Scholar, Gentleman, Snake Hunter: On Containing Multitudes

When cowboy memorials and Walt Whitman combine.

This last December I was visiting family in Texas for the holidays. On a slow day a bit after Christmas I decided to visit the Ranching Heritage Center, which is a pretty cool place. My boyfriend and I had both visited the Center when we were younger but neither of us had been back in years, and it was something that had been on my “When in Lubbock” list for quite some time.

While we enjoyed wandering the grounds and looking at old log cabins and trains and stage coaches, my favorite part of the whole center was this plaque:

William H. Wittenburg. Rancher. Gentleman. Scholar. Snake Hunter.

I pointed it out to Cade immediately after finding it, and we laughed and took pictures and expressed our amazement that we came from a place that also produced Gentleman Snake Hunters. I mean, really, what kind of character do you have to be to earn this memorial?

But that was in December and now it’s April and I’m still thinking about that plaque. This is partly because it’s a little bit ridiculous and I have a soft spot for the absurd, but I also think my fascination goes deeper. I’m really drawn to the contradictions in these titles. Rancher AND Scholar? Gentleman AND Snake Hunter? I mean, geez, William H. Wittenburg. That’s a lot of identities for any single person to carry.

And there we go. That’s it, that’s the fascination. Identity or, really, identities, a whole surplus of them. How did our friend Mr. Wittenburg manage all of his? And how many do I have? Do I manage them that well? Am I brave enough to be a Gentle(wo)man AND a Scholar AND a Snake Hunter?

Well, honestly, up until very recently I don’t think I was. I mean, I carry quite a few identities too. We all do. I’m daughter and sister and friend, of course, but I am also a student and a writer and a coffee enthusiast. Those are all identities I’m pretty comfortable with, that I share with lots of people. But there are some other identities and interests that I’ve kept a little quieter. My Christianity, to name a serious one, but also my love of interior design and fashion and my interest in bad tattoo-themed reality shows. And to some point I think this is natural. Of course it’s not reasonable to go around and share all those interests and identities with every person I meet. That would be exhausting, and take a lot of time, and bore the heck out of a lot of people.

But somewhere along the line this natural and sensible sense of privacy got a little twisted up. I started to feel a little bit silly about some of my interests and to push those deeper into myself. This blog is a good example of that phenomenon, actually. When I first started it a few months ago I was pretty strict with myself. Posts about writing and the writing life and reading and literature and just generally serious things, I said. Nothing about thrift store outings, or binge watching all of Ink Masters, or struggles with house plants.

Well, I’m a little bit tired of that mentality, in my blog and my writing but also in my life. Why not be all of the things I am? Why not loosen up, embrace all those multitudes, chase all the interests, regardless of how serious or silly or just plain random they may seem?

Moral of the story: You don’t have to stop being a scholar or a gentleman or anything else to be a snake hunter if you want to be a snake hunter. Hunt those snakes all day long. Knock yourself out.


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