Did you know the Mayflower, not only transported my ancestors across the Atlantic in 1620, but landed at Plymouth Rock because, the crew feared, the Pilgrims were going through the beer too quickly?
According to Kate Julian, the ship was headed for the mouth of the Hudson River, until the beer ran low and the sailors panicked at the possibility of running out before they got home, and threatened mutiny.
So those feisty ancestors of mine were kicked ashore, short of their intended destination, and notably dry.
I have a feeling many of us are feeling some of the same threats and anxieties as those early settlers. Okay, not exactly the same, but distressing nonetheless.
Interestingly, the acting governor of Plymouth, William Bradford, complained bitterly about the lack of alcohol in his journal, which says a lot, considering only half the pilgrims survived the winter.
Before long, they were making their own beer, and importing wine and liquor like nobody’s business. My ancestors were an innovative bunch.
The CAPA held a virtual press event recently to acknowledge California Governor Gavin Newsom’s failure to make public health and safety essential by instead making alcohol essential in the state during the COVID19 pandemic.
Bradford and Newsom appear to be aligned on some things.
It was discovered that many of the early settlers died from a bacteria called leptospira, spread by rat urine of all things. They would drop dead while working the fields or raising a house. The pilgrims would bury the bodies at night in unmarked graves because they didn’t want the local tribes to know how weak they were becoming.
Crazy times, no masks, no vaccines, and almost no understanding of basic sanitation. Poor bastards.
Honestly, my very existence is a frickin miracle.
We’re in a similar boat today if you will, we’ve spent a year in isolation, with dwindling supplies of toilet paper and disinfectant, experimenting with home-brewed beer, trying to survive a deadly virus, and figure out how to reconstruct our society remotely.
These stresses have taken a collective toll on our emotional stability, not to mention the political upheaval that has scorched us as a country, and the personal trauma most of us have experienced trying to maneuver in this storm.
Unprecedented tensions have driven up our alcohol consumption like no other time in the history of America.
What has changed radically is the way in which we drink.
We’re drinking alone, in isolation, or on Zoom calls, which is not only a recipe for overindulging, but worse, it appears this type of drinking only serves to increase our anxiety and depression instead of reducing our maladies.
Although both men and women consume alcohol to cope with stress it appears women are more likely to use alcohol to numb their feelings, quell the anxieties associated with modern society, and the loss of social and family cohesion of previous generations notes Kate Julian.
Normally people drink socially which releases endorphins, decreases social anxiety, and acts as a communal unguent, in which people laugh more, make unexpected connections, experience flexibility of thought, even our creativity increases.
It’s called fun.
A little wine is good, too much has the opposite effect, and all goes to hell and a handbag rather quickly.
But we have to acknowledge the elephant in the room, why do we drink in the first place, considering the devastating effects of alcohol abuse on our bodies, our livers, our brains?
In terms of evolution, why in the hell do we like alcohol so much?
In a recent article by Kate Julian I learned that in the evolutionary hunger games, the drunk apes beat the sober ones.
Julian says a mutation occurred about 10 million years ago, around the time of a major climate disruption which transformed the landscape of eastern Africa, leading to widespread extinction. In the scramble for food, our predecessors resorted to eating fermented fruit off the rain-forest floor. The animals that liked the smell and taste of alcohol, and who were good at metabolizing it, were rewarded with calories and survival.
It appears potent enzymes are the secret to our survival.
So we have climate change and resourceful apes to thank for our modern-day obsession.
Consider Jesus’ first miracle, changing water to wine at a community event, a wedding, where the celebrations could traditionally last for days. It makes sense not only the importance of this miracle, but how the marriage of religion and wine was put into place over 2000 years ago, and the important role it plays in our most profound sacramental practices.
Historically, the benefits of alcohol and religion for bringing communities together, encouraging cooperation, and developing strong relationships is almost impossible to tease apart. Both have advantages and disadvantages to developing and sustaining strong societies and what’s most surprising is understanding which came first?
The priest or the pour.
At the end of his life Jesus took the two most basic elements of fellowship and rapport, bread and wine, he blessed them, and shared them with the people gathered around his Passover Table.
Communion remains tethered to the creation of a strong and harmonious community, one that encourages the care, and nurturing of others.
Jesus was clearly on to something.
Over the last year, when church attendance was severely restricted, we improvised, and created new rituals around the eating, drinking, and caring for one another, befitting the rigors of our time.
“No one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will make the skins burst, and both the wine and the skins will be ruined. Instead, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.” Mark 2:22
We’re cooking more, consuming copious amounts of wine, playing traditional board games with our families, not to mention Netflix and chill. There’s a lot of positives embedded in this crazy predicament along with some dour consequences.
When our local watering holes closed down, all of a sudden you could pick up margaritas to go at Una Mas, and wine taste while shopping at Safeway. People now drink at salons, movie theaters, and coffee shops and it appears some of these changes will be permanent.
Does it make you wonder about the adaptions we are currently making due to climate change and modern day deprivations?
Perhaps our survival will depend on our ability to continue innovating, which happens to be enhanced by alcohol, and camaraderie.
Maybe space travel becomes available to the common man (used inclusively), who knows where we’ll land, or who will be Governor?
In 2012, Edward Slingerland published a book called Drunk in which he says, “I started to think, alcohol is really this very useful cultural tool.” He praises it as a social lubricant and its creativity-enhancing aspects play a real role in human society and its formation. He does not overlook the dark side of alcohol consumption but he also acknowledges its prominence in the formation of society.
So after a year of social isolation, Slingerland writes, “we get drunk because we are a weird species, the awkward losers of the animal world, and we need all of the help we can get.”
So as luck would have it, some of my modern-day relatives, also ancestors from the Mayflower, are coming to Lake County in a few days! We’re gathering at the lake house, and yes, we’ll be celebrating with spirits, food, and good cheer. All in moderation mind you, but as we emerge from isolation, creative meals, sipping wine in the company of those we love, and maybe a competitive game of Cornhole seem like viable consequences of a worldwide pandemic.
I’m Living in the Gap, thanking my ancient ancestors for those potent enzymes, and the mysteries of evolution.
- “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Benjamin Franklin
- “Writer’s block is a fancy term made up by whiners so they can have an excuse to drink alcohol.” Steve Martin
- “For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity or perception to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication.” Friedrich Nietzsche
- “It was my Uncle George who discovered alcohol was a food well in advance of modern medical thought.” P.G. Wodehouse