The Zen of Pipe Smoking: Peace and Renewal

Drucquers Banner

Fred Brown

It took me to what one might call my Codger years to really learn, I mean really learn, how to properly smoke a pipe.
In my youth, I was busy chasing my tail like a confused canine.
I was the proverbial smokestack. Fast and furious.
You talk about tongue burn! I had burnout! My tongue resembled a charred rack of barbecue ribs.
A few years back, I had occasion to sit down with the late Craig Tarler of Cornell & Diehl of C&D fame. Now there was a legendary pipe master.
I don’t know why but in talking with Craig, I always felt as though we were on some high mountaintop and there was Craig, offering pipe wisdom while chanting mystical thoughts through mantras.
Plus, Craig was just plain fun, an all-around wonderful person to kill an afternoon with pipes and conversation.

The Late Craig Tarlar
The Late Craig Tarlar

As we began our chat that day several years ago, Craig filled a pipe with tobacco and placed it beside three other pipes bursting with tobacco.
He was puffing one and had three filled with tobacco, all nice and lined up like soldiers preparing for inspection.
As I looked down at the pipes and then back at Craig, he just smiled. He was drying the future smokes. Very Zen-like!
It never crossed my mind to load up several pipes before starting a project or a talk.
Not only that, I was practically stunned observing the master pipe tobacco blender and manufacturer as he slowly puffed his lit pipe.
You have seen super slow motion, I’m sure, with something your grandchildren shot on your smartphone that you never knew existed.
That was Craig’s puffing cadence: slow and slower.
After returning home, I decided it was time to change my pipe smoking technique from zippy to dawdling.
I’ve been dawdling since.
Turns out after all the years of pipe smoking, I hadn’t learned a darn thing.
To my way of thinking, if you can call it thinking, you were not smoking unless you had great blue plumes heading heavenward.
I wore out match boxes, switched to lighters and wore them out as well.
So, after the Epiphany (and, yes, I love C&D’s Epiphany blend, which I’m positive would have suited Mr. E), I decided the old time machine had caught up with me.
I practiced slowing my huffing and puffing. I tried not to be so busy all the time, thinking that might help lessen the smoke signals.
My slow wasn’t Craig’s slow. So, the puffing cadence went from relaxed to almost in reverse.
And with that, here is my one piece of pipe Zen advice: when you think you are advancing to nirvana with your puffing pace, relax it even more.
And then after you try that for a while, slow your pace to a whisper.
I can’t tell you how happy I have been in my later years. I can smoke Mac Baren tobacco now.
Recall that slash and burned tongue I mentioned? Mac Baren pipe tobacco chalked up quite a bit of tongue char during my youth.
Today, I sip the sweet Virginias in the Mac Baren stable of fine tobaccos. Even the heat furnace aromatics no longer sizzle on my tongue like steak on the grill.
Now, I also admit that I am a nicotine wuss. Strong tobaccos puffed at my misdirected youthful pace left me swimmy headed, feeling as if I had eaten something that was biting back.
My memory is etched on one of Samuel Gawith’s strong ropes. I carved off a piece with my grandfather’s old pocketknife—the one he used to skin hogs during the hog-killing time in Georgia—stuffed my pipe and lit the thing.
I had it raging like a bonfire. Happy and giddy, I walked around perusing tables in a Nashville, Tenn., pipe show.
Give it 10 minutes tops, and I was in the bathroom, sweat pouring down my face, drenching my shirt and running into my shoes.
I looked into the bathroom mirror and thought I was staring at one of those gooney birds who show up at football games with their faces painted in blue and red and purple.
I was all those colors and others I never knew were on the color spectrum.
It was, without a doubt, an out-of-body experience.

Now rewind to that part about my later years. I have not had the courage to try a rope bogie, or whatever you call those things, since.
In my unvarnished opinion, they should be called nooses instead of ropes.
All you rope fans, hold your fire. I know some of you are stout enough to smoke tobacco-laced steak tartare.
I’m not in that league.
But I have no doubt that my old time cadence would do just fine. In the interim years, I have smoked tobacco that I never would have challenged before my awakening.
I sip, and then let the pipe sit a spell. I call this time my CT Cadence routine. It’s the Zen of pipe smoking, see.
This also gives me time to put down my pipe, load up three or four more bowls, place them side-by-side on my desk, and then pick up the smoldering pipe and sip that lovely sweet perfume.
Slowly, ever so slowly.
So, I fidget, strike a match, light my pipe, and think…about nothing mostly.
Then I sip. Light my pipe. Repeat.
Did I mention that you need to slow that puffing pace to finally get the true essence of pipe tobacco: that sublime taste of the sweet leaf in all its meanings and worldliness?
Yes, it’s a new creation when you sip at a CT Cadence.
Life is good in CT Cadence Land when you have a pipe filled with wonderful leaf.
And you know deep down that you have mastered the art of smoking a pipe.
You now understand the connections between smoking and not smoking. You get the magic, finally.
It took me years to get here. I have made it to the days of wine and roses.
Why, I have learned to just pull a bit of smoke through the stem, taste the various parts and marvel at this thing we do.
For me, now well into my dotage, I have found peace and renewal with help from a Zen master of pipe smoking.

Fred Brown is a journalist who lives in Knoxville, TN. He will write this column for monthly. He can be contacted at

2 Responses