Category Archives: I’m living in my own private Tanelorn

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 – 6

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To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 – 2

frightmare_2018_17I get a lot of people asking “So why sell plants at a horror convention?” Well, I have a lot of reasons. The biggest one for coming out to Texas Frightmare Weekend is a matter of balance. Most artists, particularly those specializing in dioramas, will tell you that balance is always better than symmetry except in military parades. Balance is a natural flow for maximum aesthetic appeal, while symmetry always screams “regimented” and “controlled”. Texas Frightmare Weekend has a lot of strengths, but one of its greatest is the understanding that the two dealer’s rooms need balance. No one particular art form dominates: because of a very careful jury system on incoming vendor applicants, instead of just giving spaces to the first vendors to apply, a lot of different vendors have opportunities. Original art has room, T-shirts have room, sculptors and tattoo artists have room, and attendees don’t look across a vista of a full room of exactly the same things on each and every table. That’s why when the doors open every day during Frightmare, people are already waiting, and they sprint in to see what they missed the last time. Between vendors and guests, this is why Frightmare doesn’t follow the lead of other conventions and schedule multiple events throughout the year: the attendees beg “Have mercy on my wallet: I love it all, but I need to pay rent, too.”

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To be continued…

Interlude: Sarracenia Blooms

It’s been…interesting around the gallery this last week, mostly because the focus is on having everything ready for Texas Frightmare Weekend next week. (I’ve been joking that the response to the phrase “We’re a week away from Frightmare!” is enthusiastic cheering from the attendees, cries of “Once more into the breach, once more!” from the staff, and a sustained Brown Note from the vendors.) Everything is coming through so far, so here are a few photos of the blooms in the Sarracenia pools as they emerge from winter dormancy:

And a little extra in order to demonstrate that carnivorous plants aren’t a dependable form of insect control. This little corner of North Texas is becoming an enclave of the longhorn crazy ant, and they’re doing quite well in disturbed areas such as suburbs. The last two months have been a rush of insect controls such as orange oil drenches, to which they respond by moving their mounds a few meters away and starting fresh. Well, apparently they’ve discovered Sarracenia nectar, both in blooms and in traps, and it’s not turning out well for the little junkies:

The Sarracenia are benefiting for the moment: a percentage of the nectar-slurpers will fall in and feed the plant. However, each pitcher catching five or six per day does nothing for the hundreds of thousands or even millions back in the original nest, so about the only sure way to take out the nest involves art. And so it goes.

The Aftermath: All-Con 2018

Ah, All-Con 2018. A lot of bad craziness happened at this year’s show, mostly involving the host hotel. Said hotel changed its name and ownership the week of the show, where potential patrons looking for the “Hotel Intercontinental” were understandably confused. There’s also something to be said about hotel upgrades that weren’t even close to being finished by the Thursday morning the show started, with lighting fixtures missing, exposed wiring hanging from the ceiling, elevators of dubious functionality that closed on entrants without warning, and the main escalator leading to the second level broken and blocked off. Inside the main dealer’s room wasn’t much better: the carpet in the main banquet hall was freshly installed, sure, but one of the vendors played a game of “How Many Razor Blades and Screws Can We Find On The Floor?” and picked up two full handfuls of broken and dulled razor blades within about fifteen minutes. (The carpet HAD been vacuumed beforehand, as installation was being completed as vendors started moving in stuff on Wednesday night, but with a vacuum that had seen a significant portion of the Twentieth Century firsthand. Besides, that vacuum would have been hard-pressed to clean up the cocaine that flowed across that part of North Dallas and Addison in great rivers during the hotel’s prime, much less the amount of metal left in that carpet, so everyone spent the rest of the weekend joking about who was going to be the poster child for the “Telethon for Tetanus.”) And then there was the parking…

Oh, the parking. One of the grand mysteries concerning convention hotels in this foul Year of Our Lord 2018 is the assumption that people will keep coming back to the hotel for future events when the parking situation assumes that the current year is 1974. The number of hotels in Dallas that barely offer enough parking for hotel guests and staff when the venue is half-full, and then advertise their availability for conventions and conferences with room for three times that count, just beggars the imagination. To make matters even better, most of these hotels automatically assume that convention and conference attendees have their own transportation: Addison has a DART bus hub not far away, but the space between the hub and the hotel last had sidewalks put in back in the 1980s, back when “pedestrian” was a local euphemism for “too poor to afford the valet” and accessibility wasn’t even remotely considered. (By way of example, that immediate area is full of “sidewalks” with telephone poles planted right in the center, requiring users to walk into the street to get around them, and you can imagine the sheer fun faced by those with disabilities trying to get back onto a sidewalk that’s lacking ramps and inclines.)  Combine that with a frantic construction boom in that vicinity, where the slightest rain turns an entire block into a morass of slimy, clinging mud with no option for getting past it without walking into the middle of a busy street, and it’s no surprise that a lot of potential convention attendees circled around the hotel, gave up when they saw that even the valet spots were full, and went home.

That said, for all of the nightmares of access, those of us who came out for All-Con, both vendor and attendee, made the best of the situation. Yes, the total attendance numbers were way down from previous years. That just meant having more of an opportunity to talk to regular attendees, including several that have been coming by the Triffid Ranch booth since the beginning of the decade. THAT made hotel incompetence and stupidity worthwhile, especially with the patrons now raising their own families and bringing their kids by to see plants for themselves.

To be continued…

On 2017

2017. Oh, where do we start? Talking about the new gallery after having to move out of the old one is definitely an “Aside from THAT, Mrs. Kennedy, what do you think of Dallas?” situation, but it’s a perfect summation of the entire year for the Triffid Ranch. In fact, this is the first week since before the move that things are relatively quiet. Not that this will last. The synopsis:

The Gallery

Although the short moveout notice led to a bit of a panic in the actual move and then a long rebuilding, it actually worked out for the best. True, the new gallery is about 120 square meters smaller than the Valley View location and it doesn’t have the big industrial sink in the back, but it also has a much more central location for just about everyone in the greater Dallas area. It also has direct access to a DART Red Line station, several excellent restaurants across the street, a nice grocery store around the corner, and some great neighbors, including the porcelain mask and glasswork dealer right next door. Meeting clients for consultations and viewings is much easier for all parties involved, partially because the local traffic congestion is so much less than around Valley View. And should I mention again the DART stop that drops people off right across the street, so they don’t have to deal with traffic congestion at all?

Another factor with the new space is the closed-off main gallery area, which requires artificial light for both finished enclosures and new plants in propagation. That may sound like a disadvantage, but this cuts out light pollution that might affect germination, growth, and blooming. This is a roundabout way of noting that the exceedingly popular Manchester United Flower Show event from 2016 is coming back next spring, and with even more bladderworts than before. The better light and climate control of the new gallery also means that the much-promised expansion into ultra-hot peppers and exotic succulents such as stapeliads, delayed this year because of the move (quite literally, we got the moveout notice two days before the planned pepper seed potting extravaganza), will happen as scheduled. The ultimate plan, since 2018 has five weekends before Christmas, is to offer Bhut Jolokia, Dorchester Naga, and Trinidad Scorpion pepper bushes as highly unorthodox but pre-decorated holiday trees during the Nightmare Weekend events. We’ll see.

Shows

Because of the gallery move and the resultant unpacking and organizing from February to June, signing up for new shows and events moved to the back of the “Things To Do” list, and they stayed there for most of the year. That wasn’t an absolute, but as it turned out, focusing on getting the gallery open was advantageous.

Why? Lots of reasons apply, but one of the biggest was the ongoing shakeout of conventions and fairs in the Dallas area and elsewhere. Ever since the Triffid Ranch’s first show in May of 2008, science fiction, fantasy, and horror conventions have been an essential part of the show season, and that isn’t changing. However, with the exception of Texas Frightmare Weekend and its dedicated and prudent staff and crew, it’s been a really rough year for conventions. To be honest, considering the spectacular and financially devastating implosions of conventions big and small this year, it’s time to pull out the writing-days duster to go with all of the bullet-dodging. Even with existing conventions, numbers are way down for most. Anybody familiar with convention circuit cycles knows that the current downturn was inevitable: the same thing happened in the 1980s and 1990s with big media-related conventions, as new fans grew up and discovered that hitting every convention within the timezone was incompatible with day jobs and new families. The only difference between this cycle and previous ones was in the length, mostly due to the influx of new fans brought in by movies, television, and costuming. A lot of the current generation of congoers are too young to remember the previous crash in the mid-Nineties, so it’ll seen like the end of the world, but I promise that with every bust is the promise of another wave. The big question right now is how long things need to remain fallow before that next wave starts, and a lot of the pain will be felt by vendors at these shows whose entire business history lies within the current cycle.

(Incidentally, the current implosion is why shows outside of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex require a LOT of vetting these days. For the last three years, Galveston of all places has been the focus of a series of intended conventions and shows that made huge promises of giant crowds and wild events, only for everything to disappear about a month before the start date. The things disappearing include booth fees and deposits: without fail, vendors receive cryptic letters about refunds “eventually”, just before the show’s Web site and Facebook page shut down in the middle of the night. Again, bullet-dodging: several friends lost a considerable amount of money they couldn’t easily replace on one show that fell apart when a fellow vendor called the hotel to find out about loading access and was told the hotel had no knowledge about the show at all. Even worse, most of these incidents weren’t due to any specific malfeasance, but instead from not understanding that telling friends “Hey, let’s put on a show” and actually launching an event have a lot of steps in between that are lubricated with elbow grease and the occasional liter of blood. Combine this with an absolute certainty that somehow, magically, everything will work out all right in the end, and you get shows that create rueful new memes for attendees and financial disaster for vendors and guests.)

Alternately, besides plotting new events at the gallery (many of which may include the previously mentioned neighbors, depending upon their schedules), it’s time for more outreach as well. The move precluded a lot of lectures and events at schools and museums, and it’s time to get that back up and going. Among other things, I’ve needed a good excuse to bug the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History about getting involved with one of its adult programs, and it may be time to do a black light show with traps and blooms to show how they glow under ultraviolet light.

Press and Publicity

When it came to local news coverage, 2017 was much more lively than 2016. It started with the final ARTwalk at Valley View, with the Dallas Observer reporting on plans for the remaining artists, and then with the Observer coming back for the soft opening last July. Suffice to say, nobody was more surprised than I was to win a Best of Dallas Award this year, or eighth place in the best date spots in Dallas. This coincided with a serious reevaluation of the Observer over the last couple of years: the paper is no longer the smarmy, bloated mess it was at the beginning of the century, and it’s now the paper we all wish it had been back when competitors such as The Met and DFW Icon were trying to usurp it. (In particular, I exaggerate not a whit when I compare dining editor Beth Rankin to the late Chicago columnist Mike Royko, one of my childhood heroes. Her articles are a wonderful blend of serious, funny, and thoughtful, with a constant subtext of “I gave you enough rope to hang yourself, so thank you very much for surprising me” like Royko’s best columns. And if you don’t think Dallas needs someone like her, just look back 17 years to when the Observer was facing, and losing, actual libel suits for its dining coverage.) Now that the gallery is established, it’s time to get more word out, and buying advertising means that supporting the new Observer goes beyond lip service.

Elsewhere, a shot of the old gallery even showed up in a pictorial in D magazine of Black Friday 2016 at the old Valley View space.  I won’t even complain about it being run a year late, presumably spiked in favor of the monthly “76,233 Best Doctors Willing to Pay For a Full-Page Ad” cover story: I’m just thrilled to discover that someone at D has an interest in plants and plant byproducts that never comes anywhere near the term “levamisole toxicity”. Miracles abound.

Plans

Strange as it may sound, 2018 is going to be “more of the same”. Most of the plans for next year include lots of alternatives to the shows in which it all started, starting with more events at the gallery. This includes more involvement with groups such as the Arts Incubator of Richardson, as well as gallery tour events through the Dallas area. In addition, it’s time to return to events sadly neglected while getting the old Valley View gallery going: among many other things, it’s time for future Triffid Ranch tables at local reptile shows, museum events, and one-day pop-up shows. Everything, of course, depends upon the Day Job and factors completely uncontrollable, but it’s time to go outside, and 2018 is the year to start walking.

As a sidenote, the upheaval prevented attempts to keep up with everyone online, and that’s already being rectified. In addition to an increased posting schedule, those efforts include a new mailing list that starts up at the beginning of the new year, improvements to the current site (some of you may already notice that the ads that infested the old site are gone, and now it’s a matter of going through all of the external links and removing or updating the defunct ones), and maybe even a bit of video. Now to develop a vaccine for sleep so there’s time to do all of this.

Synopsis

As always, time and tide melt the snowman, so 2018 might end on a drastically different note. As if anyone expected anything different. The main thing is that 2017 epitomized “Hold my beer and watch this,” and barring a truly unfortunate accident with temporal paradoxes, we won’t have to go through it again. Now let’s go explore the new year.

Buy the ticket, take the ride


To say that Anno Domini 2002 was a bunkerbuster and kidney stone of a year was a bit of an understatement. The year started with the realization that the tech boom of the previous four years was over and done: much as with the pundits seeing signs of recovery from the crash of 1929 in January 1930, business analysts watching the detritus from the dotcom boom kept seeing new sprouts in the manure pile, but they weren’t visible from the ground level. The number of poorly managed built-to-flip tech companies blaming their implosions on 9/11 just kept climbing, and those of us who made plans for the future based on relative employment stability pretty much dropped everything and hung on. In my own case, the company that had hired me for a three-year stem-to-stern documentation revamp suddenly made the news for creating the 38-day monthly reporting period, and while its co-CEOs wouldn’t see the inside of prison for fraud for a few years, the rest of us wouldn’t be there to wave goodbye. Goodbye, steady paycheck: hello, wildly variable schedule at a Dallas liquor store that paid enough for rent or the car payment but not both at the same time.

If evil is the loam of the decay of virtue, from which new good will sprout again, 2002 was a raised bed garden the size of a football field. In very short succession, I lost two cats, brother and sister that I’d bottle-fed as kittens after they’d been abandoned at a Goodwill truck 14 years before, and a grandmother. Driving out to bury one of the cats led to a head gasket on my car blowing out, with a very expensive tow back to town. Oh, and let’s not forget the root canal, or the move to a barely affordable apartment just before the divorce was final. The absolute nadir, though, was watching as a haphazard pro writing career crumpled under the deaths of innumerable seemingly stable paying publications. This was matched by any number of wannabe editors who assumed that publication was enough of an honor without grubby compensation marring it, and by the end of May, with just the latest zine dweeb asking for submissions and responding to queries of payment with “Since I’m not a well-heeled trust fund baby, I’ll pay when the magazine starts making money and not before,” I was done.

By the middle of September, when the despair of working retail in a liquor store during the holidays was a regular morning and evening dread, a glimmer of light came through with a call from a company in Florida seeking a technical writer. It was coming out of a dotcom bankruptcy, they warned, and Tallahassee wasn’t Miami or Orlando. The pay wasn’t what was standard for that sort of position a few years earlier, the benefits were pretty bad, and the lead developer would disappear for weeks in his quest for a Russian mail-order bride. However, one of my potential co-workers brought in her pet Vietnamese potbellied pig on Fridays, the initial interview went well, and I had an old friend in Tally who recommended the place as somewhere to relax: Jeff VanderMeer, whose novel Annihilation comes out as a film early next year. Jeff had delivered several well-placed slaps upside the head during my writing days, and if he was living out there, then it was worth the monumental move out there, wasn’t it?

To cut to the end, the job didn’t work out. Three months in, and about three days before I was to fly back to Dallas and marry Caroline, Delenn to my GIR, the president of the company decided that the gigantic software project planned for January 2003 didn’t need to happen, and a dead project didn’t need a technical writer. Since I’d already paid for plane tickets about an hour before getting notice, that meant sitting around in Tallahassee for three days before returning to Dallas, getting married shortly after Christmas, and flying back to Tally on New Year’s Day to pack up everything and drive back one last time. Noon on January 2, 2003 found me on a nearly-deserted beach in Gulfport, Mississippi, looking across Coke-bottle glass water on the Gulf of Mexico, coming across the occasional enormous fish bone or mangrove seed, and wondering “So what’s the rest of the year going to be like?” Considering how the previous four months had gone, most people would have been embittered for years on both career and locale and never returned.

But.

In many ways, Tallahassee was the right place at the right time. A lack of money precluded a lot of activities, so that meant sitting in a rented room and reading all night. (My roommate was thrilled with this, as I was decidedly less dramatic than his previous roommate, AND I paid my rent on time without reminding. He was also a hopeless fan of the Britcom Absolutely Fabulous, so discovering that my ex was a physical and temperamental ringer for Edie Monsoon just meant that half of Florida’s gay community had to come by and meet Edie’s third ex-husband.) That also meant getting a cram course on Florida natural history and paleontology, especially from the number of Florida State University postgrads at the long-defunct goth venue Club Jade looking for an ear actively interested in their research. The geology and history of Wakulla Springs, the world’s largest freshwater spring, took up a lot of that spare time, and the springs’ steady year-round water temperature meant that swimming outdoors in unchlorinated water in December was an option. The biggest lateral turn in my life, though, came upon a visit to the Tallahassee Museum my second day in town. The Museum is more of a wildlife park and nature preserve than museum as most people would know it, and among enclosures for Florida panthers and river otters were collections of plants that I’d vaguely read about but had never seen in person. Right at the Museum entrance was a collection of Sarracenia purple pitcher plants, and right there was where my old life ended.

Returning to Dallas in 2003 wasn’t a huge improvement on 2002: moving back didn’t remove the reasons for moving out. What changed, though, was a big chunk of Tallahassee that remained under the skin. About a week after getting back, a run to a local Home Depot for new bookshelves led to coming across a display of assorted carnivorous plants for sale, and that’s when it really went down. Although I suffered a few writing relapses (all but one being so aggravating or humiliating that the bug is burned out forever, culminating with threatening to dox the entire management ladder at SyFy in order to get paid), the rest of the time between then and now has focused on the carnivores. This has led to friendships with experts and fellow dilettantes in the field, for all of whom I’d take a bullet without hesitation, and a constant sense of “So what’s next?” Every time I ask that question, someone comes up behind and tells me “If you like that, check THIS out,” and down another rabbit hole I go.

In a very roundabout way, this is a way of thanking the Dallas Observer for voting the Texas Triffid Ranch as one of its Best of Dallas 2017 winners, and a way of thanking those friends and cohorts for getting me here. John, Devin, Summer, Tim, Patrick, Sue, Jeff, the whole crew at Club Jade, the grad students/lifeguards at Wakulla Springs…all of you. I literally wouldn’t be who I am today without you, and I don’t think I would have liked the person I would have been without you. I owe you all a drink, and I hope to have to chance to pay out in person.

…and the Beginning of the New

Meanwhile, after four days of shoving, sorting, and cursing, everything is now moved to the new gallery. Don’t expect any photos of the current mess: while everyone compares it to a Tetris game, I’m reasonably that real Tetris pieces don’t have the potential nor the opportunity to kill you. Rather, I put out a general notice that anybody currently negotiating a grim and gritty reboot of The Red Green Show should contact me now, because I have the perfect shooting set.

In the gap between now and when everything is finished, here’s a preview. The new gallery is slightly smaller in square footage than the old space, but with more useable room because of the lack of the monstrous counter island. The biggest compromise was in the restroom, and we’ll all miss the old restroom with enough floorspace for dancing. (The sink is the first thing to be replaced, because that 1990s glass bowl relic could double as a bidet for hobbits.) The ceilings are much taller, the walls more continuous, and a former break room with counters and cabinets makes preparing everything for openings will be MUCH easier. And should I mention plenty of parking, a much more central location, easy access to DART rail, and lots of outside space for smokers?


Anyway, back to the linen mines:  the next big Triffid Ranch show is in two weeks, and we’re making tentative plans for a soft opening after that. The first priority, though, is getting the plants back up and under lights…

The End of the Old…

As of last Monday, the old Triffid Ranch space is back to where it was when we moved in. Well, maybe a lot cleaner, with fewer burst sweet and sour sauce packets in the counter drawers and about $1.35 less in pennies all over the floor of the back room. (Seriously, the way bad pennies kept turning up, I started having dreams that they bred like cockroaches.) The space will never see another tenant, as the fixture recycling and dismantling started March 1 in preparation for Valley View Center’s eventual demolition. However, we were there to see it off, and we were the last to see it as a retail space.What happens  next is up to the property owners, but at least we had the time we had. Selah. 

Glen Rose Interlude – 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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(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!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

To be continued…

Information, Even If You Don’t Want It: Integrated Pest Management

One of the issues with which we struggle at the Triffid Ranch is a bit of a logical leap in what carnivorous plants can do. Based on phone calls, emails, letters, and incessant queries at shows and events, the logic starts with the given “Carnivorous plants attract, capture, and digest insect and other animal prey” and veers Immediately into “carnivorous plants will take care of my bug problem.” This leads to calls and queries. “My house abuts a stream, and the stream attracts mosquitoes. I need a pitcher plant to eat all of the mosquitoes.”  “My kids leave the door open all day, and we need a Venus flytrap to eat all of the flies they let in.” “My roommate won’t take out the garbage, so I need a flytrap to eat the flies on the garbage.” Sometimes this goes to extremes: “I saw ants at the end of the driveway, and I want to build a berm around my house and cover it with flytraps to get the ants.” Or my personal favorite and a reason why I refuse to return to one show at which I displayed plants in 2013, “Cool! Got anything that will eat bedbugs?”

To all of these, I try to explain, over and over, that while you can get great satisfaction in watching a Cape sundew digest mosquitoes, and even add Battle Boy sound effects to liven things up, one plant or even a thousand won’t get rid of every insect in your time zone. It’s not even a matter of picking wildly inappropriate plants, such as the people who ask repeatedly about using Venus flytraps to control fleas. (The simple answer: they won’t. Even sticky-trap carnivores such as sundews and butterworts may catch fleas, but they won’t break the life cycle.)  Besides, as entomologist and brilliant bug blogger Gwen Pearson notes, you’ll never bug-proof. your house. We lost the war against bugs, spiders, and other exoskeletal creepies about 400 million years ago, and barring a mass extinction that wipes out every arthropod (up to and including the millions of skin mites that eat dead skin cells on your body), we stand no chance of changing that.

That said, while wiping out pests is a lost cause, it’s possible to keep their depredations down to a dull roar. That’s the basic idea behind the concept of integrated pest management, which attempts to minimize horticultural chemical use by understand that complete annihilation is impossible, but cutting populations down to a dull roar isn’t. 

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“You are Number Six.”


For example, one of the more pernicious pests in most households this time of the year is a recent invader, having only been documented in large numbers since 2004. Since then, the shelf elf has been found in living rooms and bedrooms across the United States and Canada, never appearing in the same place twice during the holiday season, and resisting all attempts at capture or restraint. Not only will they return each year, but they have a propensity for breeding out of control, and all efforts at spaying and neutering have been complete failures. They also have a distinctive hive mind, reporting back to a central dominant individual known as a sinterklaas, thereby making efforts to collapse the hive structure nearly impossible. Recent reports suggest that they’re able to communicate with the sinterklaas from considerable distances, but whether this is by telepathy, by Extra Low Frequency vibrations through earth and water, or by pheromones or other vaporous output is unknown. What IS known is that they seem to be especially astute at viewing and modifying the behavior of children, merely by watching and waiting, and the intimation of a reward in exchange for those behavioral changes. Also unknown is the reason for initiating the behavior changes, but research suggests a model comparable to that of the pathogen Toxoplasma.

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“It’s an ugly planet, an Elf planet, a planet hostile to life as we know it!”

Thankfully, there are ways to deal with this menace using IPM, so let’s fire up the appropriate soundtrack and get going,.

The first and most obvious control, chemical, is problematic for multiple reasons. In fact, that problematic nature is why integrated pest management was founded in the first place, because the overuse of pesticides was becoming a significant issue in both farmlands and in residential areas. As a last resort, chemical repellents and poisons have their place, but be warned that most of the effective options for invasive elves also have negative effects on the human population. Butyric acid in aromatherapy bottles works sporadically as a repellent, but the enterprising and cost-conscious homeowner should consider making a custom mix of 75 percent potassium nitrate, 15 percent sulfur, and 10 percent charcoal, or an equal weight of gasoline and polystyrene foam. When ignited, both have an effect on local elf populations: when mixed up in sufficiently large quantities, the effects may be seen from low Earth orbit.

The second control, mechanical, applies to most traps, grinders, zappers, or pitfalls. Repeated vivisections of shelf elves reveals no vital organs or internal structure particularly susceptible to anything other than overwhelming force, and documented sightings exist of shelf elves recovering and attacking immediately after crushing or flattening that would kill most Earthly life. With this in mind, further research continues with finding all-inclusive mechanical controls that can anticipate and neutralize shelf elves before the sinterklaas can give them new orders. The choice of mechanical control is up to the one applying it: from personal experience, while American, Chinese, and Australian controls are have their advantages, Russian controls are low-maintenance, exceeingly durable in multiple environments, and extremely effective.

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“Elbow rocket…NOW!”

This leaves the obvious and logical choice: biological controls. Since shelf elf study really only started a decade ago, many “facts” about their behavior, reproduction, natural history, and evolutionary history are little more than assumptions, and are forcefully disputed. One of the most disputed involves predators in their original environment before coming in contact with humans. Due to their lack of internal structure, which leads some palaeontologists to make comparisons to the extinct Ediacara faunas of the Vendian Era (Crusher, Franklin, & Shaw, 2010), nothing other than highly contentious fragments exist in the fossil record, and genome sequencing has been stymied by a complete lack of sequenceable DNA (Banner, 2011; Richards, 2012; Hoshi, 2012). One thing is certain, though: in multiple tests in captivity, a wide variety of predators actively attract, capture, consume, and digest shelf elves (Logan, West, & Furter, 2015). No widespread field tests on predator selection have been done to date, and the understandable concern is that any effective introduced predator may itself become an invasive species, as demonstrated with the introduction of the cane toad (Bufo marinus) in Australia (Benway, 1959; Duke, 1971).

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One very promising avenue of biological control involves the use of exoparasites, which utilize host organisms during stages of their life cycle. Again, the largest concern involves whether the exoparasite stays with one host or utilizes multiple host species. An equally vital concern, based on recent studies, is whether shelf elves will evolve changes in structure or behavior to bypass parasitism, causing the exoparasite to seek out new host species or become extinct. Using cicadas as a model, extreme predation or parasitism may cause shelf elves to spread out infestations over multiple years, in an attempt to keep parasites from depending upon them every holiday season. Alternately, shelf elf emergence may start earlier in the year: reports of shelf elves being spotted as early as July may be examples of this new behavior.

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“It has a funny habit of shedding its cells and replacing them with polarized silicon.”

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“I could lie to you about your chances, but you have my sympathies.”

Due to the challenge of the shelf elf life cycle, with large populations accumulating only in the month of December, the secret may be in finding a combination parasite/predator. A predator that subsists through the rest of the year either in hibernation or on the occasional early emergence, only to reproduce during the height of the shelf elf cycle, may be the only effective way to get populations into something approximating control.

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“Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.”

In some cases, while biological controls may seem to be the best option, the available biological controls may be organisms that may themselves become pests under the right conditions: for instance, Asian ladybugs becoming pests in vineyards when they feed on ripening grapes and taint the resultant wine. Sometimes the best option is to use several types of control organisms, especially when needing to ensure that one species doesn’t become a threat with increased numbers.

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Finally, one remaining option is now available due to advances in technology. A possible alternative to wiping out the shelf elf may involve introducing organisms that outcompete it for available resources, such as food or nesting sites. In many areas, the beneficial Bench Mensch has made inroads into shelf elf habitat, but future control may involve a combination of mechanical and biological controls. A competitor that can remain in hibernation for years or even centuries between shelf elf infestations, with an active resistance to retaliation, and a built-in weakness should it become a pest: the future is here.

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“Shiny and chrome!”

Have a Great Weekend

Have a Great Weekend

For my beloved, whose birthday is tomorrow:

Gallery

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2016 – 8

This gallery contains 5 photos.

Driving with the top down

Okay, so the best adjective to describe the last few months is “hectic”. The news this month about the mall coming down led to the start of a search for a new location. The bad news is that thanks to the current hipster explosion in the Oak Cliff area, gallery space is available, if $18 per square foot and up is “affordable”. The good news is that thanks to the expansion of available technology, the huge office parks built throughout the Dallas area at the beginning of the century, in anticipation of a huge sustained dotcom boom dead for fifteen years, are increasingly affordable and open to new uses. We don’t know what the rest of the year is going to bring us, but the plan right now is to stay at Midtown for as long as we can: it’s a central locale, we have great neighbors, and people now come by solely to see what’s in the window this week. (And before you ask, photos will follow soon enough.)

The only problem with the mall involves people being able to find the space. As with most malls, corridor junctions have those huge “You are here” directories: unfortunately, since the mall’s coming down soon enough, the owners can’t justify spending money to update those directory maps as galleries and businesses move in and out. Since those directories list the previous gallery in our location, customers and visitors come in, check out the gallery, don’t see our name, and get confused. The obvious solution was to add signage that gave directions and intrigued passersby. But considering how easily we as a society blank out on incessant advertising, is it possible to make signage that might draw people in merely by its presence, even if it’s for a few rounds of “What the hell is that?


The medium made itself accessible soon enough: an Internet radio station getting situated further down the mall pulled these huge Styrofoam blanks from alcoves in their walls and set them aside. This being an art gallery community, most disappeared as soon as they were offered, propped up on one end, and used as temporary print and photo displays. Thankfully, one remained, and after a few weeks of shaping with heat guns, painting, and augmentation, the new Triffid Ranch sign went up on the main mall floor, within view of the escalator leading to the movie theater. It’s not to the level of a Jay Sherman book promotion cutout, but what is?

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So there you have it. Combined with dispensers for promotional postcards, it not only brings in interested bystanders, but it fits in with the general theme and intention. Now let’s see if I can find another foam core in order to put another sign directly in front of the space.

Have a Great Canada Day

We’re now halfway through the year, and now is as good a time to take stock of where to go from here. That applies on a personal level: as far as the gallery is concerned, we now have a much better idea of the plan for the existing mall and the new outdoor mall that will be replacing it. While the new space is intriguing, it won’t be ready for at least another 2 1/2 years, so it’s time to find something in the interim. Details will follow, but rest assured that we’re staying here until the end of the year, with one last big gathering at the ARTwalk on December 21. After that, we’re moving, with the idea of being set up and ready to go by the time show season gets going in March and April.

Anyway, hitting that midpoint means celebrating a very important day at the Triffid Ranch: Canada Day. This isn’t just to celebrate my people’s answer to Doctor Who, but also the man who led directly to popularizing one of the most famed genera of carnivorous plant in the world: Michel Sarrazin. He may not have been the first human to see the first examples of the plant later named after him, but he definitely helped bring it to its current high level of popularity. Even today, the provincial flower of Newfoundland and Labrador is just as fascinating as it was when Nineteenth-Century naturalists confirmed that it could capture and digest insect prey, and it all started because Sarrazin had a keen curiosity for the fauna and flora of his adopted home. We all should be so lucky as this.

Have a Great Weekend

Well, we survived Texas Frightmare Weekend, but only barely: my truck was hit by lightning while entering DFW Airport. The truck was fine, I was fine, and the plants were fine, but now Frightmare Security refers to me not as “The Plant Guy” but as “Sparky.” Could be worse: you don’t want to know about the nicknames I had in high school.

Anyway, photos from Frightmare will appear shortly, and just in time for next weekend’s Night Gallery at Dark Hour Haunted House in Plano. May just started, and it’s already going nuts. And isn’t it GREAT?

Have a Great Weekend

Well, it’s been an interesting week. Besides getting everything ready for the Manchester United Flower Show next weekend and Texas Frightmare Weekend at the end of the month, the Triffid Ranch now has some late summer fun on the schedule with Infinicon from August 5 through the 7th, and more events are on the way. Sadly, St. Johns Booksellers, the bookstore through which this site linked for books reviewed and commented upon, shut down recently, so it’s time to find a new venue with the same level of customer satisfaction. The pitcher plants are finally going to town with fresh blooms, the triggerplants are waking up, and I’ve never seen the Buddha’s Hand citron so happy before. Oh, this month may kill me, but it’ll be worth it.

Upcoming Events: The Manchester United Flower Show

Sarracenia hybrid

It’s been touch-and-go for several weeks, but we can be reasonably sure that winter is over in the Dallas area. We didn’t get the massive dump of snow at the beginning of March that’s been typical for the previous two years, although we did see that most out-of-place Texas weather phenomenon: hailstorms both in mid-March and mid-January. (For those unfamiliar with our wildly variable weather, generally hailstorms don’t come through until the beginning of May, and most hit in August and September.) The whole of the winter season was wet and cold, but not horribly so, which leads to our spectacular wildflower season. The carnivores react much the same way: the temperate carnivores such as flytraps and North American pitcher plants got a good rest, but things didn’t warm enough to where they depleted themselves. This means that the first blooms from Sarracenia flava are already brightening things up, and the rest of the pitcher plants are following. Flytraps, sundews, butterworts, bladderworts, triggerplants…everything’s going nuts, and the height of the display won’t be obvious for another two weeks.

Sarracenia leucophylla

In previous years, the only option to show this off was to bring out plants to shows and events, and try to explain that Sarracenia didn’t produce traps and blooms at the same time. Since most Sarracenia capture their natural pollinators as prey after spring is done, they produce blooms first, and only start stretching out fresh pitchers after the pitchers have had plenty of time to have bees, wasps, flies, and moths spread pollen to neighboring plants. Therefore, until the beginning of May, the blooms took all of the attention while the traps slowly sprouted, and everyone at shows wanted to see the traps.

Well, with the new space, it’s time to change that.

Sarracenia flava

On April 16, along with the other festivities at the MidTown ARTwalk, the Texas Triffid Ranch officially opens the Manchester United Flower Show, an exhibition of carnivorous plant blooms. In addition to the tropical carnivores normally available for viewing and purchase, this show includes examples of temperate-climate carnivores as well. Ever wonder what a Venus flytrap bloom looks like? Surprised to discover that carnivores bloom like any other flowering plant? Make plans to come out to the space to see for yourself.

Have A Great Weekend

Have a Great Weekend

The Czarina is spending the weekend as a vendor for ConDFW, and I’m taking a road trip out to Arlington for the big NARBC reptile show before opening up the space for ConDFW attendees to come by in the evening. This is before the next ARTwalk event on February 20. Is it any surprise that this song is our anthem these days?