Q: Inviting only couples to our dinner parties is wearing thin. How do we break out of it?
A: Steering a plow behind a mule is tough duty. When the share gets tangled in an old stump root, or the mule gets hung up in the traces, you can have a dickens of a time keeping in your furrow. Not to pour too much opprobrium on your supercozy dinner set—or on tilling your fields with a one-furrow mule, if that’s your thing—but why you’d restrict yourself to what I’ll call the Totalitarian State of Coupledom would be the better question. The problem: Inviting couples is safe. A great dinner table wants some form of combustion to achieve liftoff. As the infinitely wise Jane Austen taught us, unless you invite a willful Elizabeth Bennet and an icily proud Fitzwilliam Darcy to the same table, no rockets will fire to move the story forward. There’s a big, wide, entertaining world of tablemates to mix out there without hewing like so many sleepwalkers to the plodding Pippa Middleton “no ring, no bring” guest-list policy. Incidentally, we should all lose the ageism while we’re at it. It’s coming up on the second quarter of the twenty-first century, baby! Ditch the mule! There are better ways to till your social field. Invite dynamos, young, old, or in between, whether or not they have partners. Your coupled-up set will thank you for the fresh breeze those guests bring. The hope is that your trusted circle will see the light and put their own mules out to pasture.
Q: I notice you sometimes cover Oklahoma, but isn’t it considered the West, not the South?
A: Both, actually. Oklahoma looks to the West, since its role in the gold and land rushes of the nineteenth century shaped it. But the state has a strong umbilical connection to the South in that thousands of today’s four million Oklahomans descend from the aboriginal Alabamians, Tennesseans, Mississippians, Georgians, Carolinians, and Floridians who President Andrew Jackson drove from their ancestral lands. Jackson’s notion was a land exchange with what were condescendingly called the Five Civilized Tribes—the Creek, Choctaw, Cherokee, Seminole, and Chickasaw people. Jackson’s motive was to clear the fertile South for its money crops, as farmed by settler-planters such as he of the Hermitage. Sharp-shinned Andy’s deal by decree, the Indian Removal Act, resulted in deadly forced marches through the 1830s to what would become Oklahoma. Many thousands of the deal’s unwilling recipients, however, died en route, causing one poetically gifted Choctaw chief to immortalize the operation as a ‘‘trail of tears.’’ So, in this season of celebrating Thanksgiving for the harvest and the fragile peace between New England colonists and Native Americans in October 1621, it’s useful to recall what happened two hundred years on, via Oklahoma’s bloody link to the South. There are a lot of Southerners in the state’s historical DNA. None of them wanted to be there.
Q: How should you walk when nearing a quail covey?
A: If there is a posture in hunting that approaches a sum of all athletics, walking-up quail is it. Let’s remember that all movement on a hunter’s part begins with the prey’s biology: In quail, you’re dealing with an explosive athlete whose burst from cover would be breathtaking even if you weren’t trying to match it with shot. That quail break in coveys adds to the bewilderment, which is a roundabout way of saying that any number of little fighter jets can blitz out from under you on approach. Since quail prefer not to tell you when you are “on approach,” your job is to assume a lurching, side-winding drag while simultaneously engaging your finest yogic flexibility, meaning, a readiness to plant and swing at any angle to your body that the break from the covert requires. It’s a little like how a knuckle-dragging Russian Olympic athlete banned for steroid abuse, or a Frankenstein, might walk, combined with a ballet dancer’s fluid step. While holding your fowling piece at the ready, get me? Come to think of it, like golf,
walking-up quail could actually be impossible, which might explain why we love it.
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