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

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale – 8

(The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale is a regular Email newsletter, with archives available on the main TTR site at least a month after first publication. To receive the latest newsletters, please subscribe.)

Originally published on March 22, 2019

Most books on the history of classic Japanese gardens relate how the form really took off thanks to the number of veteran samurai seeking a way to heal after years of war. Not enough is discussed about the current trend of outre and gonzo artists, writers, and musicians seeking the same peace after decades of battling corporate culture. It’s reasonable to assume that priorities at 50 are different than those at 25, or that age gives a polish and a patience better suited for gardening right when the artist needs a break from waking up angry and going to bed angrier. It’s even more reasonable to assume that gardening is a side-project best engaged when working on other, presumably worthier projects at an impasse. However one wants to look at it, those involved with punk bands in the Eighties or zine culture in the Nineties tend to look at what they’ve done up to that point, look at the bare patch of soil next to the telephone pole at the streetlight, and decide “Forget working on that riot grrl revival album. I really need pumpkins in my life.”
 
Nowhere is this more prominent than in discovering the fate of Edgar Harris. Some of you may remember  Edgar Harris if you read a lot of science fiction-related magazines and Web sites between 1993 and 2002. First seeing print in the long-dead magazine Science Fiction Eye (best known for its multiyear delays between issues, to the point of it being nicknamed “The Last Dangerous Magazine”), Harris reached his pinnacle as the Sports Editor for the glossy monthly Science Fiction Age in the late Nineties. Often compared at the time to famed writers and essayists Slats Grobnik, Raoul Duke, and Cordwainer Bird, Harris’s work for the Age combined a style described as “somewhere between inspired and actionable” with a personal ethos of “leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photos, and break your foot off in someone’s ass at every available opportunity.” At writers’ conferences and conventions, he managed to cover the latest scandals and impending lawsuits without ever being photographed or caught on video in turn. Neutrinos make more of an impression passing through than he did while chasing a story. Even his short foray in Hollywood, both in screenwriting and directing, left almost no lipstick traces, and queries about the work print for his uncompleted 1996 movie go unanswered. Harris had tremendous influence, mostly because he refused to make the story about him, and some wondered if his enthusiastic uurge to give credit to cohorts and underlings in print was a matter of recognition of superior talents or an opportunity to put others in the line of fire. Those who knew him admitted that both were probably true. 
 
Because of his skill at evading capture and extradition, Edgar Harris’s disappearance from journalism in 2002 was only a surprise in retrospect. His presence was like an extended bout of the flu, where you only realize that you’re no longer sick when you get into the shower and realize “Hey, I’m no longer coughing up blood.” He had already seen the future of periodical publishing’s illness, and got out before its coughing up blood switched to coughing up urine. Where he went, what he did, what he saw, who he ate…all of these were vague mysteries for years, and getting answers required a lot more than a quick Google search.
 
This was why Harris’s reappearance was so shocking. Like so many of us, he channeled his blue-hot rage at the universe into something productive. The difference is that nobody expected him to master video editing, microphotography, acoustics, and Olmec ceramics AND combine all of these disciplines into a documentary on horticulture. We even less expected a companion book with its own companion volume of citations and references. Absolutely no person on the face of the planet expected these to be previewed with a non-disclosure agreement. Because of this, a proper review is absolutely impossible, and even writing this much leads to extended correspondence with lawyers as to what can be revealed before the documentary’s release date. 
 
Now, in the nearly twenty years since I last saw Harris, he’s both simultaneously mellowed out and become more intense, so we had a few “discussions” on what any review could say. I say “discussions,” but “naked threats” and “promises of release of information unaffected by statutes of limitations” work well, too. What I can say is this:

Compost.

Radioisotopes.

Radish.

Regolith simulant.

Microstresses.
 
Snot.
 
The correct pronunciation of “axolotl.”
 
With this sort of content, you can’t go wrong. Screenings of [REDACTED] [REDACTED] Oranges, [REDACTED] start in April, at sites to be disclosed. While waiting, be sure to buy the book, either from your local bookstore or through the publisher’s Web site, NOW. Trust me: you won’t regret it.

Other News

In other delusions, the new essay The Magician’s Garden appeared in the 150th issue of Clarkesworld this month, and another essay is being finished right now. Yes, these are relapses from a long period of professional writing abstinence, but the opportunity to write about botany and the fantastic was just too good to pass up. Well, that and the fact that these are paying assignments. As to whether there will be any others, that honestly depends upon both the general response and the ongoing run of Clarkesworld. In the meantime, enjoy the essay, and feel free to let the publisher and editor know how much you like it.

Recommended Reading

Thanks to a close acquaintance on Twitter bringing up museum exhibit design, the last month’s reading has been a serious trip down the rabbit hole, with the ultimate result hopefully being improved enclosure design, improved enclosure presentation, and improved informative labels. At the top of the reading pile is the second edition of Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach by Beverly Serrell, which collates and interprets expert views on what should and should not be on a museum label, and why. For those who haven’t been to a Triffid Ranch open house yet, expect a lot of changes over the next few months, particularly as far as descriptions and interpretations are concerned, and this book is directly responsible. After all, why spend years at ground level designing new interpretive labels when so many others have shed blood and ear wax to perfect the discipline?

Music

And in the context of lipstick traces on popular culture, a discussion with a younger friend about interesting music in the 1970s revealed that he had no knowledge whatsoever on the one British band responsible for influencing half of rock music over the subsequent four decades. It’s not that surprising that most American rock enthusiasts have never heard of Hawkwind, as getting any airplay whatsoever in the US was pretty much impossible. With that in mind, though, Hawkwind has an oversized influence on the big movements in rock since then: without this odd little space rock band, you wouldn’t have had Pink FloydBlue Oyster Cult, the Sex Pistols and PiL, or the Flaming Lips, among many others. Likewise, if the original lead singer hadn’t been fired on a drug possession charge, he wouldn’t have split off, named his new band after a Hawkwind song, and completely changed the face of heavy metal. (Yes, I’m talking about Lemmy of Motorhead.)
Nearly a half-century later, the band is still going along, and the fact that Hawkwind tribute bands aren’t crossing the US every day is an injustice that needs to be rectified. I have some personal skin in this: there’s nothing quite like the look on a younger rock fan’s face that coming across songs like “Silver Machine” or “Song of the Swords” for the first time, because now I get to see the look I had on MY face thirty years ago when I was scouring obscure record shops for new listening.

Manchester United Flower Show: Cancelled

This is the first time in four years that a scheduled gallery event has had to be cancelled, but this is the first time I’ve caught a stomach bug like this before an open house, and you do NOT want to catch it. Apologies to everyone who had plans: we’ll reschedule as soon as we can.

I’m Living In My Own Private Tanelorn

Clarkesworld magazine - March 2019

For those who tuned in late, your humble gallery operator once used to be a pro writer. Thirty years ago this month, my first published article appeared in the pages of the long-defunct science fiction zine New Pathways, and that continued for another 13 years. Ten years ago this month, the first collection from that wild period, Greasing the Pan, saw print. After that, aside from a few relapses, bupkis. It was a very easy decision to stay away, if not for much-missed friends and cohorts who kept assuming that I’d come back “any day now.” I may write occasionally on subjects of particular passion, but I’m not going back to being a writer, and I’ve had to excise a lot of people, all of whom assume that the calendar will flip back to 1997 any day now, who refuse to understand the difference.

And now the latest relapse: a discussion on sorcerers’ gardens and on running magical nurseries as a business, in the March 2019 Clarkesworld. Most of this was due to wanting to explore certain tropes in fantasy literature with a high potential for humor (let’s face it: “Johnny Pink Bunkadooseed” would make a great story), and part of it was due to the reputation of nonfiction editor Kate Baker. This isn’t the only planned relapse: I’m currently composing a similar take on unorthodox carnivorous plant tropes for the April issue. Just don’t expect a return to pro writing, because the gallery and its care is a lot more important.

In the meantime, feel free to spread this far and wide, because I can’t wait to read the stories and novels running with the concepts therein. And because every idea thief needs to leave his knife, this wouldn’t have happened without the influence of Tobias Buckell, Saladin Ahmed, and the crimefighting team of Ernest Hogan and Emily Devenport. Always give credit to friends: always.

State of the Gallery: February 2019

Anniversary time at the Triffid Ranch. As of next week, it’s been two years since we packed up the last of the stuff in the old gallery, swept out the floors, handed in the keys, and drove the moving truck one last time to the new location. Oh, there was sadness that last day, as sheetrock barriers went up and all of us departing artists shook hands and wished each other the best. Two years later, the last of the stuff frantically put on shelves and in closets to make room is FINALLY getting put in proper locations. That’s perfect, considering the number of new commissions and projects that need to go out the door in 2019: the best thing for any artist isn’t about finding room to show off the latest project, but in working on new projects to replace the projects that just sold. Between a superior location and less commute time from the Day Job to the new gallery every day, this simply wouldn’t have been possible if we’d stayed at the old Valley View spot. And should I mention the new airbrush station?

(And as an aside, I thank everyone who keeps forwarding Dallas Morning News columns about the ongoing non-demolition of Valley View Center, but it’s time to let it go. I say this not only because, as is Dallas’s fashion, the current spate of lawsuits involving the property pretty much guarantee that nothing’s going to happen to the mall for years and possibly decades, until the cases are resolved or the grandchildren of everyone involved decide it’s time to get a real job and move on. It’s also because the only person who really cares any more is the James Lipton of Fandom over at the Morning News, because he had so much pinned on being able to get into the promised Midtown mall before anybody else. The mall that, based on his ecstatic front-page press release transcriptions in 2016, was supposed to be finished with initial construction and moving in tenants by now. I understand his attachment to memories of Valley View: his first swirly, the first time he pitched a fit about getting freebies he claimed he was going to review, the first time high school classmates told him to wait for them at Valley View so they could go to Prestonwood or the Galleria in peace without his obsessively yapping about Star Trek and comic books…I understand. I know the feeling all too well, and I got a life because that vague nostalgia for something that wasn’t all that great doesn’t accomplish a thing. However, considering that every column on Valley View still has the same underlying theme of “Do you know who I am? I used to have my own CABLE SHOW!”, reading any more goes contrary to my favorite Bible passage, Proverbs 26:11. If he’d had any concern for the artists and retailers being forced out of Valley View before last month, instead of crowing about its demolition, I might feel a bit differently, but that change was only because of his butthurt over the mall’s owner not returning his phone calls, and not because he gave a damn about Dallas artists and retailers. End rant.)

Anyway, the rest of February and the beginning of March are going to be a bit quiet, but only in the way setting the right seismic charges deep within the Earth’s crust is quieter than the resultant eruption of a significant portion of that crust into orbit as our newest moon. In addition to several commissions, this time of the year is vital for getting everything ready for spring. Cleaning out the Sarracenia pools, checking the rainwater caches, getting seeds for carnivores and peppers stratified before temperatures rise…it may stop, but it never ends. That affects the upcoming show schedule, too: as mentioned last month, we made the hard decision to pull out as vendors at March’s All-Con, mostly due to Day Job commitments that made appearing at a four-day convention impossible. Right now, the first Triffid Ranch show of the year will be at the Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo in Fair Park on March 30, and we’re awaiting word about the standby list for a big show shortly after that. As we hear more, we’ll pass it on.

I’ll also add that things get even more interesting on those commissions, because sometimes having to sit on something for a while yields unexpected benefits. Nearly a decade ago, what started as a vague suggestion from a cohort turned into a major project to convert an old first-generation iMac into a working and useable plant enclosure. The resultant iTerrarium led to a bit of coverage and a lot of smartaleck comments (including one Cat Piss Man who sat in front of my booth at the 2012 All-Con repeatedly snarking “That’s the one good use for a Mac” until I got up to confront him: I wonder what happened to him?), and other projects got in the way. Well, never underestimate late 1990s nostalgia, because I was just commissioned to do several more. Best of all, because of serious changes in in both lighting and painting technology, it’s possible to do these with higher light levels, lower heat buildup, and less general maintenance. Expect details within the next month, as I make the developers of white-light LEDs just a little bit richer.

Happy Darwin Day

Today is a very special day at the Triffid Ranch: it’s time to celebrate the 210th birthday of Charles Darwin. Others in the scientific and horticultural communities have their own specific reasons to celebrate Darwin’s birthday, but the overriding reason around here is simple: the publication in 1875 of the book Insectivorous Plants. Darwin’s research into the mechanics and chemistry of carnivorous plants obviously predated such tools as radioisotope tracing and DNA sequencing, but all such research into carnivores today depends to an extent on his careful study 150 years ago. While you’re out and about today, hoist a beverage of your choice in the direction of Westminster Abbey and toast this singular individual, without whose studies the current study of carnivorous plants would have been very different.

Have a Great 2019


When I was in high school, I read a comment in a magazine from a neurologist stating that “pain is the body’s way of keeping you from dying of tetanus from stepping on rusty nails all day.” One of the many regrets of my feckless youth was that I didn’t write down the magazine’s name nor the doctor’s name, because this statement should be the Triffid Ranch’s mission statement. When you think of all of the important advice given by the wise to the young, most of it may sound as if it’s intended to avoid death. Go back to all of the important advice given by parents, family, teachers, co-workers: it’s not intended to avoid death, but to avoid pain. Don’t run with scissors. Don’t pick up the cat by the tail. Don’t stick your fingers in a light socket. Don’t hold firecrackers in your hand and then light them with a sparkler. Unplug the lawn mower spark plug before reaching underneath. Always cook dried beans for a while before eating them. None of these may kill you outright or even quickly, but it’s amazing how mind-searing pain will make you choose differently with subsequent decisions. I’d tell you how I know this, but let’s just say that I had no fingerprints on my right hand between 1984 and 1987. (I won’t even talk about why I avoid New Year’s Eve festivities, considering that one New Year’s Eve 25 years ago led to a slew of bad decisions that cascaded and replicated into the 21st Century. An assemblage of the alternate individuals I’d be today if I’d just stayed home at the end of 1993 could populate a reboot of Orphan Black.)

 In lieu of the usual look back on the previous year with hope of learning lessons from it, let’s look at 2019 with the idea that we all learned something from 2018. It doesn’t have to be much, but the desired goal is to note what causes us blinding agony, and, you know, maybe avoiding said agony for the duration of one’s lifespan. If it’s a particularly pertinent lesson, maybe it’ll become impressed into myth and legend: “You see how that person stops everything and silently cries every day at noon for an hour? DON’T DO WHAT THEY DID.” Likewise, if the action or lack thereof led to a significant cessation of pain or even an overload of joy, this deserves at least as much attention.

Numero Uno: It’s time to drop nostalgia. The new book Typeset in the Future: Typography and Design in Science Fiction Movies by Dave Addey came out a couple of weeks ago, and the chapter on the future realism of 2001: A Space Odyssey contained a gem about the videophone shown near the beginning of the film. Bell Telephone had originally premiered the videophone in 1964, with the intention of introducing videophones across the world based on the exceptional response it received at the 1964 World’s Fair. The problem was that the perceived demand didn’t actually exist except among a few executives looking for an excuse to launch it: the alleged ecstatic survey results came from people who attended the World’s Fair, who made their way to the Bell demo, who tried the videophone, and then stated that they’d be willing to pay for video calls if videophones were available. Nobody ran research of how many people would be willing to pay for videophone service who didn’t see the demo at the World’s Fair, or even if they’d run in the other direction and start communicating with carrier pigeons if videophones were the only other option. Bell finally gave up after spending millions of dollars on pushing a videophone solution that just didn’t appeal to any but a very few, and a solution that was a lot more expensive than existing phone options at the time with no obvious must-have bonus. (It’s very telling that Skype and other video apps only took off when the price of a video call dropped to nothing, and when the technology necessary to make said calls was easily folded into other technology that was easy to access and transport.)

That, in a nutshell, summed up a lot of attempts in 2018 to revive events and venues that died in the 1990s. Either it’s easy to forget that the people who keep nagging about reviving a dead venue have no obligation to put down money on it, the people organizing it are so attached to fond memories from decades past that they assume that everyone else must be as into it as they are, or the intended audience has simply grown past or expects more. If more than ten years have gone by between the last time the venue was open and its revival, the odds are pretty good that its original audience is too distracted to notice its return, and training a new audience as to why This Is A Big Deal may take too long. More than 20 years, and the bright young kids that made the event or venue what it was are probably grandparents by now. What appeals to them probably won’t to their grandkids, and any attempt to revive a venue has to take those grandkids into account.

This may be a roundabout way to explain why you shouldn’t expect to see a Triffid Ranch tent at the Woodstock 50th anniversary event next year (mostly because “lectures by noted futurists” bring on horrible flashbacks of being trapped in a broom closet with Bruce Sterling in 1999), but it’s also a warning not to expect to see the tent at other revivals. There’s just not enough of a return, and new events and venues are a lot more fun.

Numero Two-o: Forget Facebook. 2018 was an experiment in getting more word out about Triffid Ranch events and open houses via social media, and the final tally is a resounding “meh.” Sadly, Facebook is the one that’s getting cut out more and more in 2019: the pressure to boost articles on Facebook Pages in order for readers to see them is getting ridiculous, more people are either leaving or cutting back on Facebook because of its much-publicized security and privacy issues, and then there’s the whole problem with trying to gauge commitment based on a medium that has no expectations tied to it. The money spent in 2018 on trying to reach new attendees via Facebook is better spent on signing up for more local shows, and if I want to go with ads again, I’ll go with a more effective medium, like AM radio.

Numero Three-o: Focus on home. The very good news about the gallery is that the move to the current location means that a lot of the perceived stigma of being at Valley View Center is gone. (At least now I no longer get people bellowing “But the mall is going to be torn down!” when I pass on the new address.) Now the trick is to get the word out to people already well-trained to ignore ads. Thankfully, the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex has a simply incredible number of one- and two-day markets and shows scheduled through 2019, so the plan is to set up at as many as weather allows. This includes forays into Austin and Houston as well, because I miss friends, customers, and cohorts south of Dallas.

Number Four-o: Don’t forget the little people. When friends finally get a major return on years of hard work with a new book, a movie deal, or a museum show, I always tell them “Now, don’t forget us little people when you’re accepting your Nobel.” I’m only half-joking: not only do I have faith that they WILL get that Nobel Prize, but it’s a reminder to me. I haven’t spent enough time thanking all of the people and organizations that helped get the Triffid Ranch off the ground and where it is, and 2019 is the year where that goes into overdrive. To everyone who came out to a gallery show, stopped by a booth at one of 2018’s shows, or who simply keeps reading site updates while waiting for a new episode of Starcher Trek, thank you, and I’m going to do my utmost to repay the kindness. Now let’s put 2018 in its grave before it can bite one last time.

Have a Great Weekend

16 years of marriage as of today, and it just keeps getting better. Considering that most of the dead pool bets were around “six months,” I sometimes wonder if we should have taken a dive at the end of 2003, divorced, collected the money, and continued to live in sin.

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale – #1

(The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale is a regular Email newsletter, with archives available on the main TTR site at least a month after first publication. To receive the latest newsletters, please subscribe.)

Originally published on April 23, 2018

Okay, so a newsletter? An email newsletter in 2018? Did the clock shift back two decades and return to a day where CD-ROMs and CRT monitors are still the standard? Don’t you know that social media is THE way to reach customers, vendors, and interested passersby? Are you still using a flip phone or something?

Ahem. Here’s the explanation for the item you currently have in your email archive. As a concept, social media is great, but it’s getting, well, a little high-strung. It’s a great group of places to lose a few hours while waiting for the UPS guy to sneak up and leave a “We couldn’t reach you!” Post-It, but it has so little of the oomph for business that it had at the beginning of the decade. A lot of this was inevitable: with over a billion people on Facebook, so much will fall off the radar just because it doesn’t meet one of Facebook’s new algorithms. By 2018, sharing new content on Facebook makes money and attracts customers for Facebook, and that’s about it. By way of example, an absolutely unexaggerated and hyperbolic description of a day on Facebook:

(Wakes up early and chipper, spends an hour sifting through requests and comments before starting the day.)

Me: “I have a thing!”

(Crickets.)

Facebook: Your recent post is getting more responses than 90 percent of the posts on your Page!  Would you care to pay $50 to boost it so it can be read by more people?”

(Contemplates whether it’s important enough to get out there, decides “Yes.”)

(Posts a news article on a topic of interest to the Page readership: crickets.)

(Five notices on Facebook Messenger from acquaintances, all with the subject “OMG Did You See This?” Every last one is of the article posted five minutes earlier.)

Facebook: “You didn’t respond quickly enough to your messages. Respond faster to turn on the badge!”

(Note more messages, all from the same person within a 5-minute period, demanding to know if the gallery is open at 2 in the morning. Discover that the person in question was parked in front of the gallery, having stopped by at 2 ayem on the way back to Abilene, absolutely furious that the words “Open By Appointment” aren’t synonyms for “Open 24 Hours.”)

New message: “I bought a fern at Walmart six months ago, and it’s dying! HELP ME!!!!!!!”

New message: “I see that you wrote about a plant you saw in Nicaragua four years ago, and I need to come by and buy one. Don’t tell me to buy one online, because I don’t buy anything online.”

New post on the Page: “I have Venus Flytrap seeds for sale! Real flytrap seeds: not weed seeds at all! Buy them at Ebay, seller name ‘AbsolutelyNotScammer’.”

(Suddenly realize that Facebook changed its preferences AGAIN, and anybody can post. Lock down page again.)

New Message: “I wanted to let everyone know about the garage sale I’m running this weekend, and I can’t post it on your Page. FIX IT!”

Response to original “I have a thing!” posting:  “Did you see this?” (Blanketbombs fifty people with the same bad video about Venus flytraps biting some neckbeard’s tongue and drawing blood.)

Me: “Ummmm…That’s not quite accurate. In fact, it’s not even remotely accurate.”

Idiot: “YES IT IS! LOOK IT UP!”

(Go back to read an interesting post shared by a friend of a friend, only to have Facebook reload the news feed and cause the post to disappear forever.)

New Message: “Hello? I need to let people know about my garage sale in Boise! I have a couple of flowerpots for sale!”

New Message: “I bought Venus flytrap seeds from a seller on Ebay, and they turned out to be weed seeds. How are we going to get my money back?”

New Message: “I bought a Venus flytrap at Walmart, and I don’t know anything about it. Tell me everything I’ll ever need to know about caring for it, right now.”

(Respond with a collection of links that should answer all of the questions.)

New Message: “No, I want YOU to tell me. And right now, because I have to get to work.”

Response to original posting: “I’m having a garage sale, and you’re all invited!”

New Message: “My post about the Venus Flytrap seeds for sale is gone. Fix!”

New Message: “I’m a doctor/lawyer/real estate executive, I just read about this incredibly rare and exceptionally hard-to-raise pitcher plant that I HAVE to have for my office, and nobody in North America has one for sale. Do you take Bitcoin?”

Response to original posting: “ANYBODY WHO DOESN’T AGREE WITH MY POLITICS NEEDS TO DIE!”

New posting: “Is Facebook turning into LiveJournal circa 2010, or into CB radio circa 1976?”

Response to new posting: “THEY NEED TO DIE!”

Facebook: “Would you like to boost your new post?”

(Goes to bed.)

Meanwhile, over at Twitter, one of the platform’s biggest strengths is consolidating scientists and researchers to where they can cross interdisciplinary boundaries thirty times before breakfast:

(Innumerable people much smarter than I’ll ever be sharing their latest research)

“Hello? I have a thing!”

(Take in their research for the next six hours, flabbergasted at the variety and range of subjects being discussed, and trying not to cry “I suck! I suck!” every fifteen seconds.)

“I’m going to go over here for a while, but I have a thing if you’re interested.”

(Spends the next two days working on cheap and effective time travel in order to go back to 1989, confront my previous self about his lack of ambition, and beat him to death with a cricket bat.)

And that’s the “why” behind “why a newsletter?” It serves multiple purposes: it might be buried in an email box, but it’s more likely to be read than a newsfeed that’s completely reconstituted with the push of a “Back” button. A newsletter format allows a lot of extra related topics to be shared without separate postings, it’s amenable to being converted into print form for shows and events, it’s easy to archive for those wanting to fall down a rabbit hole on a dull Sunday afternoon, and it’s remarkably hard to hijack. It’s been a decade since the Triffid Ranch had a newsletter, and this should be an interesting project. After all, if my friend Alan Robson can keep a fun and useful newsletter going for the last two decades, maybe it’s time to jump back in.

Developments and Projects

For those who haven’t been to the Web site for a while, the Enclosure Gallery section is a bit loaded, and expect to see more in the next few months after the spring show season ends. Of particular note is a new enclosure that premieres next month, as a culmination of several months of very, VERY precise and tedious glasswork. Of course, the real fun involves the next two, where the lessons imparted by the first help cut down on development time on the second and third.

Gallery Shows

Thanks to the vagaries of Texas climate, the last two Triffid Ranch gallery shows had the unfortunate habit of coinciding with extreme weather. Back in February, the pre-Valentine’s Day Date Night opening came with ice storms to the north and west; April’s show had tornadoes to the north and hailstorms to the south, with lots of rain in the center. (Recovering from bronchitis the latter weekend meant having to skip out on the final day of the Deep Ellum Arts Festival, which was only then draining dry from the three to five inches of water under every tent in the festival.) The plan for next June’s gallery show is to avoid anything other than THE INSIDES OF MY LUNGS ARE ON FIRE heat (better known as “the end of June” in Dallas), and take advantage of the attractions of nighttime activities and air conditioning for those not wanting to leave over the extended Fourth of July/Canada Day weekend. Expect details soon.

Out-Of-Gallery Experiences

This being the middle of April, the biggest Triffid Ranch show of the year starts the first weekend of May when Texas Frightmare Weekend opens, and that’s not all that’s planned. The annual trip to Austin in November for the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays gift show happens the weekend of November 11, and I’m currently awaiting word from several other art shows in North Texas over autumn. Meanwhile, Frightmare is the important show, with a worldwide pool of attendees and vendors to match. Carnivorous plants aren’t the sole reason for coming out to Frightmare, but they add a particularly appropriate spice, so expect a lot of photos up on the main site after it’s all done.

Soundtrack

One of the interesting side effects of so much time in the gallery and the commutes to and from the site is getting caught up on intriguing music in a way that would have been impossible in the days before streaming services. (Seriously, anybody with a nostalgia for the 1980s wasn’t there, especially when it came to buying or listening to music. Do you really want to go back to the days when the only options in most areas were shopping mall music shops like Musicland and Sound Warehouse, where asking for anything other than Phil Collins or Huey Lewis got sneers of “We don’t carry anything that isn’t from a major label”? I bet you get nostalgic for Waldenbooks, too.) Combine that with the ability for fans of particular styles and genres to get together in ways that were equally impossible 30 years ago, and we have whole new genres and subgenres exploding like unwatched trumpetvine.

Such is the case for Austin-based One Eyed Doll: twenty years ago, if you’d said “Hey, I really have a hankering for goth music that’s laugh-out-loud funny,” you might have been pointed in the direction of Voltaire and that’s about it. In that intervening time, the pairing of guitarist and vocalist Kimberly Freeman and drummer “Junior” means a range of everything from hilarious (“Because You’re a Vampire”) to ultraserious (“Eucharist”) that becomes more listenable with every album. Live shows are a trip, too, and the band plays often enough in Dallas that it might be time to see about getting together a Triffid Ranch crowd for the next tour.

Shoutouts and Kickbacks

Those brand new to the Triffid Ranch may not know this, but fifteen years of carnivorous plant cultivation was preceded by 13 years of professional writing career, starting with long-dead and unlamented zines and culminating with long-dead and unlamented national magazines and weekly newspapers before the decision was made to leave early to avoid the rush. Some friendships didn’t survive the transition, but two friendships were vital in escaping the urge to backslide.

The first, Jeff VanderMeer, might be a name that you recognize, thanks to the movie adaptation of his novel Annihilation that saw release back in March.  My friendship with Jeff was a pivot in my life without realizing it: after quitting pro writing in 2002, my life was at serious loose ends, and when a company I didn’t know called about a technical writer position in Tallahassee, Florida, I asked the one person I knew from Tally “So what’s it like?” His “Oh, God, you aren’t going to be my NEIGHBOR, are you?” whimper didn’t dissuade my packing up my old Plymouth Neon and moving halfway across the continent, and while the job that brought me out there imploded after three months, the addiction to carnivorous plants that started 24 hours after arriving in town continues stronger than ever. For that, I can never repay Jeff’s kindness, including asking me “Give me one good reason why I should let you live” the first time we met face to face. (I was raving about seeing my first tree frog outside of a zoo enclosure to someone who had lived with them all of his life, so I definitely don’t blame him.)

Anyway, this is a roundabout way of saying that the paperback edition of Jeff’s novel Borne just saw release, with all sorts of extras in the back. (It’s been a while since I bought any books that weren’t nonfiction, so it’s a pleasant surprise to find study and reader group guides, additional glossaries and pictorials, and other extras as an inducement to buy a trade paperback edition.) Borne is enough of a read, full of ecological collapse, ribofunk technology, and a Godzilla-sized venomous flying bear named Mord, among many other joys. Jeff is currently on tour to promote the paperback version, so if he should drop in your vicinity, just walk up to him with your newly purchased copy and ask him “So what the hell is the problem with that plant guy in Texas?”, just to watch the expression of utter collapse and defeat before he starts screaming into his hands. Trust me: Jeff will thank you for it.

And because we need to focus on the other side of North America, let’s look at Arizona. My friendship with Ernest Hogan started with his justifiably beating on film reviews he described as “ecstatic press releases,” and the hits just kept coming. Ernest and his wife Emily Devenport are both exemplary writers and serious natural history enthusiasts, spending much of their free time in the desert, and neither of them have given me much grief for nearly thirty years of abuse. Ernest’s third novel, Smoking Mirror Blues, was just reissued in an expanded E-book edition through Amazon, and Em’s newest novel Medusa Uploaded is coming out in May. Make sure to buy copies for all of your friends (the covers on both gave me ideas for upcoming plant enclosures for months), and if they both hit the New York Times Bestseller List, maybe Em will finally forgive me for the “Stimpy” joke.

Errata

That’s about it for now. As promised, this newsletter is irregular, and neither will you be overloaded with too many, but your privacy is paramount. It’s the least we can do.

Just Planting Seeds

For your consideration:

Personal Interlude: The Honeymoon Wall

When composing and constructing plant enclosures for the Triffid Ranch gallery, a lot of back stories and inside jokes get mixed in. Sometimes, it’s serendipity, with an object with a lot of backstory that just happens to be the perfect inclusion to a new enclosure, and a little voice in the back row says “Let it go, so someone else can appreciate it.” Others are items with so much context that they encourage the construction of the whole arrangement. However, keep an eye open for one particular set of additions, because there’s some sentiment tied to it.

 My parents-in-law first moved to their house in the late 1960s, back when Dallas was still just a bit more than a town and long before the oil boom of the 1980s expanded its sprawl in all directions. My wife spent the first days of her life in that house, and grew up not far away from the gallery’s current location. She has all sorts of stories about how the neighborhood changed over the decades, with new people moving in to replace those who moved elsewhere, additions added and removed (she loves telling the story of the neighbors who refused to clean their big sunken pool and thereby deal with the clouds of mosquitoes rising off it every evening, so she introduced bullfrogs that made so much noise that the neighbors took out the pool), walking a succession of Norwegian elkhounds to friends’ houses, and keeping in touch even after moving out on her own. Her story became my own in 2002, including the house hosting our wedding reception. The years went on, with my planting roses I’d grown from cuttings taken from roses planted in front of our own house and neglected. The roses at the original house were cut back too far just before the worst heat wave since 1980: they’re gone, but the cuttings are still in the back yard, throwing off gigantic pink and red blooms to everyone’s delight.

 Eventually, though, the story of my in-laws’ time in the house had to end. The house was already too large for them to maintain easily when Caroline and I married, and the tales of my father-in-law installing Christmas lights on the eaves outside went from comedy to incipient terror. Finally, at the end of August, they made the decision to move from the monster house in which they’d resided for a half-century, and moved into a retirement apartment. The house went through the now-inevitable estate sale, and then it went onto the market. We just received word that an offer had been made by a couple that admired it and wanted to keep it as it was and not tear it down for replacement with a McMansion, so we can still drive by from time to time and share our memories. Its actual involvement in our lives, though, is done. As someone who moved a lot both as a kid and as an adult, I had defense mechanisms in place to mourn in my own time, but it’s understandably hit Caroline a lot harder than she thought would happen.

 That’s where the Honeymoon Wall comes in. To hear my mother-in-law tell it, her dream with this house was to put a stone wall in the back, a promise she made on her honeymoon. It took a little longer than she planned, and that wall required building an extension declared “the playroom”. The stone came from trips to the Rocky Mountains, ranging from a deep navy igneous rock to a truly stunning light green stone with darker blue veining running through it from all directions. The Honeymoon Wall, once finished, witnessed the family growing, spreading, and reuniting, including our reception, and the chunks of rock that didn’t make the wall were incorporated into edging on a wildflower garden in the center of the back yard. That was the state of affairs until the estate sale was over and the house was vacated for the last time.

Before the house was cleared, all of the extended family was asked about taking everything not needed for the new apartment, and I was asked repeatedly “are you SURE you don’t want anything?” I really didn’t: we had our own furniture and our own keepsakes, but I asked if I could rescue some of the rocks in the back. One included a rather large petrified log found in the Brazos River decades before, and the rest of them were extra Honeymoon Wall pieces. A bit of experimentation revealed that they polished up in a rock tumbler quite nicely: they weren’t gem quality, but the blue stone was mistaken for sodalite, and the green was different enough that it caught almost everyone’s eye.

Now, a month after the estate sale, the experiment goes to its next stage. The idea is to add pieces of those Honeymoon Wall extras, big and small, to new enclosures, starting with “Hoodoo” from October. Those who know the story will recognize and appreciate the bits of Honeymoon Wall as they encounter them, and I hope to be in the business of constructing carnivorous plant enclosures long enough that customers specifically look for the tumbled stones. For everyone else, though, it’s all about the hidden context: they won’t know that the stone in their enclosures had its origins in a wish nearly seventy years old, but I will, and knowing that bits of that wish are spread across the continent is good enough. Selah.

Have a Great Weekend

I’m out at the Dallas Fantasy Fair as you read this, but it’s time to reminisce. 20 years ago this Sunday, the final broadcast of a television experiment went shooting out of Earth’s atmosphere. It wasn’t the catalyst, and it certainly wasn’t the cause, but that broadcast was a good marker for my life Before and my life After. Considering how the life After turned out, the show’s final message couldn’t be more appropriate. Here’s to everyone, including an old friend who is still horribly missed, who changed the world without realizing it at the time.

When There’s No More Room In Hell…

For all of you having to work on Thanksgiving Day in the States, and for those working Black Friday everywhere, a reminder that the movie that popularized today’s theme song premiered 40 years ago. It’s still the best documentary about life in Dallas in the 1980s ever made.

Enclosures: Hoodoo (2018)

One of the best available arguments against the existence of advanced indigenous or extraterrestrial civilizations on Earth in the distant past is a lack incontrovertibly artificial artifacts or technological byproducts in geological deposits predating modern humans. Even with radioisotope decay, the byproducts of that decay would still be recognizable as such, as with the Oklo natural nuclear reactor. Even in a degraded or decomposed state, if an advanced civilization sent representatives from other stars, or developed on its own from native life forms millions of years ago, detritus from exploration, settling, or accidents might still be found eroding out of badlands, moraines, and other areas of rapid geologic upheaval.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24 1/2″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes “Poi Dog” (unknown hybrid)

Construction: Polystyrene, polystyrene foam, epoxy putty, strontium europium glow powder, stone.

Price: $200US

Shirt Price: $150US

Have a Great Halloween

Today would have been my grandmother’s 96th birthday, so let’s celebrate it in style:

Musical Interlude

One of the many inspirations for the gallery and what we’re doing died 25 years ago today, so it’s particularly appropriate to doff hats and remember Vincent Price. If not for an NBC broadcast of a documentary on carnivorous plants narrated by Price, my life would have turned out very differently.

I’m Living In My Own Private Tanelorn

The response to the new Netflix series The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell, which premiered last weekend, has been interesting. What’s particularly interesting has been the very polarized responses from friends and colleagues whose opinions I respect and often admire. Two friends whose contributions to goth culture in the Nineties were vital in establishing said culture were livid: they were furious as to the overly cutesiness and the attempt to sell creativity to and for the terminally uncreative. Others equally vehemently celebrated a show that was trying its best to be a little dark, but not too dark. Finally, at the bequest of Caroline of Tawanda! Jewelry (and Delenn to my GIR at the gallery), I sat down and watched a few episodes. Not that my opinion means anything at all, but the only issue I had was that so many of the projects looked like video accompaniment to an upcoming book (not that there’s anything wrong with that at all) and had nowhere near enough detail to allow a casual watcher to recreate most of them without additional online help. Then again, neither does The Great British Baking Show, and that’s not why people watch that, either.

What excited me about Curious Creations wasn’t just that so many of us incipient gothlings would have done just about anything for a show like this a quarter-century ago, but that it shows an inherent strength to Netflix. Namely, instead of worrying about its programming playing to Peoria, Netflix management realized that not copying what everyone else is doing in a particular format gets more viewers, not fewer. Combine that with the current trend in comfort viewing that emphasizes creativity and encouragement toward excellence, and we might have the new movement in entertainment for the next decade: getting those curious about a particular artform or art movement moving in the right direction.

If this is more of a trend toward celebrating more gonzo artistry, as the upcoming second season of Curious Creations suggests, then one thing is certain: it’s time to start pitching more shows of this caliber. I can think of two horticulturalists, Janit Calvo of Two Green Thumbs Miniature Garden Center and Amanda Thomsen of Kiss My Aster, who would be perfect for their own gardening shows, and letting Stewart McPherson travel the world to view carnivorous plants in the wild would be incentive for me to pay for Netflix access for the next five years all by itself. (If nothing else, an all-Amanda Thomsen show has the added novelty of watching her family, including three singing dogs and the world’s most put-upon cat, in action, because they’re ALWAYS entertaining.) Just don’t ask me to pitch a show with my horticultural and social sensibilities to Netflix: it’s already been done.

State of the Gallery: September 2018

It’s midway through the month already. We’re now a little over a week away from the official autumnal equinox, and just over six weeks until Halloween. Next thing you know, the calendar will have switched over, we’ll be looking over New Year’s Eve 2631, preparing for the Gorash Annexation to set up outposts and the occasional clearance outlet on the other side of our galaxy, and wondering if it really was such a great idea to de-extinct the moa and let them go feral in the Canadian Rockies…but perhaps I’ve said too much.

Over here at the Triffid Ranch, frantic work for the next open house is the order of the day, especially with the number of outside shows and events between now and the end of the year. After a lot of deliberation, particularly with input from people unable to get free on Saturdays to attend previous open houses, the next open house is scheduled for October 26 from 6:00 to 11:00 CST. Yes, a Friday night. Depending upon the success of this open house, we may try a few mid-week open houses as well, especially as football season gets going and Dallas traffic goes from “typically abysmal” to “blow up every highway in the state and require everyone to ride a bike for a month to learn some humility.”

Related news: partly to improve opportunities for people to see the latest Triffid Ranch enclosures outside of open houses and appointments, and partly to help fill a niche with the best damn reptile and amphibian shop in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, the Texas Triffid Ranch is now partnering with DFW Reptarium in Plano to offer new carnivore enclosures at the Reptarium. For those who haven’t visited it already, the Reptarium is a  herpetophile’s joy, starting with the store’s mascot: an absolutely stunning crocodile monitor named “Whisper” who lives in the front window. In addition to the store’s assemblage of panther chameleons, arrow-poison frogs, emerald tree boas, and the world’s most mellow frilled dragon, the Reptarium now has the Nepenthes bicalcarata enclosure “Hans-Ruedi,” and more will be available based on customer response. In other words, this holiday season is going to be VERY busy.

In the interim, October also features an outdoor show on October 13, thanks to the Garland Urban Flea in, unsurprisingly, Garland, Texas. This marks the first Triffid Ranch show ever held in Garland, and the weather should be absolutely stunning. The October Urban Flea runs from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm, so feel free to stop by for the last of the season’s Venus flytraps and threadleaf sundews.

And for those who might be coming across these missives via Facebook, be warned that a Triffid Ranch Facebook presence is shrinking and will continue to do so. The constant push to boost FB page posts was already becoming annoying, as they still weren’t reaching the people who chose to receive page updates. Now, new posts disappear immediately after entering them, only to pop back up days or weeks later. And then there’s Facebook’s page messaging system, which penalizes page owners if they don’t respond to any message sent to the page within minutes. This means either hiring someone to manage a social media presence (which I suspect is the hope), or get dinged for getting a message minutes after going to bed for the night and answering it only after waking up. Either way, it’s once again time to note that no such problems exist with the Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale, of which a new installment will be out very shortly. Go forth with the clicky to get newsletter-exclusive news and commentary, and occasional cool and educational prizes.

Well, back to the linen mines. Expect a few new enclosure premieres before the end of September, including a fun little commission: it’s either ramping up the enclosure releases or having a really slow holiday season. And on the holiday season, expect some extra surprises with this year’s Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas events. It’s absolutely amazing how much you can get done when you’re not unpacking from an unscheduled move…

Shoutout For a Friend

Everyone who has ever worked a day job for a while has stories about the coworkers who made it either a little easier or completely intolerable. Back when the Triffid Ranch was still just a vague plan for the future, I worked in a call center for a company that processed electronic payments for utility companies, and our mutual experiences with the company’s customers make me very protective and supportive of my former coworkers to this day. On the other, a recent position came with a coworker so aggressively stupid, so willing to spout whatever racist and just plain ignorant commentary came into the pencil eraser that was the closest thing to a brain he had, that I still refer to his Big Thinks as “vowel movements.” Some of the former make enough of an impression that they’re invited to parties and family events long after parting ways, and some of the latter make one avoid certain locales and events so as never to run into them again. Only a few, a very few, qualify as true inspirations, where you can say your life went in a drastically different and better direction because of their presence, and these are people for whom you try your best to return the favor. And so starts the story of 12 years of Larry Carey.

Larry really doesn’t need much of an introduction in Dallas, being well-known both in the gallery community and in band and club publicity with his hyperdetailed posters and flyers, but we’d never made an acquaintance. Larry and I might have bumped into each other in any number of venues and events in the Dallas area, but we probably wouldn’t have, so a mutual work environment was the perfect place to shove us together. I first encountered him in a job interview for a company that’s now just a tiny block in a multinational organization chart, where he asked for a non-technical writing sample and I gave him a copy of an essay I wrote years before on using the human colonization of New Zealand as a guide for the biological colonization of Mars. That wasn’t the only reason he became my new boss, but it definitely helped, and the peripheral knowledge we shared, both with us and with anyone else willing to join in, was a perk that eclipsed free popcorn and foosball tables.

In an industry where most software and hardware engineers are so busy studying for the test that they’re honestly offended at the idea of learning something that doesn’t directly apply to a promotion or raise (the both of us have spent most of our lives being asked “WHY do you know this?”), and in private endeavors that encouraged tight specialization in art or music knowledge but an aversion to science or history, our coffee-break discussions rapidly spiraled through wide vistas of seemingly unrelated information. Even better, we usually complemented the other’s information in strange and disturbing ways: thanks to him, I’m still the first  gardening writer to namedrop Papa Doc Duvalier, Charles Manson, Hunter S. Thompson, and George Romero in the same article about the same plant. (For the record, the plant was Datura stramonium, the angel trumpet, and that discussion over the space of two weeks turned up both D. stramonium‘s history with the Bacon’s Rebellion insurrection in the Jamestown colony in Virginia and a lot of really good reasons as to why anyone seeking a cheap high by ingesting or smoking Datura is in for a world of despair and horror. We even came across a thoroughly horrible story involving gardeners who grafted Datura roots onto tomato plants for improved disease resistance, and where the gardeners didn’t realize they left just enough Datura stem above ground until they made tomato sandwiches with the first tomatoes of the year and went straight to the ER.) And then the subject would veer toward his specialty, quantum theory, and we’d be off for another mathematical or natural history adventure. The physical and chemical properties of lunar soil simulant, the implausibility of terrestrial life utilizing arsenates instead of phosphates in a DNA molecule, the physiological mechanisms behind dream sleep, Bell’s Theorem and quantum foam…this went on for YEARS.

One of the interesting sidenotes later became a priority, when Larry started discussing art and art theory. Most people working in tech with artistic endeavors on the side usually keep them very quiet: the general response by managers to discovering an employee with a sidegig in writing or painting is usually an assumption that the employee will be leaving “once you hit it big.” Interviews are bad enough: I had one hiring manager with delusions of journalism look at my writing background at the time and assume that I’d leave “as soon as you find your perfect job,” even though I stated I’d have to take a massive pay cut to do so. (And then there was the interview where the head software developer piped up that the company didn’t need a technical writer because he was an accomplished writer specializing in Star Trek fanfiction featuring the erotic exploits of Wesley Crusher and Worf. It shouldn’t be a surprise that not only did he get the job, but that the company went under about six months later.) After about three or four months, Larry felt comfortable enough to show me some of his latest work after a long discussion on the Burgess Shale of British Columbia. As someone already familiar with a long run of surrealist comics artists ranging from Jack Kirby through Matt Howarth to Mary Fleener, saying that Larry’s distinctive frameworks, which he referred to as “mandalas,” sank right into the right receptors in my braincells was a decided understatement.

Long story short, the next seven and a half years were a crash course on the limits of my knowledge and how much more I needed to learn, and Larry was in the same situation. When it came to art, I was tabula rasa, and he gave me plenty of recommendations on artists and movements that had influenced him. That led me to looking for new resources for inspiration, dragging in new discoveries from the local Half Price Books stores to make sure he hadn’t already seen them, and then taking his recommendations to look for more. he knew very little about the back history on natural history and palaeontology art, so introducing him to Charles R. Knight, John Sibbick, and Marianne Collins led to a whole new explosion of paintings and prints. He started experimenting in color, leading up to the now-famous Triffid Ranch poster, which he presented to me in 2012. (He refused to take any payment for that poster, which is why all sales of shirts and posters go right back to him. “Pay the writer” is important, but so is “pay the artist.”) Both he and the company inspired me in turn: one of the advantages to working in a company specializing in hardware is a surfeit in odd discarded accessories and packing materials, and many of the early Triffid Ranch enclosures incorporated hoarded packaging elements such as the ultradense foam shipping cases for touch screens. It’s no exaggeration to say that without Larry and his inspiration, the current gallery wouldn’t exist, and those foam panels and blister packs were vital during the gallery’s earliest days for enclosure construction. And then there were the original mandalas Larry gave me for birthdays: the hallway leading to my office is referred to as “the Larry Carey Exhibition Hall.”

Eventually, though, the party had to end, and the conversations couldn’t make up for what was increasingly a toxic work environment. The company already had a reputation for, erm, interesting selections for employees, such as the predecessor who thought that coming to the Halloween family party in a gimp suit was acceptable. However, steady attrition and annual October layoffs eventually produced a supersaturated soup of psychosis. Coming into the break room to find an engineer curled up in a little ball on the counter, eyes scrunched shut in rage, because “I’m angry at my government” makes jobhunting much more of a priority, especially when people started taking bets on which coworker would be the first to come into the office with a shotgun “because God said Baby Jesus needs more blood.” The next job was in some ways even more perilous, but that put me in the perfect place for the position that allowed me to lease, stock, and open the first gallery three years ago.

And so that leads us to today. Larry and I tried to stay in touch, but schedules and workloads conspired, and he dropped off social media in order to focus on day job work and art. I finally managed to catch up with him last week, and oh boy did the news get interesting. Our old company went through a succession of buyouts, ending with pretty much everyone getting laid off, and Larry found himself with a new company in Eugene, Oregon. Even better, I’d caught him just a week before he and his wife packed up everything and moved there permanently. Oregon didn’t do much for me when I lived there two decades ago, but I respect the decisions of friends who stay, and it’s apparently exactly what Larry has needed for years. More interesting coworkers on the day job, a local community that encourages art, plenty of time to read and paint…yeah, I’m not the only one wondering what he’s going to accomplish once he’s established. Seeing what three months living in Tallahassee did for me a third of my life ago, I understand far too well.

After all this, a toast to Larry, and nothing but honest wishes for a long and lively arts career. I’m proud to call you a friend after all this time, I was honored to have you as a boss, and I can’t wait to see what you do next.

State of the Gallery: August 2018

The days end the way they begin: covered with glue, paint, epoxy putty, and random bits of styrofoam. First comes the watering, and you don’t want to know how much water moves through the gallery on a weekly basis. The floor of the gallery is a concrete slab, and yet you’d swear that it listed back and forth like a sailing ship deck. Either the sundews have evolved speaking apparatus or the sleep deprivation has reached the point of no return, because their conversations are so BORING. And then there are the people wanting to come by at 3 in the morning, and I have to explain “I don’t care if you’re from D magazine! I don’t have any coca plants here! No, wait, I don’t have any at all! No flowers in this town: only carnivorous plants.” And that’s when I start screaming “The floor is LAVA!”, because I’ve wandered outside into the parking lot and lava isn’t anywhere near as hot. At what point will the heat break and my brain stop impersonating a toasted marshmallow?

Oh, hi. Um, never mind me. Just getting things ready for the next gallery open house. Just do me a favor and look behind you. Do you see my dead grandmother crawling up your leg with a knife in her teeth? Cool: so it’s not just me.

A bit more seriously, the best analogy for August in Dallas comes from what the late author Harlan Ellison described as “the hour that stretches.” Apparently space-time is as bent and warped by overstressed air conditioners as by gravitic anomalies, because you wake up one morning and figure “Oh, I have five weeks to get everything done, and I’m not going to slack off, so I’m going to start now.” Look down for a second and then back to the clock,  and everything has to be finished in an hour before everyone arrives. You KNOW you’re working, and you KNOW you’re making better progress than ever before, and it’s still not fast enough to deal with that hour that stretches. Hence, after this gets published, it’s back to the workspace, because carnivorous plant enclosures don’t make themselves. I know this from experience.

The biggest news, of course, is that the Triffid Ranch celebrates three years as a gallery this month, which means it’s time for another open house. Specifically, the Texas Triffid Ranch Third Anniversary Open House starts at 6:00 on Saturday, August 18, and ends pretty much when everyone goes home. Besides the novelty of the event itself (I look at pictures of the first ArtWalk at the old Valley View location and jawdrop as to how far everything has come since 2015), this open house includes the premieres of new enclosures, a custom cake designed and baked by the one and only Angela Nelson, and samples of that horsecrippler cactus ice cream mentioned last month. This is, of course, in addition to the opportunity to take home your own carnivorous plant enclosure or talk about commissioning a custom enclosure. As always, Triffid Ranch open houses are family-friendly events, too, so don’t feel obligated to leave kids at home.

As far as outside events and shows are concerned, one of the best things about living in North Texas is that autumn lasts until the end of the year, and as soon as the heat starts letting up in September, everyone rushes outside to breathe fresh air. (Every vendor familiar with outdoor Dallas shows can appreciate the Ray Bradbury novella Frost & Fire, because it hits all of the notes on show setup and teardown.) This means that everyone waits until the middle of August to get word on acceptance into big shows in late October. Since we’re not quite there yet, the wait for word from several local shows in October is almost painful. In the interim, though, the next three big shows in which you can expect to see the Triffid Ranch booth include:

Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 5: November 11 in Austin. It may be a one-day show, but the Horror For the Holidays events have three things going for them: the people running them, the people attending them, and Central Texas when the heat breaks. Not only is this a chance to say hello to a lot of Triffid Ranch regulars who can’t always get up to Dallas for every event, but it’s a perfect time to get out of town for a road trip without worrying about the plants cooking on the way down. (It also revives good memories of when the litcon Armadillocon used to run opposite Texas/OU Weekend, instead of just before fall classes started at UT-Austin, back when the convention actually encouraged attendees under the age of 60.) Of course, that’s not the only reason to come out: if you’d told most anybody of the untapped potential for dark and dire gifts before the release of The Nightmare Before Christmas 25 years ago, they’d have laughed and pointed. Horror For the Holidays just screams back “WHO’S LAUGHING NOW?”

Dallas Fantasy Fair: November 24 and 25 in Irving. A quarter-century ago, the autumn Dallas Fantasy Fairs served a very specific purpose for those of a certain bent: when the house was full of distant relations, the television full of either Christmas specials or football, and most public venues full of Dawn of the Dead cosplayers, it was a chance to get away from the house, talk to people who wanted to talk about something other than work or raising kids. Things have changed a lot since then, as the internet was just getting going when the last Fantasy Fair ran in April 1996. Sometimes you have to let something go fallow for a while in order for it to come back stronger and better, and nearly 23 years should be plenty of time.

Texas Frightmare Weekend: May 3 through 5 at DFW Airport. Every year, I look at the lineup of guests and events and figure “There is NO WAY that the Frightmare crew will be able to top what they’ve accomplished here. NO WAY.” Every year, the Frightmare crew comes by my table and laughs and points over my assumptions. That’s fair, because at the rate Frightmare exceeds the previous year, we may get a panel with special guest speakers Lon Chaney Sr., Mary Shelley, Clark Ashton Smith, and Lemmy in 2020. In the meantime, the 2019 Frightmare gets Tim Curry as its headliner guest, which means I have even more to accomplish over the next nine months than ever before. (For those unfamiliar with Tim Curry’s horticultural accomplishments, his hacienda garden in Los Angeles is world-famous, and he’s also a leading authority on agave cultivation and propagation, so I will NOT be caught flatfooted in 2019 if he decides to come by the Triffid Ranch booth to look around.) And this is just the first guest announcement after opening up ticket sales: the next nine months are going to be interesting.

In other developments, expect a much more enthusiastic schedule for the poor neglected newsletter, partly because of the ongoing Port-O-John fire that is Facebook. The other reason is that I’ve missed email newsletters, and I’ve missed the community that invariably sprouts up with them. Because of that, it’s time to do a proper relaunch, and that includes free surprises for randomly selected subscribers. Expect details within a few days, but trust me: it’ll be worth it.

Finally, for those in the Dallas area or those sympathetic to the area, it’s time to vote in the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Awards. This isn’t a plea to enter the Triffid Ranch for any number of categories. I won an award last year, which was more of a surprise to me than anyone else, and that’s good enough. Instead, it’s a matter of letting everyone outside of Dallas know what we have going for us, and that the cliché of big hair and shopping malls is one we’re killing one inch at a time. Besides, the last five years drastically changed my view of the Observer: it’s not the smarmy entitlement farm that it was back at the turn of the century, and I bow to no one in my admiration for dining critic Beth Rankin‘s articles and essays. (As far as I’m concerned, the biggest and best example of the paper’s change was with her recent essay on why she wouldn’t and couldn’t take publicity freebies sent her by various restaurants for ethical reasons: those who remember the paper around 2000, especially with the film and music sections, can understand why this was such a big deal.) Now go vote.

Horsecrippler Ice Cream Project, Episode Two

(In Episode One, we discussed the horsecrippler cactus, Echinocactus texensis, the easternmost barrel cactus in North America, and its extremely visible fruit. The idea was to see how well horsecrippler cactus fruit juice worked as a flavoring for ice cream, based on earlier experiments. We return to the program, already in progress.)

Because of the uncharted territory of cactus fruit ice cream, the output of the juicing sat in deep freeze until plans could be made for a proper ice cream cranking. As every science fiction movie and novel involving deep freezing will tell you, lots of developments come up while the juice was sleeping. Among other things, researching the preparation of prickly pear (Opuntia spp.) fruit noted that gently roasting the fruit in an oven or over a fire brought out the flavor by converting the starches in the fruit into sugars. Experiments with a couple of late-ripening horsecrippler fruit confirmed that while the roasted fruits’ flavor was still awfully subtle, the character changed enough to justify more experiments next spring. Those experiments also gave ideas for prickly pear gelato when the prickly pears ripen in October. Onward.

Since the whole ice cream making process was new, the best option was to work from scratch, figuring that improvements could be made with more experience. With that in mind, I started with a good ice cream base recipe, dropping in the frozen juice during its reduction in order to sweeten it. To minimize the risks of losing the whole batch, everything was done in one-liter batches, in order to get a better feel for the process as it progressed. This turned out to be a wise decision, as the best mix required a lot less whole milk than the base recipe recommended.

Ice Cream Base

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup whole milk

2/3 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

6 large egg yolks

Oh, yes, and a recommendation for any recipe using eggs: you may note that most of the recipes recommend reducing your base and then straining it through a sieve. There’s a reason for it, as no matter how well-blended the base may be, the egg yolk can and will congeal along the bottom, essentially making ice cream-flavored scrambled eggs. Those chunks can and will get into the final product, so take it as friendly advice. Another recommendation: some people may think that ice cream-flavored scrambled eggs are a great idea. Those people are perverts. For them, I’m making a batch of venison sorbet, and I’ll gleefully scream “HAPPY NOW?” while they’re eating a big bowl each.

Working on the second batch, it’s easy to see both how distinctively brilliantly colored the juice is, and how well the color spreads through the ice cream. Considering how pastel strawberry ice cream can be, if nothing else, horsecrippler fruit might make a good natural coloration for frozen confections of all sorts. Again, experimentation: seeing if the juice can be dried is a possibility for the future, but that depends both upon availability and timing. It’s not as if anyone is going to be growing fields of horsecripplers for food colorings any time soon.

And now it’s time to put everything in the ice cream maker. Normally, the final mix goes into the refrigerator and chills overnight before going into the ice cream maker. Because of day job commitments and general exhaustion, I cheated and gave the mix a good bath in dry ice while the machine was turning. That cut down on the time spent in the maker, improved the consistency by producing lots of tiny ice crystals instead of large ones that affect the palatability, and made lots of fog on the garage floor. When trying something this new, always go for the unquantifiables to make things fun. Just be glad I didn’t have access to a significant quantity of liquid nitrogen: there’s an Air Liquide facility just south of the gallery, though, and I may have to ask about bulk rates…

WE HAVE ICE CREAM. I REPEAT; WE HAVE ICE CREAM.

Now to finish up. We may have ice cream, but it’s still at about the consistency of soft-serve, so it needs firming up. Into the freezer it goes, waiting for someone to be one of the first individuals on the planet to try horsecrippler cactus ice cream. And so it goes.

As for what’s going to happen to it? Well, that depends. The plan is to serve up samples to everyone coming out for this month’s Triffid Ranch third anniversary open house on August 18, so you can try for yourself. Alternately, I was serious about the prickly pear gelato: cactus isn’t common in Dallas proper, but I know of several bushes in neglected areas  throughout the city, and going on a fruit-collecting expedition in October is a good excuse for a trip to either Glen Rose or Mineral Wells. I was also serious about the liquid nitrogen, too: how many art galleries in the Dallas area can brag about having ice cream tastings, too?