Apr 28, 2012

A hunting buddy's wife is adamant about choosing his clothes when they prepare to leave the house for dinner, a party, a movie or church on Sunday morning.

They've been married 30 years, he's 10 years older, has a decent eye toward fashion and color selection (he's above average at matching colors, compared to the general run of males). Recently, he bemusedly told me his wife's taste in his clothing is nothing to write home about. But he loves her and has acceded to her demands with mild, humor-laced protests.

However, one recent day her carping over his clothing wore thin.

He said when he picks out his own clothes, he almost always receives a baleful stare, accompanied by head shaking and this question: "You're NOT going to wear THAT, are you?"

He said he'd taken years of verbal jabs because of his clothing choices and didn't drop the "N" (nag) word until a recent incident, not because it was inappropriate. It was too tame.

"I don't know if my mistake was in knuckling under to her demands all these years and conditioned her to my good nature," he said. "I grew up in the '60s, so I really didn't think men's fashion was worth fighting over because we all dressed informally back then. But I know the difference in a dinner party and watching a softball game. Maybe I just had enough.

"But I didn't think, in this instance, she'd objected to me wearing my first choice since we were going to a basketball game."

He picked black denim jeans, a long-sleeve red shirt and, he said, a red-and-black tie, his school colors.

The tie nearly cost him his marriage.

"When she saw the tie as we went to the car, she started screaming at me, 'You CAN'T wear THAT! PLEASE TAKE IT OFF!"

He said he looked at her with stunned puzzlement, bowed his neck at her over-the-top reaction and calmly said, to his momentary regret, "No."

"She got in my face while I was driving, screamed, told me my kids thought I was disgusting, I had no friends, no one would come to my funeral, everyone at the ball game would laugh at me, she'd NEVER set foot out of the house with me again, tried to open the door and jump out of the car while I was driving about 50 mph and said she hated me -- over a red-and-black tie," he said. "Other than that, she was pretty calm."

Far be it from me to tell my friend I see a costly stay in a private psychiatric facility for his wife - she shows no signs of insanity when in my presence or when she's with others - or he may need a good divorce lawyer.

So, you wonder, what has this got to do with the outdoors, hunting or fishing (although the episode certainly falls under the heading of "wild life")?

Well, at the risk of making what might be considered an insane analogy, think about the demise of bobwhite quail in North Carolina and across the Southeast.

It's been building for a long time; today we know what one of the major reasons is; yet no one wants to change anything and reverse quail losses. In effect, it's like what Mark Twain said about the weather: "Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it."

According to Mark Jones, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission's former black bear expert but now its private-lands supervising biologist, the reason quail have disappeared is lack of habitat.

"People have guessed it's everything from fire ants to hawks to fescue to foxes, coyotes, possums or snakes," he said. "But clean farming is a major reason."

Across most of the South, farmers who tend land don't like their property to look "messy," which means they don't leave unmowed field edges or corners nor allow fields to grow up in weeds and become what wildlife biologists call "early successional habitat." They do it for style, what the neighbors think.

But that type of habitat - ground cover of cat briars, shrubs, wild cherry and persimmon trees, broom sedge, warm-season grasses, blackberry briars - is perfect for quail, rabbits, other types of small animals, wild turkeys and a variety of songbirds.

However, today most counties require landowners who have decent acreages with at least 20 percent of their property in mature trees to submit a timber-management plan to the county tax office in order to retain agricultural tax designation. That means the property still can be valued for tax purposes from $240 to $300 per acre instead of a residential evaluation ($2500 to $4000 per acre). But that also means eventually clear-cutting sections of timber.

Clear cuts are good for early successional growth, but most times the logging company will reseed in pine, which provides no nutritional value for quail, songbird or any type of game or non-game animal.

"There's also development," Jones said. "A lot of land that once had good quail habitat now is lawns and concrete and highways. The conversion of wild land into neighborhoods, housing developments and shopping centers isn't getting any better."

Pockets of suitable quail lands exist across the state and the Southeast and have the potential to be turned into good bobwhite territory.

The difficulty in solving the problem is "it doesn't look good" to farmers with bush hogs, just like my friend's cravat pushed his wife over the edge into some dark place of potential fashion humiliation she thought could be escaped only with screams and tears. Likewise, most farmers, who'd love to have quail calling around their field edges, would scream and yell like mental patients if someone suggested they put away their mowers.

But they know quail survival depends on them, and it seems a trifle more important than making a fashion statement.

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