By Fred Bass
In chatting with a fellow who knew Fred and love the meerschaum pipe as much as Fred I learned that he is no longer living. I have missed the conversations and phone calls that we had in the past. I have not been able to get in touch with him by phone or email so I had figured he was gone but today I learned that what I figured was true. I have a few articles that Fred wrote over the years and will be posting them in the days ahead. Rest in Peace my friend…Steve
Yes, these Meerschaum Pipes have smoking qualities that set them apart from the other choices available to the Pipe smoker. Yes, they present differently in appearance and often in shape than their counterparts of Briar. Beyond the obvious, what is it that leads us to choose Meerschaums to smoke? Is there something about a Meerschaum Pipe smoker that is different from those of the more common smoker of Briar? What is it that brings us to kindle a fire time after time in these stone Pipes?
In the same easy rolling manner as Chuck Berry’s Blues slide guitar on Run Around, this old Paul Fischer OomPaul Meerschaum of mine delivers satisfaction and a deepening desire for more experience with its charms. From before the days of the Meerschaum Pipe smoking Zaporozhian Cossacks, these Pipes have held favor with those fortunate enough to acquire and smoke them… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reply_of_the_Zaporozhian_Cossacks
Dug from the clay depths of the earth, they draw us to that moment of union of fire and tobacco where words fail. There is a sense of deep contentment that I still have yet to fully understand after these years of smoking blends in these White Pipes. I don’t understand it, but I’m attracted to them.
I’ve been drawn to Meerschaums and have been, for as long I can remember. There are many reasons, some of them I know, but many of them remain a mystery, even to me. The first of these is of a philosophical nature. It is the concept of change. Meerschaums change patterns and hues as we smoke them … just as we evolve as people. So, as we grow and our lives cycle through the good times and the blues, our Meerschaums mark the times with their own evolution in a snapshot of a time and place. Our lives are never static, and our Meerschaums do not stay the same…, like us. As I give them lessons of fire and tobacco, they continue to take me to school, and reward my efforts with sublime experience. Across time and place in the world, I enjoy an esoteric connection with people I will never meet, who’ve shared this same experience in the privacy of the soul. This is the nature of small fires of sacrifice to The White Goddess. She waits for me by the rocking chair on the shores of a sea of life’s complexity. It’s a quiet moment of peace & contentment that I know others have found throughout the centuries of people who smoke these White Pipes. Like the coy maiden, she shares the emergent bloom of her being with a familiarity that time brings. Joaquin Verdanguer expressed it as the “Pipe smoking the Pipe Smoker” in The Art of Pipe Smoking,which is an amusing collection of short essays and thoughts that were likely originally written on the back of a wine list. As history demonstrates, the current generation finds the Meerschaum Pipeman abstract and non-viable. The students who follow after us will learn of the resource we’ve found. Public interest is a capricious event that can skip a generation. There are no traffic jams on the road to knowledge. It’s our fate to be left to accept that we have provided a path for those who will share the fire…, most of whom will seek our counsel after we have turned to dust. Still, I’m happy with the moment when fire kindles tobacco in my Meerschaum. It is sanctuary.
There is the sense of time long past in Meerschaum. It takes ages, measured in geologic time for the Block to be created in the depths of the earth. In the deeper mines, it is the high grade Sepiolite that the miner seeks, using basic tools in the search for these treasures in the clay. These methods are the daily gamble used to find the best Block. Luck plays a big part in these long hours of difficult work under primitive conditions. This is where these Pipes find their beginning. This is the difficult harvest that men have been toiling over for centuries to bring this gift of the earth to the Carvers who create beautiful Meerschaums. I have a deep sense of gratitude for being one of those fortunate enough to enjoy this functional art. It is the inspiration of the Carver that transforms these lumps of raw Block into the array of sizes and shapes of Pipes that make up the Meerschaum world. When I can connect to the passion of the Carver’s craft, I’m drawn to the Pipe. Once this happens it’s only a matter of time before I cave in to the desire that only acquisition can satisfy, with a few reservations for the quality of Block used and the craftsmanship in finish and performance. Because of the paucity of my budget, I buy Meerschaums to smoke and must be content to view the larger works as an admirer instead of a patron. If my budget was larger, then my modest collection would include some of these magnificent display Pipes.
It is a curious thing to me, to find these Pipes of such allure and peaceful charm that emerge from the strife and conflict of that part of the world where opposition is the accepted order. Can it be the message from the earth that peace and harmony is a better way? It is food for thought. These Pipes take the heat of the fire and use it to deliver cool and dry smoking pleasures to me, just as I take what life brings to me and make the best I can of it. There’s a sense of synchronicity to this. A good Meerschaum should and often will have more than one owner in its life of service. Some of the Meerschaums in my collection are over 100 years old and continue to provide functional and visual pleasures. I don’t know the names of the people who smoked these estate Pipes before I acquired them, but I do know the pleasures they enjoyed. These pipes are time travelers that link generations of Pipe smokers and admirers. I enjoy being a part of this. Unsmoked estates are prized, but I have no intention of depriving myself of the pleasure that comes from smoking these Meerschaums, so I smoke all of my Pipes. Just as an unsmoked Meerschaum has no stories to tell, I can only guess at those who deny themselves this pleasure. Why not join me in the pleasures of the White Goddess and have a smoke!