Tag Archives: Czarina

Nemesis sighted off the port bow

We all have a nemesis in life. All of us. If we’re lucky, we’ll only meet that nemesis in our final days, when it’s far too late for it to cause any damage. If we’re very lucky, we find a nemesis that can be used against our enemies, or against our friends for comic effect.

I say this because I’ve discovered mine. Her name is Miss Sweetie Poo, and she’s an essential component of the Ig Nobel Prizes, the annual award for scientific endeavours that should not and must not be replicated under any circumstances. The Ig Nobels are to the real Nobels what the Golden Raspberry Awards are to the Oscars, only with more duct tape, more paper airplanes, and less butthurt whining from the organizers of the Saturn Awards about the similarities between their winners. This year’s Ig Nobel ceremony is next week, and as usual, its selections will lead to the absolute best head explodey.

Anyway. As I was saying, Miss Sweetie Poo is my one serious weakness, in the form of a cute 8-year-old girl. That weakness is the fear of conducting a lecture or presentation, or merely showing off plants at a show, and hearing these words, over and over:

See, this is why the Czarina and I don’t have children. It’s also the reason why I won’t let her rent children, either. We have a niece who’s a few years too old for the position, but I’m sure that she’ll be open for suitable compensation to fill in. I’ll make some particularly devastating point during after-dinner conversation, lunge for the kill…and get knocked out of the air like Green Lantern being smacked with a big yellow pillow. (Please note that the Czarina can’t get away with this. Not only does she not have >the right voice to pull it off, but I know where she’s ticklish. Besides, her reputation precedes her, with lots of other people seeing her angry and crying “Not the elbows! Not the elbows!”, and she’s certainly not afraid to use them on me if I get out of line.)

The Aftermath: Discovery Days at the Museum of Nature & Science

Texas Triffid Ranch table

Last weekend’s Discovery Days show at Dallas’s Museum of Nature & Science went off without a hiccup, even with the slightly melancholy vibe running the entire weekend. As of September 16, when the current Planet Shark exhibition closes, so will the Science Museum building, previously known as The Science Place for the last three decades. Considering the amount of time I’ve spent over the last quarter-century in this building (the original Robot Dinosaurs exhibition opened on my 21st birthday), this was a second-to-last opportunity to say goodbye to an old and dear friend.

The welcome sign at Discovery Days

The idea was simple: come out with a sampling of carnivores for exhibition, and answer questions the attending kids had about the plants and how they lived. As with last year’s Discovery Days show, both kids and adults kept me on my toes with thoughtful, sharp, and detailed questions about carnivorous plant physiology and habits. What was new this year was the number of visitors, both from out-of-state and out-of-country, who had great insights. When I wasn’t talking to a Romanian engineer about Transylvanian dinosaurs (and he was absolutely amazed that such a thing existed) and his world-famous countryman Baron Nopsca, I was helping to identify pitcher plants on Luzon in the Philippines. If I was twitching by the end, it was only because of the sheer amount of information that attendees shared, and I only hope that I was able to return the favor.

A small selection from my carnivorous plant library

As I did last year, I brought out a cross-section of reference books on the subject to show examples of plants I didn’t have in my collection at the moment, but it may be time to get an iPad and go electronic. My back still hurts from hauling them out of the car on Sunday evening.

Sarracenia lid and lip

All of the plants were popular, but the big Sarracenia hybrid was the belle of the ball. In fact, a couple of people made precisely that comment. Not only did she draw interest in the first place, but she was ultimately more accessible to understanding basic passive-trap physiology than any other plant there. (In particular, one attendee had a slight freakout when I was demonstrating with a UV light how the lid interiors and lips of the pitcher fluoresce under ultraviolet light, and she literally squeaked “It’s a sonic screwdriver!”) That said, most of the kids liked her cousin…

The provincial flower of Newfoundland and Labrador

I was regularly asked if I named individual plants, and I was half-tempted to nickname the two Sarracenia purpurea “Red” and “Harold” for the duration of the show. Considering the number of Canadians, not to mention us Canadian anchor babies, out to see the sharks, that may or may not have been prudent. Bringing “Red” out, though, was especially important for one four-year-old with a look in her eye that I knew well from her age: “Don’t you DARE patronize me.” She wanted everything explained to her exactly the way I would have done with her parents, and she asked as many questions as she could about the hairs on the lip and composition of the debris in the bottom of the pitchers with her admittedly slightly limited vocabulary. I hope to run into her again in a few years and see how far she leaves me in the dust in scientific inquiries.

Nepenthes ampullaria

And the other surprise hit? Explaining the number of mutualistic relationships between carnivores and various animals had some kids engrossed, especially when I told them about the relationships between Nepenthes ampullaria and the frog Microhyla nepenthicola. Frogs that nest and breed in pitcher plants? Oh, that shattered a few fragile young minds. (I’ll say the greatest satisfaction came with a group of teenagers who claimed that they were there to watch out for little brothers, and they must have hung out on Saturday afternoon for an hour, asking every question they could. I don’t know if they were too fascinated to pretend to be nonplussed, or if I treated them like adults, but they asked some of the sharpest questions the whole weekend long. And so much for kids today being lazy and stupid, eh?)

As mentioned before, this was the last actual event at the old Museum, but I’ve been assured that the crew wants a carnivorous plant presence at the new Perot Museum of Nature and Science, which opens next year. In the meantime, I’m planning to organize one last outing to the current Museum on September 16, where those of us who remember the two separate museums in Fair Park can come out and have one last look around. For the Czarina and myself, it’ll be particularly important, as we were married under the Protostega in the Texas Giants Hall at the old Museum of Natural History, and this is as close to renewing our vows in the same place as we’re going to get.

Happy birthday to the Czarina

Today is the Czarina’s birthday. Look busy.

Show aftermath: July with the Shadow Society

Triffid Ranch booth at the Shadow Society

Four years ago this week, the Triffid Ranch debuted at Convergence 14, a goth convention held that year in Tampa. Last weekend, the latest Triffid Ranch show ran at The Shadow Society, a monthly gathering at the Crown & Harp here in Dallas. Back then, the Czarina and I were traveling by car across the continent, so this wasn’t much of a show. Last weekend, the available space was at a premium, so the idea was to come out with a sampler. A selection of beginner carnivores, a few loss-leaders to demonstrate that carnivorous plants consist of more than Venus flytraps, one flytrap globe so nobody asks “Hey, where are the flytraps?”, and stickers and buttons. Between this and a very pared-down setup for the Czarina, we barely squeezed in everything into the car, just like four years ago.

You know what else was just like 2008? No matter how much or how well the organizers promoted the show, the opening of the Olympics kicked our butts.

Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a complaint. Yes, the show was a bit sparse on attendees, but the both of us have done shows where vendors outnumbered attendees by two to one. The July Shadow Society event still featured a lot of interesting folks, this gave a field test of a new lighting system for the new display shelves, we vendors had a great time comparing notes on upcoming events, and pretty much everyone made plans for Convergence XIX in Austin next spring. We also used this time to plot and scheme on plans for the Shadow Society event at the end of August. Between this and the North American Reptile Breeders Conference in Arlington that weekend, who says that Dallas and Fort Worth are lacking in odd attractions?

Detail: Triffid Ranch booth at the Shadow Society

And with that, here’s a gentle reminder that the next Triffid Ranch show will be at the Discovery Days: Discover Going Green family event at the Museum of Nature & Science on August 11 and 12. As I keep telling people, come for the biodiesel, and stay for the carnivorous plants.

Introducing the Deathmobile

The Deathmobile

For obvious reasons, the mood around the house this last week has been lower than Whitley Strieber’s credibility among the SETI community. Tramplemaine’s death hit us both more than we realized, and I’d like to thank everyone who expressed their regrets. The house is a lot larger and a lot more quiet without him in it, and it’s going to take a while to recover.

Not that we can’t get some humor out of loss. When the Czarina gets particularly shaken, she takes after her mother and hyperfocuses on little things that don’t need to be knocked out right then. Last Monday, for instance, I practically had to sit on her before she realized “You know, scheduling a tooth cleaning with the dentist right after taking your dying cat to the vet isn’t a good idea.” (Not that this is such a good idea all of the time, because sometimes reality impersonates fiction.)

And with this, she’s continuing to obsess over my upcoming birthday. Never you mind that her birthday is a little over a week. Every few hours, she asks “So what do you want for your birthday?” Right now, the only thing I can do is try to make her laugh, and the best way to get her to laugh is to annoy her.

That’s when we came across this, erm, unique vehicle, parked alongside a gas station. It was short the expected Australian motorcycle punks in bondage pants, but otherwise it had its moments.

The front of the Deathmobile

And that’s when I got the Czarina. “You know, I do need a garden cart. This will work, won’t it?”

The back of the Deathmobile

What scares me is that she’s going to take me up on one of my suggestions one of these days. This thing simply won’t work without a trailer hitch.

Views from Chihuly Nights at the Dallas Arboretum: 11

Preamble: The Czarina has been a very enthusiastic fan of the glass artist Dale Chihuly for as long as I’ve known her. Me, I’ve been looking for a good excuse to visit the Dallas Arboretum, especially at night, for years. Last Wednesday, we celebrated Independence Day not in the usual manner, but by having a date night at the Arboretum’s Chihuly Nights exhibition. Explanations of what you’re seeing may or may not follow: if you have questions, get out here before November 5 to see it yourself.

Chihuly 28

Chihuly 29

Chihuly 30

Chihuly 31

Chihuly Boat

As a tip for anyone wanting a similar effect with a fountain or pool: the illusion of depth was produced by adding black dye to the water. For those who want to keep fish and other life in the pool, there’s no reason why you can’t go with a blackwater arrangement.

Chihuly Boat 2

Chihuly Boat 3

Views from Chihuly Nights at the Dallas Arboretum: 10

Preamble: The Czarina has been a very enthusiastic fan of the glass artist Dale Chihuly for as long as I’ve known her. Me, I’ve been looking for a good excuse to visit the Dallas Arboretum, especially at night, for years. Last Wednesday, we celebrated Independence Day not in the usual manner, but by having a date night at the Arboretum’s Chihuly Nights exhibition. Explanations of what you’re seeing may or may not follow: if you have questions, get out here before November 5 to see it yourself.

Chihuly 23

Chihuly 24

Chihuly 25

Chihuly 26

Chihuly 27

Views from Chihuly Nights at the Dallas Arboretum: 9

Preamble: The Czarina has been a very enthusiastic fan of the glass artist Dale Chihuly for as long as I’ve known her. Me, I’ve been looking for a good excuse to visit the Dallas Arboretum, especially at night, for years. Last Wednesday, we celebrated Independence Day not in the usual manner, but by having a date night at the Arboretum’s Chihuly Nights exhibition. Explanations of what you’re seeing may or may not follow: if you have questions, get out here before November 5 to see it yourself.

Chihuly 13

I’m the last person who will fuss about visitors arriving at a particular time to see the Chihuly exhibition at the Dallas Arboretum, but I do recommend coming out for the Chihuly Nights shows (currently, running Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights) about an hour or two before dark. This way, you get a chance to see the displays and how they interact with the rest of the gardens, before night falls, the lights come on, and the foliage disappears into the black.

Chihuly 14

At around dusk, visitors start noticing something interesting and a bit disturbing. Contrary to suspicions, the sculptures aren’t lit internally. Instead, they’re illuminated through cunningly hidden spotlights, and the refractive properties of glass do the rest.

Chihuly 15

Chihuly 16

Chihuly 17

When I first started posting these, a few smartaleck friends joked “”Chihuly? I first read that as ‘Cthulhu’. In this grotto, with this lighting on glass this color, I can’t disagree that there’s quite a bit of H.P. Lovecraft in the air on a hot summer Dallas night.

Chihuly 18

Chihuly 19

Chihuly 20

Views from Chihuly Nights at the Dallas Arboretum: 8

Preamble: The Czarina has been a very enthusiastic fan of the glass artist Dale Chihuly for as long as I’ve known her. Me, I’ve been looking for a good excuse to visit the Dallas Arboretum, especially at night, for years. Last Wednesday, we celebrated Independence Day not in the usual manner, but by having a date night at the Arboretum’s Chihuly Nights exhibition. Explanations of what you’re seeing may or may not follow: if you have questions, get out here before November 5 to see it yourself.

Chihuly 6

Chihuly 7

Chihuly 8

Chihuly 9

Chihuly 10

Chihuly 11

Chihuly 12

I’m living in my own private Tanelorn

And the extended weekend is over. You ever have one of those extended holiday weekends where you start by telling yourself what you’re going to accomplish at the start, and you wake up the next Monday morning sighing “Wow, I got everything DONE!” as you’re walking into the shower? Me, neither. It was, however, still an awfully productive time, what with odd weather, surprise trips, and visits from strange wildlife. Thirty years ago, my professional garden career started when I was dragooned by my mother into helping a friend of hers clear out her flower beds. Three decades later, I still have dreams that I’ve died and gone to Hell, and my eternal punishment is to pull Bermuda grass root nodules out of North Texas clay. This…wasn’t quite so bad.

On the more humorous side, this was the weekend where I learned exactly how extensive the Czarina’s vocabulary can be. It started innocently enough, as she was reading one evening, and I shared one of my upcoming project ideas with her. “You know those eight-foot-tall gumball machines you see in supermarkets?”

“…yes?” The Czarina doesn’t have prominent eyebrows, but what she has were both rising toward the ceiling, ready to strike.

“Yeah. I just figured out how to convert one into a terrarium.”

“Oh, really.” No interrogative at the end of that sentence. Instead, the emphatic period at the end sounded like the last nail pounded into a coffin lid. I understand playwrights call it “foreshadowing”.

“And even better, I figured out how to make it a useable terrarium AND still dispense gumballs.”

“REALLY.” At this point, her famed elbows were sliding out of their sheaths, and the noise of the venom drooling onto the floor from each one was exactly the sound of spare mortar splashing off a bricklayer’s trowel onto a bottle of Amontillado. Oh, she’s going to LOVE this, I thought.

“Yeah. All I need is a Plexiglas tube and some sealer at the bottom and a good cap at the top to keep out moisture…you don’t think I can do this, do you?”

“Oh, no. I believe you can do this,” she said to a paralyzed Harry Dean Stanton who was now really regretting leaving Ripley and Parker to look for the ship’s cat. “What I want to know is where you’re planning to put it while you’re working on it.”

“Well, there’s the garage…”

“NO.” The sound of the crypt sealing forever, the sound of a crocodile dragging its prey underwater, the sound of the crowd at a science fiction convention when I idly mention that Firefly bored me to tears. Death wasn’t in that voice, because Death was so spooked by that voice that he took a new job in Calgary.

“Well, there was this guy clearing out his garage at that apartment complex down the way, and he had it for sale for only fifty dollars…”

“The fact that it wasn’t in the garage when I got home is probably the only reason you’re still alive. Why didn’t you bring it home?”

“…he had to sell it right then, and I couldn’t bring it home on my bicycle.”

See? Bicycling to and from work IS healthy for you. Well, that and pricing storage spaces, so I have the room for the next gumball machine I come across. Just don’t tell her, okay?

EDIT: Somebody told, and that’s where her eloquence in English profanities came to the fore. Heck, she threatened me with defenestration after she threw me out a window.

Views from the Chihuly Nights at the Dallas Arboretum: 7

Preamble: The Czarina has been a very enthusiastic fan of the glass artist Dale Chihuly for as long as I’ve known her. Me, I’ve been looking for a good excuse to visit the Dallas Arboretum, especially at night, for years. Last Wednesday, we celebrated Independence Day not in the usual manner, but by having a date night at the Arboretum’s Chihuly Nights exhibition.

Chihuly 1

All of the glassworks in the Chihuly exhibition are large, but this one was so big that it needed a whole new base.

Chihuly 1 base

Chihuly 2

Chihuly 3

Chihuly 4

My knowledge of glassworking is miniscule at best, but I still knew that addition of various elements gives particular colors to the final glass. That said, would you have guessed that adding neodymium would lead to this shade?

Views from the Chihuly Nights at the Dallas Arboretum: 5

Preamble: The Czarina has been a very enthusiastic fan of the glass artist Dale Chihuly for as long as I’ve known her. Me, I’ve been looking for a good excuse to visit the Dallas Arboretum, especially at night, for years. Last Wednesday, we celebrated Independence Day not in the usual manner, but by having a date night at the Arboretum’s Chihuly Nights exhibition. Keep an eye on this blog over the next few days, because there’s a lot to see. Just keep in mind that the photos don’t come close to displaying the beauty of the Arboretum, and that the best way to experience it is in person.

Chihuly 5:2

Chihuly 5:1

Chihuly 5:3

Crape myrtle trunk

Agave blooms

Views from the Chihuly Nights at the Dallas Arboretum: 4

Preamble: The Czarina has been a very enthusiastic fan of the glass artist Dale Chihuly for as long as I’ve known her. Me, I’ve been looking for a good excuse to visit the Dallas Arboretum, especially at night, for years. Last Wednesday, we celebrated Independence Day not in the usual manner, but by having a date night at the Arboretum’s Chihuly Nights exhibition. Keep an eye on this blog over the next few days, because there’s a lot to see. Just keep in mind that the photos don’t come close to displaying the beauty of the Arboretum, and that the best way to experience it is in person.

Black grass 1

This unidentified plant is reason alone to make a trip back to the Arboretum, just to identify it. Finding good black plants for goth gardening is hard enough, but something at lest twice my height?

Black grass 2

Black grass 3

Dragonfly 1

Among the trees were dozens of absolutely gigantic dragonflies, even for North Texas, and one was absolutely fascinated by one particular point on a Chihuly spearpoint. The beauty was seeing it on the tip. The humor came from when it kept sliding off and attempting to get right back.

Dragonfly 2

And then we had simply surreal. As the sun set, more and more wildlife came out, including Mexican free-tailed bats, toads, geckos, and lots of frogs and katydids attempting to drown out the noise from the omnipresent cicadas. The best surprise was the rabbit that leapt out of the undergrowth with a large mouthful of something. It was probably grabbing up grass and fern stems for a nest, but boy howdy did it look as if it was dragging a dead rat back into the shrubbery.

Rat-eating rabbit

Jerry Junkins garden

And speaking of eating rats, I’d heard about the Jerry Junkins garden at the Dallas Arboretum. Having worked for the man when he was CEO of Texas Instruments in the late Eighties and early Nineties, I was absolutely floored that the garden wasn’t full of poison ivy and stinkweed. (Those of us who worked at TI during his obsession with the Malcolm Baldridge Award for Corporate Excellence aren’t surprised that Southern Methodist University’s technology school is named for Junkins. We’re just waiting for SMU to continue the tradition and open a psychiatric hospital named for Charles Manson, a culinary school named for Jeffrey Dahmer, and a music scholarship program named for G.G. Allin.)

Views from the Chihuly Nights at the Dallas Arboretum: 3

Preamble: The Czarina has been a very enthusiastic fan of the glass artist Dale Chihuly for as long as I’ve known her. Me, I’ve been looking for a good excuse to visit the Dallas Arboretum, especially at night, for years. Last Wednesday, we celebrated Independence Day not in the usual manner, but by having a date night at the Arboretum’s Chihuly Nights exhibition. Keep an eye on this blog over the next few days, because there’s a lot to see. Just keep in mind that the photos don’t come close to displaying the beauty of the Arboretum, and that the best way to experience it is in person.

Chihuly 3: 1

Chihuly 3:2

Chihuly 3:3

Chihuly 3:4

Chihuly 3:5

Chihuly 3:6

Views from the Chihuly Nights at the Dallas Arboretum: 2

The Czarina has been a very enthusiastic fan of the glass artist Dale Chihuly for as long as I’ve known her. Me, I’ve been looking for a good excuse to visit the Dallas Arboretum, especially at night, for years. Last Wednesday, we celebrated Independence Day not in the usual manner, but by having a date night at the Arboretum’s Chihuly Nights exhibition. Keep an eye on this blog over the next few days, because there’s a lot to see. Just keep in mind that the photos don’t come close to displaying the beauty of the Arboretum, and that the best way to experience it is in person.

Chihuly globes 1

Chihuly globes 2

Chihuly globes 3

Chihuly globes 4

Chihuly globes 5

Now here’s a feature of garden design at the Arboretum that just stunned me when I saw it. The gardeners in charge went to especial efforts to offer complementary plants to go with the glassworks, but the addition of “Black Pearl” peppers with these globes was truly inspired.

Black Pearl peppers

It’s one thing to use the black-purple foliage on Black Pearls to make the globes pop. After dark, the flat finish on the leaves accents the glow of the sculpture under spotlights. But to continue the globe theme with each plant…now that was genius. (I’ll also add that when the fruit ripens, it turns a translucent red that resembles uncut rubies, so the theme gets even stronger.)

Views from Chihuly Nights at the Dallas Arboretum: 1

The Czarina has been a very enthusiastic fan of the glass artist Dale Chihuly for as long as I’ve known her. Me, I’ve been looking for a good excuse to visit the Dallas Arboretum, especially at night, for years. Last Wednesday, we celebrated Independence Day not in the usual manner, but by having a date night at the Arboretum’s Chihuly Nights exhibition. Keep an eye on this blog over the next few days, because there’s a lot to see. Just keep in mind that the photos don’t come close to displaying the beauty of the Arboretum, and that the best way to experience it is in person.

Chihuly 1

Chihuly 2

Chihuly 3

Chihuly 4

Chihuly 5

Introducing Anolis carolinensis

Last weekend was a time to get busy at the Triffid Ranch. We haven’t truly moved into traditional Texas summer weather yet, and man, beast, and plant understood this, because we were all going a bit nuts. I spent Saturday and Sunday making a new raised bed edge for the Czarina’s tomato garden, pruning and trimming various bushes on the property, clearing clover out of the Sarracenia pots, clearing clover seeded from the Sarracenia pots out of the horsecrippler cactus, repotting Bhut Jolokia and Trinidad Scorpion peppers for the next big show in September, deadheading orchids, and watering the flytraps. By Saturday evening, by the time the Czarina got home, my usual lament about not having access to the 57-hour day was coming off my lips with the raging froth at the clover. At least I didn’t have to deal with the squirrels digging up the Sarracenia, at least since a big female Harris’s hawk started using the rooftop as a dining room table and my greenhouse as a commode. (With the hawk, the only beef is with bluejay feathers blowing off the roof. Other than that, “Shayera Hol” is welcome here for as long as she wants to stay. I don’t even mind her sitting on the greenhouse, staring at the cats through the window.)

Around the Triffid Ranch, taking the time to smell the roses was secondary to taking the time to watch the critters, and it was a day for critter-watching. Moving a brick in the tomato bed dislodged a rough earth snake (Virginia striatula), a snake so sweet-tempered and inoffensive that even serious ophidiophobes tend to soften a bit upon seeing one. Lots of Mediterranean geckos (Hemidactylus turcicus)hid among the bricks as well, waiting for nightfall. And then, as I was moving a batch of dragonfruit cactus pots, this little gentleman moved just enough to let me know he was there.

Sunbathing Carolina anole

The first common misconception about the Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis) is that, because of its common nickname “American chameleon,” it can change color with the range and definition of Old World chameleons. While A. carolinensis can switch between various shades of green and brown, it has nothing on true chameleons. However, true chameleons don’t have the brilliant scarlet dewlap, which looks as if the lizard were brushed with powdered rubies, that male anoles flash to signal territorial claims. This fellow wasn’t worried about other anoles trying to take his space, but he also wasn’t taking an eye off me.

Carolina anole closeup

The other assumption about Carolina anoles, at least in North Texas, is that they’re escapees from captivity that went feral. Although a lot of anoles may have been released in the wild in the Dallas area from the days when they were inexplicably popular offerings in pet shops, this is actually native habitat for A. carolinensis, and they range south to the Gulf of Mexico and north into Arkansas before moving east all the way to the Atlantic. They don’t get as large in Dallas as they do in Tallahassee, but considering some of the gigantic anoles (not to be mistaken for the introduced Cuban anoles in the area) I used to catch in Tally, I’m actually a bit happy. This one was about as long as my hand, which suggested that he was getting both plenty of insects and plenty of drinking water. Anoles will not drink still water, and prefer to drink dew from plants, so I suspect the mister system in the greenhouse may have made his life a bit easier last summer.

"I'm ready for my closeup now, Mr. deMille."

When I was a kid in Michigan, I dreamed of one day keeping an anole as a pet, and would camp out at the pet sections in department stores to stare at the lizards. I know today that the vast majority didn’t survive more than a few weeks of that treatment, and many more died due to substandard care with their future owners, but lizards were a rarity up there and color-changing ones nonexistent. I became enough of an insufferable know-it-all on the subject that when showing my little brother a cage full of them at a K-Mart, I related “Look: Carolina anoles.” This peeved the toad overseeing the pet section, and he proceeded to correct me: “They’re chameleons.”

“No, they’re anoles. Anolis carolinensis. They’re native to the East Coast.”

He pulled out a cheap booklet entitled “All About Chameleons” from a shelf, and promptly showed me pictures of anoles, and then flashed the cover again, emphasizing the word “chameleon.” I then asked if I could see the book, and promptly read to him the first several paragraphs about anole habits and scientific nomenclature. He grabbed the book back, sneered “You’re just making it up,” told us to get out before he called the head manager, and went back to the dreams of a K-Mart pet shop manager. Probably involving how, when someone finally gave him command of a Constitution-class starship, he’d get into pissing matches with seven-year-olds and win.

Well, that was then. Now, I figure the lizards are happier and healthier in the yard than they’d ever be in captivity, and I encourage moonflowers (Ipomoea alba) and trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) to give the anoles and geckos more cover. This fellow sat atop that fence top with a very catlike demeanor, and when he was done watching me, he skittered off to do whatever anoles do in their off time. He’s always welcome to come back, and bring his harem with him, too.

Very, VERY bad ideas

For those unfamiliar with The Pitcher Plant Project, I heartily recommend spending a few hours going through the blog . Of particular note, though, is taking a look at The Sarracenia Sink, because I’ve been suggesting to the Czarina that I could up the ante a bit. Many of my neighbors are renovating bathrooms and kitchens, which means that a lot of perfectly serviceable toilets are left out front in time for Large Trash Day. I figure that it’s just a matter of sealing up the bottom, filling both bowl and tank with Sarracenia soil mix, planting a nice collection of pitcher plants and sundews, and bringing it to the next Triffid Ranch show. Not only is it a perfect example of classic Scottish frugality to make the world a better place, but Mother Scotland even gave me a perfect name for the arrangement: “The Bog Garden”. All it would need is an Ewan MacGregor action figure in it, and it would be perfect.

The only problem with this plan lies with the Czarina. See, her family is Welsh, not Scot, so she doesn’t agree that this is a brilliant plan. In fact, she stopped rolling her eyes or jabbing me with her elbows when we drive by an abandoned toilet and I suggest upcycling it. She only had one thing to say if I continued on this line of inquiry. I didn’t exactly hear what she was planning to do to my neck after she ripped my head off, but based on her tone, I’m going to have to surprise her with the end results.

World Horror Convention 2013: a new Triffid Ranch show?

Until very recently, I’ve been reserved about doing out-of-town Triffid Ranch shows for many reasons. Not that I haven’t had convention and event promoters asking. At least three times a year, I’m asked, very nicely, by the folks at a big steampunk convention in Oklahoma about attending, and I decline, very nicely, and explain why. Namely, it comes down to pure economics. Doing a show in Texas outside of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex is expensive enough with gasoline, vehicle rental, hotel accomodations, and food allocations. Combine that with the necessary legal permits required to transport plants across state lines, and I do NOT want to make Wikipedia for being the guy who introduced some horrible invasive species or deadly floral disease to a new area, and the finances get a bit thin. When I explain to the steampunk convention crew how many plants I’d need to sell just to break even, they blanch and apologize for up my time.

(As a sidenote, I’ve been planning to compose a little essay on why vendors to shows and conventions choose the shows they do and why. In the interim, let’s just say that repeated nagging to attend a gaming convention with an admitted attendance of 200 to 400 people, screaming “You never got back with me!” at another convention, and literally whining about how it was in my best interest to cancel an existing commitment and reschedule isn’t the way to do it. And yes, that really happened last year.)

Recent news makes me reconsider this assessment. For the last fifteen or so years, I’ve received regular postcards from the folks at the World Horror Convention, a big traveling show hosted by a different city each year, asking about becoming an attendee. I had considered being a vendor at the 2011 WHC in Austin, until I saw it was scheduled opposite Texas Frightmare Weekend, and the logistics came into play. (The fact that I’d sooner live in Houston than so much as soil a gas station restroom in Austin had something to do with it, too.) This year’s WHC is in Salt Lake City, which is just a little too far to travel in the summer with a truckload of plants. In 2013, though, World Horror comes to New Orleans.

I reiterate: New Orleans.

My first encounter with New Orleans was fourteen years ago this coming November, when I was invited by the god-in-human-form Robert Fontenot to be a guest at a new genre and pop convention in New Orleans called ExotiCon. I’m still good friends with many of the people I met there in 1998, and I came back for the next two shows run by Robert. So did the Czarina, with her now ex-husband, and she’s still famous for running the world’s most quiet convention party at the 2000 show. I still tell him, to this day, that were he insane enough to try this again, we’d both come down, without hesitation, and do our best to promote the show as much as we were able. In the intervening years, we’ve looked at other excuses to head down that way, and just haven’t quite had the opportunity.

Well, now that may change. I’ve already contacted the WHC 2013 crew for further information, but the thought process ran roughly similar to this:

Negative: One solid day of driving between Dallas and New Orleans, and flying down there with plants isn’t an option.

Positive: New Orleans.

Negative: Considering the cost of renting a cargo van, including mileage, it may actually be cheaper to buy one.

Positive: New Orleans.

Negative: A big portion of the trip entails going over the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge, which is one of the most knuckle-whitening, anus-puckering trips I’ve ever made…in a truck full of carnivorous plants.

Positive: New Orleans. Oh, and did I mention the food?

Negative: Phytosan permits, hotel reservations, trying to go anywhere outside of the hotel, old writing acquaintances terrified of leaving the hotel for fear they might miss out on an editor they haven’t already harangued, going back home, and all of the usual logistics of doing a big show combined with the logistics of doing one outside of Texas.

Postive: NEW ORLEANS.

I haven’t brought this up with the Czarina, but that’s on the plate for this evening. I pretty much know what the answer will be, though, without asking. If I don’t check, I know what that answer will be, and if I’m going to be rolled up in a fetal ball while she beats me with a rolled-up magazine and screams “WHAT the hell is WRONG with you?”, I’d prefer for it to be something worthy of the offense.

A pressing need to buy some land

One of the many reasons why the Czarina and I are coming up on ten years of successful marriage is because we always bounce our insane business ideas off the other before we do anything. (Well, that’s one reason. Another one is that a steady diet of science fiction television shows as a kid meant that I have a decided attraction to women much smarter than I am. Friends went crazy over girls in Slave Leia outfits, while I had much more interest in the Maya/Delenn/Saavik/Martha Jones girls in school. The Czarina, in turn, has one particular type: Rik Mayall.) The idea is that we hone project proposals and show concepts until they’re stable and reasonable, and then let the other burn big holes in those proposals and concepts with acetylene torches and thermite. If they don’t collapse, implode, or catch fire after the interrogation, then they’ll probably work in real life. After a decade of the Czarina giggling with glee as some of my business proposals crawl on the floor, begging for a quick death, preparing for an oral defense of my Ph.D thesis is going to be a doddle.

Don’t think that we necessarily enjoy this. It’s bad enough that we’ve watched a lot of retail concepts, ones that would have worked at any time other than the worst recession in the last 80 years, died because the concept planned for profitability in three years instead of six. We both have equipment purchased from once-successful and once-popular companies at their liquidation sales. Most of all, I was in incredible lust for a defunct garden center in Plano a few years back: the garden center had been in business for 30 years before the founders sold it to their son, he decided to neglect the longtime customers in favor of getting into high-end landscaping, and defaulted on his business loans when the real estate bust hit and his big clients decided not to pay their bills. It’s not just because we wanted to avoid really bad business ideas, such as starting a street-corner circus troupe or opening a bookstore with no money down.

As far as that garden center was concerned, I didn’t go for it for multiple reasons. The least of which was having three-quarters of a million dollars on hand, which is what the property was valued at the beginning of 2009. (The garden center itself was recently bulldozed to clear the land, because any other potential buyers felt the way I did.) The other big reason is that while the Triffid Ranch is nowhere near ready for a full-time retail presence, getting a more serious growing environment is becoming pressing. This requires buying land, and the rest of the garden center can wait.

Right now, two things conspire against me on finding a suitable tract of property, properly zoned for agricultural activities and not harboring hidden munitions dumps or chemical waste caches. (Don’t laugh. Around here, it happens.) The first is that North Texas is flat, meaning that only the occasional creekbed and the even more occasional lake or reservoir prevents farmland from being used for other things, such as strip malls or apartment complexes. In fact, those minor impediments have never stopped local developers unless city ordinances, state laws, and smacks in the head stop them. I once watched as a large apartment complex was condemned because the developer built right to the edge of a creekbed, and a sudden gullywasher wiped out the foundations on five buildings and the tennis court. This means that odd little spaces perfect for carnivorous plant propagation just aren’t available.

The other big part of the conspiracy lies with the owners. The Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex owes most of its growth, most of its problems, and most of its desirability on being able to expand outward, and only $4 gasoline has made the idea of living a two-hour drive from one’s place of employment unacceptable. During the real estate boom, developers bought every last bit of farmland they could get, with intentions to flip it to anyone actually planning to use it. Some of these developers are hanging on in the hopes that 2006 land prices will return, because Some Guy told them that it would happen any day now. Others were foreclosed upon, and then their banks went under and their assets acquired by other banks that themselves blew up. The same thing happened during the oil bust of the late Eighties and the bank bust of the early Nineties, when the game was “This is Thursday, so our owner is Hibernia Bank”. If the property has a sign on it, you have a 50/50 chance of the contact name and phone number being four years obsolete, with the realtor returned to a more suitable career in child pornography or regional magazine journalism, and a lot of good lots had the big wooden signs chainsawed down three years ago. They might come back onto the market before 2020, and the Dallas Cowboys might win a shutout World Series pennant this year, too.

This is why I feel particular jealous rage toward the Idiot Gardener, who apparently found his perfect locale. I’m certain that the Czarina can sympathize with his wife: we regularly drive past a failed experiment with Home Depot for a landscape supply outlet, already set up as a full greenhouse, and she has to listen to me whimper about how all I need to do is sell body parts to take over the space. Telling her “I didn’t say they had to be my body parts” doesn’t help, either.

And so the search continues. Licensing and financing issues are entertaining enough, but then we get into the discussions of renting said land versus buying it. Now that’s one route I won’t take unless I can’t help it, as a particular favorite nursery of mine shut down in 2000 when the property owner decided to sell the space and gave the nursery 30 days’ notice. (I’ll note that the property is still up for sale and still empty, as the price quoted by Some Guy as its value isn’t close to a reasonable price.) One thing is absolutely certain, though. If anyone had told me a decade ago that I’d be researching farmland prices and checking for spring flooding, I’d have called that person a loony. Today, I’d hand that person a spare smartphone and said “Call this realtor and see if anyone’s made an offer on that corner lot.”