Tag Archives: Czarina

Personal interlude: the Czarina’s first encounter

Deep Ellum on a Saturday night

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

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

Tales From The Ranch: May 2013

Lookout Point

When most couples finally get a spare weekend free, they have all sorts of options. They could decide to spend more time with their kids, roughly about the time the kids are finishing up college and asking their parents “Mind if I move me and my English Lit degree back to my old room while I try to get a job with the local Borders store?” Others, with much younger children, have a relaxing time, hoping that nobody notices the recent Google searches on their computers for “recipes for laudanum”. In our case, our only children either mew or capture wayward insects, so holiday weekends belong to the Czarina’s family. Yep, it’s time for a new assemblage of “Tales From The Ranch” photos, including even more natural history and Texas history than before.

Quarry Face

Those stories are due over the next few weeks, but let’s start with the biggest news. The Czarina made a really impressive fossil discovery while we were wandering along the bottom of what was a limestone quarry in the mid-Seventies. As is her wont, she looked down, chirped “I wonder what that is?”, and promptly started attacking it with sharp implements. Fond memories of our wedding night. A few minutes of chipping through limestone shards and thick mud revealed this little surprise:

Calvinosaurus egg

Okay, we know that the stone of the quarry itself dates to the Pennsylvanian subperiod, but with various workings from the Mesozoic and Cenozoic. There’s always the possibility as well that this may have been introduced by Palaeoindians from another location and left in what is now the quarry. When we excavated it, I wasn’t going to get overly excited until we had the chance to look at the other side and view any markings on a surface that hadn’t seen sunlight in over a quarter-billion years.

Calvinosaurus egg 2

The markings confirm it: it’s a Calvinosaurus egg, and it’s probably still viable. Just wait until the guys at the Arlington Archosaur Site get a look at this! Better yet, is there any chance of officially describing Calvinosaurus czarina before it goes on a madcap rampage through downtown Dallas?

Texas: The Original Deathworld

My friend Dave Hutchinson in the UK and I have an ongoing challenge. He asks me for reasons why he should come to Texas for a visit, and I immediately respond with the most horrifying thing I can find. Giant spiders, baby birds that eat other baby birds, photos of my state legislators. He then screams like a wounded rabbit, tells me that Texas is nothing but a nightmare manufactured in a factory run by asylum inmates and powered with psilocybin mushrooms, and I show him something even worse. I then inform him “the inmates went catatonic ten years ago, and so now the whole place runs off ketamine fumes.” Trust me: he’s not hiding behind his sofa just because of the Daleks.

On easygoing days, I just tell Dave about mesquite thorns and the time an armadillo jumped up and nearly knocked out my front teeth. Other days, I describe the joys of second-degree sunburn and fire ant stings. A few asides about watching cicada killer wasps collecting fresh hosts for their young, and he’s glibbering and meeping. It’s on special days, though, that I tell him about the weather. He knows the normal progression of Texas summer from “hot” to “my eyeballs are melting” to “my guts are steam-broiling just looking at the thermometer”, but he doesn’t believe me about the torrential thunderstorms we get.

Not that I blame him for the concern. When the forecast in the UK is for torrential rain, that presupposes all of two inches over the space of, oh, a couple of days. In severe storms, that two inches may come down in the space of hours. When I told him about how an average storm in Dallas might give us two inches of rain within about twenty minutes, there we went underneath the couch again. Were I closer, his left leg would be a full six inches longer than his right, just from my grabbing him by the ankle and pulling him out from underneath the couch to show him the baseball-sized hail we occasionally get. He still doesn’t believe my story about how I got the Harry Potter scar on my forehead from a full sheet of plywood caught in the winds of a dust storm thirty years ago.

“Dust storm?”, he’d squeak. “What were you doing: riding sandworms or something?”

“Nope: feeding pigs. Same thing around here, really.”

Baaaaaaaack under the sofa. I think the Daleks are under there, too.

What’s really sad about this is that I used to get the Czarina into the same state. After a decade of threatening to adopt crocodile monitors and having to explain to her mother the other meaning of the term “fluffer”, nothing fazes her any more. Nothing. I’ve tried to get a response out of the Elbows of Doom, but anything that might get them to slide of their sheathes and drool venom on the floor is something that’s already so dangerous and insane that the Elbows might be a blessing. We’re talking “going to a science fiction convention and telling everyone around that Firefly has to be one of the worst genre television shows made this side of Lexx” dangerous. I’ve tried that, too, and she just pats me on the head.

I know this won’t last, though. The moment I start insulting Project Runway, I’m doomed.

Well, that’s what I thought. And then Dallas caught the tail-end of the second big storm front of the week. Based understandably on events in Oklahoma the day before, we were all bracing for the worst, or at least a repeat of March 2012’s tornado nightmare. This time, no tornado, no hail, no boom. No boom tomorrow, either. Instead, we got blinding rain, the sort where you have to hold your hand over your mouth when moving in it to keep from suffocating. Naturally, it’s during the height of it that the Czarina calls up to ask if I need a ride home from the Day Job.

“Not at all. In fact, I’m planning to bicycle home.”

“Okay, whatever you say. No starlets, now.”

Dave couldn’t believe this. He simply refused to accept that I’d be crazy enough to do this. That’s when I upped the ante and told him “I just bet her $5 that I could make it home without being hit by lightning. $10 if I held a golf club over my head the whole way.”

“$10? You value your life so little that you’d do something like that for $10?”

“Well, if I bet anything more than that, she’d figure I was cheating. If I get hit by lightning, she inherits everything, and she knows I’m worth a total of $11.32, if she wants to take the time to cash in those deposit Dr. Pepper bottles.”

“That’s horrible!”

“Absolutely. If she hangs onto the Dr. Pepper bottles for another 30 years, they may be worth more as collectibles than for their deposit.”

And there goes Dave back under the couch, and he’s got the Cybermen and Sontarans under there with him. Should I tell him about our hailstorms, or just invite him out in September to see one for himself? And should I cover the floor with blankets so he doesn’t stain the carpet under our couch?

It Came From The NARBC: Varanus salvadorii

One of the things that keeps my marriage to the Czarina so fresh and exciting is that she doesn’t know what will happen next. I’m literal in this: she doesn’t know, and she’s usually scared to death to find out. Take a look at this situation: she leaves me to my own devices on a Saturday morning, and I make a beeline for the big NARBC Arlington reptile show. As soon as I get there, I run into old friends who came out to observe the wildlife (reptilian and human), and one let me know “By the way, did you know about what’s around the corner?” He points around the corner, and there it is:
Crocodile monitor

Yes, at the show was one of my favorite reptiles: Varanus salvadorii, the crocodile monitor. Even better, for a species notorious for its aggression and savage intelligence, here was one that was pretty much dog-tame. Of course, he’s still small: believe it or not, he’s only about half the size of a fully-grown adult.

Crocodile monitor profile

In previous years, I would have been able to sneak something like this home and surprise the Czarina, probably with it curled up like a big scaly cat at the foot of the bed. However, modern technology has its advantages, so I let her know my plans. Via Facebook, of course, so all of our friends could get a comfy seat and pop an extra-large batch of popcorn. If I played my cards right, people would ask about the blood tornado spotted just east of downtown Dallas.

Crocodile monitor 2

The reason why this beauty was available was that its owner was incredibly fond of him, but an exciting business opportunity required selling him for capital. I understand, and did some calculations. The best thing about having a rainy day fund? It’s raining somewhere.

Big scaly kitten

To make matters better, this gentleman was selling two crocodile monitors, both of which with the same mellow disposition. I immediately had to let the Czarina know: “They’re a breeding pair. We could have HATCHLINGS.” Her immediate response: “NO, WE COULDN’T.” That didn’t stop me: I’d already picked names. “G’Kar” and “Na’Toth” worked, but then a friend suggested that “Paul and Caroline” would work, too. After all, these lizards were just like us: they alternated between cuddling and her demonstrating her superiority by gnawing on his head. (Apparently, crocodile monitors don’t have much in the way of Elbows, so teeth had to do.)

Crocodile monitor pair

Now, this big one was friendly, but see the one in the back? I was warned by her owners that this beast had the personality for which crocodile monitors are known throughout the world. That look says “Oh, I’m going to kill you, Sheriff, but I’m gonna kill you slow.”

Crocodile monitor portrait
The worst part is that I can’t understand why the Czarina has such an issue with keeping one in the house. All she did was yell and froth about “the damn lizard will eat the cats”. I really don’t understand. How could she possibly say “no” to such a cute widdle face?

Yet more “I Would If I Could” moments

The mantra “If I could be in sixteen places at once” becomes particularly forceful these days. Well, I wouldn’t say “forceful” so much as “whiny”. At this point, the Czarina no longer tries to wake me up when I start crying bitterly in my sleep. Instead, she just acts the way she does when she dreams that I’ve done something wrong: one punch to the throat, and the sounds of my choking on my own blood eases her back to slumber. These days, she gets so much practice that she could take down Mike Tyson with one shot.

The reason why I’m whimpering and sobbing when I should be dreaming of repotting Sarracenia? Let me count the ways. Among other things, discovering that the Australasian Carnivorous Plant Society is hosting a carnivorous plant show at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden in Mount Tomah, New South Wales next month…yeah, I heard that catch in your throat.

Oh, but it gets even worse. I’ve wanted to hit the Philadelphia Flower Show for a while, and discovering that it’s running on the same two weekends as the ACPS show is rough enough. Discovering that it’s paying tribute to the centenary of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show by going with a British theme is worse. Of course, being the wiseacre that I am, I’m wondering how far they’re going to go with the theme, or if some enterprising individual starts offering distinctive potting sheds for sale.

Ah well: at least I won’t be there, blatantly plagiarizing valid commentary on British gardening television. We should all be thankful for small miracles.

I’m living in my own private Tanelorn

I’m starting to worry about the Czarina. Something’s wrong with her. For the last few days, she’s been oddly…agreeable. Since I, like Bill Cosby’s kids, cannot sleep through the night unless I’ve had a good beating, a few suggestions on garden ornamentation are usually enough to guarantee that I’m completely unconscious for twelve hours or more at a time. That could be the concussion talking, too, but I like to think it’s because I made particularly good suggestions.

However, I guess the dent in the top of my head left by her sharp elbows has made her remarkably sympathetic. Either that, or she’s worried that the top of my skull can double as a guacamole bowl, and she hates guacamole. (Hey, she puts up with my multiple foibles, including that horrible deformed tumor atop my neck, so I give her no grief about her one flaw.) The first sign was that she revoked a longrunning ban on new citrus. For years, she insisted that I was only allowed two citrus trees for my own personal use. If I felt so inclined to sell them, she stated, she was fine, but if they were staying, TWO. Only TWO. I kept that promise, sticking to a Rio Star ruby red grapefruit I grew from seed and a Buddha’s Hand citron. Now, though, she comes to me unbidden and asks “How hard would it be to raise a Mexican lime tree so we can make Key lime pie?”

You know, some guys would take horrible advantage of their wives being in such a flexible state, and she regularly thanks Crom, Issek, and Nyarlathotep that I have no interest in football or other pro sports. Instead, I brought her out to the local garden center and picked out a beautiful little Mexican lime tree of her very own, and a new “Pink Lemonade” blueberry bush to replace the one the drought took out last summer for myself. I wasn’t worried about her, but I was concerned.

Now, though, I’m worried. Under most circumstances, any suggestion of outre front yard ornamentation would bring on her impersonations of Tomoe Gozen. However, I showed her a lovely photo archive of the lawn dinosaur Dug the T-Rex, and she actually asked “Is this something you’re wanting to do for the front yard?”

Yes, I’m taking her to the doctor. That’s after I cover the entire back yard with greenhouse polycarbonate and turn it into a Nepenthes nursery. When will an opportunity like this come again?

A decade later, under the sea turtle

At the time, the end of 2002 wasn’t ending so well. The job that moved me to Tallahassee just ended without warning, with my getting word literally a half-hour after buying the plane tickets to come back to Dallas for Christmas. Considering the condition of the economy at the time, finding something new wasn’t all that great a prospect. That didn’t prevent the Czarina and I from getting married shortly after I got back, at the old Dallas Museum of Natural History.

Married under the Christmas Origami tree

We knew that the future could be a bit rough, but our biggest debate at the time concerned the actual location. The crew at the museum gave us an incredible rate for leasing the upper floor, and all we had to do was decide on exactly where. The museum featured a temporary display of a cast of an Acrocanthosaurus atokensis, a big predatory dinosaur native to the area, as well as permanent mounts of a Columbian mammoth, a large mosasaur collected from the shore of Lake Heath, a giant sea turtle named Protostega, and a Tenontosaurus, at the time the first Texas dinosaur ever on permanent display in a Texas museum. She vetoed saying our vows underneath the Acrocanthosaurus, as she felt that doing so underneath a giant carnivorous reptile might set a bad precedent for the subsequent marriage. We settled on her first choice, and had a quick but thorough ceremony underneath the Protostega. For the next decade, every time we went to Fair Park, we’d drag people out to the Museum, and show them the exact spot.


To this day, I still give her gentle grief about not going for a more, erm, lively representative of our relationship, as the Acrocanthosaurus cast went back to its owner shortly after the wedding. Be that as it may, we wouldn’t change anything else.

Front of the Protostega

As mentioned earlier this year, the old Dallas Museum of Natural History merged with the next-door hands-on science museum The Science Place to become the Museum of Nature & Science, and the old composite museum was evacuated for the new Perot Museum of Nature & Science in downtown Dallas. When the new museum opened this month, we both made plans to spend our tenth anniversary underneath the relocated Protostega.

Top of the Protostega

The Czarina and the Lake Heath mosasaur

The Czarina at the Perot Museum

Ten years later

And there we are, a full decade later. I need a bit less peroxide to even out the white hair than I did then, and she’s lost quite a bit of weight since then, but we’re still together and still happy doing so. The only reason why we haven’t booked our twentieth anniversary festivities at the Perot is because we can’t purchase tickets that far in advance. As soon as we can, though, everyone is invited.