Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Preferring the Pipe - Part III

A pipe is a work of art.  This has been previously mentioned in this series, but it must be more fully explained.

A pipe begins with a material.  Briar, clay, meerchaum, even a corncob!  Yet these natural elements must be foremed.  The right piece of briar must be selected, the clay must be mixed correctly, only certain cobs will do for making a great corncob pipe...

The right materials will bring about the best experience.  They will look beautiful, when crafted with skill.    Many pipe smokers can attest to the hours of pleasure they have recieved from examining pipe after pipe after pipe at a tobacconist, or at an online retailer.  Shapes are considerd, and grain patterns are scrutinized.  The best materials will also provide a smoking experience that is cool and dry, without gurgling or overheating to the discomfort of the hand.  Some materials allow are affected by what is smoked in them and begin to provide a deliciously layered "seasoned" experince.  Other materials give the smoker the purest "just the facts" view of the particularly tobacco.

Not only thisbut the shapes themselves are appealing.  From soft curves to hard angles.  From big bowls that almost take two hands to hold, to a tiny cup from which only a few sweet sips can be made before the experience has run its course.  Some will argue for a favorite or best size of bowl, but not me.  I like them all.  Small, medium and large bowls all provide such wonderful experiences when they are treated properly, and they all offer different kinds of appreciation.  For many collectors things will go in phases.  Once drawn to bulldogs, then brought to a phase of looking at Canadians, then obsessed with apple shapes, it is difficult to imagine that a person could run out of new pipes to appreciate.

But many pipes may look the same, no two are.  They all bring their own little nuances and personalities to the table.  Thus the pipe I hold in my hand that came from a major manufacturerer is still very especially mine, and while strikingly similar to the uninformed a true pipe smoker will be able to pick his pipe out of a lineup of similar ones because of this lttle ding, or pecularity in the grain.  Each pipe is much like a snowflake in its dear and subtle uniqueness. 

Finally, while this work of art will be supporting a flaming ember for hours on end proper use could mean a lifetime of enjoyment, and often even more.  This gives a continuity to the experience of pipe enjoyment that seems absent elsewhere in life.  It is personal, and while you may borrow another man's pipe, you will not know it as a friend.  It can only be a passing meeting, until you have invested enough in that bit of art to really appreciate it.  

Monday, May 4, 2015

Preferring the Pipe - Part II

The Art of Pipe Smoking

Why I prefer the pipe, first and foremost, is that it truly is a skill.  There is a definite artistry to every aspect of pipe smoking.  Some are meant to be evaluated in future articles.  A pipe itself is a work of art.  A functional and beautiful mix of design and purpose that far surpasses most other tools and vessels of pleasure (save perhaps a well crafted tea-pot).  A tobacco blend is no less an artisitic affair.  Taking just the right tobaccos, treated in just the right way to fit a specific mood, or a specific taste profile would sent most "foodies" to a state of madness for the amount of effort that has to go into a truly great blend.  But, I only apprecaite those artistic sides of pipe smoking.  The art form I am interested in now is the actual smoking.

First the art of selecting a pipe.

Every pipe is different.  Different shapes, sizes and stem considerations all make a great deal of difference in how the pipe is best to be enjoyed and what tobaccos are going to go best a given pipe.  This means that the maximum enjoyment isn't available to the beginner.  To be sure there is great enjoyement for the beginner, but as a pipe smoker learns his or her pipes the enjoyment grows by leaps and bounds.  To the point where a certain pipe will be selected at a certain time of day, or with only a certain type of blend...or even just one specific blend!  This level of appreciation can only come with time and effort.  This special treasure is only available to the one who is willing to make the effort to get to know the pipes that are involved.  

The Art of Burning.

Like so many I started by attempting to keep the fire burning as hot as possible.  I didn't think was enjoying my pipe (or any tobacco) untill I had burned away any sensation available in my mouth.  It wasn't until much later that I learned to sip at my pipe.  To mainatian the fire in the bowl at the perfect cool, slow smoldering level to release the maximum amount of flavor and pleasure without any pain or discomfort.  It has been years since I have had tongue bite, and years since I have felt "burnt out" the next morning from the enjoyment of a pipe.  Yet this also came only through time and practice.  I always liked the pipe, but I grew to like and apprecaite it more.  As I connected with masters of the art, taking note of their ways and their advice, my smoking improved and I was the sole beneficiary.  However, the journey is not done.  There is yet so much more to learn, and so much more enjoyment to be had.

The Art of Working with a Tobacco.

There are tobaccos that will just naturally work for a given pipe enthusiast and others that simply will not work for the same person.  I have so often had the experience of sharing a favorite blend with a friend only to find that there was little or no pleasure in that blend for them.  That being said, the humble pipe smoker is never hasty.  When the first experience with a blend goes badly the response is most commonly not a jundgment of the blend, but a resolve to find a better way to work with this tobacco in the future.  Perhaps the solution it to pack the tobacco more firmly, or more loosely.  Perhaps the pleasure was locked away because of puffing too hard, or not tamping firmly enough.  Often times a different pipe will yeild better results, and sometimes a few months in the tobacco cellar will do wonders for the blend.  I know of no other method of tobacco enjoyment that offers this ability to give countless second chances to explore and draw the goodness out of a given product.  It seems to me that all other forms come mostly prepared...if you don't like how the product is wrapped or stuffed, or created you simply didn't like that tobacco product.  But not the pipe.  So much control to make sure that the leaf gets the best viewing before judgment can be passed.

The Art of Maintaining a Pipe

My last thought for this article is simple.  The art of maintaing a pipe is a pleasure all it's own.  It begins simple for the amature.  Just running an occasional pipe cleaner through the stem.  This is a great start!  As more beloved pipes are collected, however, the desire to seem them continue in their usefulness becomes deeper.  The use of different tools begins: reamers, chapstick, alcohol, and polish.  Before you know it you find that the first estate pipe has fallen into your hands and you must start salt treatments and deep cleanses to get out the ghosts.  With hard work a pipe can be restored to usefulness after years of abuse or neglect, skill applied properly brings about the redemption of an historical artifact that is now ready to function again.  What an art form.

This is the first reason I enjoy the pipe.  There is always room to improve and grow.  Certainly, there will be times when a pipe is just comfortably and thoughtlessly puffed.  An old blend, like a dear friend, fits like a comfortable shoe and needs very little consideration about how it must be enjoyed, but that because the comfort has been earned from getting to know that blend well.  There will also always be new adventures, new tobaccos and new pipes with which to perfect our interactions.  So the blessed pipe smoker sits underneath a canopy of new delights and old standbys with no need to fear that he must be either complacent or forever forging ahead for the "El Dorado" of pipe smoking.  Knowing that as he enjoys his pipe, he will get better at enjoying his pipe and thus will enjoy it more for every moment that he spends enjoying it.   Bliss.

Preferring the Pipe - Part I

I have enjoyed other ways to consume tobacco.  I have had cigarettes, I have smoked cigars.  I have snuffed snuff, sucked snus and I have chewed tobacco.  I have had hookah, vaped vapor, and I have even tried something called doka...which was evil.  I may have even had other forms of tobacco that I cannot remember, but I don't need to remember....I smoke a pipe.  

Why do I smoke a pipe?  Because it is, hands down, no questions asked, the best tobacco fit for me.  On occasion I will let my tobacco usage get out of control and I will fall to smoking cigars, or even cigarettes, but there is little real enjoyment or appreciation...just drug use.  However, when I am in a right relationship with my love of the leaf I am really only interested in a pipe.  I am going to make a genuine effort not to make these articles about comparison to other forms, but I make no promises.  Please enjoy your tobacco however your see fit; however,  I now choose to write about how I have come to the place of only wanting to enjoy the pipe.  Please do not take these words as a criticism of your desired method of tobacco enjoyment, but as a simple song in praise of the lovely pipe and all that it has to offer.

To thiis end, before I begin my raving soliloquies in praise of the pipe, I feel as if the background to this series must be given.  I have been using tobacco since well before it was legal for me to do so.  Stealing cigarettes, and shouldertapping for cans of chewing tobacco were not irregular for me as I approached 18.  But when I came of legal age my first purchase was a pipe.  I loved it, but it was only a part of my tobacco diet.  

Things continued.  On again, off again.  Never more than a can of dip or a pack of cigarettes in the course of a week, and always the pipe as the steady centerpiece of my real tobacco enjoyment, yet even that not at the level of "major addiction."  Yet as life went on there were times when tobacco use got higher, and far more for the functionality of nicotine than for the practice of enjoying the pipe.  Cigarettes, chewing tobacco and cheap cigars became the most standard fare.

Then the fateful day that I discovered the internet pipe smoking community.  Particularly the Youtube pipe smoking community.  Through those gents I really learned to apprecaite the pipe.  Really appreciate the different tobaccos, dig into how to work with different blends and how to taste with skill and patience all that pipe smoking had to offer.  The next years would see rises and falls of other forms of tobacco use, but a steady growth of pipe tobacco enjoyment.  

This  brought me to the place of decision.  I really did enjoy the pipe, but I mostly used tobacco being a slave to the nicotine. I loved the pipe, but hated the addiction.  I decided that all mindless tobacco consumption had to go.  For me (and only for me) I found nearly all of my tobacco use outside of the pipe was, indeed, mindless.  I know many appreciate their cigars, and others really suck real pleasure from a dip, and some only smoke the choicest cigarettes...but for me those were all just methods of "using".  So I decided to strive to give up USING tobacco, and commit to ENJOYING tobacco exclusively.

Gettting through the ugly part of this took some help.  It took prayer, and support of friends.  I also found St. John's Wort, 5-HTP, and L-Theanine (herbal/dietary suppliments) to be helpful.  Even with all of those supports there were some moments where I was less than kind to those around me.  Yet now I am there.  A pipe occasionally.  Not more than a ftwo or three pipes a week.  With no "craving" for nicotine drawing me to it...only the deep desired satisfaction of good fellowship or a quite moment with my dear pipe as an aid to contemplation.  

So why?  Why continue enjoying the pipe when the bonds of addiction are severed?  I will tell you.  I think the pipe is a beautiful experience.  I think it is worth enjoying, in spite of the possible risks.  So that is what I hope to present to you in the coming articles:  Why I love enjoying a pipe.  

Please, dear reader, as this small journey progresses please tell me what it is that you most enjoy about your pipe? Or what it is that you enjoy about your other preferred method of tobacco appreciation?  What do you find beautiful, useful or valuable about it?