Marshall "Butch" Armstrong
It takes a brave person to smoke a pipe outside when it’s below zero. Or is that a foolish person? I don’t know. Whether brave or foolish, and sometimes they’re one and the same, that person is me. I smoke outside. My wife doesn’t smoke and we have our grandkids out here often so I respect that and don’t smoke in the house . During spring, summer and fall it’s not a problem but winter is another matter altogether. In Minnesota, winter is a force to be reckoned with. Last winter we had more than forty days when the temperature dipped below zero. We cannot do or plan anything in winter without considering the weather. If we do, we’re courting disaster. Storms can happen with little warning, whipping into a blizzard with white out conditions within an hour. On Halloween day 1991, the temperature rose to over 50 degrees during the early afternoon and by time the day was done we had over 30 inches of snow on the ground. It can make pipe smoking outside interesting to say the least.
In winter most people carry survival kits in their cars and trucks. Driving on snow and ice provides plenty of opportunities to spin out and wind up twenty feet in the ditch. And if you’re on an isolated road, you could be in trouble. A survival kit usually includes candles, matches, a small metal can for melting water, protein bars, a heavy duty flashlight with fresh batteries and a sleeping bag. For those of you who live in warm climates, this is no joke. A couple of hours in below zero weather and you can freeze to death. It happens a few times here every year. It’s nice that most of us carry cell phones nowadays. A few years ago a woman went in the ditch and was tracked by her cell phone signal. They found her right before the battery died. Of course no survival kit would be complete without a pipe and tobacco. Unfortunately the moisture in the tobacco would freeze solid in no time if I leave it in my car. So it’s kept in a nice warm spot inside my jacket, ready when I want it.
Every morning at about 6:30 a.m., I take my dog Sophie out for a one mile walk. She’s a Malamute Husky cross with blue/white eyes and weighs close to one hundred pounds. She needs her exercise so we go unless the weather is life threatening. That’s a good time for me to smoke my pipe. It’s a nice relaxing time that helps me wake up and having my pipe at that peaceful time of the morning is great. We live about 3½ miles from town on the North side of a lake. The land around us is beautiful and filled with wildlife so our walks are almost always quiet and enjoyable. Unless Sophie sees something she wants to chase. Then I have to worry about my arms being torn off. Sophie is a force to be reckoned with also. It takes us about twenty five minutes to do our mile and I have a couple of small pipes that work perfectly for that. The only drawback to smoking on a walk or, ‘lunting’ as it’s called is the wind. Out here among the cornfields and lakes the wind is almost always present. I use a wind cap on my pipe which works pretty well but if I have to relight in the wind it can be a challenge.
There are plenty of people who work outside in winter, either for a job or around the house. Staying active in winter gives me the opportunity to smoke and it’s also good for my waistline which seems to have expanded over time. Maybe it’s age, and maybe I just need to be more active. We have a tendency to want to stay inside and eat all winter and with the Holidays not too far away I’ll be better off smoking on a walk than grazing in the fridge. There are a lot of good cooks in my family as I imagine there are in most families so I need to be careful. Moderation in everything I guess.
The signs are all around us. The leaves on the trees have mostly fallen, the air is getting cold in the mornings and the daytime temps have been in the 40’s and 50’s. And there was ice on the ponds in my area this morning. It’s coming, but I’m ready. I’ve planned ahead. I have sectioned off a space about 10 feet by 5 feet with plastic tarps in my garage and if I turn on my small electric heater it gets warm enough to sit out there and smoke fairly comfortably. I can use my laptop to write or do a little work on an estate pipe while smoking there. It’s not a "mancave" by any means but it works for me. I have heard that some people use small ice fishing houses with heaters as a smoking shack and I can see that working too. In winter our lakes freeze solid enough to drive on. That’s when the ice fishing begins. A small portable ice fishing house with a heater gets warm enough to sit inside in a tee shirt and smoke your pipe. It takes a little work and planning but if you really want to smoke that new tobacco you just got then it’s worth it. Recently I’ve taken a liking to Latakia and it’s great to smoke a good Balkan in the cold air. It reminds me of campfires. The fresh clean air is great for the smoky flavor.
This morning it was absolutely beautiful outside. The temperature was 27 degrees F., there was almost no wind and the sky was turning pink as Sophie and I started out. I lit up my Balkan Supreme and didn’t need a wind cap for my pipe. The cold air just makes that Latakia taste so good. Sophie sniffed along the ground and I listened to the rooster crow from a nearby farm as geese flew overhead. The smoke from my pipe hung in the air and slowly drifted away. I had to work today, another nine hours on my feet, but that seemed a thousand miles away as I smoked my pipe in the quiet peacefulness of a cold morning in Minnesota. After that, it just had to be a good day.
Marshall Lee Armstrong enjoys camping, fly fishing, kayaking, painting, drumming and writing. He has published two books of poetry and writes a blog called “The Window", which includes a section called "SMOKIN‘" where he writes about cigars and pipe smoking. He is 58-years old, and has worked as a Rock Band Drummer, Electroplater, Chemical Process Technician, and Circuitry Manufacturing Supervisor. He is currently a Medical Lab Technician. He started smoking pipes in 1980.