I know, a lot of pipe smokers love the comradeship of a gathering of pipe smokers who sit together and jaw away time as they chat about their hobby and the solve the crises of the world from the comfort of a wreath of smoke. But me, I need the quiet reflective time of being by myself. The rest of my life is full of people around me all the time making demands either implicitly or explicitly on my time and attention. I come home each evening tired of people and the demands of a day of work. To me at that moment the last thing I need is to sit and talk with anyone… pipe smoker or not. What I long for and seek is a quiet solace that is created by my pipe and a bit of time to disconnect from the day that has past.
I find a corner in the house, on the porch or under a tree in the yard whose only requirement is that it must be quiet – maybe the hum of passing traffic, maybe a dog barking or some other external noise that is non human is present as ambient noise, a white noise. That kind of noise is acceptable and a welcome addition to help quiet the noise in my head. In that quiet space I settle into a comfortable chair from which I can observe the life of the neighbourhood around me. The twittering of birds, the squabbles of the squirrels over the walnuts in my yard are a pleasant change. I take out a trusted and well broken in pipe and handle it carefully. I rub it down and feel the gentle curves and the variety of textures that make up stem and bowl. I sniff the warm memories of bowls that had been smoked in the past and just take time to savour the moment. Life is good. There is no rush to pack the bowl. No frantic need to get to the point. No sense of having to pack the bowl and smoke pressing upon me. I can move at my own pace in my own time with no one defining the time.
I take a deep breath and exhale slowly and just enjoy the pleasure of being for a moment. Far removed by time, space and mental thought from the demands of doing. I take out my pouch or tin of a good tobacco that I know will deliver a good smoke and begin the process. I remove a couple of flakes of sweet smelling Virginia and smell the sweet grassiness of the tobacco. I rub them out to the texture I love or I roll them into a ball in my palms and enjoy the feel of the tobacco as it is readied for packing. This ritual in itself is a moment of solitude that is hard to find in the norm of my life. Once the tobacco is just right I begin to load the bowl of my pipe. I want to make sure it is loaded just right, but I am not anal about it – that would wreck the moment. I take the tobacco and begin to tamp it into the bowl. I feel the springiness beneath my fingers and know from the years of the process that it is just right. I put the pipe in my mouth and feel the draw. While doing that I clean up the remnants of tobacco and roll the pouch or close the tin and set it aside. I sit like that for an immeasurable moment and just taste the tobacco – unlit in my pipe. There is freshness and expectancy in the taste. There is a promise of good flavour that will be released by fire. But I want to just take the time to enjoy the moment before striking the fire.
Then without knowing why, the moment of fire has arrived. I take my Zippo or a match – no reason for the choice, just what happens to be at hand. I circle the bowl with the flame drawing deeply on the pipe as the fire is drawn into the tobacco. I can feel the warmth in my mouth as it begins to catch fire. The tobacco begins to smoulder and the smoke curls out of the top of bowl and around the edges of my mouth. Ah the tastes and the sensations of that moment as the smoke rises from the bowl and I gaze at the world through the haze of a good smoke. I cannot quite explain the sensation of the moment for you – you just have to be there. There is no one talking. There is no demand on the time. There is no pressure to converse or respond to the need of another. There is no pressure from inside or outside to act. It is just the quiet moment of solitary time when my pipe delivers me to that place where I can be alone and unencumbered by anything or anyone. That is what I love about time with my pipe. It is time I cannot get in a group of pipe smokers. It is time I cannot get with another piper next to me. It is that sweet alone time that slows my life down and gives me renewed perspective to enter into the next moments of my life.
All too soon the embers smoulder out and the bowl is finished. The pipe is warm to the touch and the air around me is full of the smell of the smoke. Time begins to once again move forward. I can hear my wife and daughters moving around in the house working on dinner. I can hear their laughter and their bickering that is all a part of my life and I chuckle to myself. It is good! I can now fully enter into that piece of my life and be engaged with them. I have been able to lay aside the encumbrances of my day and become free to re-enter my family and enjoy them. Those private moments, those solitary times give me the space to disconnect from one moment and enter the next more fully. This is not to say I don’t enjoy the energy of a group of pipers together but it is these moments that energize me and keep me smoking my pipes. They have an uncanny ability to calm me and grant me serenity.