1st October, 2003: Posted by glpease in Tobacco

Every once in a while, a pipe and a tobacco come together in a way that transcends the usual experience of either. It’s a sort of alchemy that, when it happens, provides that elusive, sublime smoke, delivering far beyond usual expectations. For example, I have a particular pipe that has been a fantastic smoker from the first bowl. The flavors of the tobacco come through clearly, articulately, without even a hint of heat, gurgle or fussiness. Every time I smoke it, I am happy that I selected it. I’ve smoked mostly light to medium Latakia mixtures in it since I got it, and it’s never failed to deliver.

One day, I ventured to be daring, to break from the convention I’d created, to smoke a VA/perique blend in this dedicated Latakia pipe. There are times when the “crossover” smokes delight the palate in ways that my usual ritual of blend-style dedication can not. But, this experience was far more than that; far more than the mere mingling of latent Latakia with blatant Virginia and perique. This was magic. Just as a conductor, an orchestra and a score can work well together, yet sometimes combine in a way that makes the music merge with the universe, as though it was always there, and always would be there, and the heavens have been dancing to the tune since the beginning of time, this pipe, this tobacco and this smoker found each other, and danced right along with the stars.

A fluke? A fortunate happenstance? Of course, I thought the crossover effect had much to do with this synergy, and struggled to remember the last 10 bowls in that pipe; the tobaccos smoked, the sequence, and all the seemingly unnecessary details of the pipe’s life with me. I wanted to be able to repeat this experience at will, though granted, the interval between the great and the sublime might be greater than my anticipation could bear.

I scribbled a few notes, and put the pipe away for its rest. It’s my practice, whenever possible, to rest pipes for at least a couple weeks between bowls. Occasionally, a pipe will just call and call, and I heed, smoking it again and again, until one of us gets tired of the other’s company for a while. Usually, though, it’s smoke and rest. It’s worked for me this long, and I see no reason, really, to change.

A couple weeks later, I filled the same pipe with the same tobacco, and the experience I’d had before was somehow even grander, amplified by expectations and by the familiarity the pipe now had with the leaf. Twice more, then, I enjoyed the same pairing. Twice more, the music played. The pipe had found it’s soul-mate in the form of the “right” leaf for it. One day, I may have to go back, to rekindle the romance with the Latakia blends, but until the magic stops, I’m sticking with this combination. What God has brought together, and all that.

Often, this sort of experience results in some sort of revelation or epiphany. Usually, it’s the mid-smoking questioning that demands so much of my attention. Why is it that some pipes just “work” with some tobaccos better than others? Why are some tobaccos so sensitive to the pipe they are smoked in, and some pipes so finicky about the company they keep?

There are many mysteries in the pipedom. I’ve had pipes that smoked terribly for me, yet found happy and appreciative homes in the collection of another. More than once, I’ve traded a piece away, telling the new owner of my less than satisfactory smokes with the thing, only to have them come back to me days or weeks later to tell me what a fantastic pipe it is. Perhaps those pipes just didn’t like my company.

Other times, I’ve tried tobaccos that just didn’t move me, only to find that, in a different briar, their message was loud and clear, and delightful. Mysteries abound.

There’s wood. There’s curing. There’s the care and precision the pipesmith takes when constructing and creating his art, and the artistry of his creation. There’s the quality of the tobacco, and the preference of the smoker. There’s time of day, season of year, weather, temperature, humidity and mood. All these things play their roles in the ultimate experience of enjoying the pipe, or not. There are objective and subjective things that can be quantified, discussed, mused over, and pondered. It’s all part of the fun of smoking and collecting. There is, however, something much greater. There is grace.

When the convergence of all the elements happens - physical, metaphysical, aesthetic, emotional, and quite possibly spiritual components that all contribute their parts to the experience - there’s no need for the intellect to be engaged at all. It’s just pure freakin’ magic. That’s just the way it is, and just the way it should be.