Some short time ago, I became interested in gins. Not just interested, but fascinated. I am not a tippler. I barely drink. A bottle of Plymouth gin I have is still more than half full and it is more than eight years old.
Gin, and gin and tonics, are nothing new to me. My Aunt Esther and Uncle Dave used to give them to me when I was four. Maybe even younger than that. But I could go years without one. I liked them, but no big deal.
But now I became preoccupied with gin. The differences in tastes, textures, bouquets. And, so I, with my friend Craig, looked for a place that had gins to taste and came up woefully short.
One place I called used to be a favorite more than a year ago. It was one of the last places I took my wife to eat before she died, before she was no longer able to leave the house, before hospice, before her death. Even toward the end, hard as it was for her to be out, to enjoy her days, they had great patience for her, for her needs, and for mine. I called with trepidation, but Matt’s Casbah, I thought, was a good bet for gin and, I had hoped, I could reclaim this place as a favorite happy haunt instead of only associating it with radiation therapy.
No, they did not have any different gins, the manager, Justin, told me. But rarely had he heard of anyone else interested in gin, and he happened to have a bottle of Smalls, a “boutique” distillery that produced, what he felt was a superior and different gin. And he remembered me, and my Lee, and asked if I would come in to have a drink with him, on the house.
I was delighted. Elated, really, and I did go there, to have a drink with Justin. I took Craig with me and we sat, happy, sharing a bottle of small-batch gin, fragrant, strong, viscous, with Justin. With our first sip, we toasted Lee. It was a small thing, but a great kindness, and it allowed me to reclaim something I had lost, and in that, I knew I could reclaim other places, other things, I had lost. Other things associated with pain could be brought back to joy.
Some days later, Jazmin handed me a National Geographic. In it was an article about dying languages she knew I would be interested in. It discussed languages and how they formed, and were formed by, a culture’s way of thinking. In one section it discussed Kazakhstan, and the word for juniper, which, of course, is the main flavoring for gin, coming from the word genièvre, French for juniper. It stated that the Kazahks burned juniper berries to allow those who have passed to move on, and those who were still alive, to live on. It cleared the souls who lingered for the rest of their journey. Kazakhstan is the part of the world from which Lee, the doctor, the shaman, and her family comes and she but one generation removed.
And here I was, at the one year anniversary of my wife’s passing, fascinated, preoccupied, with gin, with genièvre, with juniper as distilled in spirits.
When the soul reaches, listen and lend it your hands. And gin is what I was reaching for.
Since then, I have tried many gins. Many awful, many wonderful. I found a bar in San Diego while there for a book signing that had over forty gins, Aero Club, and the barmistress set me up with a tasting. I described what I liked, and she set it up. All for a Jackson and a tip. Junipero, one of the first small distillery gins, made by Anchor Steam, the first microbrewery to make it big. Farmers Botanical Organic Gin. Smalls. Hendricks, well-known but under-appreciated. Others. Many wonderful. All different.
I feel much better. And, I know, so does she.
Have a Shamanic Gin and Tonic
When a friend or loved one’s passed
(we know the body doesn’t last),
but the spirit’s not moved on
of those whose time has come and gone,
or those alive are still bereft
over one who long has left,
there is a cure one can employ,
a special drink one can enjoy,
to clear the space and tears away
and free a soul who mustn’t stay.
Have a shamanic gin and tonic
served tall in a glass that’s cold and conic,
prepared by a shaman with a twist of citrus:
cinchona bark and a gin that’s viscous,
and cubes of stone that fizz when you drop ’em
(better than pills that appall when you pop ’em,
or capsules or tinctures or some New Age option
is tonic and gin, the shamanic concoction)
or cubes of ice—they’re even freezier
(they dissolve in the drink, and that is much easier).
Then sniff the bouquet of the herbs and the roots
or the leaves or the stems or the barks or the fruits
or the spirits of plants that the gin spirit suits!
Have one or two
with a friend or a few,
and beat a skin drum
or rattle bones some—
then slip with a buzz down a hole or a drain
to discover your lack or the source of your pain
or maybe the unattached bits of your soul
that keep you from feeling as though you are whole
that fled long ago and now can be found
safe in the keeping of leopard or hound
or in a small cave or hole in a tree,
and finding them now, you set yourself free.
Then bring them back home as you drum with your drink
(it’s really quite easy, just try not to think)
with the cubes made of stone
as you journey alone
in the land underground (or is it within?)
assisted most ably by tonic and gin.
And what herbs or roots or fruits should we add
that would be good—or by virtue of excess or vacuity of some constituent or actions or combinations thereof—would be bad?
Cucumber’s a wonder in high summer heat
but in juniper, gin should be more than replete,
and filled with the spirits that cleanse and abide
for clearing the home (or office or what-have-you) and sending them outside,
so inside and happy now people can live
without items disappearing or dishes crashing or things going bump in the night, and they can be happy and productive and get a good night’s sleep without antidepressants or therapy or a sedative.
So toast those now gone, or gone but still here,
and raise them a glass in celebration and cheer!
And don’t take to drugs or psychiatry or colonics—
just drink some shamanic ice-cold gin and tonics.