Have You Ever Been to Sea, Billy?: The Lost Art of Pipe Tobacco

Brigham Pipe

I have always found it sad that men have lost the passion for a pipe. Yes, I know the terrors of tobacco and lung cancer, but beyond the puritanical republic there has always been a place for the pipe within the masculine pantheon. As men lose their rogue nature in favour of what is politically correct, we also lose the yarns, the childhood memories of our grandfathers and the pacification that follows the sharing of a pipe. Wars have been settled, pacts have been made, and great stories told with the packing and lighting of a pipe.

I am not a smoker. I have no desire to wake up in the morning with a craving for a smoke. I grew up in a household of three chain-smokers, was married to a smoker, and hate the stale stench of cheap tobacco. Still, I have thus been blessed with the ability to smoke, as my lungs are already toast from my youth. Fair enough…we cannot choose our lives. When I read of Ishmael and Starbuck, Lord Jim and Marlow, or Gandalf and Bilbo sharing the finest of tobacco my heart flutters with the recognition of the ritual now lost.

For me, the pipe was an experiment a decade ago. I might only smoke a pipe once every twelve months, and the tobacco always goes south before I empty even a half pouch. Still, I fondly recall smoking in the rain while drinking rum the night my grandfather died. I remember a few campfires in Algonquin Park when the pipe brought the forest into focus. I also get sour when I think of how Mingus ran through the house chewing the mouthpiece of my first Brigham pipe – bad dog!

Maybe it is my beard, maybe it is sentimentality, but I went out tonight to pick up tobacco and find the solace that only a few puffs of mixed tobacco can offer. Sadly, it has become almost impossible to procure quality shred when it is held behind closed doors and locks. One almost has to guess what is available and meekly ask whether there is stock – heaven forbid that we might see tobacco in a store that sells it. My Loblaws left me with a dry English mix, and though I would rather a nice Mark Twain, it left me satisfied enough to make a ridiculous pose to celebrate the refuge found within a well-placed pipe that warms the hand in a way that no other vice might. My hair…that is another story.


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