Archive for January 20th, 2007


Of pipes and presidents

Well, I thought I was done with Gerald Ford, but I came across this picture and couldn’t resist. Much has been written by now about how Ford was an under-rated president, as well as a thoroughly decent human being. What hasn’t been mentioned all that much is that he was, like myself, a dedicated pipe smoker. I’ve always felt an affinity for this particular president, even long before I knew he was a fellow pipe smoker. When I did find out that he smoked a pipe, it all made sense to me.

I love this picture. At first glance, it’s just a picture of a United States President sitting in the Oval Office, looking, well, presidential. But if you look a little closer, you will see that Ford, like all pipe smokers, littered his environment with the accoutrements of his favored mode of smoking. In the foreground there is a pipe sitting in what appears to be a crystal pipe holder. In the background you will see a pipe rack with three pipes, in close proximity to the presidential hand.  (No pipe smoker has only one pipe.  Just trust me on this one.)  No doubt there is a tobacco jar close by.

All of this might seem a little bewildering to the non-smoker, but to a fellow pipe smoker it makes perfect sense. You can always tell the home or office of a pipe smoker, as he (or she) is always careful to have at least a few pipes near at hand. They usually form a part of the decor. They certainly do in my house. It is no coincidence that in his presidential portrait, Ford is holding a pipe. To the pipe smoker, the pipe is no mere means of imbibing tobacco smoke; it is a means of self expression.

Even in these politically correct times, the pipe conjures up pleasant images in the minds of most people. Somehow pipe smokers get a bit of a free pass that cigarette smokers do not enjoy. Most people have memories of a beloved grandfather smoking his pipe, memories which are brought back to the fore whenever the aroma of pipe tobacco is encountered. In many people’s minds the pipe conjures up images of a safer, less threatening world. Reassuring figures such as Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, Inspector Maigret, or even Gandalph and Aragorn are asssociated with the pipe. As the man who restored America’s faith in the presidency, our last pipe smoking president surely belongs in such company.



The span of days, a poem

I beheld the sunset, transfixed by
The inferno in the clouds.
And there I saw the angels winging
Amidst the amber sunbeams.
Angels and archangels, least perfect
Of the nine choirs, most like us,
Happy in their imperfection
To play among the clouds.
And I wished I could free my soul
From its earthly prison
To soar amongst them between the fiery cumuli.

And so it came to pass that on a night
When the trees, like souls forsaken,
Grasped vainly with withered fingers
At the sapphire moonlight
That rent the dusky clouds,
I stood upon the parapet,
Arched my back like a lyre,
And as one crucified
Spread my arms wide,
And freed myself from earth’s jealous shackles.

And thus I ascended while
The moonlit ground receded beneath me
and I was among the nine choirs,
The flaming Ophanim,
The all seeing Cherubim,
And The Seraphim,
So bright that only One
Might look upon them
In their naked incandescent splendor,
Chanting the Trisagion in the ancient modes,
Dorian, Lydian, and Phrygian.

And still I ascended,
Wishing for nothing ever more
But to listen to their canticle
Until I heard a voice,
Or rather, felt it,
For it passed through me
Like a flaming sword,
And intoned within me,
Saying, “Why have you done this thing?
Do you not know that the span of your days
Is not yours to measure?
Leave us now, for but awhile longer,
Go back whence you came,
And finish what you have begun.”
And I felt myself descend
Along the sapphire moonbeam
Until I lighted amidst the snow and the trees
And I was home once more.
I left that place,
And continued in the world,
Knowing that I once had felt the breath of God.

–Stephen P. Smith

taking up a glowing cinder with the tongs and lighting with it the long cherry-wood pipe which was wont to replace his clay when he was in a disputatious rather than a meditative mood" ~ Dr. John H. Watson ************************
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