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.