Reflections in the Mists

14th January, 2010: Posted by glpease in Pipes, Enjoyment, Editorial

This morning, I took a somewhat extended walk after dropping my son at school. Our walk is only a few blocks, and I always seem to be in a rush to get back home to begin the daily routines that have become my work over the past few years. This morning, it just wasn’t long enough.

The air is fog-chilled, and the feeling on my face too inviting to ignore. I decided to take the long way home, wandering towards the shore, and stopping off at the water’s edge to watch some ducks and some coots (birds, not old men) fishing in the still tides. A Castello Collection stack, deeply colored with a rich mahogany patina from years of smoking, filled to its beveled top with some old Garfinkel’s Orient Express #11 was my sole companion.

On days like this, smoke is suspended in the mists a little longer than usual, becoming more fragrant and enticing as it mingles with and is cooled by the moist air, inviting a second whiff, and a third. The smoking is more relaxed, more contemplative. This is the weather that pipe smoking was invented for. A wonderfully complex aroma of orientals, virginias, latakia filled my senses more fully than usual as the genii rose from the pipe and danced in the air around me.

On the way back, I trampled through tall grasses with soggy shoes and trouser legs, the smoke both following and preceding my wandering. Taking breaks from puffing, pausing to enjoy the haunting aroma, revived memories from what is now 30 years in the company of the briar, of so many places I’ve been, so many things I’ve seen, so many of these memories shared by a pipeful. The sense of smell is known to be the most powerful of memory triggers, and no matter how much we evolve, how far we deviate from ancient proto-humans, we remain intimately connected with at least that aspect of our ancestors, for whom smells could mean the difference between life and death. There was a time, too, when the ability to produce fire could also be a matter of survival. And, today, two once essential aspects of life itself are joined together in a vehicle of pleasure.

Pipe smoking is a civilized pastime, a ritual of fire and smoke and smells, of briar and of leaf, that connects us deeply in ways we don’t necessarily understand with both our distant and not so distant pasts. Today’s world is densely packed with important things that really aren’t. Our lives are enriched more through simple pleasures, through engaging our senses, through moments of contemplation, through connecting with what it is to be alive, to be human. This morning’s longer walk was another gentle alarm clock, waking up a part of my own being I’d allowed to become dormant after being beaten into the background by the over-complexities of modern life.

As this, too, becomes part of memory’s landscape, I’ll try to hold onto it a little more closely, and not let so much time lapse between it and the next. And, when someone asks, with that tone of derision and accompanying front-of-the-face dance-of-the-hands that is far too common amongst today’s less than civilized drones, why I smoke a pipe, I’ll refer them here, then silently enjoy another puff.