Something somewhat out of character has been afoot in the House of Pease. For more than a week, I have been smoking the same pipe every day, sometimes twice. What’s the big deal? Lots of people do that.
I’ve always been a rather outspoken advocate for the “Well Rested Pipe,” and I don’t mean just setting it aside for a day or two between smokes. Typically, after I’ve finished a bowl, I’ll give the pipe a solid fortnight, often longer, before picking it up again. This may strike some as little more than a convenient justification for maintaining a large collection, and I wouldn’t deny this benevolent side-effect of a well worn habit. But more importantly, at least to me, I’ve always found that pipes just taste much better when they’ve had a little R-and-R. Smoked too frequently, they tend to deliver a harsher, more astringent smoke than I prefer.
I’ve known many pipe smokers who feel similarly, but over the years I’ve also talked to those who are equally dedicated to the notion that the whole “resting” thing is a load of rubbish, and are content to smoke their pipes as frequently as they like without experiencing any ill-effects. I once talked about this with Larry Roush, who insisted that a good pipe should be able to be smoked bowl after bowl, and it will still taste just fine as long as it’s kept clean. (Honestly, I’ve always thought this a bit nuts, but de gustibus non disputandum est.) How can there be such a difference in perception? And, which side is right?
So, here I find myself doing the opposite of what has been my custom for nearly as long as I’ve been a pipe smoker, and doing so in a couple of ways.
First, for much of the past year, I’ve found myself rummaging through the “cellar,” and smoking a lot of the aged and vintage VA blends I’ve accumulated, which is a bit out of character for me. I really like Virginias, but I’m primarily a pretty devout latakiaphile, and always have been so it’s been something of an interesting change of direction to spend so much time deeply exploring outside the comfort zone of the smoky stuff, and in doing so I’ve gained an even greater appreciation, especially for well-aged Virginias, with or without perique. It’s been great to expand the horizons in such a concentrated way.
But back on topic. For over a week, I’ve smoked the same pipe day after day, sometimes more than once. I didn’t set out to do this; I was just continuously drawn back to this particular pipe, and figured that as long as it continued treating my tongue well, I might as well stay calm and carry on. To my surprise, neither pipe, nor smoker suffered at all from repeated encounters. In fact, bowl after bowl, I enjoyed it immensely. Finally, after many smokes, the flavors the pipe delivered were a bit less than ideal, but still far better than I expected. A quick swab with a pipe cleaner dipped in alcohol, and everything was again right as rain.
Wondering, then, if my old habit might perhaps be more superstition than reality, I grabbed a tin of one of my most beloved full latakia mixtures, and carried out the same experiment with another well seasoned and long-favored pipe. Off to a great start, the first smoke was ambrosial. But within a few bowls, that same harshness I’d experienced in the past grabbed my tongue in its caustic tentacles like an ill-tempered Cthulhu rising from the murky depths of R’yleh. Fending off the demon, I gave the pipe a good scrub, and tried again. No joy. At least with those fuller-bodied latakia mixtures, resting the pipe seems essential for the optimal smoking experience. How many who claim not to like latakia mixtures might feel differently if they changed the way they treated them?
This old dog may have been taught a couple new tricks. While I am reluctant to over-generalize, there seems to be some evidence that what we fill our pipes with may have a significant role to play in both how we smoke and how we treat our pipes, and in turn, how our pipes treat us. Virginias have shown themselves to be more forgiving both of the pipe in which they are smoked, and of what I once would have considered pipe-abuse. Latakia mixtures, not so much.
Retrospectively, this seems to make some sense. Those fellows who insisted pipes don’t need rest were mostly Virginia devotees. So is Larry Roush. The ones who were on my side of the discussion? They love their latakias. I realize this is anecdotal; of course not all pipes, nor all pipe smokers, are guaranteed to behave the same way, so your mileage may vary, and there’s often a sort of mystical synergy between briar and leaf that we might never fully understand. But maybe this experience can pull up the covers and let the rest debate rest, at least in my own head.
Which side is right? It seems both are. We all have our traditions, our rituals, our unique taste, but maybe it’s a good thing to relax our grasp on them once in a while and explore the alternatives. There are many ways to enjoy the pipe, and none of them is right or wrong.
Seems like this might be some generally good advice for life, too.
Photos by G.L. Pease