the best positive pressure necessary to keep me from choking on my own throat.

Now, when going for any sort of medical treatment, one of my absolute steadfast rules is “consider the opportunities to scare the hell out of your loved ones”. The best part of sitting in a hospital ER with a bad bout of pneumonia is that I can get away with telling her “I’m gonna TRY…not to…come back…”, and any threat of violence just might make things worse. (Of course, that wasn’t helped with an intern who believed me when she asked for symptoms and I said “Other than the zombie bite, I’m fine.”) Covered with electrodes, gauges, wires, a full head harness, and a full facemask, what could make the situation absolutely terrifying? Why, adding goggles and then sending my new selfie to her. I love living in the future.

Sleep Mask

Now, after a decade of marriage, the Czarina is almost used to these sorts of things. None of the obvious comparisons, or even asking if I needed fava beans and a nice Chianti with dinner. She just looked at the photo, looked at me, and said “If you’re going to wear THAT to bed, you’d better expect only to sleep.” And she’s absolutely right. I’m going to have to get out my old Nixon mask to go with it.

Review: The Savage Garden Revised: Cultivating Carnivorous Plants by Peter D’Amato

(A bit of context. This blog features regular reviews of books, horticultural products, and interesting related items, under this proviso. All items reviewed will be purchased by the reviewer in advance, at full retail price, in order to prevent any conflict of interest. Information about upcoming releases is greatly appreciated, but receipt of advance copies or samples will be announced well in advance and will not influence the final review. The world has enough Jeff Craigs and Maria Salases as it is.)

The Savage Garden Revised

The Savage Garden Revised: Cultivating Carnivorous Plants by Peter D’Amato

ISBN-10: 1607744104
ISBN-13: 9781607744108
Published: Ten Speed Press, 07/02/2013
Pages: 384
Language: English

With the current wealth in new research and archived knowledge on carnivorous plants, it can be hard to remember when that wealth wasn’t easily shared. When I first became hooked on carnivorous plants a decade ago, I did what most people did at the time: instead of hopping online and running a quick Google search on the subject, I sashayed first to the public library and then to available bookstores for more information. The library had children’s books on “The World’s Weirdest Plants”, usually in that horrible combination of sepia monochrome illustrations and one block of Kodachrome color plates in the center that were so popular in the 1960s. At this point, all of the independent bookstores in Dallas were long-dead, and both Borders and Barnes & Noble had a gardening section comprised of two books on local trees and flowers and at least 50 variations on “How To Grow Marijuana In Your Closet”. Not that I particularly had problems with either, but that wasn’t the subject. Online bookselling wasn’t necessarily an option, either, as most searches at the time required knowing the title of the book, and I wasn’t about ready to buy any book on the subject without being able to look through it.

Finally, one day in spring 2003, while killing time before a job interview, I entered a Borders in North Dallas. After a pass through the magazine section to see which publications hadn’t survived the dotcom crash that week, I thought “Hey, let’s see what’s in the gardening section?” and took a quick peek. This time, in between a Better Homes & Gardens volume on citrus and a purely theoretical exercise on growing your own psilocybin mushrooms for fun and profit, I found a title that caught my eye. On the spine was a stunning Sarracenia pitcher plant, and the photos on the inside were even more fascinating. No arguments, no debate: that book came home with me, and it changed my life.

When I’m asked by carnivorous plant neophytes about resources and references, I’ll recommend several. Anything by Barry Rice and Adrian Slack is essential, but the one absolute I had for anybody wanting to work with carnivores was to get, by any means necessary, a copy of Peter D’Amato’s book The Savage Garden. Over the last decade, I’ve haunted used bookstores for spare copies, and I’ve been known to hand them over with a plastic smile and an earnest plea of “Let me tell you about my church.” In return, the lucky recipients of that largesse promptly had their minds blown. A couple even stated, after going through the whole volume, “now I understand why you quit writing.”

I exaggerate not a whit by noting that, particularly for beginners, The Savage Garden was one of the most valuable books on carnivorous plants written in the last two decades. Not only was it an excellent reference book for those seeking to view carnivores in the wild, particularly in the United States and the UK, but Mr. D’Amato’s experience in running California Carnivores, one of the largest carnivorous plant nurseries on the planet, showed on every page. In addition to being informative, the book was humorous, insightful, and thorough. The only thing that slowed it down a bit, honestly, was that it was a product of its time.

If that first edition of The Savage Garden had a problem, it was its publication at the beginnings of the Internet era. When it came out in 1998, it was one of the most authoritative books on the subject, but nobody expected the nova of new research over the last fifteen years. Between new explorations and DNA analysis, the number of carnivorous plant species known to science jumped to over 600 species (double that if you want to count the triggerplants, Stylidium spp, in that list), and the number of hybrids and cultivars jumped in that time as well. Stewart McPherson’s heroic expeditions to catalog and photograph all known species in the wild made the news, as did new research into carnivorous plant function and natural history. I regularly note in lectures that this is the most exciting period in carnivorous plant research since Charles Darwin was still alive, and after some of the recent developments in understanding sundew and Nepenthes pitcher plant physiology, I’m being conservative.

All in all, The Savage Garden desperately needed a revamp. It needed metric conversions for non-American readers. It needed further listings on newly described species now available in cultivation. It needed further options for husbandry, such as the new procedures for keeping Portuguese dewy pines (Drosophyllum lusitanicum) happy and hearty. Oh, and it needed resources on such diverse subjects as carnivorous plant societies and sterile tissue propagation.

Well, guess what?

For the beginners, stop right here and buy this book right now. Don’t worry about whether you have to choose between the book or groceries, and definitely ignore that burning school bus full of paraplegic nuns. They’ll still be there. As I like to tell the Czarina, it’s financial decisions like these that make me glad I have two kidneys but regret I have only one liver. Just shut up and get it now, and when you’ve won the MacArthur Fellowship award for your outstanding research, just rub the scar where your right kidney used to be and remind yourself that it was worth it. I won’t even say anything if you decide that selling spare organs doesn’t necessarily mean yours.

For the long-timers, you have reason to ask “is this worth the cost of a whole new edition, seeing as how the original edition is so thorough?” Well, that depends upon your specialty. The coverage of all of the world’s pitcher plants is effectively doubled in this edition, especially with new Sarracenia hybrids and new Nepenthes species. The section on sundews is even more thorough, especially thanks to all of the tuberous and pygmy sundews now available, and the updated photos of everything are spectacular. Oh, and for bladderwort buffs, get a good look at some of the new terrestrial varieties now available in cultivation.

And yes, I know you assume that this isn’t a perfect volume, and it isn’t. The biggest complaint lies with the seemingly arbitrary listing of species and cultivars within a section, especially concerning butterworts. In an end chapter on potentially carnivorous and protocarnivorous species, the devil’s claws (Proboscidea lutea and louisianica) finally get more respect, as do both known species of Roridula, but there’s not a peep about triggerplants. (That’s only fair, in a way: triggerplants deserve a major volume all on their own.) That’s more than mitigated, though, by some very solid and thorough advice on growing carnivores indoors: I recently started raising Nepenthes and Brocchinia plants under T5 high-output fluorescent lights intended for planted aquaria, with excellent results in both growth and color. Not only has Mr. D’Amato beaten me to the punch on their usefulness, but he’s also noting that recent developments in LED technology will probably make these as obsolete as carbon-arc lights within the next ten years or so.

So here we have it. One of the most influential print references on carnivorous plants, revised for 2013 sensibilities, available in an autographed edition. Fifty years from now, when you’ve dumped sordid habits like heroin and tobacco and writing science fiction in favor of raising carnivores, raise a glass to Peter D’Amato, because for a lot of us, it’s all his fault.

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Cat Monday

Cadigan

Have a Great Weekend

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Cat Monday

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