Tracks We Leave

Tonight, a strange sort of mood flooded over me. Like a heavy blanket, it's warm and comforting, yet confining, pressing me toward contemplation. I went for a pipe to share this mood with, to provide the smoky vehicle in which my thoughts could could be kindled, rise, and be taken by the winds.

Not just any pipe will do for such a moment. It must be an old pipe - a truly old pipe. It must be somehow special to me. I poured over my collection, searching for the right companion for the vaporous vespers to come. Not old enough. Not meaningful enough. Old enough, but not in my possession long enough. Not right at all.

Then, it flashed into my consciousness. I have an ancient BBB that had belonged to a friend of mine who left this earth in the mid-1980s. It was given to me by the executor of his estate, along with a little note, "Mark would have wanted you to have this pipe. Please smoke it in his memory."

This pipe is everything an ancient pipe should be. A beautiful bent bulldog, squat, chubby, sturdy, with a fat diamond shank, and a beautifully tapered stem. The hallmark dates it to the late 1800s; the exact date escapes my mind, and I'm not in the mood to look it up. It is dyed a beautiful deep cherry red, and is in remarkable condition, apart from a little ding here and there. There is something intrinsically special about this pipe. Words often can not convey what the soul feels, but, nvertheless, there's something communicated in the abstraction, in the absence of sentimental language, in the near silence.

There's more. This pipe had belonged to a friend who left us far too early in life. Mark was a vibrant fellow, a voracious collector, and the most amazing pipe-trader I've ever witnessed. He could be seen at shows with both fists full of pipes, going from place to place, animatedly constructing the most elaborate multi-way trades, and it nearly always seemed as though everyone got the best of the deal.

I don't remember Mark smoking this pipe, though I am sure he did - he smoked his pipes. He had a remarkable collection, and it was full of special gems like this old BBB. He smoked them all, unless it was just passing through his fists during one of his complex trades. I'm sure he smoked this one, though, and even if he didn't, I'll continue to allow myself to believe that he did, as if it provides some reason for the special-ness of this old pipe - not that it's really necessary to provide reason.

BBBs were in some ways ahead of their time. The quality of fit and finish, of the drilling, the very smokeability of these old pipes was better than most of their contemporaries, and better than a lot of their more modern counterparts. This pipe has a wonderfully open draught and a beautifully fitted stem. The bit is thicker, the button more rounded than the hand-made pipes of today, but this was the style of the time, and anything else just wouldn't fit. It's got a wonderfully practical and rustic charm. It was made to be rugged and durable. The thick shank carries an equally thick tenon. The walls are thick. The bit is thick. This pipe was made to last, and it's done an admirable job. After over a century of smoking, it is here to provide me, at least its third caretaker, with wonderful experiences, with memories, with a connection to the past that is almost visceral. If that's not enough, it smokes superbly, with a richness, a fullness that only a really old pipe can provide.

A friend of mine collects old BBBs, and has been chasing after this pipe for over a decade now. He's not getting it. He's out of luck. There is only one man who could ever have wrangled this pipe from my hands, in some elaborate, manifold trade, and he's no longer with us. For a moment, I speculate upon whom, when I leave this earth, will be the next custodian of this wonderful pipe.

Interesting, the many ways we can leave our signatures on the world. As long as this pipe survives, as long as I survive, we can, together, assemble a wonderful memory of an old friend. To you, Mark, I dedicate this bowl.

Smoke in peace.