Looking Ahead, Far, and Near

Looking Ahead, Far, and Near

In attempting to make sense of my years-long pipes and tobacco hobby, I have looked back and ahead through the mists of time. 

My muses on June’s contemplative journey with you are quotes from the Pulitzer Prize-winning and former U.S. Poet Laureate, Robert Frost, the great New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra’s unassailable philosophy of life, and the distinguished historian and writer James Michener. 

First the Poet:  

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” 

Now the Catcher:

“When you come to the fork in the road, take it!” 

And the Historian:

“…millions of years ago, when the continents were already formed, and the principal features of the earth had been decided, there existed, then as now, one aspect of the world that dwarfed all others. It was a mighty ocean…”  Until one day when… “with a patience difficult to comprehend… trees and vines and crawling things eventually crept.”

These philosophies describe much of my passion for pipes. I realize this is  an odd viewpoint, but it has been a truth-seeking trip as well as a personally rewarding adventure. 

Like others in Pipelandia, you, as I, have marveled at the many profound thinkers and remarkable artists who have taken up the pipe.

 This enthrallment fits with Pundit’s love of geology and how it describes not only the earth we share, but even us pipe smokers as well in some ways.

For example, let me recall an experience  far back in time. 

One bright morning, standing atop a high point in the Blue Ridge Mountains, my geologist friend pointed to a shimmering cerulean-hued rim illuminating in the distance. 

That range, he announced, was once the bottom of the ocean off the coast of North Carolina.

How many years ago? I asked. 

Oh, the geologist replied, 600 million years ago, give or take a million or two, when the world was flooding, erupting, uplifting, arising.

That long, blue ridgeline was once the bottom of an ocean and now is alive with old forests and memories
That long, blue ridgeline was once the bottom of an ocean and now is alive with old forests and memories. Photo: Fred Brown

That’s known as the orogeny, or mountain building time. 

These spectacular events took place as massive tectonic plates muscled against each other for dominion. 

Thus did the valleys and ridges of our very own Blue Ridge Mountains form. 

In fact, all portions of our present land assembled in similar fashion and pace, followed by our vast oceans and all flora and fauna. 

Trees and oceans are the two major sources for many pipes we enjoy today.

The burl of the flowering heath shrub is native to the Mediterranean and provides briarwood for our precious pipes. Briar burl is part of the tree’s root system.

Seas off Turkey formed the ancient raw materials for meerschaum pipes. Meerschaum translated means “sea foam,” or sepiolite, from compressed prehistoric animal bones and sea shells. The silica-like glittery detritus of animal bones and sea shells settled on sea floors near Turkey over the eons.

And why is Pundit staring out into space? 

It has to do with looking back over a lifetime of writing and pipe smoking, give or take a year or two.

Like you, I have pipes dear to the heart. Smoked, loved, and retired as good soldiers must. 

And there were the missed opportunities. 

In the 1960s, a young Pundit failed to do the right sort of search and research for his pipes and tobacco obsession. 

Many famously named pipe brands sold for what today would seem bargain-basement prices. But out of reach of a poor college student. 

Looking at some of those same pipes today on estate sales has Pundit’s head a-twisting.

Like those tectonic plates. 

And have you noticed the price of vintage tobacco? Yes, like you, Pundit cellared his favorite blends, especially the beloved and now departed McClelland’s brand. 

Not just some of them. An entire range of the treasured McClelland blends have faded over the horizon. 

The thrust of this epistle is today we have more opportunities to soak up treasure-troves of pipe and tobacco knowledge from online sites such as PipesMagazine.com, and a host of others—all of them rich in wisdom and advice.  

One can learn an encyclopedic amount of pipe knowledge in an afternoon.

And this is not even close to addressing what can be found on sites selling estate pipes and tobacco. 

It’s enough to make your head swim in a sea of questions and answers. 

At the same time, many apex pipe prices that once seemed out of reach, have now risen to stratospheric heights. 

But now let’s switch from orogeny and ocean-formation to more historical happenings. 

While reading a bit of history recently, I was reminded once more of the generosity of Pipelandia. 

How many times have you joined your pipe-puffing buds in the local pipe club, and someone brought in a bag of tobacco to share all around? Perhaps even a bag of delicious, cellared Virginia leaf! 

Or, in some cases, be given a pipe with which to puff said aged blend? 

During World War I, Alfred Dunhill and the historic Dunhill Company sent boxes of tobacco and pipes to the boys in the trenches. 

If you have ever visited the graves at Verdun, the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, or the Somme-American Cemetery, you know why those pipes and tobaccos were important to the soldier boys. The boxes were from home, providing a bit of love and relaxation in a world in turmoil. 

Now for a notable pipe smoker of the past: Burl Ivanhoe Ives, was born June 14, 1909, and died April 14, 1995. 

Ives, as most of us old-timers know, was a folk-singing legend in the 1950s through the 1990s, and narrator of the classic and much-beloved 1964 Christmas television special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, which still airs around Christmastime to this day. 

In addition, he was an actor and country music star over six decades. His hit song, “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” became a holiday standard in the 1960s.

Let us end June’s visit with a quote from the great, jolly singer:

“When you’ve set goals and dreams, you don’t feel old.” 

Now that, my friends, is looking ahead, far, and near.

Prince Albert and Velvet Pipe Tobaccos
The old and the new, looking for the far and near. Photo: Fred Brown

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