It was good to be outside again. The cold winter winds and rain had kept him uncomfortably chilled and housebound. Father Tom had not left home other than to go out on his visits and parish work for more days than he cared to remember. Today he had woken up early and saw the clear sky outside and checked the temperature. It appeared that the Pineapple Express had arrived with a shift in the wind and it was actually warm enough to walk outside. He decided it was a day for a walk along the sea wall. He packed his satchel with a good book, a couple of tins of tobacco, his favourite pipe along with a tamper and Zippo lighter. He left a note on the kitchen table for his housekeeper letting her know he was taking the day off and did not need breakfast or lunch. He put on his top coat and his cap and locked the door behind him. He walked to the bus stop and caught the number 19 bus to Stanley Park. The bus was pretty empty as it was still early for the second run of commuters. He sat back and looked out the window as the bus ride toward the Park began.
The bus arrived at the first stop inside Stanley Park and he got off. He walked along the side walk by the Yacht Club to get to the sea wall. It looked like it was going to be one of those rare days in Vancouver, the sun was shining, it was crisp and cold and there was no one walking along the path. “Perfect”, he thought as he began the walk along the sea wall taking in the cool air and looking for the right bench to on which to sit and relax in the sun. He grabbed one of the memorial benches along the walk and sat down to pack a pipe. He knew that it was no longer permitted to smoke in the parks of the city and certainly not here on the sea wall but it was a quiet day and no one was out and about so he thought he would smoke anyway. The waves were lightly breaking just beyond the edge of the sea wall. He could see the scattered debris of the storm of the last few days on the beach below. The cruise ships and cargo ships were anchored in the harbour against the beautiful backdrop of mountains and bridges made the setting calming to the soul.
He put his satchel on the seat next to him and took out the tin of Elizabethan Mixture, an older version of the blend by Murrays, and packed it in his pipe. Over the years he seemed to almost do this without thinking to get a good pack. It was just the right load to give a good draw. He took out his lighter and rolled the wheel and got the flame going and drew it to the tobacco. The bloom sprang up at the touch of the flame and caught fire. He drew gently on the bowl pulling the flame into it. He tamped the tobacco and struck a second light to the bowl and watched as a billow of smoke rose from the bowl. Ah this had the makings of a great day! Sunshine and no wind, perfect for an outdoor pipe. It was a shame that the city had made this a guilty pleasure, but at this rate, the way he was feeling it would be worth the fine or warning. He put his satchel on the ground beside him and settled in for a good smoke.
As Father Tom sat smoking his pipe there was a rustling in the brush behind his bench. The rustling grew louder and sounded as if someone was walking through the brush toward him. He turned to the side so that he could see what was going on in the bush and waited, watching while he enjoyed his pipe. He wanted to see what was disturbing his solace – at least he knew it was not one of the constables who would ticket him for smoking! They did not traverse the woods of the park. After a few moments an odd figure walked out of the bush. I say odd not because of any prejudice regarding his state, but because of his appearance. He was a fairly tall individual – at least 6 feet. His clothes had that lived in look to them. His pants were covered with debris and dirt with several other pairs of pants peeking out below the cuff. His belt was a piece of rope that was knotted in a half hitch and his upper body was covered by several layers of clothing as well. The top one looked like a slicker that was a bit camouflaged; the cuffs of a flannel shirt in greys and reds stuck out with what looked like the ragged cuffs of a union suit peeking out at the wrists. He wore a pair of fingerless gloves to keep his hands warm. His head was covered in hair – a long scraggly beard and moustache covered the lower half of it and long, unruly hair topped it off. His face bore the weathered creases that came from having lived outside for a long time.
To Father Tom’s surprise the fellow had an old pipe tucked in the corner of his mouth and there was a wisp of smoke curling up around his face. The pipe looked like it was a regular feature, a part of his face. He grinned at the good Father, gave a chuckle and said, “Looks like there are at least two of us here who have the good sense to break that obnoxious new Parks Board ruling against smoking in public spaces. Mind if I share your bench and join you for a bowl?”
Without waiting for a reply he sat down next to Tom and took a deep draw on his pipe and it came back to life. The smoke rose from the bowl. He had a contented look on his face as he puffed, leaning back and looking around him at the world – it seemed all was as it should have been. He was quiet for a long time and Father Tom wondered if he should interrupt the quiet to introduce himself to this fellow piper. He decided not to break the silence and to just sit and wait, quietly puffing on his own pipe. The sun shone on them both, the birds on the water made the only noise of the day. Things could not have been in better harmony.
Finally the nameless smoker, interrupted the silence and said, “M’ name’s Bill”. He said nothing more and returned to his smoke.
Father Tom responded in like manner, “Name is Tom.”
They shared the comfortable silence for awhile and both puffed contentedly on their pipes. The billows of smoke encircled the bench on which they sat and you could not have found two more contented looking pipers in all of Vancouver. It was a beautiful day and they were enjoying a view that was hard to beat, a smoke that was delightful and the company of a like minded brother of the briar. As they both came to the end of their bowls the feeling of contentment and restfulness lingered.
“What are you smoking Bill?” Tom asked.
“Whatever I can get a hold of is what I smoke,” replied Bill. “I’m not particular at all. Whatever I pack and light, I taste and enjoy! Doesn’t pay for a man of my means to be too picky about his choice of tobacco.”
“Guess that is true enough Bill. But me, I am partial to Virginia tobaccos and those that have a dab of Perique in them. I don’t smoke many English blends and almost never smoke Burley ones. Today I have a couple of tins of aged Virginia here with me. I have some Dunhill Elizabethan Mixture and some stoved Virginia Flake – Dark Star. I was going to load a bowl of the Dark Star would you want to give some of it a try?”
With that he took a tin of 1997 McClelland’s Dark Star out of his satchel and opened it. He took a few of the broken flakes between his thumb and forefinger, placed it in his palm and rubbed it out. He rolled it into a ball, springy and light, and loaded his pipe. He noticed while he did this that Bill was watching intently. When he had finished loading his pipe he passed the tin to Bill. He quietly watched as Bill copied what he had seen him do. Tom lit his pipe and pulled the smoke into his mouth. “Dark Star is sure a good smoke”, he thought as he contentedly smoked a bowl.
He watched as Bill set the tin down on the bench between them and tamped the tobacco with his forefinger. He took an old Bic lighter from his pocket and set fire to the tobacco. He puffed on it a few times, tamped it again with his finger and gave it a second light. He sat back, closed his eyes and savoured the tobacco. He gave a contented nod of his head as he exhaled the smoke. There was a palpable silence around the bench as the two men sipped the smoke of the aged Virginia.
“I like it!” exclaimed Bill. “Man this is really good stuff. I can see why you enjoy smoking it.”
“Wait until it burns down a bit deeper into the bowl. It is an amazing smoke. The dimensions of flavour are truly remarkable,” Tom said. Then with an after thought he added, “Maybe that doesn’t matter to you as much as it does to me but…hey what can I say, I love this tobacco.”
Bill turned toward him with a bit of a twinkle in his eye and said, “Don’t be mistaken, it matters to me as well. I just don’t get to smoke this kind of stuff that often!” With that comment he closed his eyes and sat back to enter into the smoke with a silent revelry.
The two men sat quietly, each in their own world. Each one left alone to their own thoughts as they sipped on the smoke. If you had walked by at that moment you would have seen two older gents contentedly sitting in a haze of smoke with a slight smile on their faces and the sun shining down upon them. They looked, in their contentment, as if nothing could have been better in their world.
As the tobacco burned down to the bottom of the bowl and left it mottled ash remnant behind in each of their pipes, the men turned toward each other. Tom looked down at the nearly full tin of Dark Star on the bench silently mulled over how he was going to give it to Bill. As Bill tapped out the ash in his pipe against the heel of his boot he murmured, “thank you Tom. That was a memorable smoke for me. Can’t remember when I have last had a smoke like that in good company to boot!” He rose to leave and stuck his empty pipe in his mouth. He looked back at the woods and said, “Take care Tom. Maybe I’ll meet you here again one day.”
Before he could walk away Tom rose as well. He bent and picked up the tin of Dark Star and handed it to Bill. He said, “Here Bill, take this with you. It is nearly full and there is a lot of good smoking to be had in that tin. I hate to see you wondering when you will get to taste that again. Enjoy it. You have given me a great day!”
After shaking hands, the two men parted company. Bill went back into the woods behind the pathway and Tom started heading back to the city. The ocean was on his left as he walked and weighed the day’s events in his head. It had been a great day and he had thoroughly enjoyed the company and the scenery. Now it was time to get back to his work. It was starting to get cold so he stopped and reloaded his pipe with some Elizabethan Mixture and lit it for the walk back to the bus stop. At least his hands would be warm and he could enjoy the pipe as he walked.