Blend: Peterson – Peterson’s Perfect Plug
Type: dark fired Kentucky Burley, Virginias
Strength: medium to full power
Plugs come to us from the distant ages of early tobacco blending. A steam press crushes a heap of leaves, usually sweetened with anisette and rose or geranium oil, into sheets that are cut into little blocks that look like brownies.
Old school smokers used to wander over to a table or bar, whip out the trusty pocketknife, which back then every man and most women carried and kept sharp, and shave off little bits from the plug, then stuff the plug back in the pocket and drop the shavings in the pipe.
To smoke this one well, you want to shave off thin flakes half the length of the plug, allowing them to taper off at the end. When you have enough, stack them and slide that stack vertically into the pipe. The tapered ends will take the match easily.
3P (as it is known) starts off light with a prune-like dense and sweet Virginia flavor. This one has a few years on it, so plume has started to emerge from the sides, which makes for a more caramel and molasses flavor than the honey of new Virginias.
As the bowl burns down, get ready, because the backbone of dark fired Kentucky Burley will now make its presence known with a substantial wallop of nicotine. Fully melted, the sugars in the Virginia saturate the darker leaf and give it a dried fruit type flavor, like a fig or apricot. Glorious.
Shavings work great because they pack, light, and burn easily but their real advantage is seen at the end of the bowl. The thicker the flake, the harder it is to burn it all. Nice thin triangular slices like one gets with the shaving technique burn completely to light grey ash.
The plug format mashes the little cells in the tobacco leaves and crushes leafy structures like stems and veins. If you separate this out into layers, it will peel off like asphalt more than dried herb. It burns smoothly and smokes cool as a result.
Back in days of yore, pipes were for working men whether blue-collar or white-collar. You kept one in your mouth to reorient you toward something other than the task in an unconscious way, which gives a rhythm to your motions and paradoxically, focuses concentration. Nicotine helps too.
The ritual of cutting the plug, really more like whittling away little leaf-like bits, loading the pipe, and then smoking it for a couple of hours — plugs are denser and notoriously long-burning, like flake — guided the daytime schedule, giving breaks to think about the task ahead.
Pipe smokers gain a reputation for being contemplative types. This probably reflects the symbolism and effect of the pipe: it burns slowly, requires someone to slow down and pay attention, and aids in concentration both in the process and the nicotine absorption.
Unlike a cigarette smoker, whisking through a quick hot burn for a jolt of nicotine, the pipe smoker fiddles. The pipe must be prepared, the tobacco sliced and loaded, sorted into place to burn best, and then the lighting process and smoking itself take skill and some patience.
That sense of deferred gratification, concentration, and patience defines what we think of pipe smokers. They are deliberate. They consider every step. Then they have a rhythm as they smoke outside of the task, like an orientation to something above and beyond the mundane everyday.
On the other hand, pipe smokers also live in the moment. They are focusing on what they are doing in the present tense, guided by the rhythm of the slow rolling smoke. Like monks, they regulate their breathing and make their movements efficient and precise.
“Living in the moment” gained a bad reputation because to idiots it means sacrificing all possible tomorrows for a sliver of enjoyment today. Used sensibly, the term means “mindfulness” or being aware of what is happening now rather than living in fanciful visions, judgments, and feelings in the head.
Someone who lives in the moment this way escapes being externalized, or move their focus to shared hallucination of what other people think, how things look to others, and what might be the next trend or fad that might bring the lottery win of popularity in their friend group.
Pipe smoking is a solitary activity. It involves the self bonded to an external task, but not the voices in our heads from others, neuroses, and the group that seems to us as if it has one opinion. The smoker shuts out the noise, calms the mind, and goes about the task with careful attention.
In this way, not only does the smoker do a better job, but the practice opens up the possibility of learning because of the intense focus. The two-way feedback loop of person and task, each influencing the other, occurs because of the rhythmic distraction of the pipe.
Or is it really a distraction? After the early years of pipe smoking, the smoker finds that the rhythm becomes instinctual. Place a pipe between the lips and the regularized breathing will commence, which is as useful for clearing the mind as the smoke can be.
Most people live outside of the moment. They are doing a perfunctory task to mediocre results while thinking about what other people said, what will happen at the pub tonight, what magical things might come about if they win the lottery, and the memories from the past that still sting.
One cannot escape this directly. To think about not-thinking something is to make it rise to the forefront of thought, no matter how much one hammers negations at it. The only way out involves a focus on something that ties together all of life with purpose so there is a goal beyond the brain chatter.
Externalized people do not get to this point. Their will has been replaced with social thinking and symbols that can be used to gesture good/bad judgments to other people. They are binary creatures, zipping between paranoid fears and wild hopes.
When someone escapes externalization, and focuses on the moment, they become more aware of reality around them, which ironically forces them deeper into intuition, because reality is mostly mystery, and pondering it brings out the intuitive in place of rational logic.
Only in intuition does the transcendent appear. This framework of outlook and sensation steals over us when we are lost in a task, appreciating it, and suddenly realize how much the natural world makes sense, despite our fears of it.
We all fear death, disease, accident, and failure. In the intuition, we see that these are not targeted at us, but natural cause-effect events. If you step on an unseen rake in the grass, it hits you in the face. ProTip: try not to step on a rake, and even better, do not leave rakes lying around.
When we see the world as logical, we accept its negatives as being necessary. Without death there would be no life, and without life, no death. Without risk of failure, there would be no success. No hot, no cold; no up, no down.
With this transcendental connection to the intuition, other things become clear. This universe has arranged itself so that not just functional but beautiful, elegant, efficient, and pleasurable outcomes are possible for those who act according to what is realistic and aim toward them.
Perhaps in this space comes the first inkling of inference not so much of God, but Godness. That is: we sense that something aware and benevolent guides this whole thing, even if it does not necessarily have a personality or interact with us like a person would.
The ancients believed in God, but saw Him as more of a groundwork, like Godhead in the Christian imagination. This god-force gave birth to a number of gods, who were manifestations of tendencies in the world, more metaphorical than literal.
In their view, Godness was like gravity or number, a force of the universe inseparable from it. God was not so much the Creator as a manifestation of Creation, a tendency that emerged from within things rather than acting upon them directly.
Long ago society became too literal in an urge to make communications egalitarian so that everyone could get them and be controlled so that unity could persist. It turns out that this approach backfires badly over time, since it interrupts our thinking and replaces it with neurotic chatter.
Moderns rediscover the original thought through a process of nihilism followed by transcendence. That is, one lights a pipe, ignores the world, and then rediscovers it from within. That requires rejecting the external control apparatus of symbolic and categorical thought:
Nihilism: a refusal to affirm the supposition that there are universal truths, values, and communications.
When we become lost in a task, living in the moment and the rhythm of the smoke, the false world of a presumed collective consciousness is lost. We can then connect to what and who we are, and in that capacity, know what it is possible for us to know.
Those who are blessed with that ability can discover their intuition, and through both find a hard realism and a compassion for others. They are what they are, like life is what it is. They can only do what they can do. Therefore, we take them as what they are, but go ahead and do what we see as right.
Gamling: Too few have come. We cannot defeat the armies of Mordor.
Theoden: No. We cannot. But we will meet them in battle nonetheless.
To have the presence of mind of the ancients, one must cast aside the world as it presents itself and look at the structure beneath the skin. What is right, must be done, and that way leads to an untroubled, creative, and fully living experience.
And oftentimes, things turn out better than we expect. This frequently coincides with the burning down of a bowl of flaked shavings into fine light grey ash, and a packing up of the tools to go home and welcome into our arms all things that make life lovely.