Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Rattlesnake Tequila

I had intended to publish this post months ago, and when that didn't happen, I figured I would include it in a year end wrap-up.  Sadly, the year didn't deserve additional acknowledgement, so here I am, publishing this post months after the fact.  The subject of this entry is, more or less, 8 Mile Bench and men who occasionally inhabit it.  Located 33 miles from Big Sandy as the crow flies and about 50 miles by road, the bench sits high above the Missouri river.

Looking North

Looking South

The men of the bench come here every fall--a ritualistic road trip.  But there is only one road in, and there is no way out.  As members of the 50 to death demographic, they spend their time here as if they have nothing to lose and little to gain.

Bench Men

Many years ago, I came of age here in this treeless wilderness that is NorthCentral Montana, and I participated in a ritual that many young men endured.  It involved holding a live rattlesnake in one hand, and drinking a shot of tequila with the other.  After the shot glass was empty, you then “milked” the snake into the glass.   It involved 4 other guys, 1  bottle Jose Cuervo, and 1 angry rattlesnake.  Snake was carefully passed from one to another for their turn until the bottle was gone.  It was exhilarating.  It was dangerous.  It was terrifying.   It wasn’t very smart.  Every time my turn came around it was a new adventure, a new danger.  The person whose shot finished the bottle won, the person next in line lost, and he was charged with getting rid of the snake.  At the time, and even now, I suppose, it seemed important to our development as men.  To do things filled with uncertainty and danger is, according to Voltaire, what makes us men.

That was long ago, of course, but in the many years since that day, I have done other things that are, in some ways, comparable.  One of those things is my annual trek to 8 mile bench to visit the BenchMen.  I am fortunate to be invited, but I am not one of them--I am not an animal.  They are an unpredictable and volatile bunch, and every year I feel lucky to have made it out alive.

On the surface, they are a hunting party.  But they are much more than that.  One year, they wore only loin cloths until they successfully killed enough animals to clothe themselves.  Another year, they ate only what they killed, and squab didn't count.  Recently, they did not hunt at all, but instead played high stakes Bocce Ball up and down the Missouri River breaks.

Zafis & Moes, The Early Years

They are, metaphorically, snake handlers.  Fearless and brave, or collectively occluded with biofilm?  I don't know. I don't want to know.  Just because the cat had kittens in the oven doesn't make 'em biscuits.