Tradition is the deepest foothold of roots, the fragile often understated and overlooked fibrous roots that hold the whole system together. Long after the details of why are gone, generation after generation traditions are lovingly repeated, with all the warmth and want tied to their primal familiarity. Fraught with magic, they recreate over and over a connection with our ancestry down to details we only know in our genetic subconscious after time has long since faded them away.
Some traditions, such as the holidays, are broad and common with their only differences being those little idiosyncrasies that make them unique to individual families. Other traditions lean more toward the obscure and regional, shared by entire populations of small areas or towns. Those are the traditions built on the past necessities made archaic by modern advancements, turned from chore to festivity.
Examples of the later in Oklahoma are the annual rattlesnake hunts held across the state. They are a holdover from the harsher territorial times when snake hunts were imperative to the safety of both humans and livestock. To this day many are held across the state and over the years have become one of my favorite spring traditions. Perhaps because of the beautiful open high plains western landscape, or perhaps because Waynoka must be one of the friendliest places in Oklahoma, my personal favorite I’ve attended thus far is the Waynoka snake hunt.
Every year the hunt begins the weekend after Easter with a breakfast put on by the Waynoka Saddle Club and a pit is set up in the Den of Death to hold and display the live captured snakes throughout the weekend. A county fair atmosphere with a wild reptilian twist, festivities carry on over the course of a few days until the snakes are measured and weighed on Sunday, with prizes going to the longest, heaviest and the one with the longest rattle. The more impressive snakes are auctioned off and of course snakes are butchered for their meat, which I had always been told was amazing and had never gotten round to trying. This year though the lure of the smoker out back of the Den of Death was too much and was a welcome break from the humid hanging heat inside where the crowd oh’ed and aw’ed the size of the year’s snakes.
I can now count trying rattlesnake off my bucket list (yes, it was on there) and tell you definitively that it is indeed damn good meat. Tender and juicy, with very little gaminess, it flakes reminiscent of fish but in long sinewy strips and officially holds ranking on my list of favorite meats. I was warned that fried it is a whole other texture and not nearly as good, however not having tried it, I couldn’t tell you firsthand. As we stepped back inside, it struck me that a large pit of snakes should seem unnerving, but is not in spite of the ominous den of death name. Granted I personally grew up playing in the woods and thus never developed a real fear of snakes, but for anyone to see so many at once and marvel at their varied sizes and gorgeous patterns and even being charmed by the unique personalities of certain snakes, it is hard not to leave with a peculiar admiration and respect for them in lieu of blind primitive fear.
The excitement of the snake hunt weekend is further fueled by being paired with events in neighboring Little Sahara State Park, about 1500 acres of the sand dune remnants of a prehistoric riverbed and one of Oklahoma’s geographical oddities. The ruckus sound of atv’s and dirt bikes running in and out of town from the dunes overlapped with the clamor of the crowds watching the live bands in front of the Den of Death and enjoying the small midway set up around the town square filled the air, and I had to wonder what settlers a century ago would think of this festival. What would they say to the mini-desert they no doubt considered useless barren land being a modern day playground for vehicles designed with fun in mind rather than work? Would they have ever believed that the dangerous task of hunting out the venomous pests of their day would become a blithesome competition every year?