With Halloween slipping by so quietly, followed by All Saints’ Day and then All Souls’ Day, I realized it had been a while since I drafted a Drinking with the Saints post. So, with tongue in cheek and virtual pen in hand, here I go . . . .
November 3rd is the feast day for Hubert, a Frankish nobleman who was one heck of a hunter. In fact, he would eschew Sunday mass for the quiet excitement of the woods as often as he could. After all, who doesn’t prefer to frolic in the forest, choosing the tastiest deer for your own dinner, without the presence of your pesky fellow parishoners? Not a bad strategy, methinks, but apparently the Lord did not approve.
One particularly delightful day, Hubert dashed off, accompanied only by his bow and arrow. As he had hoped, Hubert encountered a magnificent stag and set out to capture him. A rollicking chase ensued, during which Hubert reveled in his good hunting fortune. Suddenly the stag stopped in its tracks and quickly turned to face Hubert. There, between the stag’s antlers, was a white cross, shining like a beacon! And then the stag spoke to him: “Hubert, unless thou turnest to the Lord and leadest a holy life, thou shalt quickly go down to Hell.” I personally think it was more along the lines of, “Dude, Sundays are the only peaceful times we forest creatures have, when all you village idiots are at mass. Once a week we don’t have to worry about being tracked and shot, or worse. Oh yeah, forgot to mention that the Big Guy upstairs isn’t too happy with you for skipping out on the weekly shin-dig. Get your sh*t straight.”
As any obedient Christian would, Hubert immediately dropped to the ground, begged for forgiveness, and pledged himself to the Lord. Eventually he became the Bishop of Maastricht, in the Netherlands. To this day he is considered the patron saint of hunters, archers, mathematicians, and opticians. (Hunters and archers, yeah, I get it; the others, not so much.) What I find kind of funny is that he is also credited with creating “ethical hunting culture,” in which respect for the animals is paramount. Back in the 7th century, when Hubert was alive, that probably meant something: people needed to hunt to survive, and they used every part of the animal. But today? Organized hunts are hardly driven by the survival instinct. Some arise out of the need to control the populations of specific species, but others call to mind social traditions that are more Downton Abbey than Saint Hubert.
Don’t get me wrong, I buy meat, I eat it, and I enjoy it. And I am well aware of the hypocrisy inherent in some of my choices, especially as I worry about sustainable agriculture, climate change, and animal cruelty. But there’s just something strange to me about walking up to the butcher counter at Whole Foods and seeing the labels on the meat: enhanced outdoor access; enriched environment; entire life on same farm. I mean, come on, we’re worried about the quality of life of these creatures, but we’re going to eat them anyway? Have we perhaps gotten a bit carried away? Sometimes it seems that we have so many food choices that we don’t really think about any of them. We want to care about the Big Issues in life while ignoring the small choices we make every day that belie them. I’m not making a judgment or slinging arrows at anyone, I just think we should be more honest with ourselves.
Let’s Raise Our Glasses
Wow, there are so many options that come to mind! And Mr. Foley’s book, Drinking with the Saints: A Sinner’s Guide to a Holy Happy Hour, suggests some tempting libations. Any of the Stags’ Leap wines from Napa Valley would be obvious choices if you enjoy the Bordeaux-style blends based on Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. If you’re more of a spirits aficionado, go ahead and pour out a dram of Glenfiddich single malt – and imagine the stag on the label is speaking to you. If you’re in your 20s (or think that you are) go for the Full Monty: a shot of Jägermeister, which translates to “master of the hunt.” If you’re familiar with this beverage you might remember the picture of the stag on the label – complete with glowing white cross between its antlers. But then again, you might not remember . . . .
As for the toast? It’s the perfect opportunity to tell your best friend, in the nicest possible way: “To you, my friend. Get thy sh*t straight!”