A Pipe of Kindness

T’was the week before Christmas and all through the classroom, all the students were chattering, bemoaning their end of semester doom.

So thought Professor Donald MacBride as he made his quiet entrance into his classroom. The fifty-two year old professor came dressed in his usual tweed coat and trousers, the appropriate attire for a teacher in his opinion, though the Santa hat was a new addition for the festive occasion. Professor MacBride had a way of lightening the mood of his tough course with his subtle and dry sense of humor.

The young freshman class stood by or sat in their desks, chatting among themselves in excited tones. It was the first semester of college for the majority of the students, and while the semester was a grueling trial by fire for most of them, the ones who had made it to the end without dropping out were happy to wrap up their studies and head home for a well deserved holiday break.

For the past twenty-three years, Professor MacBride had the arduous task of teaching a motley crew of pre-seminary students English, a subject near and dear to his heart. The professor took his job seriously, as he considered his class the bedrock for all future classes at the university. After all, if a student couldn’t write a simple English paper, what hope did they have against more advanced classes? While the students all dreaded his critiques of their assignments, the professor knew the young scholars would appreciate his tough but fair remarks down the line.

Professor MacBride placed his leather laptop bag on the floor next to his podium and stood in front of the class. He took one long look at the eager students, as he did at the end of every semester. Over the course of the semester, he had the chance to meet and learn about each student through his or her work, which made the end of each course somewhat bittersweet. The professor cleared his throat, signaling class was about to begin, and the students quickly found their seats and turned their attention towards the man that held their final grade in the balance. MacBride took a long look at his class, chuckling to himself as many of the students had tell tale signs of pulling all-nighters to complete their final paper.

“Well, you’ve made it,” said Professor MacBride with a wry smile. “The last class of the semester. I bet some of you never thought this day would come, did you?” The class murmured amongst themselves in agreement, and the professor continued. “It might surprise to some, but it’s been my pleasure to get to know each and every one of you over the past few months. I hope that something I’ve taught in this class sticks with you as you continue on your educational journey.”

The professor reached into his bag and pulled out an old, worn book, and held it in his hands. “There’s not much to teach you today, and you’ve all—hopefully— submitted your papers by now, so I’ll keep things short and read to you an appropriate passage from a favorite mine. Then you can all run off and finish cramming for any finals you have left. Does that sound good, eh?”

The class cheered the prospect of an early dismissal, and MacBride obliged by opening his copy of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Over the next few minutes, the students listened as Professor MacBride gave a lively reading of Father Christmas’s return to Narnia.

Once the Professor finished his reading, he closed the book with a snap and stuffed the novel in his coat pocket. “Alright then, a Merry Christmas to you all. For some, I’ll see you next semester in English II, and for the rest of you, you won’t be able to escape my classes forever. Class dismissed.”

The students stood up from their desks with great enthusiasm and collected their bags. The Professor stood by his podium as a stream of students filed past, wishing MacBride a merry Christmas as they went. A few of the students took their time in leaving, and chatted with the Professor before leaving. Some asked questions about when they could expect to get their paper back, while others asked some preliminary questions about what they should expect for English II.

Before long, the class was empty, save for the lone professor. MacBride grabbed his laptop bag and slowly made his way out of the classroom. While the course work was over for his students, MacBride still had over thirty papers to review, critique, and grade for this class alone. He also had papers to grade from other classes that already ended, and if he didn’t get to work on them, MacBride knew his email inbox would be flooded with an avalanche of emails from an angry mob, demanding their grades for the semester.

Professor MacBride’s office sat at the other side of the campus, but the professor didn’t mind the walk, as it allowed him to enjoy a pipe before reaching the building. MacBride pulled out his trusty bent Aran Peterson 03 and packed it with his favorite tobacco, Gawith & Hoggarth’s Chocolate Flake. MacBride lit his pipe at the building entrance and began his walk, with a steady puff of smoke trailing behind him. Despite it being mid-December, the weather proved quite mild and the perfect pipe smoking weather. MacBride didn’t get far though before he heard his name called behind him.

“Professor!”

MacBride turned around and saw one of his students from the previous class jogging up towards him. The professor smiled and waited for the young man to join him.

“Colin, how can I help you?” asked the professor.

The student reached the professor and joined right beside him. “I didn’t get the chance to talk to you after class,” said Colin. “I had to ask Jason a couple of questions for the final in another class. By the time I made it back, you were gone.”

“Ah, well I’m glad to see you managed to catch me,” replied the professor in a warm tone. “I quite enjoyed having you in my class this semester, and I’m looking forward to reading your paper.”

Colin Knight was one of the quieter students in MacBride’s class, only speaking up when he was sure he knew the answer. The shaggy blond young man wasn’t one of the star pupils in class, and didn’t write the best papers, but what Colin lacked in polish, he more than made up with enthusiasm and attentiveness. Besides, for the professor, he would rather have a class of Colin’s than know-it-alls. The professor enjoyed watching Colin grow from the clean-shaven, shy freshman, to the scruffy beard-wearing student that stood before him.

“Thanks Professor,” said Colin. “I learned a lot from you this semester. I loved the reading you did in class today. The Narnia series was one of my favorites growing up. You even kind of remind me of Lewis, especially with your pipes.”

“I’ll take that compliment,” chuckled Professor MacBride with a puff. “Though sadly I lack his accent and brilliant mind.”

“Don’t we all,” agreed Colin. “Do you have any plans for Christmas?”

“Grading about eighty papers or so over the next few days, so that will keep me busy,” said the Professor. “Other than that, Christmas dinner with my wife. My daughter and her family will see us for New Years. How about yourself?”

“Oh, nothing exciting really,” answered Colin with a shrug of his shoulders. “I’ll probably get a lot of reading done, rest up for the next semester.”

“Sounds like my kind of break,” replied MacBride wistfully, recalling his own Christmas breaks in college. “Nothing like a good bit of relaxed reading after a semester full of required reading and writing papers.”

“That it will be,” agreed Colin. The young man paused for a moment, looking as though he had a question to ask the professor, and was debating on whether he should say it or not. Thinking better of it, Colin smiled again and said, “Well, Merry Christmas Professor, and I’ll see you next semester.”

“You too, Colin,” said the Professor, before adding, “and safe travels to you.”

Colin waved to the professor and watched MacBride continue his walk back to his office. The young man let out a sigh as he shook his head, placed his hands in his coat pockets, and headed back towards his dorm room to study for his next final.

Upon reaching his office, Professor MacBride stood outside the building as he finished the last of his pipe. It had been years since the professor had the ability to enjoy his pipe inside his office, due to the draconian anti-smoking laws placed by the state. Donald MacBride often daydreamed of teaching in earlier decades, where smoking a pipe at University was not only commonplace, but also a respectable image of scholarly pursuits. Now in recent times, the pipe-smoking professor was seen as an eccentric, even if he often was given compliments about the aroma from his pipe.

After tapping the bowl of his pipe against the rubber heel of his shoe, MacBride pocketed his pipe and entered the administration building that housed his office. The building was a mixture of frantic professors and staff finishing up the last day of classes, and empty rooms of those fortunate enough to head home early. MacBride guessed he would most likely end up being one of the last to leave for the day, and took his time walking to his office.

Walking up to the second floor, the hall seemed emptier than the first, which the professor didn’t mind. The silence meant the professor could get a jump on grading papers without any distractions interrupting his work.

As MacBride walked down the hall, he paused in front of one office door near his. Unlike the other offices on the floor, the nameplate was absent on the front of the door. The room had once belonged to his good friend Owen Conley, Professor of Biblical History, but now the office laid dormant, soon to be occupied by a new professor in the upcoming semester.

Even though MacBride walked past Professor Conley’s office every day for the past semester, due to it being Christmastime, Donald felt the urge to open the door and take a moment’s pause to think about his dear friend. The professor opened the door and stepped inside, and took a deep breath as he stood in the middle of the room.

Only a few months prior, the office had been stuffed to the brim with countless old books, atlases, maps, photos, reference books, and an odd assortment of items, artifacts, and antiques Professor Conley collected over his many years travelling abroad. The items would still be there today had Professor Conley not passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack only a few weeks before the semester began. The old professor was only two years shy of hitting his eighties, so at least the kind, old gentleman enjoyed a long life before leaving this world. A university staff member had found the professor late one night when he didn’t return home for dinner; face down in one of his books, a learner to the very end. MacBride was away on vacation when he heard the news, and he bitterly blamed himself for being gone when it happened.

“Maybe I could’ve been there talking to him when it happened,” MacBride said to his wife after he got off the phone when he heard the news. “I could’ve done something.”

Sheryl, MacBride’s ever patient wife, hugged the distraught professor and replied, “Or you could’ve been the one to find him after he passed. Then you’d still be blaming yourself.”

Donald knew his wife was right, but he couldn’t shake the thought. MacBride helped out in the clean up efforts, packing up his old friend’s things after the funeral. During the cleaning, Conley’s wife Judy gave MacBride a few of her late husband’s things, including Owen’s old pipe rack and pipes he kept on his desk.

“He’d want you to have them,” Judy said, as MacBride held the box of pipes and rack. “The times he spent with you talking while smoking your pipes were some of his most cherished moments.”

They weren’t just Owen’s cherished moments, but MacBride’s as well. Donald could remember the first day he arrived at the university as a young professor with his things. As MacBride was busy setting his books in order, his nose picked up the distinct aroma of Amphora pipe tobacco. Turning around, he spotted the history professor, then roughly around MacBride’s age. The bearded and genial professor puffed his Sasieni billiard and extended his hand.

“You must be the new English professor, welcome,” said Conley as he shook Donald’s hand. The history professor spotted a pipe on MacBride’s desk and his eyes twinkled with a gleam that is shared between two pipe men after stumbling across another likeminded soul. “Ah, my senses were correct. I hoped I’d find another pipe smoker waiting for me once I learned we were getting a new English professor.”

Donald chuckled as he picked up his pipe, “You guessed correctly, though we English professors are sadly a bit predictable on that front. It’s practically a requirement to smoke a pipe by the time you graduate.”

“The same is true about history majors,” agreed Conley as he tamped his pipe. “Can’t trust a history professor that doesn’t own at least one pipe.”

The two shared a laugh and immediately dove into all the important questions one asks when meeting a new friend—favorite pipes and tobacco. Other less imperative questions, such as spouses and children came later as Professor Conley helped MacBride set his office up until it felt like home.

While Professor Conley was quite a few years MacBride’s senior, the two became close over a short period of time, with the history professor acting as a mentor to MacBride through his first year teaching. MacBride remembered one fateful night the two were together at the local tobacco shop—The Fox’s Study, puffing their pipes as MacBride unburdened his frustrations to his trusted friend.

“I don’t understand it,” complained MacBride as he blew out a match and tossed it into the tin bowl ashtray before them. “They’re going to use everything I teach them for the rest of their lives, yet they treat my class as an obstacle rather than the valuable tool that it is. The next time I look up from my lesson plan and see the dull expressions on their face, I’m walking out.” MacBride let out a huff and puffed for a moment before adding, “that would certainly get their attention.”

Conley nodded sagely as he sipped his briar, thinking for a moment before leaning forward in his leather chair. “Yes, that is a challenge. I’ve had my share of disinterested students in my time. Tell me, do you engage them at their level?”

MacBride scoffed and said, “I mean, I ask them questions and try to keep them involved.”

“Yes, good, but do you give them a reason to engage with what you’re teaching?” replied Conley. “Spend some time and get to know them and their interests. Tailor your lessons around the things that get them excited to learn. They’ve been beaten to death by their high school English classes and forced to think a certain way. Give them the chance to think for themselves and use their minds, rather than just parroting what they’ve always been told. They’ll need it if they want to understand Scripture, and while you might not be teaching a Bible or theology class, you can start them on the path to critical thinking.”

MacBride pondered the history professor’s advice quietly for a moment, before slowly nodding in agreement. “I hadn’t thought about it that way. That does give me a few ideas to get their brains working.”

The two spent the rest of the evening brainstorming a new approach for MacBride, and by the time they left for the night MacBride felt the excitement to teach return once more. While it took some retooling and some out of the box thinking, by the next semester, MacBride felt like he had a good grasp on how to be effective as a teacher to his students. Without Conley’s advice, MacBride felt certain he wouldn’t have lasted teaching at the university.

The English professor closed Conley’s old door behind him, and shuffled slowly to his own office. MacBride fell back into his desk chair and opened his assignment inbox to grade papers. The professor stared at the computer screen for a few minutes, lamenting the loss of his good friend.

I’ll never have a friend like Owen in my life again, thought MacBride sadly. But still, I’m better for knowing him, and his memory lives on in my teaching and me.

MacBride bowed his head for a moment and said a prayer of thanks for Owen Conley’s influence in his life. I hope that one day, I can do the same for someone else, he thought, before opening the first assignment in the dock.

By the time 4:00 PM came around, MacBride felt he had done enough paper grading for the moment and stretched in his chair. The professor managed grading a decent chunk of papers for the afternoon, and decided he needed a good pipe or two at home with a good book to unwind before taking another crack at his workload. In years past, MacBride would go along with Professor Conley to their local tobacco shop, The Fox’s Study, and celebrate the end of a successful semester. However, with Conley now gone, the professor had no desire to go back there and continue the tradition without his friend. Besides, MacBride was fortunate enough to be able to smoke a pipe in his home, and the professor wouldn’t have to subject himself with another reminder of his friend’s passing.

As expected upon walking outside, the university seemed like a ghost town, a stark contrast to the frantic bustle earlier in the day with students hurrying to wrap up their finals for the semester. Most of the lights in the dormitory windows were dark, and trickles of packed cars were departing the parking lot for a long drive home. MacBride hoped the students leaving were able to catch up on their sleep before the drive, as nothing put a damper on holiday festivities than hearing that one of the students had been in an unfortunate wreck on their way home.

MacBride made his way into his car and started the short drive home with the local radio playing Christmas songs. The professor tried to take his mind of off things and slip into autopilot for the ride home, singing along to the merry holiday tunes. As the final refrain of “Jingle Bell Rock” faded, a new song began playing on the stereo, a folksy cover of “Auld Lang Syne”. MacBride found himself humming along to the music and joined in the initial verses of the song.

Should old acquaintances be forgotten,

And never brought to mind?

Should old acquaintances be forgotten,

And days of long ago!

The professor caught himself before finishing the last part of the first verse and stopped as his voice croaked and gave out. MacBride was not one to cry while listening to music, and while this time was no exception, the professor felt a lump in his throat as his car stopped at a red light. The professor pondered what Conley would say to him if he could sit next to him at that moment.

Oh, give it a rest, Donny boy, MacBride imagined his friend saying. Do you think I’d go home feeling sorry for myself if you were gone? The season for mourning is over. Go to The Fox’s Study, get yourself a good blend, and smoke it in memory of all those good times we had. That’s what I’d be doing if I were you. 

MacBride sighed and gripped the steering wheel of his car as the traffic light turned green. Even in MacBride’s imagination, Conley always knew the right thing to say during times like these. As much as he didn’t want to be around people tonight, the professor switched his right blinker on and turned towards The Fox’s Study.

The tobacco shop wasn’t too far of a drive from campus, which made it a convenient getaway when the professor needed a place to unwind. Professor Conley had introduced MacBride to the Study shortly after their introduction, and the two gentlemen enjoyed countless hours smoking their pipes while engaged in lively discussion. The professor hadn’t made as many trips to the tobacco shop during the semester, as without Conley by his side, it didn’t feel the same. MacBride mainly smoked his pipe at home or walking on campus instead, only stopping at the shop to purchase more pipe tobacco for his cellar. Still, MacBride felt enjoying a pipe at the Study around Christmas would be a nice way to remember his dear friend.

 As MacBride pulled into the Study’s parking lot, he noticed a number of university parking stickers in the back of a few of the vehicles. It didn’t come as too much of a surprise, given how close the shop was to the university. A number of students and faculty enjoyed the luxury of fine tobacco, and one of the young men staffing the Study had been in his English class.

The Fox’s Study was as fine of a tobacco shop as one could ask for when looking to smoke a pipe. The building had been built in the 1920’s, and looked like an old Tutor building had been shipped over from England and planted in the ground. The exterior walls were painted white, with wood crisscrossed in an eye-appealing pattern. A wooden sign hung from the front entrance of a fox dressed in a waistcoat, his nose in a book as smoke curled from the clay pipe clenched in his jaw. As MacBride wandered towards the door with his book in hand, he could hear the sounds of men inside laughing and engaged in lively conversation.

As soon as MacBride stepped into the Study, his nose was hit with the distinct aroma of cigars and the occasional whiff of pipe tobacco. The smoke filled tobacco shop had many different leather seats and couches for patrons to sit and enjoy their tobacco. In the middle of the room, the university football coach sat with some of his staff, all with cigars in hand as they celebrated another excitement filled season. A few other gentlemen of varying age all sat in different areas of the shop, each minding their own business or having a chat with their neighbor over their tobacco of choice.

The Study had an ample selection of briar pipes lining the wall, with a well-stocked selection of pipe tobacco tins and jars of bulk blends for picking. While the shop had a fully stocked humidor of cigars, the shop never waivered in keeping their focus centered on pipes and pipe tobacco. MacBride headed over towards the collection of pipe tobacco and grabbed a pouch of the shop’s premier house English blend, Sherwood Archer. As MacBride took the pouch up to the counter, he greeted his old student Matthew Jarvis, who was working the register. The bearded young man’s eye brightened when he saw MacBride and greeted his old teacher.

“Professor, good to see ya,” said Matthew as he rang up the pouch of tobacco. “Haven’t seen you around lately.”

“Good to see you, too, Matthew,” said MacBride pulled out his wallet. “The semester has kept me pretty busy, but my wife’s busy working the church Christmas play for tomorrow, so I thought I could get away and enjoy a pipe.” The professor glanced back at the coach and his companions and added, “it’s a bit busier here this afternoon than I expected, with it so close to Christmas.”

“Tell me about it,” replied Matthew. “It’s been like this all day. I’ve had a lot of people coming in for some last minute shopping gifts, and Terry has me busy restocking the shelves to make sure we don’t run low on anything.” As Matthew took the professor’s $10 bill, he added, “I’m glad you’re here actually. I had a student from the university stop in to buy his first pipe. I tried to give him some tips on how to pack and smoke it, but with how busy it’s been I didn’t get the chance to show him like I usually do. If you get the chance, do you mind keeping an eye on him if he needs help?”

The professor smiled politely and nodded, “Ah, another one joins the fold, eh? Well, I can see what I can do and give some pointers if he needs it.” Truthfully, MacBride preferred to stick his nose in his book, but the professor felt honor bound to help out any young man that decided to take up a pipe.

“Thanks professor,” said Matthew as he handed the pouch and receipt back to MacBride. “I think he’s sitting over by your usual spot.”

MacBride and Matthew wished each other a Merry Christmas, and the professor made his way through the shop towards his favorite sitting spot. MacBride and Conley had made it a habit of sitting at the two leather chairs in the back, facing a fireplace that unfortunately was rarely used. The two professors had joked to each other that the chairs had permanently formed to their bodies, given how often the two sat in the same spots. As MacBride reached the two chairs, he stopped in his tracks upon recognizing the young man sitting in Conley’s old chair.

Colin Knight sat with his back turned to MacBride; unaware his professor was observing him at that very moment. The young man had the usual items found in a pipe smoking starter kit laid out on the coffee table in front of the chairs, with a Czech tool, a box of matches, a pouch of tobacco, and a basket billiard briar pipe. Colin didn’t even notice the professor coming up behind him, as he was so absorbed in the process of filling his pipe. The young man was looking at his phone, reading a step-by-step guide on how to smoke a pipe, but the process hadn’t been going well, indicated by the bits of pipe tobacco scattered around his briar. Still Colin appeared undaunted by the frustration, and tried stuffing the tobacco into his pipe once more for another attempt.

MacBride couldn’t help but grin as he watched Colin fumble around with his billiard. The professor recalled the day he learned how to smoke a pipe and the excitement he felt in learning the art of the briar. MacBride was a bit younger than Colin then, but not by much. As a senior in High School, MacBride went to a local pipe shop with his father one fateful Saturday afternoon. Earlier in the day, MacBride’s father declared that his son was now a man, and needed a pipe to look the part. His father let MacBride choose his first pipe from the shop’s rack, one within reason of course, as well as his first pipe tobacco. Afterwards, his father spent some time showing MacBride how to properly fill and light his pipe, and how to smoke it without coughing up a lung. That afternoon, father and son smoked their pipes together, leaving a memory that would last a lifetime for both.

Few would understand the specialness of one’s first time smoking a pipe, and MacBride wanted to make sure Colin would always remember this moment fondly. After all, MacBride believed pipe smoking should be learned from someone else, rather than being in the unfortunate situation of attempting it alone.

The professor pulled out his Savinelli 320 KS and held it in his hand as he stepped silently next to Colin. The young man noticed someone standing beside him, and glanced up at MacBride with a look of surprise.

“Colin, my good man, what a surprise,” said MacBride with a friendly smile. “I didn’t expect to find you here. I would’ve expected you to be on your way home for break.”

“Professor, hi, I—uh,” said Colin as his thoughts trailed off, clearly still taken aback by his professor’s appearance. “I decided to give myself an early Christmas present and buy a pipe.”

“Well, you’ve certainly come to the right place,” replied MacBride as he sat down in the chair next to Colin. “I’ve been coming here since I started teaching at the university. I’ve spent many an evening with my pipe here.” The professor placed his pipe and tobacco pouch on the table and leaned on the arm of his chair. “Tell me, what drew you to picking up a pipe?”

Colin smiled sheepishly and glanced back at his brown briar, “Well, I’ve always been a fan of Lewis and Tolkien, so that first got me interested. But if I’m being honest, it was smelling your pipe whenever I passed by you on campus. I’d been thinking about it since September, and decided I wanted to give it a go myself.”

“You’ll have to forgive me for being a bad influence then,” joked MacBride. “But I’m happy to see you take an interest in it.” The professor eyed Colin’s pipe and added, “Mind if I have a look at it?”

Colin’s eyes brightened as he quickly picked up his pipe and handed it to the professor. “Sure!” MacBride picked up the billiard and gave it a look over, spotting the Rossi name stamped at the bottom of the pipe. “It doesn’t compare to your pipes, but I thought it was a nice one.”

“It seems like it,” agreed MacBride as he turned the pipe over in his hands. “One thing you’ll come to learn as you continue your journey is that it’s not how beautiful a pipe looks, but how well it smokes. From the looks of it, this one will suit you just fine.”

The young man seemed pleased and relieved at MacBride’s words and took back his pipe from his professor. MacBride leaned over and looked at the pouch of tobacco Colin purchased for his initial smoke. Thankfully, Colin had skipped some of the goopy aromatics that the shop sold, and instead purchased Sir Gawain’s Oath, a light English blend with a touch of Vanilla Cavendish that MacBride felt was suitable for a new piper.

“Now then, let the lesson begin,” said MacBride as he opened his pouch. “After all, what use is a pipe and tobacco if you can’t smoke it, eh? By the time we’re finished, you’ll be a pro at it.”

MacBride slipped into professor mode and walked Colin through how to pack his pipe, demonstrating with his own as Colin followed along and filled his. The young man eagerly copied MacBride’s instructions, with the professor giving his approval. Once the pipes were filled, MacBride then demonstrated to his pipe pupil how to light his pipe, as well as the proper way to puff his briar. The two completed the false light and tamped the burnt tobacco down, before moving to the true light. Colin copied the professor’s slow circular match movements over the bowl as he gave long puffs to pull the flame down. It didn’t take long before Colin reclined in his armchair, puffing along with MacBride proudly with his pipe.

MacBride smiled as he watched Colin contently smoking his pipe like a natural and said, “Well, young man, you’re a pipe smoker now. Is it everything you imagined?”

“It is, and more,” agreed Colin. “It feels right, like I was meant to be one.”

“The pipe has a way of calling people to it,” replied MacBride as he stared into the empty fireplace. “Stick with it lad, and you’ll experience a lifetime of enjoyment from it.”

Colin chuckled at the comment and added, “I can already hear the comments my friends will tell me once they get back from break. They’ll probably make fun of me for it, but I don’t care.”

“Will your parents say anything about it when you go home?” inquired MacBride. Colin let out a long sigh and sank more into his armchair, with a look of melancholy on his face. MacBride noticed the change in Colin and shifted in his chair, leaning on the arm. “Not well I take it?”

“No, it’s not that,” said Colin as he tamped his pipe. “I’m not exactly on good terms with them at the moment. We got into a fight over the summer when they found out I wanted to go here for school, rather than the local state University. My dad said it was a waste of money, and that he wouldn’t support me if I enrolled here. But I knew where I was called, and wouldn’t let them talk me out of it.” Colin puffed his pipe and held it in front of him, watching the smoke curl from the brown briar bowl. “I haven’t spoken to him since. I’ve called my mom here and there just to know I’m alright, but that’s it.”

MacBride frowned and nodded in understanding. “That must’ve been a difficult choice.”

“I’m at peace about it,” replied Colin with a shrug of his shoulders. “But because of it all, I decided to stay here for Christmas break. Sure, it’ll be empty in the dorms, but I can work my janitorial shift to keep me busy, and I have my books as well as this pipe now.” The young man gave MacBride a slight smile and said, “I’ll survive.”

MacBride let his pipe hang from his jaw as he scratched the beard hair on his chin. The professor always had the support of his parents in his academic pursuits, and couldn’t imagine having to go through college without their guidance and love. MacBride’s mind went back to all those classes he taught Colin, and how the young man went above and beyond the others in his class, even when he struggled with the assignments. Even in the face of all these difficulties, Colin remained positive and determined in following his path. Even in smoking a pipe, the young man pursued the briar and would’ve kept at it, even if the professor hadn’t been there. But perhaps, reasoned the professor, he was meant to be here this night at The Fox’s Study to help the young man, not just to show him how to smoke a pipe, but something more?

“Tell me lad, what is it that you want to do with your life,” asked Professor MacBride pointedly. “Even if you don’t know what exactly it is?”

“Well, that’s a good question,” answered Colin as he struck a match to relight his pipe. Once the young man got his pipe going again, he continued, “I’m a Biblical Languages major, and I want to work in translating the Bible into other languages. I want everyone to have the capability to read the Word in their own language, and maybe clean up existing translations. I became a Christian in my junior year of high school after reading the Bible for myself on a lark. I’d like to give that opportunity to others who don’t have a Bible available to them.”

MacBride nodded in approval, “A worthy goal, and one I think you’ll reach one day. I can see it in you just by talking to you.” The professor went quiet for a moment as he thought some more, and chuckled to himself before adding, “You’ll want a good foundation in English to reach that goal, and I’ll aid you in those endeavors.”

“You would, Professor?” asked Colin in a surprised tone.

“I would, and please, call me Don,” answered MacBride with a smile. “We’re both men and outside the classroom. Besides, after sharing a pipe together, we’re brothers of the briar, and brothers in Christ.” The professor straightened himself in his chair and pointed his pipe stem at the young man. “And another thing, you won’t be spending Christmas alone in the dormitory. I’d like to invite you over to my home and celebrate with my wife and I.”

Colin seemed taken aback by MacBride’s words, and fumbled an appropriate response. “Professor, I do—, sorry, Don, I would love to join you, but I don’t want to intrude on your—.”

The professor waved his arm nonchalantly as he puffed his pipe. “Nonsense, my wife would love the extra company. Christmas Day hasn’t been the same for her since our sons moved out and started their own family traditions. And it’ll give me a chance to enjoy an after Christmas dinner pipe with you in the study.” The professor leaned closer and said in a quieter tone, “and an excuse to get out of doing the dishes.”

The young man shifted awkwardly in his seat, fumbling with his pipe as he thought over the professor’s offer. After mulling it over for a minute, Colin had his answer.

“If it’s no trouble, then I’d be happy to join you,” replied Colin. The young man grinned and added, “but only if you’ll show me your pipe collection while I’m there.”

Professor MacBride let out the first good laugh he had since Professor Conley’s passing and replied, “That’s the spirit, lad. Before you know it, you’ll be the pipe guru on campus.”

Before either man knew it, Christmas day had arrived. Holding true to his word, Colin arrived at the MacBride’s home in the early afternoon. The professor introduced his pupil to his wife Sheryl, and the two spent a good part before dinner chatting as the three worked together to put on Christmas dinner. As MacBride expected, Sheryl took a liking to Colin, and appreciated having someone over to make Christmas feel like a family event again. As an extrovert and a natural conversationalist, Sheryl made Colin feel right at home and all thoughts of missing Christmas with his parents slipped far from his mind.

For a man surviving on university cafeteria food, Christmas dinner tasted like a slice of heaven for Colin. The Christmas steaks, mashed potatoes, candied yams topped with marshmallows, freshly steamed broccoli, and black-eyed peas were a welcome change from Colin’s expected Christmas dinner of shrimp ramen in a cup. Sheryl even packed leftovers for the young man to take back with him, a true smorgasbord of delights for any college student scraping to get by. The dinner topped off with a slice of cherry cheesecake, home baked early that morning. Colin was certain he gained his freshman fifteen from that meal alone, but oh, was it worth it.

After dinner, Sheryl dismissed her husband and Colin to the study as she fixed up the kitchen, though with a warning to Donald that he should expect his share of the dishes waiting for him once the festivities were over. Professor MacBride poured Colin a cup of coffee, and an Irish coffee for himself, and lead the young man upstairs to the top floor, where the professor kept his study.

To Colin, the professor’s study was everything the young man could’ve wanted if he ever had a study of his own. Multiple bookshelves lined the walls on every side, each one crammed to the brim with books and novels. An old antique desk, complete with ink quill set, sat in the back of the study with a window behind it, so the professor could look out into his backyard if he needed a change of scenery. The desk and shelves had various souvenirs and trinkets from MacBride’s travels, such as a beer stein from Germany, a bodhrán and tin whistle from Ireland, a toy soldier set of Highlanders from Scotland, a metal replica of Notre Dame of how it looked before it’s tragic fire, a Venetian party mask from Italy, a deerstalker and calabash pipe from England, and a Russian nesting doll set.

What captured Colin’s attention most of all, of course, was the corner next to the professor’s desk where he kept his pipes and tobacco. Pipe racks lined an entire bookshelf, with many pipes of various sizes, shapes, and materials proudly displayed for all to see. The bookshelf next to it contained many tins and jars of pipe tobacco ripe for opening and filling of one’s pipe. Two old armchairs sat next to the shelves, with a stand in the middle with a large ashtray and two pipe rests, perfect for two men to sit down and smoke their pipes as they talked. Colin stared at it all with wide eyes, like a kid in a candy store, and took his time looking at them all.

“I’m fortunate my wife doesn’t come up here often,” remarked MacBride as he plucked a rusticated Peterson bulldog from his rack. “If I know she’s coming up for a visit, I cover the pipes up with a sheet.” The professor added in a low tone, “it limits the chance for awkward conversations, but you’ll understand that one day if you get married.”

“If I end up with a fraction of this size, I’ll be a happy man,” replied Colin as he admired a bent meerschaum pipe carved into the shape of a lion’s head.

“You’d be surprised at how quickly they amass over time,” warned MacBride with a chuckle and a wink. “They’ll multiply in your collection like rabbits before you know it.”

The two moved over to the bookshelf with pipe tobacco, and the professor passed the jar of Bob’s Chocolate Flake to Colin. The young man produced a corncob pipe that he bought from The Fox’s Study, and the two filled their pipes with the Lakeland blend. Soon, their pipes were alight, and MacBride began taking pipes off his rack and explaining how he came across each one. Attentive as ever, Colin listened eagerly to the professor like the whole chat was a class lecture, asking questions when they came to him.

As their pipes neared the end of their bowls, Professor MacBride walked over towards his desk and opened one of the top drawers. To Colin’s surprise, MacBride produced a small, wrapped rectangular box and handed it to the young man.

“Now this one has a special story behind it,” said MacBride as he sat back in his chair. “It belonged to an old friend of mine, Professor Owen Conley. He passed away a few weeks before you started classes, but I’m sure he would’ve taken a liking to you. He always did with students that showed initiative.”

Colin had a dumbfounded look on his face as he eyed the wrapped present in his hands. “I don’t know what to say. I didn’t think I’d be getting a gift today. I don’t have anything for you.”

“Think nothing of it,” replied MacBride with a hand wave. “As you can see, I’m certainly not lacking in pipes, and that B you earned on your final paper was good enough for me.” The professor paused before adding, “Though we’ll work on you getting an A on your final paper in my class next semester.”

After being reassured by MacBride’s words, Colin slid his finger over the scotch tape and unwrapped the box. Colin lifted the top of the box off, revealing a closed velvet black bag and a note at the bottom of the box which read To help you on long nights translating – Don.

Colin opened the black bag and pulled out a straight apple Parker pipe. The pipe had a smooth brown finish, and the rim of the pipe still had traces of scorch marks from when Conley last used it.

“Don’t worry, I sanitized it so it’s ready for smoking,” said MacBride has he emptied his bulldog into the ashtray. “I have plenty of his pipes, so don’t feel like you’re taking my only one.”

Colin moved the pipe around in his hands over and over, admiring the simple details of the pipe. The young man looked up at his professor with a sincere and appreciative look.

“I can’t thank you enough professor,” said Colin as he clutched the pipe close. “Last week, I thought for sure I’d be spending a lonely Christmas in my room, thinking about everything I was missing out on back at home. But because of the kindness you and your wife showed me today, I lack for nothing and gained all I could’ve hoped for.”

“Truthfully, I should be the one thanking you,” replied MacBride, looking up at the picture on his wall of himself standing next to Conley outside Oxford College from a trip gone by. “I thought I’d be spending this Christmas morning the loss of my friend. But thanks to you, I’ve found a reason to celebrate this year.”

The two chatted long into the night, enjoying a pipe of kindness for times gone by, and many times to come. Over the next semester, Colin spent many nights at The Fox’s Study with Professor MacBride. Over the following weeks, other students and a professor or two joined them, each wanting to try pipe smoking for themselves. The small group soon grew into their own pipe club, one which Professor MacBride still leads happily to this day. And it was all thanks to a Christmas that neither Professor Donald MacBride nor Colin Knight would forget for as long as they lived.

While this Christmas might be an odd one for each of us, I hope that each and every one of you find joy and good cheer this year. I appreciate the brotherhood and friendship each of you bring me, and give me a reason to keep writing about this hobby of ours. May you go into 2021 with good health, happiness, and pleasant pipe smoking.

Yours truly,

TheBadgerPiper

Learning a Different Kind of Pipe

There are some things in life that need time before you truly come to appreciate them. The easiest example to use is food. I imagine most people as children hated certain kinds of food, be it broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, or other vegetables that aren’t potatoes. Then, as our palates develop, we no longer crave a diet of candy, spaghetti-o’s and French fries, but expand our appreciation of good, nutritious foods.

Likewise, music tends to run in the same fashion. Most kids love their Disney soundtracks and radio hits. It’s only as we grow older that our musical diet expands to include the more complex genres of music. Take rock music for instance, a listener starts off listening to radio rock, the hits that get in your head and stay there. From rock alone, one can split off into a branching path, going in many different directions: classic, metal, indie, shoegazer, pop, rockabilly, and so on. A genre like prog rock takes a bit more time for listeners to warm up, but each genre has their diehard fans.

World music, on the other hand, has more of a niche audience. This small section at the end rack of every music store is the home where one can find the traditional music from around the world. Back when I was buying CDs as a teenager, I’d see it next to the Gospel section, where I’d look for my Christian rock and metal albums, and I’d invariably take a look at it for fun. I’d find everything from Caribbean, Latin, Italian opera, and all sorts of strange music. This was also the home of Celtic and Bagpipe music, such as The Chieftains or pipe band marches, safely away from the rest of the more accessible music.

Bagpipe music and I have a complicated history. See, back when I was a wee lad I absolutely detested bagpipes. My grandmother adored the sound of the pipes, and when I was over visiting them, she would occasionally put a pipe band album on her stereo and immerse herself in the skirling pipes and drones. Meanwhile, I, the cool kid with the backwards cap, would grimace and scowl as I sat at the table, wishing anything else was on the stereo.

This hatred lasted long into my high school and college days. I remember chatting with a friend in youth group, and he mentioned he and his brothers were in a punk band with bagpipes in it called Flatfoot 56. As much as I liked my friend, I had a hard time holding back a chuckle, as I found it funny at the time. His band played a concert for my youth group, and even though I was friends with almost all the members of the band, I stayed home. As the years went on, that band found modest success, and while I still hated the pipes, I was genuinely happy for them. Looking back, I regret for not being there for my friends, and it was a selfish decision by a moody teenager. Thankfully, I’ve seen them play twice since and made my amends.

High school turned to college, and while away at school I mocked the pipes any time they were brought up. I admit I’m embarrassed at my behavior, disregarding the feelings of friends as they expressed their love or enjoyment of the pipes. Yet I would not be deterred, I’d never enjoy the Highland bagpipe, or so I thought.

Fast forward to Halloween season, 2007. By this point in life, I had graduated college, married the love of my life, and moved halfway across the country to Virginia Beach, VA. My wife and I didn’t know too many people in the area, so we were feeling a bit lonely. Some college friends of ours decided to visit us and flew in for a few days of hanging out like the old days and catching up. We decided to travel to Busch Gardens for a day of roller coasters, haunted house attractions, and fun. I thought it would just be a simple day at a theme park, but little did I know this trip would change my life forever.

Since it was Halloween season, the park was set up with lots of spooky decorations, and people in horror themed costumes. At night, the park was filled with fog to heighten the creepy decorations and lights, giving it a memorable atmosphere. After riding the rides and running through their haunted houses, the park closed for the evening, and everyone headed out for the parking lot.

Most amusement parks have some sort of theme to them to split up the different areas of the park, and Busch Gardens was based on countries around the world. As my friends and I followed the crowd out, we walked through the United Kingdom section of the park when a familiar sound hit my ears. A solo bagpiper played through the area over the loudspeakers, and immediately my defenses came up. Great, I thought to myself, I have to listen to this for the next few minutes.

Yet, something surprising happened to me that night. Instead of hearing nails on a chalkboard like the pipes normally sounded to me, instead I found them— tolerable. Cautiously, I let my guard down and walked with my ears open, letting the piper play his tune with an open mind. Little did I know that I fell right into its audible snare, and the music took hold of me and would not let me go unchanged. Had I known what was to become of me, I might’ve put up more of a fight, but now it was much too late.

The lone Scottish bagpiper wailed a haunting tune that echoed throughout the park, floating through the air and luring me in further. One thing about me is that I’m a visual listener when I enjoy my music. In other words, I let my imagination run wild and put myself in stories in my head. When I’m stuck when writing a story, I often turn to music to get myself back on track. Here, though, I didn’t even need to go into my head to further enjoy the music. I was walking among castles and medieval décor, with an ominous fog to accentuate the irresistible sound of the pipes. I was living the story in real life, walking down the streets of Scotland itself, urged onward by the tune of the piper. The skirl of the pipes combined with the sonorous droning finally clicked in my head, and I understood at last why some people are fanatic about the pipes. The bagpipe was no longer an affront to my ears, or even simply tolerable, but instead become something stirring and beautiful. 

That sound latched onto me, buried itself deep in my brain and bones, and changed me forever. I wanted to stay and listen more to that wondrous sound, but alas, I didn’t want to get kicked out of the park for staying past closing. We clambered into my SUV and drove home, happy after a day of fun memories. Yet my thoughts were not on the thrilling coasters that I had ridden, but rather an overwhelming curiosity to listen to more of bagpipe tunes. What had I been missing out of for all these years?

Looking back, I’m not sure exactly why I hated the pipes so much before. Given my love of history, the pipes should’ve appealed to me, as some pipe tunes have been around for hundreds of years, each with their own story to tell. If I had to pinpoint it down to one reason, I would have to lay the blame on one specific tune as the root of it all. Unfortunately, it’s also perhaps the most iconic pipe tune of all— Amazing Grace.

Yes, I understand why Amazing Grace is such a popular tune and why it elicits strong emotions in people. As a Christian, I should naturally appreciate the message of the tune as well, and I do to an extent. I respect the lyrics to the hymn, and the story behind its creation is without a doubt amazing. Yet, most of my experiences with hearing the bagpipes before that fateful day came from that historic hymn, and to this day it ranks as one of my least favorite pipe tunes. The tune itself is on the slow side, and I’m more of a fast, get your blood pumping kind of music fan. Add to that Amazing Grace is overplayed, though understandably for good reason, and you have all the makings of a tune that I just don’t enjoy.

Back to the story, with my newfound love of the pipes, I knew I wanted to listen to them more. Since these were the days before spotify and music streaming, I had to find different ways to get my fix. I found any music online I could and added mp3s to my iPod. I’d listen to these songs at work, exposing myself to the brilliant piping of military tattoos and pipe band competitions. Eventually, I bought my first pipe band album by Field Marshall Montgomery. My tastes were maturing, and the more I listened to the pipes, the more it got into my blood.

“Say Badger,” you may ask, “This is a pipe smoking blog. When are you going to get to anything about pipe smoking?” I’m glad you asked. Once I took up pipe smoking, I wanted something to listen to as I puffed my pipe. Naturally, what better music to listen to while pipe smoking than Celtic music? The Scots and Irish have a long tradition of pipe smoking, and in my mind the two are intertwined. Even Peterson, which is my favorite pipe maker, has an ad with a bagpiper in it, not to mention Rattray’s Bagpiper’s Dream blend. I turned to Pandora and found multiple Irish and Scottish stations to serenade me as I smoked. I would walk around outside, puffing my pipe as the sound of the pipes filled my ears, leaving me in a pleasant mood. Over time, I developed an ear for what I enjoyed listening to, preferring traditional pipe bands and solo pipers over newer variations of bagpipes with other instruments. Sure, I liked The Chieftains, Gaelic Storm, Saor Patrol, and Battlefield Band, but the traditional songs appealed to me more.

Two years passed from when I started smoking a pipe, and soon I had a spotify account full of bagpipe tunes to listen to while writing adventure stories. Now, I have music ADD, and tend to switch around what I’m listening to. One would think I would grow tired of the same tunes over and over, yet somehow I still listened to the same bagpipe albums and tunes while writing. That meant I spent at least two to three hours listening to the pipes, and that does something to you. The pipes, as they say, were calling me, and they demanded an answer.

See, while bagpipes are definitely an acquired taste, if you let them, they’ll take hold of you like a rabid dog and never let you go. I don’t know if it’s something ancient or primal, as you don’t have to be Scottish to love the Great Highland Bagpipe, but the pipes have a way of getting into your blood regardless of your nationality. I do have some Scottish in me, but only enough to fill a shot glass, and yet my love of the pipes is now firmly in my very bones.

It started with a simple google search. Back when I first gained a love of the pipes, I did a search online on bagpipe playing. I’m not quite sure why I did, but I wanted to know how difficult it was to learn the instrument. I ended up finding a bagpipe forum, and did some initial research, reading people’s thoughts and struggles with the instrument. I felt a tug on my heart to give the pipes a try, but at that point I started my Masters program, and it wasn’t feasible to add a musical instrument to my studies. While I didn’t go further than reading the forum, the seeds were well planted for down the road.

After finishing my Masters program in spring of 2014 (which is another story for a future post), my thoughts wandered back once more to the pipes. I now had the freedom to learn them if I wanted, and I made some serious attempts at starting to learn them. I purchased note cards and wrote out both the notes that were found on sheet music for the pipes, as well as the fingerings for each note. Since I didn’t know how to play, I googled for local pipe bands to join and learn from, as the pipes need an in person instructor, rather than being self-taught.

While I made great strides in attempting to learn, I didn’t end up taking the plunge. I reasoned that with an hour-long commute to work each day, I didn’t have the time to properly commit to practicing. I was also working on my first novel at the time, and I didn’t want to take time away from my writing. As much as I wanted to play, the timing wasn’t right. If I was going to learn how to play the bagpipes, I wanted to go all in and not quit due to life responsibilities.

In retrospect, I think I made the right choice, but it wasn’t all for naught. See, during this time I told my wife my desire to play the bagpipes. The declaration surprised her, but my wife supported my wish and said she’d love to see me learn. This gave me the hope that one day I could learn and have her blessing. This had another added benefit that led me to where I am now, as wife would tell others that I wanted to play the bagpipes. This kept my eyes on the prize, as it acted as a reminder of my dream.

Fast forward to a few months ago, and I was in the hospital with my wife and newborn son. While browsing Facebook, I discovered that one of my good friends on the Christian Pipe Smokers group played the bagpipes from one of his posts. I commented that I thought that was awesome, and loved the sound of the pipes and wanted to play one day. He replied to the comment encouraging me to take them up and learn, and that it was a lot of fun.

His reply stuck with me, and I reached out to him, asking him questions about his path to learn the pipes, and left it at that. Yet I felt that familiar desire tug at my heart, and I couldn’t get the thought of finally picking up the pipes out of my head. Soon, I sent more questions, asking about what was needed to learn, and how to go about it. He generously took the time to answer all my questions, which gave me a lot to think about.

 As I spent long evenings holding my son and watching him, I mulled the idea in my head. All the things that stood in my way before were gone. I had stepped away from my job to take care of my son full time, and while I didn’t have a whole lot of free time, that didn’t mean I couldn’t take time to practice. Besides, if I didn’t start learning now, when would I? Would I continue to be just a dreamer, or was it time to put my foot down and finally commit to learning the pipes? While I needed to invest in a practice chanter (the instrument all beginning pipers learn on) and an instruction book, I could easily ask for them for Christmas. The only question was if I could find an instructor, as pipers shouldn’t go about learning the pipes on their own, lest they make bad habits. My friend took lessons through a program online, and that was a feasible solution.

Before I went about signing up for online classes, I figured I should look for a local pipe band for guidance first. Normally this would’ve been my first route, but with covid, I wasn’t sure how any pipe bands could give lessons in this environment. Back to google I went, and found a local pipe band that was close enough for me. The band offered free lessons to prospective students, so I found the right place. All I needed to know now was if they did do in person lessons. I typed out a long email on my phone to the band email as I held my sleeping son, expressing my desire to learn as well as a number of questions. I sent the message and went about my day, checking my email every twenty minutes or so.

Later that day, I heard back from a member of the band that offered to meet up over zoom and answer all the questions I had. We met up that Thursday, and discussed bagpipes, pipe bands, and general questions to get to know each other. I knew pipe bands get lots of inquiries from people who think learning the pipes would be neat, but never commit to it, or quit a week or two in. I told him about my Road to Damascus moment with bagpipes, and that I was absolutely serious about dedicating myself to learning the instrument. We chatted for about a half hour, and he told me I was more than welcome to start learning with the band. All I needed was a practice chanter, and I could start lessons. I told him to expect me to start after Christmas, as I figured I’d have my chanter by then.

Turns out, I didn’t have to wait that long to start. I managed to scrounge up enough money to buy a chanter and lesson book by the weekend. I emailed the band once more and told them I’d be there the following week to start. Sadly, covid put an end to in person lessons for the time being, so since then, I’ve been taking lessons with the member I spoke with over zoom.

As a writer, I couldn’t be more excited about the start of this journey. See, the bagpipe is the perfect instrument for the storyteller. The tunes all have their own story to tell, each with their own unique history. There’s even a unique form of bagpipe tune called the Piobaireachd (pronounced pee-brockh), which is considered the classical form of pipe tunes. Before bagpipe music was written down with musical notation, teachers sang every tune to their students first, and the students would learn how to sing these tune before playing them. While those learning the pipes still sing tunes to learn them, with Piobaireachd, it’s essential. These tunes can’t be fully understood when written down like a march, strathspey, or reel, but must be learned by ear. When a Piobaireachd is played, the piper is telling the story of the tune to the listener, much like how a storyteller passes a tale down to their audience. While it’ll take me some time to gain the skills to play a Piobaireachd, I will earn the art with enthusiasm.

My new hobby shouldn’t get in the way of my pipe smoking, my writing, or the blog. In fact, I’m pleased to announce a new project that I’m starting in 2021—a blog chronicling my bagpiping journey from practice chanter to the pipes themselves. I considered putting the entries here and making a section devoted to it, but I felt a new blog would better serve both my audience here, and those that would follow my bagpipe blog. It’s still being built, but once completed, I’ll be sure to post the link here announcing it. I don’t expect everyone here to follow my new blog, but if you do, I’ll be happy to have you.

In the end, the bagpipes defeated me in our battle, and yet when it was all said and done, somehow I become the victor as well. Now under the banner of Highland tartan, I hope to change the minds of others about the pipes, as they did to me.

Thanks for indulging my little deviation from pipes and pipe tobacco, and stick around for the next pipe focused entry on my blog.

Happy puffing my friends,

-TheBadgerPiper

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An Autumn Lunt

I stood atop the cement stairs by my front door, waving goodbye to my wife as she backed out of our driveway in our car. She was off for a doctor’s appointment for our son, leaving me home alone for the next few hours. Other than a few simple chores around the house, I had all the time to myself for the first time since our son came home from the hospital— sweet, blissful free time.

Not wanting to waste this precious moment like Burgess Meredith in the Twilight Zone classic “Time Enough At Last,” I decided I needed to act and act fast. Do I go to the living room and turn on a game system and relax with one of my RPGs? While I haven’t been able to play any games since my son’s been home, I felt like my time was better served doing something more fulfilling and enriching to the soul. Perhaps a walk around the neighborhood was in order? The dog needed to go outside anyway, and the fresh air would do us good. Since both the wife and son wouldn’t be back for some time, I knew exactly what to bring for the walk.

Off I marched downstairs, and in a matter of moments I had two briars filled with mellow English blends. After lighting my Morgan Bones bent Brandy with Kramer’s blend for Danny Kaye, I put my dog in his harness and off we went for and afternoon stroll. My dog isn’t much of a fan of the smell of pipe smoke, and barks at me in anger when I come in after a night of writing. Yet with the opportunity for a walk presented before him, my dog bounded off on his leash, happily putting up with my pipe smoke trailing me on our little trek.

It’s rare for me to enjoy a pipe outside of my garage, and even less so during the daytime. I’m usually shut away in my little hideaway, puffing my pipe with only a lamp and candle to accompany the illumination of my laptop. I don’t mind enjoying my pipe in my quiet isolation, but the scenery does grow old after awhile. As much as I like the idea of going on lunts with my pipe, I’m so busy with life that it often gets in the way. Likewise, my son now presents a new challenge, as I must wash my face and brush my teeth when coming in to protect him from the smell of my smoke.

As we embarked on our walk, I took a moment to take in the scenery around me. Autumn is capital weather for pipes, and I was blessed with the perfect storm for enjoying my briar. Grey clouds covered the sky, blotting out the sun and covering the land in perpetual shade. A brisk breeze came and went in a lazy pattern, necessitating the use of a comfortable old jacket to stay warm. While half of the trees were still covered in green leaves, the other half delighted with vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges, a true treat for the eyes. In a month’s time, the trees will be bare, so now was the time to drink in autumn’s entire splendor.

We took a leisurely stroll down the winding road that circled my little neighborhood, allowing ourselves the freedom to stop as we pleased and mind our own business. Due to it being on a weekday in the early afternoon, the streets were empty, other than the occasional car that drove by. With most people at work, and all the neighborhood kids busy at school, my dog and I enjoyed our solitude, alone to drink in our walk undisturbed. The only ones in a hurry around us were the squirrels, tirelessly at work gathering food for the coming winter.

Does a pipe taste better while on a walk? No, but it certainly enriches the total experience. The rustling of the fallen leaves, the cool, crisp October air, and the explosions of bright colors all came together for a memorable walk. The fatigue from sleepless nights melted away as I marched along, puffing contently on my pipe while my faithful dog kept pace by my side. I doubt you could’ve found two happier beings on our little island at that moment.

I could’ve walked for hours if I had the chance, but alas, a pipe only lasts so long. With that in mind, I led my dog towards the final stretch on our regular trail. We came across a lady packing her car for a trip out to town. She turned her attention towards us, and gave my dog and I a friendly wave. I smiled, tipped my cap, and puffed as I nudged my dog back on track. While no words were spoken in our greeting, it was a cheerful and welcome break of the quiet solitude.

As I puffed away on my briar, I felt an overwhelming sense of nostalgia as my mind went back to when I was a teenager. There used to be an older gentleman that walked his dog down the road from my house. He never walked by my home, but I would see him on occasions while my parents drove me to work or school. Any time I had the privilege of watching him walk his dog; he would inevitably have a pipe hanging from his jaw, with a trail of smoke following behind him. For this man, he was simply doing a daily task, but little did he know his walk always brought a smile to my face. In my heart, I wanted to be like him, walking a dog through the neighborhood while smoking my pipe, bringing a piece of the past with me on my jaunt.

While both the man and dog are most likely gone from this world, I’d like to think that by doing the same; I honor him and his memory. Maybe one day if I’m fortunate, someone else will watch me smoking my pipe while walking my dog, and ignite the spark of inspiration that leads them to the beloved briar.

Upon reaching my driveway, I returned my faithful pup back into the house and resumed my pipe by myself. As I took one more stroll around my driveway, I sighed to myself, wishing that more people out there would take up pipe smoking and realize how tranquil and calming the hobby can be. Oh, if only these wonderful autumn days would last longer. They always fly by faster than one would want. But until the first snowfall covers the ground, I will enjoy every moment I have in this awe-inspiring landscape.

Happy Puffing My Friends,

-TheBadgerPiper

Diving Headfirst into Fatherhood

On September 22nd, 2020 my world changed forever.

It was close to 11 PM, and I paced nervously around in the now empty labor and delivery room at the hospital, dressed from head to toe in scrubs. I spent the previous 24 hours in this room with my wife, as she was induced to deliver our son. While the 21st originally was the due date, my son was nowhere near ready to make his entrance into this world. We both expected that my wife would make it to the pre-determined induction date the following week, but life had other plans.

Due to complications, my wife had to be induced to give our son the best chance at life, as well as reduce any health risks for my wife. I drove my wife to the hospital, went home to pack, smoked one last pipe, and arrived late Monday night to be with my wife for the coming events. That night, we had a hard time catching any sort of needed rest for the next day. We weren’t scared, more at disbelief that we would soon become parents.

Tuesday easily ranks as one of the hardest days of my entire life. For sixteen hours, I watched as my wife struggled and withstood contractions that increased in power throughout the day. My wife wanted to do a natural birth without the use of an epidural, so it became a battle of endurance and will. Many times throughout the day, the on call doctor and nurse suggested to her to use the epidural, but my wife declined each tempting offer, and suffered in her labor pains. On top of all of this, my wife hadn’t had any food since Monday afternoon, so she was in a weakened state.

Since my wife went with a natural birth, she relied on her support team to talk her through the contractions and help physically offset the pain. While covid limited who could be in my wife’s corner during the delivery, we had a good college friend with us as our partner. All of our friend’s births had been natural, so she knew what my wife was going through and could not only empathize with her, but give direct help. My role involved giving my wife massages wherever needed, and talk her through the pain.

After sixteen painful, long hours, our son wasn’t progressing at all, and both my wife and son were headed towards a dangerous delivery. Despite all our hard work, there were no other options except a C-section. The staff took my wife away to prepare for the operation, and I scrubbed up to join her while our friend went back to her hotel as visitor hours were over (she came back the next morning and was able to see and hold our son). I spent the minutes in our room alone, praying as I waited for a nurse to take me back for the big moment.

As I walked into the delivery room, I prepared myself for one of the most stressful and agonizing moment of my life. I found my wife on the operating table, with nurses and staff hurrying about for the procedure. I saw the fear in my wife’s eyes as she looked up at me, scared at what was about to befall her. This was the last thing we expected to happen, and I honestly didn’t know how it would all end.

At that moment, I stopped being Greg the fun loving and affectionate guy, and became Greg the Man, the protector, and the comforter. I sat next to my wife’s side, stared right into her eyes and began talking to her, assuring her that all would go well. I reminded her about all the trips we took around the world, and how we were going to take more in the future with our son. I took her back to her favorite location; a little spot in Slovenia called Lake Bled, and visually walked her around the pristine shores of that place. Despite the terror on her face and uncertainty in her mind, my wife calmed down and concentrated on her breathing. I placed my hand on my wife’s shoulder, prayed with her, and eased her fears as she went through the operation.

Then, without warning, I heard the cry of a newborn baby. My wife looked at me and asked if I could see our son. I stood up and looked over the protective drapes towards the group of nurses, hoping to catch sight of my son. He was held up high in the hands of one of the staff, naked and covered in blood and fluid as he wailed and jerked around for the first time outside the womb. Nothing else mattered to me at that moment, I was looking at my flesh and blood, my child.

“I see him,” I choked through rising emotions. “I see him, and he’s beautiful.”

Through her fear, I saw the most beautiful smile my wife has ever given. “He is?” she asked.

I looked down at my wife and returned a smile.

“Yeah.”

Despite the horrendous ordeal she had been through the whole day, my wife as beaming through her exhaustion. I took another look at our son and took a quick look at his features. Despite the mess all over him, I could see the full head of hair, dark like his parents. A nurse took him to clean him up before we could hold him, but I could make out enough features to describe him to my wife.

“He has our hair, but he has your face,” I said as I glanced back at my wife. “And your eyes.”

I comforted my wife as I waited for the nurse to come back with my son. A moment later, he was in my view, wiped clean and ready for holding. I took a picture of him and showed it to my wife, and saw the tears in her eyes. I joined the nurses as they took his weight and checked that he didn’t need any additional care. After another picture, a nurse came by with scissors, and I cut the umbilical cord in a snip. After a few quick family photos, I said goodbye to my wife as my son and I went out of the room, so they could take care of closing the C-section incision.

My son and I went to the post-operation room, and after a shot and height measurement, I proceeded to do skin to skin contact with my son. As I held him in my arms, we stared at each other for a good long time. While I always knew I’d be a father, holding my son at that moment, it all felt so natural and right. For years, I worried about what kind of father I’d be, if it was even worth bringing a life into this chaotic world. All those fears melted away as I held his tiny body. I would do anything for this little child, raise him the way he should go, and lay down my life to protect him if needed.

Some time later, my wife arrived in the room, and I passed my son over to her. Overjoyed, my wife embraced our son, and the three of us spent our first moments together as a family. After my wife held him for a bit, we discussed what his name would be. We had a few names reserved for him, but decided we wouldn’t finalize a name until we met him. I waited for my wife’s response, and with confidence in her voice, she spoke his name for the first time.

“I think Milo fits him.”

“Okay then,” I said as I smiled at my son. “Welcome, little Milo.”

***

I wish I could say it’s all been smooth sailing since, and that I’ve transformed into the best dad in the world, but that wouldn’t be true. In all honesty, this has been one of the harder things I’ve had to adjust to in my life. I’d compare it to every day being the first day of a college course load and having to complete finals all at the same time. Each day poses a new challenge, as I learn something new about my son, and likewise he learns about life, too.

Most of my waking hours are spent in the nursery caring for my son, or doing something around the house as quickly as I can so I can get back to watching him. I’ve held my son in my arms in the middle of the night, fighting off sleep as best as I can as I pray for him to nod off for a few hours. I’ve learned to wear old clothes while caring for him; otherwise it ends up with spittle everywhere. Just the other day, while taking a bag of dirty diapers out, the bag broke, forcing me to clean them all up again so they could go in the trash can.

My pipe time has also diminished greatly, though to be fair that’s not unexpected. I no longer have the luxury of spending hours outside writing and puffing away. The days out are less frequent, and some days I come in early do to exhaustion. I keep my phone sound on, as I need to be on call in case I’m needed.

It’s easy for me to get down on myself for feeling these frustrations. After all, I dearly love my son, and I don’t mind sacrificing these little things for his sake. Dealing with change has never been one of my stronger suits, so I’m not surprised that I’ve had a rough adjustment.

One of the more comforting things I’ve found has been chatting with friends of mine who are also fathers. When I share my frustrations or fears, it gives me some peace of mind knowing that they’ve had the same thoughts. It gives me the hope that while things might be difficult now, in time I will grow and adapt to my new responsibilities.

Since becoming a father, I’ve come to appreciate my pipe smoking time now more than ever. Due to covid, I spent a lot more evenings out in the garage smoking my pipe. In some ways, I’m grateful for it, as it not only gave me sanity while working a job that wasn’t a good fit, but it also allowed me a chance to enjoy my last stretch of time without the added responsibilities as a parent.

With that luxury gone, I’m more careful about which blends I choose to smoke during my breaks. I can’t just take a couple of pipes; filled with whatever tobacco I fancied that evening. Instead, I have to make conscious choices of the blends I want to smoke, as I might only have an hour or so before I’m needed. Outside, I can smoke a pipe, enjoy the peace and quiet, and recharge my batteries before I’m needed to clean up some spittle.

On the bright side, one aspect that I am looking forward to is being a pipe-smoking dad. Having grown up watching a fair amount of TV and reading books, I’ve always been fond of the image of a father sitting in his favorite chair, smoking a pipe as he offers wisdom and guidance to his children. I’m positively itching to dispense wisdom as I point at my kids with the stem of my pipe, and offer up a terrible pun or three. After all the diapers I’ll be changing, I think I’ve earned my right to unleash the most groan-worthy puns and dad jokes of all time. I suppose it’s time to retire all my old video game and novelty t-shirts and switch to polos and sweater vests.

Well, the candle grows dim, and I just got a text message from my wife that my son is stirring, Time to finish this last pipe and head in for the evening. Until next time, happy piping my friends!

-TheBadgerPiper

Why Smoke A Pipe?

[This entry is going to be a bit more unusual from my regular posts. Normally, I write for those that are already pipe smokers and talk a bit about the hobby. Instead, this entry is for those that are curious, who wish to know more about pipe smoking, but haven’t taken the plunge. So for my regular readers, none of this should be new, but feel free to read along and add your thoughts as well in the comments section.]

Welcome traveller, pull up a chair, grab a drink, and get yourself comfortable. I see you’re new here, and by the look in your eyes, I can tell you have questions. You wouldn’t have come to this blog if you didn’t. Perhaps you’ve wondered about it for years, or maybe this is just an impulsive read. Either way, you want to know more about pipe smoking, and I’m here to help.

I was like you once, as were all fellow pipe smokers at one point before the got into the hobby. Perhaps you have a relative or acquaintance that smoked a pipe, and you have fond memories of them puffing contently at a family gathering. Maybe you remember seeing a pipe smoker walk past you out in public, and the aroma of their pipe stuck with you all these years. You might have a favorite author or someone you admire that smoked a pipe, and the pictures of them with their briar piqued an interest. Maybe you already use tobacco in some sort, and wish to switch to a pipe as a way for you to enjoy the sacred leaf in a more pleasing method. Or there’s a chance you love history and old things, and a pipe appeals to the side of yourself that wants to escape to yesteryear.

We all have our reasons, and every pipe smoker worth their salt has a yarn to spin about their journey. I’ve talked about my journey elsewhere, but I can give you the cliff notes. I didn’t have anyone in my life that smoked a pipe, and yet I felt a call to it. See, I’ve always been a lover of history and stories, and both are intrinsically intertwined with pipes. I would read my history books on the Civil War and see soldiers with pipes hanging from their jaws. I spent evenings reading fantasy books, following the exploits of heroes that smoked pipes. More often than not, these authors would have their pictures taken with a pipe in hand or clenched in their teeth. I admired these men, and wanted to be like them, and that included their pipe smoking.

There was something about a pipe that made people more interesting. The pipe was an extension of the person, as much as their hair style or the clothes they wore. Watch a pipe smoker in an old movie, and see how they act as they smoke their pipe. The pipe becomes more than just a prop, but a part of their character and personality. The character might be an eccentric inventor, a simple villager, a weary soldier, a storm battered sailor, a wise pontificating father, or a stuffy braggart, but regardless of their personality, their pipe accentuates who they are. When they come back to your memory, often it’s with their pipe in tow.

When I saw pipe smokers, either on screen, in photos, or on the street, I studied the different kinds of shapes and styles, each one unique and interesting to my untrained eye. A basic billiard pipe seemed just as cool to my wide eyes as a monstrous calabash. Long or short, bent or straight, it didn’t matter to me, they all had their appeal to me. I remember daydreaming about making my own pipe, long before I ever tried the hobby for myself.

Funnily enough, tobacco started off far down my list of reasons of why I wanted to try pipe smoking. I never enjoyed the smell of cigarettes or cigars, but due to the lack of pipe smokers in the wild, it took years before I smelled the aroma of a pipe. Yet when I finally did, it caught me totally by surprise. Instead of pushing me away with the rank stink of cigarettes or the powerful force of a cigar, smelling a pipe drew me in and made me want to hang around it. I didn’t know how to describe it at the time, but the smoke had a pleasant yet deep quality to it.

What appealed to me the most of all about a pipe was the sheer contentment it brought to the smoker. The pipe brought joy to the smoker engaging in conversation, peace to the man relaxing in his study with a book, and solace to the troubled soul. As someone that struggles with depression and anxiety, I wanted to experience that kind of peace and joy a pipe could bring.

Even before I took up pipe smoking, I remember sitting with a group of friends at a holiday party, minding my own business. Apparently, I looked quite at ease, as a friend of mine commented that all I needed was a pipe at that moment, and I’d be complete. I chuckled at the remark, as the person had no idea that if I could’ve had one right then and there, I would have. Others, oblivious to my hobby, have made the same comment, and it always cheers me up. Some people are meant to be pipe men, and I suppose I have that aura.

Now then, now that my history is out of the way, I’ll return to the original question—why smoke a pipe? After all, we live in a world now that demonizes all forms of tobacco usage, and by taking up a pipe, you will no doubt face the scorn of some members of our society. So why take up a hobby that a number of well-meaning people frown upon?

Admittedly, I struggled with this very question when I started. I believed I’d disappoint my parents and loved ones if they knew about my pipe smoking. What I realized is that I’m my own man, and I can make my own decisions. If others don’t like my hobby, then that’s fine, but it wont keep me from enjoying a bowl of good tobacco. When I eventually told both of my parents, they ended up being fine with my choice, as did my relatives. While not everyone will have the same experience, but I’ve found more often than not that others find it interesting that I smoke a pipe, rather than treat me like a pariah.

What will help you in your favor is that pipe smoking is seen as unusual and a tradition from an older time. Flip through a history book with old photos from decades long ago, and chances are you’ll see a pipe smoker or two walking around. Pipes were commonplace, and they certainly aren’t nowadays. When pipe smokers enjoy their pipe out in public, more often than not they’ll be told how they remind a person of a grandfather or uncle. Others might tease you and call you an old man or gramps, but I find it’s rarely out of malice. They’ll never admit it, but they’re probably glad to see you out with a pipe.

In a world dominated by smart phones, social media, and distractions, a pipe forces a man to slow down, put everything else aside, and focus on his pipe. One does not simply desire a pipe and instantly start smoking. No, instead the pipe smoker selects a pipe, the tobacco desired for smoking, and takes care in packing and lighting the pipe properly. While for some this is a speedy process, for many especially starting out, they will need to focus on what they’re doing, putting aside all current worries and cares, and mentally engage in getting their pipe ready. This creates anticipation for the smoke to come, which adds to the experience. The pipe eschews the instant gratification of a cigarette or a cigar, forcing the pipe smoker to be an active participant, rather than a simple passive recipient of tobacco. For some, I’m sure this act doesn’t seem appealing, but I can assure you that there’s something relaxing, almost Zen-like, about selecting and filling a pipe for the evening.

Likewise, a pipe requires constant attention while smoking. One doesn’t simply light a pipe and huff and puff their briar until the tobacco in the bowl has turned to ash. Instead, the pipe smoker constantly tends to their pipe once it’s lit, taking purposeful puffs as they tamp the ash down. The pipe takes work, but after some time, effort, and practice, the actions in maintaining a lit pipe become second nature.

Due to the work involved, pipe smoking isn’t for everyone. Well, let me rephrase that—anyone can smoke a pipe, but not everyone that does becomes a pipe smoker. I don’t say that with any sort of elitism, even though pipe smoking can be seen as a pretentious prop. Smoking a pipe is not something one picks up as a lark. Those that pick it up half-heartedly most likely will toss the pipe in their junk drawer, never to be seen again. No, a pipe is pursued and sought after, practiced and honed by the smoker. If you’re not willing to keep at it, then its most likely not for you. But if you’re willing to endure missteps and keep at it, then a marvelous world awaits you.

The world of pipe smoking is vast and deep, filled with little intricacies and nuances that will keep your attention for decades. Likewise, the hobby is flexible enough for any sort of style of pipe smoker. For some, they’re content with sticking to the shallow end, smoking cheap pipes and grocery store tobacco blends. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, as that’s been the most common type of pipe smoker in the past. But if you’re an adventurous type, willing to dive deep into the depths of the briar, then pipe smoking will hold your interest for the rest of your life. From artisan pipe carvers, to obscure overseas pipe tobacco blends, there’s a wealth of adventures awaiting the willing pipe-smoking explorer. Your friends and loved ones will chuckle or roll their eyes as you open up the package containing your latest pipe and ask, “Do you really need another one? Don’t you have enough already?” You will turn to them with a twinkle in your eye and reply, “Just one more.”

While the people around you might not understand your new obsession, you won’t be alone in your passion. While there might not be as many of us walking around the neighborhood, you’ll find that the pipe community is not only alive online, but thriving. Take a gander on Youtube, and you’ll find a plethora of pipe smoking channels (such as the Syndicated Pipe Club) and personalities to guide you into the hobby. Are you more of a podcast listener? Then you have plenty of podcasts to listen to, from the ever-entertaining Country Squire Radio, to the informative Pipes Magazine Podcast, The Syndicated Pipe Club, Pipe and Tamper, and others. Each podcast or channel has their preferred topics for discussion, from tobacco reviews to shows on famous pipe smokers. There’s years of content to watch and listen to, so there’s never a dull moment in the community.

The conversation doesn’t end with videos and podcasts, as you will find plenty of pipe smokers to chat with on forums and on social media. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are full of fellow pipe smokers, discussing their latest tobacco find or favorite pipes. They’re easy to find, too, if you use the right hashtags and search terms. And if forums or message boards are more your style, then don’t fret, as there are many active communities to join and post to your hearts content. Each forum has their own unique style and atmosphere, so if one doesn’t work out, you’re bound to find another one that fits you.

If you’re still unsure about trying a pipe, let me assure you on one additional matter. The way smoking is portrayed in media is completely different to reality in terms of pipe smoking. Unlike some other forms, pipe smoking is not addictive to the average person. Now, this might be different if you suffer from an addictive personality, but in general pipe smokers are not slaves to tobacco addiction. This was a concern of mine (and my wife) when I first took an interest in becoming a pipe man. I’ve been smoking a pipe for eight years, and I’ve never once felt like I couldn’t go a day without my pipe. When I go on vacation, I make it a point to leave my pipes at home to show that I can go for a period of time without pipe smoking. Do I miss it? Certainly, and you can bet that on the first night home I’m out with my pipes, but I’m not bouncing off the walls or chewing my nails without my pipe tobacco. In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear stories of pipe smokers that used the hobby to kick their cigarette habit.

Instead, pipe smoking for me is a form of relaxation, something that brings me peace after a long day. No matter my mood, I know I can escape out to my garage, light up my briar and baccy, and clear my head as the smoke wafts up to the rafters. When I’m alone in my garage, pipe in hand, I understand why pipe smoking has endured all these centuries. Should you decide to take up a pipe for yourself, I hope from the bottom of my heart that you too will find this tranquility.

Until then I’ll be here, ready to help answer any question you might have. See you further down the path, friends.

-TheBadgerPiper

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So You Started Smoking a Pipe, Now What?

So you’ve taken the plunge and decided to become a pipe smoker. You’ve read the how-to’s and watched some youtube videos on how to get started. You’ve picked up a briar or cob, some pipe tobacco to smoke, and a few of the necessary tools to get your pipe journey started. You know how to light a pipe, keep it going, and hopefully how to take care of your new passion. Now that you have a handle on the hobby and decided it’s for you, the question now is— where do you go next?

In all the information out there for beginning pipe smokers, there’s a lot of material on starting the journey, but once you get going, there’s very little guidance for what you should focus on next. There are so many different directions you can go, yet there really isn’t a guide on how to build up a collection or cellar to set yourself up for years to come. So consider this entry a kind of intermediate class on what I would recommend for a pipe smoker ready to move onto the next step in the hobby.

The Essential Extras

If you’ve bought the basics already, such as a pipe, some tobacco, and the pipe tool and pipe cleaners, then you’re set for everything you need for your entire pipe journey. Yet, there are three items that I consider valuable for every pipe smoker, but not exactly necessary for when you start. Now that you’re in the hobby and know this is for you, it’s time to add these in your personal arsenal to add to your overall experience. All three items are relatively inexpensive, and you’ll use them regularly in your pipe journey.

First we have the pipe ashtray, and yes, this is different from your standard ashtray. You can get by using a normal ashtray when starting out, but a pipe ashtray will come in handy as you smoke a pipe on a more regular basis.

There are many different combinations of pipe ashtrays, offering different uses to suit your needs. A normal pipe ashtray comes with one or two pipe rests to hold your pipes as you smoke, and a cork in the middle of the ashtray for you to tap out the dottle from your pipe once finished. I have a pipe ashtray made by Peterson that has the two rests and a cork, and it’s perfect for my evening smoking time. The two pipe rests are invaluable assets, and while I often don’t use the cork, it’s a nice addition. You might only need one rest, but I highly suggest making sure there’s at least one on whatever ashtray you buy. You won’t regret the investment, and for the most part, they’re reasonably priced.

If you plan on taking your pipes or tobacco with you while travelling, a pipe case is a must own. After putting the cash down for your first pipe, the last thing you want to do is have it break in your backpack or pocket when you want to enjoy an evening smoke. In addition, most pipe cases have space for tobacco, a Czech tool, and pipe cleaners, keeping everything together in one convenient location.

Most pipe retailers have a few modestly priced pipe cases for sale under $30, which is great for your tobacco budget. These cases usually hold about two pipes comfortably, and have a pouch for some bulk tobacco. If two pipes aren’t enough, you can find larger cases that hold more, but expect to pay an additional cost for the extra space.

There’s also an artisan market out there for the crafty types that make their own leather pipe cases on Etsy. These pipe cases are usually made with love, and offer a variety of different sizes and customization to fit your smoking style. While the prices for these cases are higher than your basic pipe cases on, say, smokingpipes.com, but you’re getting a nice case that’ll last you for the rest of your life.

Some of the more economically minded pipe smokers out there do create their own custom pipe cases, or will use a small utility bag to hold their pipes and tobacco. While it will save you some money, they don’t have a spot to secure your pipe in place, so use these at your own risk.

Finally, every pipe smoker should look into buying a pipe rack when starting out. Almost every pipe smoker owns at least one, if not a few, for where they keep their pipes and tobacco. Pipe racks come in many sizes, holding at least two pipes, but some going as far as holding thirty pipes or more. You might not think you need one when you own just one pipe, but you’ll be surprised at how quickly you accumulate more pipes, ushering the need for a solid pipe rack.

Most pipe retailers sell pipe racks, but I suggest turning to ebay for finding a pipe rack. You can get a better deal buying one used, and there are a lot of great antique pipe racks that will serve you well after a quick cleaning. Some even come with old glass jar humidors to store a favorite bulk tobacco. If you do buy one with a glass humidor, give it a good cleaning and a look over to check that the seal works properly. The last thing you want to do is store some tobacco in there, only for it to dry out due to a poor seal.

There are two different kinds of pipe racks, ones that hold the pipe with the bowl sitting on the base of the rack, and others where you store them with the stem facing the base. While either will work just fine, I recommend buying ones that rest the pipe bowl at the base. As the pipe rests, any remaining tobacco residue will make its way downward on a pipe. You don’t want that residue going down into the stem, as it’ll make for a less enjoyable smoke the next time you use it.

A word of caution, there’s one minor issue with buying a pipe rack when starting out. When you store your pipe on it, you’ll see the extra spaces without any pipes on it, and have the desire to fill that rack out. This leads to the beginnings of the dreaded pipe mania known as PAD, or Pipe Acquisition Disorder. PAD can be a powerful force, as I’ve mentioned in a previous blog entry, but let’s be honest— you’re planning on buying more pipes anyway, right? Well, once you fill out that rack, you’ll end up buying another pipe that won’t fit into the rack. Off to eBay you’ll go, and the cycle will begin once more, so be warned.

Pipes

So you have your first pipe, and since you’re reading this, I can surmise that all went well with it. But if you’re sticking with pipe smoking, you’re going to want to buy a second pipe, and eventually a collection of them.

There are a lot of directions that you can go in now, and without guidance or a plan, it’s difficult to narrow exactly what to do. Allow me to offer some suggestions to help you fill out your pipe rack and avoid buyer’s remorse as much as possible.

Let’s remember some basic principles when searching for a new pipe. The first rule is, be wary of cheap new pipes. While there are some reliable brands that offer good pipes at a budget price, these are few and far between. A good rule of thumb is this— if you see a pipe that catches your interest, but haven’t heard of the brand before, do yourself a favor and do a quick internet search on them. More likely than not, there’s a pipe forum thread or social media discussion on the brand, and that’ll give you a good foundation on whether you should consider looking into them further.

Second, don’t buy pipes from Amazon. Just don’t. Support a pipe retailer instead. This isn’t an anti-Amazon rant, as I certainly use them regularly for many things. However, pipes aren’t exactly amazon’s specialty. You run the risk of running into a lemon more often than not with them. Besides, Jeff Bezos doesn’t exactly need your business, but I know of a few pipe websites that do.

Finally, be wary of pipes sold at functions that aren’t related to pipe smoking. You’ll sometimes find pipes sold at places such as Renaissance Faires and other gatherings. Some of these pipes can look quite appealing, and their prices are at that “too good to be true” range. I personally have purchased a Churchwarden at one, and after two times smoking it; the pipe now sits as a decoration, rather than a rotation pipe.

[On a side note, Churchwardens seem to fit into this category pretty often. If you see that Lord of the Rings style Churchwarden for sale at some sort of geeky function, BEWARE! You can’t even trust some pipe sites for Churchwardens, as they happen to sell a certain name brand Warden that rhymes with MacWeen, and you DON’T want to buy one of those. You’re much better off looking for one sold by a normal name brand pipe maker, like Stanwell or Savinelli. A good, budget Warden can be purchased by Missouri Meerschaum, and you’ll be much happier as a hillbilly hobbit over being a sad Renn Faire impulse buyer like I was.]

New Vs Estate Pipes

Now that we have those caveats out of the way, lets narrow our focus a bit more. Let’s start off with the very basic question of quality VS quantity. Do you want to build up a solid rotation of pipes quickly, or would you rather take your time and focus on higher quality pipes?

By now, I’m guessing you’ve dipped your toes in the social media pipe world and have seen the kind of pipes other pipers are smoking. Some of these pipe smokers have very nice looking briars, such as Castellos, Ardor, Dunhill, and countless Artisan made pipes. It’s easy to develop a bit of pipe envy when looking at them, but don’t go running to smokingpipes.com to see how much they are. You’ll need to be very patient, or have a large pipe budget if you want to add one of these beauties to your pipe rack. Even adding new, mid-ranged pipes like Peterson and Savinelli can set you back over $100 a pop for a single pipe.

Yet, if you’re willing to take the time to take the quality path and save up for new pipes, this isn’t exactly a bad way to go. After all, these are very nice pipes, and investing in one of these new briars will easily last you the rest of your life, to be passed down to a new piper when the time is right. You can always buy a cob or two to put in your rotation while you save up, as long as you don’t mind smoking a cob. You’ll just have to ignore the pictures of full pipe racks, and take pleasure in each hard earned new briar you acquire.

If you’re a less patient piper and want to fill that rack quickly, then you’ll want to take the quantity path. This isn’t a bad path, either, as there are ways to score some quality briars at a lower cost—but it’ll involve some legwork on your end. Before we go down that road, I’d like to once again suggest at looking into buying a few cobs. For the price of a new briar pipe, you can end up with a sizable collection of Missouri Meerschaum cobs that will handle anything you throw at them. Never ever underestimate the value of a solid cob.

Back to briars, you can find some great ones if you’re willing to look for them, but there’s a catch—these won’t be new pipes, but rather estate (used) pipes. There will be some people out there that might balk at smoking a pipe used by someone else, but don’t let that keep you from giving them a look. Some of my most treasured briars happen to be estates, so there’s treasure to be found in them thar auctions my lads.

It’s not that hard to find an assortment of estates available, all you need to do is open up eBay or check the various used pipe retailers on the web, or social media. This won’t be easy, as a small consequence for the resurgence of pipe smoking means there’s much more competition out there for each estate auction. Estate pipes can go for absurd prices at auction, so deals are fewer and farther between. Even a budget pipe from the likes of Kaywoodie can go for outrageous prices, due to the Kaywoodie collectors out there. But don’t lose heart, for those with eyes of a hawk and fingers of a cheetah can score the occasional steal.

I would advise not to start off looking for those pretty Dunhills and Castellos, and instead familiarize yourself with some of the other brands of the past. GBD, Jobey, BBB, Chacom, Comoy, Brigham, Parker, and Hardcastle are all worth looking up on eBay and searching through the current auctions. Heck, even “lesser” brands like Longchamp and Custombilt are worth looking up for a good deal. Sometimes, you can even find reasonable prices on estate Petersons, Savinelli, Stanwell, Nording, and others, but more often than not they tend to go for just under the current price of a new pipe.

It’s also useful to look up seconds for brands like Peterson or Savinelli, often called Irish or Italian Seconds. Stanwell has some seconds as well, going under names such as Royal Guard and others. A second is simply a pipe that doesn’t meet to the standards of being sold with the official brand stamp on them, as they have an imperfection to them in some way, but they’re still smokable and worth looking up. I have a second from both Stanwell and Sasieni, and I’d never sell either unless I was getting out of the hobby.

Estate pipe hunting can be a bit of a challenge. For one thing, the stock is always changing, and if you see a briar that you want and it sells, it might take years to find a similar pipe. Then you have the dreaded snipers and stalkers that will steal the pipe right under your nose just as you’re seconds away from winning. As someone who has lost plenty of auctions this way, it can be incredibly frustrating, and you might need to smoke your pipe while you cool off.

Another difficulty on estate hunting is figuring out if the pipe for sale is a lemon or not. If you see a pipe that catches your fancy, take a look at ALL of the pictures and study them in full. You’ll run into an occasional pipe that looks nice in the first picture, but subsequent pictures show cracks in the stem or fills on the bowl. Keep a sharp lookout for strange and out of place dark spots on the bowl, as that’s a sign that the pipe is heading towards burning out, and you don’t want to happen to your new purchase.

If you come across a pipe that had only one or two pictures that don’t show every spot of the briar, then I suggest either moving on or asking the seller for more pictures or information. Also, check to see the activity on the pipe. Has it been on sale for a long time without any bids? Does the pipe have a price that seems too good to be true? If so, I recommend giving that pipe a real close look over, as that might be a hint that this isn’t a pipe worth buying. Finally, if you see an estate briar pipe with an absurd price tag, then move along and ignore it. Some sellers out there think that anything old must be worth lots of money. No, that old BBB pipe isn’t worth $500, take off that extra zero and then we’ll talk. Take a good look at any measurements given for the pipe, too. I once bought a Wellington pipe that looked like a regular sized pipe in the pictures. Once it arrived, I found out to my dismay that it was a very small pocket pipe, which was of no use for me. I ended up using it as a prop for a badger stuffed animal that was made for me as a birthday gift. It works for him much more than it would for me.

Another tip— don’t let an extremely dirty or old pipe scare you away from buying it. These pipes tend to have less bids going for it, as most pipers don’t want to take the time to give it the cleaning it needs to make it smokable again. As long as there’s no fills or cracks, then you can bring that old pipe back out of retirement. Likewise, a chewed up stem with bite marks can be sent in for repairs where it can be made new again.

If you do choose to bid on an estate, then decide how much that pipe is worth to you and bid at that number. If you’re set on getting a deal and playing the auction game by only bidding just enough to be the highest bidder, then I hope you’re ready to camp out at that auction, otherwise you’ll be spending a good amount of time securing the highest bid until the action is over. For peace of mind, I go straight for my top bid and let it be. If I lose it, then it wasn’t meant for my rack. There are always more pipes in the sea, so you’ll catch the right one eventually.

The very first thing you’ll want to do when that estate pipe arrives is give it a good cleaning. Even if the pipe is listed as brand new, I’d suggest wiping the stem down with a little bit of everclear (or your cleaning alcohol of choice, except Isopropyl, don’t use that one) for sanitizing purposes. You don’t know where that pipe has been, so you’re better off staying on the safe side and making sure it’s clean. If the pipe looks like it’s in good condition, then I’d do a basic salt treatment, a quick wash of the briar with Murphy’s Wood Soap (making sure not to get any soap into the bowl of the pipe), run some alcohol dipped pipe cleaners through the stem and shank until clean, and end with polishing the briar and stem.

For reference, a salt treatment is when you pour table salt into the bowl of the pipe until full, and then saturating the salt with your alcohol of choice. Leave the pipe to rest with the salt overnight, and remove the salt the next day. This is to draw out any unwanted ghosting from the bowl, so the previous owner’s tobacco choice won’t interfere with whatever you choose to smoke (though some ghosts are harder to remove than others…).

If that new estate pipe is in rough shape and needs a deeper clean or repairing, then there are other steps you’ll need to take to get it in a better condition. One example of this is if your pipe has an oxidized stem. If that black stem is a sickly greenish tan, then you’re going to need to do more to bring it back to its original look. While I’ve done these deep cleanings before, I’d rather send you to a place that can give you the directions you’ll need, rather than try to regurgitate them here. YouTube, as always, has some great resource videos on there to help out with that, but I also suggest checking out Reborn Pipes’ blog on the subject. Reborn Pipes restores pipes on a daily basis, and goes into great detail in the methods he uses on bringing old briars back from the dead. Give him a read, and ask him any questions, should you run into any issues you’re not sure how to remedy.

Whether you choose to buy new or estate pipes to build your collection, use this opportunity to expand the variety of pipe shapes beyond your first pipe. There’s a plethora of wildly different shapes and sizes for pipes, and now that you’ve dipped your toes in, you’re more than ready to wade into the deep end. This is especially true if you started off with a simple straight billiard shape, as the billiard is the building block that many shapes are based off. Take what you’ve learned from your billiard and go into a direction that best suits what you like about that shape, or wish you could improve. Do you wish the billiard had a larger bowl? Then you might be interested in buying the Pot shape and its generous bowl size. Wish the length of the billiard was a tad longer? Well, the Canadian and its ilk are just what you’re looking for in a new pipe. Are you interested in trying flake tobacco? Then give the Dublin shape a try, with its longer and thinner bowl size, which is perfect for flakes.

If you want to expand beyond the billiard, bulldogs are a wildly popular shape with their unique bowls and diamond shaped shanks. Pokers have a look similar to a corncob pipe with their cylinder shaped bowls with a flat bottom, perfect for resting on a table without the need of a pipe rest. Apples and Authors both have rounder bowls, and feel right at home in the palm of your hand.

You can also use this opportunity to change things up and switch to a bent (or straight) pipe and see how you like it. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, as well as their ardent fans. You might even come away with preferring the other style after spending some time with them. My first two pipes were bent shapes, but as time has gone on, I’ve come to prefer the simplicity and ease of use of a straight pipe. That doesn’t mean I don’t dearly love my bents, but more often than not, I’ll reach for my straights.

Regardless of your choices, you’re starting on a fun adventure that will expand your pipe collection. It won’t always be easy, and you’re liable to run into a few duds along the way. This is to be expected, as you won’t know if your new pipe is a good one or not until you try it out. Even if the first smoke isn’t a successful one, don’t give up on the pipe just yet. Chances are, there’s a tobacco out there that will pair perfectly with that disappointing briar. In the first year I smoked a pipe, I bought a neat looking Savinelli Dublin that caught my fancy. Yet when I smoked my Boswell aromatics in it, I wasn’t all that impressed with my new purchase. It took smoking a flake tobacco in the Dublin to unlock its true potential, and I haven’t used anything else in it since. Pipes are like people in that sense. They can’t be good at everything, but give it time and care, and more often than not, you’ll find the pipe’s hidden talents.

Tobacco

Chances are, your first pipe tobacco experience was with an aromatic. Almost all of us started with them, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you like smoking aromatic pipe tobacco, then don’t let anyone guilt you into feeling otherwise. Even if you choose to move on from aromatics, it’s always good to have a jar or two of them around for company or when smoking in public.

If you choose to stick with aromatic tobacco, then I suggest taking a look out there and decide what other blends you’d like to add into your rotation. If you started with a vanilla blend, then you might like to try a chocolate or berry aromatic. There are even tobaccos like Erinmore, which is a pineapple aromatic that leans more into being a Virginia blend. 

The only aromatic I’d caution against is the infamous cherry blend. Ah, cherry blends, they are a mystery that has yet to be solved. We all want to like cherry blends, because after all, who doesn’t like cherries? Yet for some reason, cherry blends happen to bite pipe smokers like nothing else. I would do some research into a cherry tobacco before buying a tin, otherwise you might end up tossing what you have away in frustration (or to gift to an unsuspecting newbie).

But you’ve probably seen the wide variety of tobaccos out there, and you might be curious in expanding your tastes a bit. Don’t feel intimidated in trying something outside of your usual tastes, as you might find that you actually enjoy it. The only way to truly know what you like is to take that risk and go for it.

With new blends, unless you’re confident you’re going to like it, try to order in small quantities, either with one tin or one ounce in bulk. You can always order more if you like it, but if you try it and end up hating it, then you’re stuck with a bunch of tobacco that’s taking up space. If you do end up with a blend you don’t like, don’t throw it in the garbage! Keep it stored away, and come back to it in a few months or a year. Some tobacco needs a bit of age before it truly sings, and a few months in a mason jar should do it good. Also, you’ll find that your tastes in blends will change over time. That Virginia blend that you didn’t like last year might end up becoming your new favorite if you give it another shot.

If you want to branch out from aromatics, I highly suggest giving an English blend a try. English blends tend to be on the kinder side when it comes to nicotine, and the campfire aroma has a better chance at being accepted by non-smokers. Most English blends have Latakia tobacco in it, which gives the English blend that distinct campfire smell, or stink if you’re a Latakia hater. Your tolerance of Latakia will determine whether English tobaccos are for you. If you want to give them a try, check out Boswell’s Countryside for a milder English, or their Northwoods for a stronger version. If you want to try an English/Aromatic crossover blend, give Sutliff’s Eastfarthing a try. It has that classic pipe aroma with a good peppering of Latakia.

While not an official blend category like English and Virginia, Navy blends are a wonderful starting tobacco for aromatic fans. Navy blends get their name from the old days, where sailors would case their tobacco in rum to keep them fresh during long voyages. All Navy flakes have a rum casing to them, which makes them a pleasurable smoke for their sweet taste. MacBaren has a fantastic Navy Flake, as does Stokkebye, but GLP has some wonderful Navy blends, including Sextant, which is a Navy/English crossover blend.

Next up, we have Virginia blends. Virginia and VaPer (Virginia/Perique) blends are quite popular with more experienced smokers, due to their bright and citrusy/grassy taste. These aren’t the crowd-pleasing blends that will win over new pipe smokers, but for you the smoker, they will hit the spot if they appeal to you. If the blend happens to have Perique in it, then expect a peppery flavor added to your smoke. This might not appeal to everyone, but if you like spice, then you might end up with quite a few new favorites. If I had to pick one blend for beginners, I’d give Orlik Golden Sliced a look. Most pipe smokers tend to enjoy it, and there are a few variations that might interest you, depending on your tobacco preferences. C&D’s Manhattan Afternoon and Exhausted Rooster are favorites of mine, and I’d recommend giving them a look, too.

Burley blends give an earthy and smoky taste and aroma that pipe smokers love, but again, not so much for those around them. I’m a huge burley fan, but it took time to get there. The reason is that burley blends are not for the faint of heart and stomach due to their nicotine content. Puff carelessly with a burley blend in your pipe, and suddenly you’re trapped on a tilt awhirl of immense suffering. If you’re new to a burley blend and start feeling a bit off while smoking it, put that pipe down, grab some water and get to fresh air. Otherwise, your last meal might be making a return visit into your porcelain throne. If you want to give burleys a chance, then MacBaren’s Burley Flake is a pretty safe entry point. Try it after eating a good meal, trust me.

Codger blends aren’t the first tobaccos that come to mind when you’re searching for new tins online. After all, these are gas station blends that have been around for years, so why waste time on them? I’d argue that the fact that their longevity is proof that these are blends worth exploring. Prince Albert, Carter Hall, Lane’s Ready Rubbed, Amphora, and Half and Half are all classics, and it’s good to try them, if only to know what they’re like. Who knows, you might find that Prince Albert is your favorite tobacco. Just avoid Borkum Riff, as I’ve yet to find a pipe smoker that actually likes it, as well as RYO tobacco masquerading as pipe tobacco.

One final tip for buying new tobacco—consider buying a few bulk blends that only contain one kind of tobacco. Stokkebye sells single component tobaccos in bulk, such as Cavendish, Latakia, Perique, Virginias, etc. If you end up buying a blend that doesn’t seem all that special, you can always mix in one or two of your favorite components to give that bland blend an extra punch. That blend didn’t just grow together on a single tobacco leaf and placed in a tin. It took a tobacconist hundreds of hours to fine tune, messing with the percentages of components until it came out just right. You’re more than welcome to play around like a tobacconist mad scientist in your basement, tinkering with established blends until it’s the way you want it. I often mess around with my aromatics, adding Perique or Latakia to add some depth to the blend.

Pipe Tobacco Cuts

As you explore the world of pipe tobacco, you’re going to run into different cuts outside of the usual bulk ribbon cut. The ones you’ll most often encounter are flakes, broken flakes, cakes (or kakes), and plugs. Don’t let these different forms intimidate you from trying them, as each one is fairly simple to prepare for your pipe.

Flake tobacco comes in square tins, and appears as a flat, rectangular sheet of pressed tobacco. You have two options for smoking flake tobacco— fold and stuff or rubbed out. For the folding method, grab a flake of tobacco, fold the longer section in half, bend it so both ends are touching each other, and stuff it in the bowl. Narrower bowls can be a bit trickier with a whole flake, so you might want to tear part of it off before folding. While I don’t use the fold method often, in my experience you can get a longer smoke out of the flake. The rub method is pretty self-explanatory, just grab a flake and rub it in the palms of your hand to make it into a ribbon cut. Then fill up your pipe like normal and place the unused portion back into the tin. This is my preferred method for smoking flakes, as the tin lasts a bit longer.

A broken flake blend is exactly like it sounds. Most of the blend is already in a ribbon cut, with chunks of flakes mixed in for good measure. Admittedly, I’m not sure why blenders make this type, as it gives the tobacco an unfortunate personality disorder. Is it a flake? Is it a ribbon cut? That’s up to you to decide, just don’t tell the tobacco, or you’ll be paying for a therapist visit. Rub the tobacco out and smoke it, and don’t think too hard about these deep questions, or you’re liable to get a headache.

Cake/Kake tobacco has become one of my favorite blend types out there. The tobacco comes in a pressed brick of goodness, and can be prepared however you’d like. You can rip off a layer on the top and rub it out into a ribbon cut, which is my usual method for this type. If flakes are more your style, take a knife and cut off a slice, folding and stuffing it into your pipe. For those tobacco mad scientists out there, you can create your own cakes with a ribbon cut, but that’s an experiment you’ll need to do some research on for yourself. I’ve never tried it, but I’ll get around to it one of these days.

Want to feel like a real rugged tobacco smoker of old? Then pick up a tin of plug tobacco and have a go at it. A plug has the appearance of a solid block or brick of pressed tobacco, and unlike a kake, you’ll require a knife if you want to smoke it. Slice a flake from the plug, and then prepare how you want to smoke it. The same goes for rope tobacco, though you’ll be slicing the tobacco into coins rather than a flake. One bit of warning, plug and rope tobacco tend to be heavyweights in the nicotine department, so I’d caution newer smokers from starting out with them. If you do want to venture into the world of plugs, I’d say give either GLP’s Jack Knife Plug or War Horse Bar a look.

So now that you have all your options in front of you, where should you start? That choice is honestly up to you and your tastes. Start off by checking out what other pipe smokers are enjoying and make a list on your phone or computer. Ask around, too, as pipe smokers always enjoy sharing which blends they’re currently enjoying or recently discovered. Then, give tobaccoreviews.com a look and read up on what other pipe smokers think of the blend. The reviews on the site for each blend should paint an adequate picture of what to expect in the tobacco, and you can decide for yourself if you think it’s a blend worth picking up for your cellar. Remember, even if a blend has an overall four star review, it doesn’t mean you’ll feel the same way. Always approach each new blend with caution until you can try it yourself, and then decide if you want to stock up on it.

Another Badger recommended tip— don’t worry about seeking out rare and hard to buy tobacco. You’ll hear some pipe smokers sing the praises of blends from Esoterica, McConnell, Samuel Gawith, and Rattray’s, but these blends are often out of stock. Unless you have a reliable way to acquire more of these tins, I’d suggest starting off with easier to find blends, so you can purchase more without any trouble if it ends up becoming a favorite.

Finding the right blends for you will take some time and trial and error. I’ve picked up blends that I end up passing along to others, while others have become daily favorites. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to add a few samples of each blend type and start experimenting for yourself. If you try an English blend and find you don’t like Latakia, move on to Virginias or VaPers. If you’re happy with aromatics and don’t want to try anything else, that’s perfectly fine, too. Don’t buy blends because they’re popular, buy them because they sound good to you.

Once you find blends you like, start adding additional tins or bulk tobacco of those blends as you search for new ones to try. That way, you can have some spare tins aging in your cellar as you work through each tin or jar. Now, some blends like aromatics will lose their potency if you store them too long, so try to keep your aromatics limited to what you plan on smoking soon. Otherwise, when you pop that new tin and smoke a bowl, you won’t be taken aback by the lack of flavor and aroma. Other blend types like Virginias will excel with age, so buying multiples of them will work in your favor.

Another reason to stock up on blends you know you like is that you never know how long a blend will stick around, or if the company making that blend will still be in business the next time you place an order. In recent years, we’ve had two major pipe tobacco manufacturers disappear from the market in McClelland and Dunhill. With Dunhill, we were lucky in the fact that their blends stuck around for a bit if you wanted to stock up, and Peterson ended up taking over their production. However, McClelland dropped out with little warning, and many of their blends disappeared within a day of the announcement that they were ceasing production. Unlike Dunhill, you won’t find reproductions of McClelland blends, which is a real shame. I was strapped for cash when the news hit, so I was out of luck and couldn’t buy any of my favorites before they were gone for good. We also have our “friends” in the FDA that have their eyes on our hobby from their dark and sinister lair, so who knows how long we have to enjoy the amount of pipe tobacco in the market before most of it disappears forever. Stay vigilant and proactive, and stock up when you can, and don’t be at the mercy of fate. I’d especially keep an eye on those aromatics, as they’ll most likely be the first to go.

Your pipe journey has only just begun, and the whole hobby is wide open for exploring. This is an exciting time, and with every discovery you make, the more you’ll learn and grow as a pipe smoker. Take it slow and enjoy the process, much like you would in smoking a pipe. With time, you’ll become a pipe expert as well, and be able to help others along the path of pipe smoking. If you ever have any questions or you’re in need of further recommendations, I’m always here as a trusty guide to help you find your footing.

Keep those pipes puffing, my friends, and keep steady on the path.

-TheBadgerPiper

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A Virtual Pipe World

Greetings, my friends, I hope all is well with you wherever you are. First, I must give my apologies for taking March off from the blog. I’ve been hard at work on the first draft of a new novel that I’ve been tinkering with, and it’s been holding my complete attention. Last year, I made it my goal to post an entry once a month for the entire year. While I’m proud of making that goal, it forced me to put my fiction writing on the backburner. I still have plenty of pipe related articles sitting on my laptop, waiting to be finished, so don’t think its been out of a lack of disinterest. As far as I’m concerned, as long as I have breath in me, I’ll be sticking here with new articles.

While pipes hold a dear place in my heart, so does writing fantasy fiction. I’ve had this story about a Redwall/Wind in the Willows type setting with forest rangers dealing with a lost treasure haunted by a long dead highwayman kicking in my head for a few years, and it’s about time I get it typed down while I still have the luxury.

The main reason for this is because… I’m going to be a dad in September! My wife and I found out we’re having a son, and I couldn’t be more excited. As a consequence, I know my writing and pipe smoking will be limited soon, so I’m trying to accomplish what I can while I have the free time.

In the meantime, it seems the world has turned upside down due to a certain virus that’s been wrecking havoc for the past few months. I’ve been following the news about this since mid-January. My wife and I were supposed to travel to China in February (not to Wuhan, thankfully), but we cancelled our plans once we caught wind of what was coming down the pipe. Back then, I had no idea just how much this pandemic would affect my life, not just with a vacation, but also with my way of life.

Already, my wife and I had to cancel our baby’s gender reveal party, changing it to a virtual party on Facebook with my Uncle and Aunt mere hours before Illinois went on lockdown. I most likely won’t be able to go along anymore for ultrasound visits with my wife, and we have no idea if we can even have a baby shower before our son arrives. Still, my wife and I are doing well, and, as the Brits would say, we’re keeping a stiff upper lip. We’re working from home, and I handle all shopping and trips to the outside world.

Thankfully, being an introvert and homebody, staying at home hasn’t been much of an issue for my mental health. I’m certainly concerned for the wellbeing for my wife and son, as well as family and friends, but thanks to work and writing I still have a schedule to follow. I’ve dealt with isolation before, having been laid off from work in 2016 and 2017, so I know how to pass the time. If I need some space, I just play games in the basement, or write in the garage with my pipes. I’m just fortunate that my two main hobbies are perfect for situations like this.

The pandemic has made a bit of an impact in my pipe smoking life, as the Chicago Pipe Show had to be cancelled this year out of safety concerns. I have no idea if any of the shows will go on as planned this year, which is a real shame for the pipe community. I have no idea how this will effect pipe tobacco supplies, but I keep that in mind as I plan on what to buy this year.

In the midst of all this chaos and uncertainty, I’ve found that pipe smokers in general are made of stronger stuff. While celebrities and people complain online about being stuck at home, pipe smokers have taken to social distancing like fish in water. Need to keep the neighbors away? Just light a bowl of your favorite English blend and watch as people keep their space. It’s truly wonderful.

While the pipe community was already online, we’re flourishing during the shutdown. I’ve seen many hearty conversations on social media and forums, talking about pipes and tobacco as much or more so than the worldwide crisis. The pipers give each other words of encouragement, and overall have a good outlook on the whole thing. On ChristianPipeSmokers.net, I’m seeing the brothers there praying for each other, and acting as the church should, no matter their denominations. Elsewhere, I’ve seen my brothers and sisters of the briar helping one another as much as they can, even offering tobacco to those in need. No matter where you go, there’s a comradery that encourages the soul, regardless of belief.

One aspect of pipe smoking that’s been harmed by the pandemic is pipe clubs, as public gatherings have been forbidden to stop the spread of the virus. Yet even here, pipe smokers are a creative bunch, finding ways to stay connected and smoke a bowl together.

Over on ThisPipeLife, Jfreedy started up a virtual pipe club on Fridays at 7 PM Central. Members from all over the United States have been getting together in front of their phones and computers over Zoom for an hour or two, smoking our pipes and having a drink or two while chatting about pipes, tobacco, and life. Before this, we only knew each other by our screen names and the pictures we’d post, but now, we chat face-to-face, as though we were meeting in person. Anyone that lives in the USA and wants to join is free to do so. Just sign up on the forums, install Zoom, and come join us for a chat. Sadly, TPL is only for pipe smokers in the USA, so those in Canada and other places have to find other places to chat.

However, if you frequent other forums or groups, feel free to start a group of your own and start chatting over video. I know the Country Squire Radio podcast is doing this with their patreon members, so the idea isn’t unique to just TPL. I can’t even begin to tell you the good that comes from just chatting with a fellow pipe smoker over video. Every Thursday, my podcasting partner Dave (of the D.R.’s Notes, go check his stuff out) and I get together over Zoom to chat about life and smoke our pipes. While we can’t record episodes about The Flash, we’re keeping our schedule because of our friendship. If you have fellow pipe smoking friends, and are in the need to get some social interacting in, this is a great way to do so.

If you’re a pipe smoker out there, and isolation is getting you down, consider joining a pipe forum and jump in the conversation. It doesn’t have to be ThisPipeLife, as there’s plenty of forums to find on The Briar Report. I know forums are a dinosaur in this age of social media, but they’re a great way to stay connected with fellow pipers. Likewise, join twitter and find the great pipe community on there, or join one of the many pipe focused Facebook groups on there.

Though we live in a time of keeping a physical distance from one another, the virtual world breaks these barriers so we can stick together. I hope you find a way to chat with your fellow pipe smokers, and can even make a new friend or two along the way.

Until next time, I pray you stay healthy and virus free, and partake in your favorite briar and tobacco.

Keep puffin’ my friends,

-TheBadgerPiper

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Product Review—Walker Briar Works Forever Cob Stems

It’s not a secret here that I’m a fan of corncob pipes. Yes, I dearly love my briars, but over the years I’ve come to truly appreciate the simplicity of a well-worn corncob pipe. Cobs can take just about anything you throw at them and make the blend sing. In fact, I’m of the belief that the Missouri Meerschaum Country Gentleman might be the perfect pipe in terms of size and bowl.

But if I had one minor, and I mean minor, gripe about corncob pipes, it’s the plastic stem that comes with the standard cobs. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like the look of the amber stems and think it fits perfectly with the overall look. However, there’s no denying that the plastic stems aren’t built to last. Over time, the stems loosen in the shank, and if you’re very unlucky, the mouthpiece will crack. I don’t consider myself a hard clencher with my pipes, but even I’ve cracked a plastic cob stem in my time.

Now, Missouri Meerschaum has a few cobs that come with an acrylic stem, which is a nice change of pace. These include their Charles Towne, Carolina Gent, and Emerald cobs, all of which are excellent additions to any pipe smoker’s collections. However, for their classic lines, you’re stuck with those regular plastic stems.

While no one has ever made one of those TV infomercials about corncob pipes, much less pipes, but if you’ll indulge me for a moment, I’d imagine it would look something like this…

Announcer: Are your corncob pipe stems giving you trouble?

Tired of loose plastic stems causing your cob to drop out of your mouth while smoking it?

Have you cracked the mouthpiece for your pipe stem while clenching your cob like normal?

Do you hear your cob stems plotting against you behind your back?

Has a plastic cob stem ever tried to kill you by lodging itself into your throat?

Me: [Gagging as I spit the cob stem out of my mouth] That’s it, I’m switching to briar pipes for good.

Announcer: Don’t throw your cobs away! Instead give your cobs the stems they deserve and try Walker Briar Works Forever Stems!

[A Walker Forever stem appears in my hand]

Me: Wow, thanks Walker Briar Works!

Announcer: That’s right! Now you too can have a high quality vulcanite or Lucite stem for all your favorite corncob pipes. Walker Briar Works has you covered, with a variety of vulcanite and Lucite stems in an assortment of colors for your filtered and non-filtered cobs. So what are you waiting for? Get on their website and order one today!*

Ever since I plunged into the world of corncob pipes, I’ve heard from other cob fans about forever stems. After owning a Charles Towne cob and falling in love with its forever stem, I couldn’t look at my regular plastic stems the same way again. Certainly, the plastic stems get the job done, but it was time for an upgrade.

Last year, I did some searching on the internet and discovered Walker Briar Works. Located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and headed by Dave Wolff, Walker Briar Works has made a nice business out of creating forever stems for Missouri Meerschaum corncob pipes. Dave makes quality forever stems that will last long after your corncob pipe has burned out.

Comparing Walker Briar Works pipe stems to the regular plastic stems

Walker Briar Works has an incredible selection of forever stems for both filtered and non-filtered cobs. All you need to do is pick whichever cob in your collection you want to pair with a forever stem, and shop in the appropriate category. If your cob is filtered, be warned that the forever stem does not have a place to fit a filter, as the base of the stem was enlarged to fit inside the bigger shank, so there isn’t a gap for the filter to fit inside. This is fine by me, as I don’t use filters, but I know some folks out there use and appreciate them. If you’re one of those people, pick one of the non-filtered cobs in your collection instead.

Without a doubt, Walker Briar Works forever stems’ biggest advantage is the sheer variety of stems available for purchase. Not only do you get to choose between a Lucite or vulcanite stem, but also the size and color of the stem. You heard me right, you have more than two colors to pick from! If you want to stick with a classic black stem and keep it simple, Walker Briar Works has you covered. Want to branch out and have a colorful stem to add some flair to your cob? Walker Briar Works has plenty of colors that would make Joseph’s coat of many colors blush. There’s even ones similar to the amber colored forever stem to give your cob that classic look but made of sturdier material.

Likewise, Walker Briar Works also has different lengths for their stems, allowing you to customize the length of your cob. Want to make your Country Gentleman closer to a nose warmer? There’s a black nose warmer forever stem with your name on it. Want to turn that Spool cob into a mini-churchwarden? You have plenty of options to pick from, and in a wide selection of colors, too. I highly recommend visiting Walker Briar Work’s page just to see all the options at your fingertips.

Now, due to the quality of Walker Briar Works’ forever stems’, don’t expect to pay the same price as you would for a replacement stem from Missouri Meerschaum. These stems are a bit of an investment, as they cost more than most of the cobs on Missouri Meerschaum’s site, on average between $21-$27. Don’t let that dissuade you, though, as these stems are so well made that they’ll easily outlast the cob’s they’re paired with. You can even switch the stem around between your cobs, as long as you have the appropriate cob shank size for each stem.

On the bright side, shipping for all stems is a flat $3 in the United States. Even if you buy multiple stems, you’re still only going to pay only $3 for the whole shebang. You can’t beat that price anywhere for a pipe related item from what I’ve seen. Now, price is one thing, but how is the service? Walker Briar Works earns top marks in this regard, too. I ordered my stems around the New Years holiday, and on a Saturday night. Dave shipped my stems on the following Monday, and I had my package waiting for me on Thursday, and that’s with New Years Day interrupting the postal service. Dave also sent me an email on Sunday, letting me know he was going to get my package out as soon as he could. How many pipe retailers out there pay this close of attention to customer service?

Now the important question— how are the stems, and are they worth the price? I ordered the ‘Royal’ Lucite Fire Swirl stem and the 3 ½ inch ‘Spear’ Lucite Black Rose stem for two of my Country Gentleman cobs. As soon as I got the package, I put the new stems on my cobs. While some cobs might take a bit to adjust with the new stems, mine had a nice, snug fit inside the shank of both cobs and stayed in place without any issues.

What impressed me with these stems is the length they added to my cobs. I tend to prefer longer pipes, and with the added length of the stems, the two Country Gentleman cobs rivaled the size of my Bing cob, which is the longest non-Churchwarden cob in my collection. You can find a smaller version of the Spear stem if you wish, but I’m very pleased with now mine turned out.

Plastic Stem vs Royal Stem vs Spear Stem in length

The quality of the stems is easily on par with Missouri Meerschaum’s acrylic stems, and their look takes my cobs to the next level. The Lucite stems clench like a dream, and I have no issues having them hang from my jaw as I type on my laptop. It does take a few minutes to adjust from the chewy grip you get with a plastic stem, but after that it becomes second nature.

What the Walker Briar Works forever stems accomplishes is truly remarkable. They combine the best of both worlds with briar and corncob pipes into one unique package. You get the fantastic smoking quality of a corncob pipe with the added security of a dependable stem rivaling a briar pipe. These stems are absolutely worth every penny you invest in them, and they’ll last as long as you smoke a corncob pipe. Give Walker Briar Works forever stems a chance, and you’ll walk away a happy customer.

Until next time, happy puffing friends,

-TheBadgerPiper

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*No Corncob pipes were harmed in the making of this infomercial. Corncob pipes are not actively trying to kill you. If you hear your corncob pipe plotting against you, it is advised you seek professional help before smoking one again.

Film Review- Father the Flame

Image from IMDB.com

The documentary film genre is a fascinating window into our world, focusing on a specific aspect of mankind to tell a non-fiction story to a wider audience. Documentaries can range from delving into the dusty corridors of history, shining a light into the plight of the oppressed, or painting a picture of a person, place, or hobby. No matter the topic, the documentary tells a story about reality, rather than some fantastical world or a fictional drama. For a documentary to be successful, it must tell an interesting story that captivates an audience or springs them into action.

For the past few years, pipe smokers have been waiting for their chance to watch a documentary all about their favorite hobby, called Father the Flame. While some pipe smokers grumbled about the lengthy wait they had to endure to finally watch the movie, it’s not unusual for a small passion project to take its time before being ready. Films aren’t made overnight, and given the amount of people featured in the documentary, as well as the various locations filmed all around the world; it’s understandable that Father the Flame needed time in the oven.

Now that the film is out, Father the Flame has received a somewhat mixed reaction from the wider pipe community. While I can’t speak for everyone, I think part of the reaction comes from the expectations of what a pipe documentary should be. After all, the rest of the non-smoking world views anything that has to do with smoking in a negative light. With all the criticism we face, we finally have a film that highlights what makes our hobby the tight knit community that it is. We want a film that we can show to our non-smoking friends and say, “This is why I smoke a pipe.”

In reality, Father the Flame isn’t exactly about pipe smoking. Oh, there’s plenty of pipe smoking in it, and it’s certainly celebrated; but instead of taking center stage, pipe smoking is more of a supporting role. If you go into this film thinking you’re going to learn about the history and ins and outs of the pipe smoking hobby, you’ll leave the film disappointed. There’s hardly a peep about pipe tobacco, and very little focus on your average pipe smoker.

Instead, for bettor or worse, Father the Flame focuses on the pipe maker, and more specifically the high-end artisan pipe maker. The documentary tells the story of multiple pipe carvers, mainly through the eyes of our POV character, Michigan pipe maker Lee von Erck. Other pipe carvers are also highlighted, such as Italian pipe carver Romero ‘Mimmo’ Domenico and his family, stone pipe carver Travis Erickson, and the legendary Ivarsson Danish pipe carving clan. While we have glimpses of the pipe community through pipe shows, ultimately this is Lee Erck’s story.

While this might come as a disappointment for those like me have very little to do with the artisan world, I understand why the filmmakers behind Father the Flame pursued this route. Instead of telling a broader story about our community that might struggle to connect with a wider audience, by zeroing in on Lee Erck and the artisan world, the filmmakers can tell a tight and succinct story about the craftsmanship and beauty behind a skillfully carved pipe. The non-smoking members of the wider world might sneer their noses at the many clouds of pipe smoke seen in the film, but their eyes will grow wide at the stunning close up images of a birds eye grain in a smooth briar, or the architectural wonders discovered in the grooves and nooks and crannies of a well-carved pipe. If there’s one lesson Father the Flame tells well to a broad audience, it’s that pipe carvers deserve the same respect given to a painter or sculptor.

Father the Flame tells a global story about pipes, travelling across continents to show the wide appeal and passion of pipe and pipe making. While the film mainly takes place in the United States, the filmmakers jump all around the globe, spending time in Italy, France, Japan, and Denmark. While plenty of time is spent in sawdust covered workshops, the camera ventures out into the wider world, searching for briar wood in the hills of Italy, walking through the quiet villages of Denmark and France, and experiencing the shrines in Tokyo. No matter what the setting is, though, you can be sure to see a pipe somewhere in the background.

A documentary is only as good as the people featured in the film, and thankfully Father the Flame delivers in this area in spades. Lee von Erck acts as the focus of the documentary, as we follow him from his workshop to his travels around the world. We’re given a peek behind the curtain into von Erck’s solitary life as he acts as our personal guide, explaining his carving philosophies as he works on his latest briar. Von Erck has years of carving under his belt, and yet he speaks to the audience as he would a friend, detailing everything in down to earth terms. Von Erck might as well be your next-door neighbor, welcoming us to his world as he reveals his remarkable talents. There’s humility to von Erck’s demeanor, candidly expressing his joy for his work, and yet revealing the hidden sadness of his isolated life when at home.  

We’re also introduced through von Erck to the Domenico family. The Domenico’s are a pipe making family, started by elderly late patriarch Pippo and passed down to his son Mimmo and his wife Karin. Mimmo takes his role seriously as a legacy pipe maker, and has a youthful energy in producing his work. Mimmo has many hats to wear at home, balancing life as a pipe maker, father, and husband, all the while caring for his father. Mimmo isn’t alone, as his wife Karin has a knack for pipe making as well. It’s rare to see a husband and wife team of pipe carvers, but Mimmo and Karin are two of a kind, and it’s sweet watching the two interact in their workshop. While Pippo has long retired from pipe making, he’s content to sit in Mimmo’s backyard, smoking his pipe while watching the new generation continue the work he built years prior. Sadly, Pippo passed away before filming ended, but the film and Mimmo have a chance to give tribute to the late Italian pipe carver.

The Ivarsson family is disconnected from the main Von Erck/Domenico storyline, but the Danish pipe makers fit perfectly within Father the Flame’s overall message. The Ivarsson family are giants in the pipe carving world, starting with late Ivarrson patriarch Sixten. Sixten Ivarrson was an extremely influential pipe maker, having taken many a young pipe carver under his tutelage. While Sixten passed away back in 2001, Father the Flame splices in family videos of the pipe maker, allowing him to appear in the film and giving us a chance to get to know the late pipe maker on a personal level.

Though Sixten is no longer with us, his style and influence lives on through his son Lars, and granddaughter Nanna. Much of the time devoted to the Ivarsson’s is spent with Lars and Nanna reminiscing about Sixten and the profound effect he had on their lives and their eventual involvement in pipe making. Tragically, Lars passed away in 2018 before the film released, so to have these intimate moments with the late pipe carver are all the more special.

The film also spends some time in Pipestone, Minnesota with stone pipe carver Travis Erickson. Travis’s sections are much shorter compared to the rest of the subjects in the documentary, and if I’m being honest, it’s probably the weakest portion of the film. This isn’t Travis’s fault, and his section does go into the more spiritual aspects of pipe smoking with tobacco’s Native American roots. If the film was a bit longer and devoted more time to pipe smoking, it would probably tie everything together a bit more. It’s unfortunate, as there are some interesting bits here, but if it was cut from the film it wouldn’t ruin the overall narrative.

If there’s a central message found throughout Father the Flame, it’s the importance and value of legacy and passing down knowledge from the older stalwarts to the younger generation. Both themes are vital to our hobby, as seen in the proliferation of the youtube pipe community and pipe blogs in teaching the ways of pipe smoking. The pipe carvers of the old generation of Pippo and Sixten Ivarsson paved the way, learning the ins and outs of carving a briar and passing their knowledge down to their children. Yet what use is it to teach others these lessons if they’re not ready and eager to learn? Mimmo, Lars Ivarsson, and Nanna Ivarsson take the foundation of what they’ve learned from their parents and have innovated their craft. Will Mimmo’s and Nanna’s children pick up the torch for their families? Only time will tell, but if they do, they’ll have some of the best teachers to show them the way.

Legacy and family go hand in hand in Father the Flame, as seen in Mimmo’s, the Ivarsson’s, and Travis Erickson’s stories. With Lee von Erck, though, the story becomes a bit more complicated and more melancholy. Von Erck never had children, and now as he enters into his later years, he expresses regret that he never had the chance to bring up a family of his own. We see him interact with Mimmo’s family, sitting back with the whole Domenico family and enjoying their company. For von Erck, it’s a window into a different world, and one that he doesn’t have. As he watches Mimmo care for Pippo, von Erck wonders sadly what will happen to him when he reaches Pippo’s age.

Instead of looking forward, von Erck’s family story looks backwards at his relationship with his late father. Father the Flame begins with von Erck recounting the story of his father buying his first pipe at a tobacconist, and learning how to smoke it with the shop owner. It’s a wonderful story, and it hooked me right away into watching the documentary. Though von Erck’s father didn’t teach him how to carve pipes, he instead instilled a love of pipes that brought Lee to his present occupation as a talented pipe carver.

Where Father the Flame burns brightest is through the personal stories shared by Von Erck, Mimmo, the Ivarssons, and the many other pipe carvers and smokers seen throughout the film. These stories highlight why pipes are more than a fancy tool to indulge in tobacco. For many, the pipe connects people to a beloved family member, and that earthy aroma brings that person back, even for the briefest of moments. Father the Flame showcases only a few of these stories, but there’s no denying the power behind those tales.

Should you go out of your way and watch Father the Flame? In my opinion, I think you should. On it’s own, Father the Flame is a competent documentary on a niche subject that’s misunderstood by the general populace. Father the Flame highlights the best of our hobby, and shows why pipes mean so much to the people that smoke and collect them. The gorgeous cinematography shows off some beautiful briar pipes and blends them with imagery of galaxies and art in such a way that celebrates the artistic endeavors of pipe making. Father the Flame gives a face to pipe makers, making them more than just a name or brand, and fleshes them out into real and sympathetic people.

The only downside to Father the Flame is that it doesn’t do enough with the pipe smoking side of the hobby. Day after day, I read stories from my fellow pipe smokers about how they got into pipe smoking, and they speak so much about the influence of loved ones or friends, or about specific, life changing moments in time that are worth sharing. Father the Flame could’ve spent more time with people like Richard Newcombe or Sykes Wilford, or with the Chicago Pipe Show attendees. I won’t fault Father the Flame for focusing solely on pipe makers, but I would’ve appreciated more input from the average joe pipe smoker.

Regardless of my minor issues with Father the Flame, I do think it’s required viewing for the pipe world at large. If anything, how often do you get a documentary about something you’re passionate about? For that, I tip my hat in appreciation to the filmmakers behind Father the Flame, and commend them for a job well done.

I rate Father the Flame: five pipes out of a seven-day pipe set.

Pros:

Beautiful cinematography

Focuses on interesting pipe makers

Great use of archival footage

Nice use of locations

Strong themes used

Cons:

No discussion on pipe tobacco

Less about pipe smoking and more on pipe making

Not enough time spent with some interviewees

Until next time, happy puffing friends,

-TheBadgerPiper

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Sergeant MacBadger’s Official Christmas 2019 Buying Guide for Pipe Smokers

A Guest Article by Sgt. MacBadger

Ah-ten-shun!

All right, maggots, listen up an’ light yer pipes. It appears that my last address to the Woodlander Regiment caught a bit of controversy, due to my unorthodox methods of pipe warfare. Well, I’m back from Nome, Alaska, an’ jus’ in time for the holidays. It’s a shame, as I was gettin’ a squad of reindeer recruits together for an all out assault on the abominable snowmen causin’ trouble up there. Those good fer nuthin’ furballs were lucky our country decided to call me back, otherwise our troops woulda been feastin’ on abominable burgers fer Christmas chow.

Anyhow, with the holidays fast approachin’, I thought it was important to share with y’all a handy dandy primer on what to buy fer yerselves for Christmas. With all the options ya have online with pipes, baccy, stands, cleaners, an’ whatnot, it’s enough ta make yer head spin. Well, don’t ya worry, ol’ Sarge MacBadger’s here to set ya straight towards a holiday worth celebratin’.

So when that fat man thinks he’s sneakin’ into yer home an’ ya take ‘im prisoner, you can give ‘im this list an’ negotiate his release. Believe me, it works. Now when ol’ Saint Nick pays me a visit, he comes with the white flag wavin’ an’ an open sack.

Anyhow, let’s get on with the list. First things first, let’s take a look at pipes.

MacArthur Classic (‘Neked’ Unfinished) Missouri Meerschaum Corn Cob Pipe $13.97

https://aristocob.com/MacARTHUR-CLASSIC-Neked-Unfinished-Missouri-Meerschaum-Corn-Cob-Pipe-P664361.aspx

Here we go, let’s get started with the king of cobs. This is the cob that makes Missouri Meerschaum’s General cob look like one o’ those pathetic nosewarmers. There’s only one cob out there worthy to call itself after the great general, an’ it happens to be the one the man smoked. Most likely, it’s cause you can use it as a weapon to defend yerself in a pinch should ya encounter the enemy while out havin’ a pipe. Some might balk at smokin’ this massive cob, but yer not a true pipe smoker if yer not willin’ to walk around in public smokin’ one. Remember, a pipe smoker should distinguish themselves from the crowd, an’ the MacArthur’ll do jus’ that.

I happen to prefer the rugged style of the, ahem, ‘neked’ variation, but you can find smooth ones if that’s more yer preference. I suppose ya like wearin’ deodorant, too. Natural’s the only way to go, soldier, both in cobs and body odor.

Seven Day Set of Smokable Seconds $26.29

https://corncobpipe.com/seven-day-set-of-smokable-seconds

Lookin’ to build up a collection of cobs without breakin’ yer paycheck? Then give this set of cob seconds a glance. Yer gonna get a buncha cobs at a discount price compared to buyin’ ‘em individually. Sure, all these cobs failed their inspections to be sold on their own, but they’re still worthy of smokin’, despite a minor defect or two.

Of course, ya don’t know exactly what’ll end up bein’ sent to ya, but that’s part of the fun of orderin’ a mystery bag. An’ if yer into that cob moddin’ hobby, this is the perfect way to get a buncha cobs to hack an’ shape as ya please. I find it similar to gettin’ a squad of new recruits. They’re not all there in the head, but once ya break ‘em in, they’ll fall in line. Good luck findin’ these fer sale, though, as these sets are in high demand.

Peterson 2019 Christmas Pipe $100

https://www.smokingpipes.com/pipes/new/peterson/

I might be more of a cob fan, but even this badger knows the Irish can make a good pipe. Peterson of Dublin are experts in makin’ briar pipes in traditional shapes that every pipe smoker should own. However, their Christmas pipes are a cut above the rest, even among their top class briars. With a rugged bowl and antique brass ring on the shank, smokin’ one of these pipes on watch’ll make ya the envy of all yer squadmates. But ya better act fast if ya want one, as once they’re gone, they’re gone fer good.

BriarWorks Calabash Pipe with Magnetic Bowl $550

www.smokingpipes.com/pipes/new/Briarworks/

Now we’re movin’ to the top tier of pipes with BriarWorks Calabash pipes. Like the MacArthur, every pipe smoker should have a good calabash in their arsenal. These might not be marchin’ pipes, but a calabash is a high caliber pipe all on its own. There ain’t nothin’ like sittin’ by the campfire an’ puffin’ on a calabash while givin’ yer tired paws a rest. Also, there’s jus’ somethin’ ‘bout a calabash that gives others the impression that ya got smarts up in yer noggin. It ain’t no coincidence that ol’ Sherlock is often depicted with one. Ya see a guy smokin’ a calabash, an ya jus’ wanna hire ‘im fer solvin’ the mystery of where yer missin’ socks go in the dryer. Not that I wash mine or anythin’, so don’t ya go spreadin’ that rumor ‘round here.

What makes BriarWorks calabash pipes worthy of yer money is their magnetic bowls. If ya don’t know, calabash pipes have removable bowls fer ease of cleanin’ both the bowl an’ the gourd chamber. With that magnetic system in place, ya don’t have ta worry ‘bout that bowl suddenly poppin’ off while yer duckin’ fer cover.

Grand Croupier Boneyard $1.26 per Oz

https://www.smokingpipes.com/pipe-tobacco/Grand-Croupier/Boneyard/product_id/150302/bulk/

Talk about gettin’ a bang fer yer buck, Grand Croupier’s Boneyard is the thrifty English smoker’s dream, lads. If ya haven’t been payin’ attention, Grand Croupier is one o’ Cornell an’ Diehl’s labels. All their blends are the leftovers from C&D’s normal lines that didn’t make it into a tin. C&D already makes great tobacco, so ya know yer gettin’ high quality baccy, even if it’s the stuff they didn’t use. This ain’t yer Auntie Betsy’s leftover headcheese casserole, it’s prime tobacco.

Boneyard comes from the leftovers of C&D’s English blends, so each bag’ll have a different consistency of blending components. One bag’ll have more Latakia to it, while another might be more Oriental heavy. To quote a famous soldier, “Life’s like a box of unmarked pipe tobacco, ya never know what yer gonna get!” Me? I live dangerously already, so surprises bother me none. A good soldier’s resourceful, so ya should jump on Boneyard and add it to yer arsenal.

Hearth & Home: Fusilier’s Ration 1.75oz $10.59

https://www.smokingpipes.com/pipe-tobacco/HearthandHome/Fusilier’s-Ration-1.75oz/product_id/277591

Now, how can ya pass on a blend with a name like Fusilier’s Ration? Hearth & Home’s Marquee blends are well-respected blends among pipe smokers, an’ Fusilier’s Ration ain’t no exception. Based on the legendary Bengal Slices blend, Fusilier’s Ration is a thick, dark cake of baccy that’ll stain yer fingertips black. If ya think that ain’t a sign of a high quality blend, then maybe this hobby ain’t right for ya. Go make one of those artisan soaps or somethin’, I don’t know.

Rich with Latakia, Fusilier’s Ration is a tasty and smoky English blend, perfect for an after dinner pipe. The baccy generates a fair amount of smoke, too, great for givin’ yerself some extra cover on the battlefield. The only downside is that all yer squadmates’ll be buggin’ ya for some to smoke in their pipes. Tell ‘em to get their own, an’ enjoy yer well deserved ration, soldier.

Prince Albert 14oz Can $35.99

https://www.smokingpipes.com/pipe-tobacco/prince-albert/Prince-Albert-14oz/product_id/274405

That’s right, THE Prince Albert. Ya know, the one yer grandpappy smoked. In my always right opinion, ever young strappin’ pipe smoker should be assigned to startin’ out on the classics, an’ ya can’t get more classic than the Prince. This champion of codger blends combines the strength and flavor of a burley blend with the sweet aroma of an aromatic. Puff this blend in yer cob while on leave an’ yer gonna have a trail of civilians followin’ after ya, singin’ yer praises. The only problem is ya open yerself up for punk prank callers, thinkin’ they’re mighty clever. The last kid that tried pullin’ that on me still won’t leave his house after I gave ‘im a friendly talkin’ to. Regardless, let the Prince out, an’ let ‘im out often.

Erik Stokkebye 4th Generation Brown Tobacco Pouch Messenger Bag $135

https://www.smokingpipes.com/accessories/pipe%20accessories/moreinfo.cfm?product_id=150178

While a pipe smoker’s main essentials are pipes and tobacco, ya need somethin’ to store ‘em in when yer travellin’. My kit and pouches are full of pipes an’ tobacco, but when I’m out on leave, I need a reliable bag to store all the stuff I plan on smokin’. While any bag’ll do, the good folks over at Erik Stokkebye have ya covered with a stylish messenger bag that ya won’t feel ashamed carryin’ ‘round.

Now, most bags out there aren’t made with the pipe smoker in mind, so ya have to be creative in storin’ yer pipes. It can be a pain in the neck tryin’ to keep yer pipes secure so they don’t go knockin’ into each other. The Erik Stokkebye bag has been made from the ground up for pipe smokers, with pouches for two pipes, two tins, space for extra stuff ya want to bring, an’ a section for one of those new fangled tablets all the trendy folks like to carry with ‘em. There’s enough room here to keep ya prepared fer a day trip, or longer dependin’ on how much ya smoke. Personally, I could do for a larger bag, but fer most of ya lightweights; this should suffice.

B. J. Long Regular Pipe Cleaners (100 pack) $2.10

https://www.smokingpipes.com/accessories/pipe-supplies/moreinfo.cfm?product_id=238272

Now I ain’t one fer worryin’ about keepin’ my pipes clean, but even I like to keep a few pipe cleaners around for clearin’ up the occasional gurgle in my stem. B.J. Long is my personal choice for pipe cleaners, an’ they get the job done. Sure, pipe cleaners ain’t the most excitin’ thing to get under yer Christmas tree, but they’re never a bad thing to have with ya. You can also get the tapered and bristled versions, dependin’ on the job ya need ‘em fer.

The nice thing about pipe cleaners is ya can use ‘em for more than jus’ for yer pipe. As I said, a pipe smoker should be resourceful, and I’ve used mine durin’ some close calls out on duty. You’d be surprised at how much damage one can do with a pack of bristled pipe cleaners when ya put yer mind to it.

ThrowFlame.Com’s XL18 Flamethrower $3,199

Now yer playin’ with power! This sucker will get yer pipe lit no problem while ya incinerate the obstacles ol’ mother nature likes to throw at ya. The XL18 delivers incredible downrange power with a generous 110 foot range. Not to mention that you can hook up some napalm to this beast an’ really go to town. I’ve had squadmates in the past tell me it’s a bit overkill to light my pipe with it, but sometimes ya need more than a zippo to get the job done. Believe me, there ain’t no tobacco too damp that won’t light when ya use this beauty. It brings a tear to this hardened badger’s eye every time I use it.

The Ultimate Pipe Book by Richard Carleton Hacker (Used Prices Vary)

Pipesmoking: A 21st Century Guide $19.95

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0931253152/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

It might come to some as a surprise, but I do enjoy readin’ a good book when I have some down time; an’ what better way to unwind than readin’ the definitive book on pipe smokin’? Richard Carlton Hacker knows his briars and baccy, an’ he dumps all of his knowledge for all o’ us novices in the appropriately titled The Ultimate Pipe Book. While it’s been years since the book went out of print, you can still find a lot of useful information that you can use today.

The Ultimate Pipe Book covers a wide range of topics about pipe smokin’, an’ is the kind of book you can read a bit here an’ there without feelin’ like ya have to finish it in one go. The book’s topics range from the history of pipe smokin’, to how to pick the right pipe an’ tobacco, an’ how to properly collect pipes. There’s even a chapter dedicated to the lady pipe smokers out there, if ya can believe it. My personal favorite chapters focus on pipe smokers in real life an’ in fiction.

Unfortunately, as I alluded to before, the book is long out of print. However, it’s easy to find a used copy fer sale on yer favorite book buyin’ websites. If used books aren’t yer thing, there’s also Pipesmoking: A 21st Century Guide, which ya can buy new. While I don’t own the 21st Century Guide (yet), there’s enough new content in there to justify ownin’ both, as it has a lengthy pipe tobacco review section among other things. Buy both if ya want to have a solid pipe library.

Salamandastron by Brian Jacques, art by Gary Chalk $8.72

While my list is all about pipes, I couldn’t help m’self from addin’ a favorite book of mine. The late great Brian Jacques spent over twenty years writin’ the finest adventure series in all of literature, pennin’ over twenty books chronicling the events of Redwall Abbey, the fortress of Salamandastron, an’ the land of Mossflower country. In this book series, you’ll read about the heroic adventures of brave mice, fierce badgers, bold otters, humorous hares, an’ all sorts of memorable beasts an’ nasty villains that’ll stick with ya fer years to come. This ain’t jus’ fer kids, but readers of all ages, so don’t ya go scoffin’ at it.

While I’d recommend any of the books, my personal favorite has ta be Salamandastron. Salamandastron ain’t yer normal adventurin’ fantasy book— it’s an all out war, an’ the stakes ain’t never been higher in the series. The evil Ferahgo the Assassin an’ his Corpsemakers have laid siege on the fortress of Salamandastron, an’ it’s up to the fearless Badgerlord Urthstripe the Strong an’ his perilous band of hares in the Long Patrol to fend ‘em off. Redwall Abbey doesn’t have it easy either, as an outbreak of dryditch fever threatens to wipe out the peaceful creatures of the Abbey from within unless a cure can be found. Not only that, but the legendary Sword of Martin the Warrior has been stolen from the Abbey an’ must be returned to its rightful place. Bloody battles are fought, characters are killed, an’ heroes rise to the occasion. Add in legendary fantasy illustrator Gary Chalk’s whimsical art, an’ ya have a page turner that’ll keep ya readin’ well past lights out. There’s even an excellent audiobook version, if that’s more yer style.

Briar Report TV Coffee Mug $20 (with shipping included)

Ya might be surprised to learn ya can’t live on pipe smokin’ alone. I know, I couldn’t believe it when our troop’s medic told me that durin’ my boot camp days after passin’ out from dehydration. Turns out ya need to drink, too, an’ what better drink is there than coffee? Nowadays, I can’t start my day without a freshly brewed mug of Death Wish coffee. There’s only one mug that I reach for in the mornin’, an’ that’s my 16oz Briar Report TV mug. Now, I ain’t never stepped a paw in a bistro before, but if they have mugs like this, then I might have ta remedy that, stat. This glossy finished mug holds all the coffee I need in the mornin’, which is enough ta jumpstart my groggy noggin’ fer mornin’ inspection.

Not only are ya gettin’ the finest pipe related coffee mug ya can buy, but yer puttin’ yer money towards supportin’ the best pipe site on the web. Phil an’ the Briar Report team work tirelessly in informin’ all pipe smokers about what’s goin’ on in our favorite hobby, an’ they deserve our support in any way we can help ‘em. Plus, ya get a great mug ta go along with it. So pick up a mug or five, an’ enjoy the blessed black nectar.

 That ‘bout sums up my personal picks ya should be keepin’ yer eyes on this holiday season. Pipe smokers have their own preferences fer what they like, but there should be somethin’ here that everyone should enjoy.

Now ta put gifts aside fer a moment, I wanna take a moment ta speak directly to all of you maggots out there. While Christmas is a special time of the year, I know it ain’t everyone’s cup o’ joe. Certainly, I’ve spent many a Christmas away from loved ones alone on the battlefield. Maybe ya’ve lost loved ones durin’ the holidays, or ya had a bad experience that’s tainted the cheerful season.

Regardless of how ya feel ‘bout it, I want all of ya numbskulls out there to know that deep down inside, I appreciate every one of ya. It ain’t all ‘bout gettin’ gifts or eatin’ a fancy meal, it’s the people in yer life that matters. So even if the holidays make ya feel like yer in a foxhole all alone, remember that there’s someone out there that cares ‘bout ya.

Pa-tooie, that’s ‘nuff of that disgustin’ sent-e-mental stuff. Now go out there, have a pipe on the big day, an’ show that red house intruder who’s boss! ‘Till then, I have some business to take care of with this pipsqueak that keeps showin’ up on my shelf. I’ve got a whole list of holiday ‘activities’ to make that runt spill his beans. Let’s jus’ say those bristled pipe cleaners are gonna come in handy.

Now what are ya waitin’ fer? DIS-MISSED!

-Sgt. MacBadger

Here at TheBadgerPiper blog, I want to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! 2019 has been an incredible year, and I couldn’t have done it without all of you reading my site.

When I started this little project, I figured it would be a fun way to talk about my favorite hobby that maybe a few people would read. I was honestly worried that I’d quickly run out of things to talk about, but the more I spent on it, the more I had to say. It wasn’t until late this year that I realized I needed to revamp my blog and organize it for newer readers. Hey, I’m a writer, not a design guy! Now, though, I’m happy with where the blog is at, but I’m not done with it yet! I already have multiple articles started for the new year, as well as some other pipe related projects I’m starting.

So for this Christmas season, I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday, full of joy and plenty of pipe smoke. I’ll see all of you in 2020!

-TheBadgerPiper

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