Smoke Stories No. 2

A Coal Miner’s Therapist

Coal Miner's Therapist Picture

A lone scrawny man sits unaccompanied on an overturned wooden box.  Dirty, worn clothes, ash covered skin, and untied boots that have seen better days rest under a path of mud and gravel.  A gentle rainy mist is provided by the dull gray clouds that peak over the tops of mountains.  The man sits, thinking, looking into the sky, and puffing his pipe, the voice inside his head the only friend around, “Is this the purpose of life?” [Puff, Puff, Puff]  “The dredge and sledge, the darkness, the pain, the worry.” [Puff]  “Money is tight.  Bills are due.  Work is sparse and options are few.” [Puff, Puff, Puff].  A slight pause in his cadence allows for his thoughts to wisp away like a prayer request forwarded into the eternal heavens.  He slowly continues his smoking rhythm as his ponderance resumes. “I suppose things could be worse.” [Puff]  “After all, I’m still alive.” [Puff, Puff, Puff]  “God has granted me more time.” [Puff] “But for what?”  [Puff, Puff, Puff].  “Is my purpose in life to work this eternal hell hole until there is no more black gold to be harvested?” [Puff] “Surely, not.  There has to be more.” [Puff, Puff, Puff]

The man pauses to tamp the tobacco.  Using a blackened stained index finger, he gently pushes the charred leaf down into the well-loved cob.  Then, pulling a book of matches from his tattered shirt pocket, lights a matchstick, and applies it to the now perfectly prepped tobacco.  He thinks on, “Pa did this for 50 years.  And his Pa before him for 60.” [Puff, Puff, Puff]  “They were good men who raised good families.” [Puff].  “But why me?” [Puff, Puff, Puff] “Why were my cards dealt to reflect this hand?” [Puff]  “This life?” [Puff, Puff, Puff]

He pauses to listen as distant thunder gives the warning of an incoming storm.  The mist, now evolved into a small but steady rain, does not distract the man from his thoughts.  Nothing he can’t or hasn’t dealt with before.  He puffs on, un-phased.  His pipe not acting as a companion but rather his therapist.  Absorbing his inner most concerns, his worries, his fears.  “I want more for my own son.” [Puff, Puff, Puff]  “How do I show him there is more outside this Kentucky holler?” [Puff]  “An entire world waiting for him.  Full of opportunity and chance.  Full of hope and happiness.” [Puff, Puff, Puff]  “Not this depressing, dead end, coal mining career.  If you can even call it that anymore.” [Puff]   “Good Lord if you are listening.  Let my boy be removed from this purgatory.”[Puff, Puff, Puff]  “Forgive him for the sins these people and myself have committed.” [Puff]  “And lead him to a life of joy and purpose.” [Puff, Puff, Puff].  The man sits, his mind moving as quick as the low-lying clouds passing across the mountain tops, smothering what leaves remain among the fall stricken trees.  His pipe the only comfort in the world.  The only stability he can guarantee.  After all, it’s cheaper than seeing a therapist, and smells nice.  The man puffs on before being interrupted.

“Hey Jimmy.”  Another fella’s voice crawls from an opening door behind the box where the pipe smoker resides.  Out walks a large gentleman in overhauls, hat propped back on his head, half chewed stick of dried beef hanging from his jaws.  “Whatcha thinking about?”

The pipe smoker (aka Jimmy) adjusts his posture.  With his mind so focused on these larger issues he had yielded to remain sharp about holding an acceptable form.  Looking back to address the questions presented by the larger, husky, yet just as dirty overhauled fella, the pipe smoker looks up and replies, “Nothing.” [Puff]

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Smoke Stories No. 1

Wood Gnomes

Unique creatures they are.  But you would be too if you lived inside trees.  Have you ever wondered how the trees get their bark?  Yep, wood gnomes.  In fact, it acts as one of their many defenses against the threatening forces attempting to overrun their kingdoms of blissful harmony.  If a tree is bustling and healthy, you can bet a fully established society of wood gnomes are hard at work within.  If a tree has lost its life, well, the gnomes have moved on.  Could be due to an evil overthrow of the colony.  Maybe, a diplomatic choice.  Nobody truly knows why wood gnomes abandon their trees, but it is a guarantee they won’t be found if that tree is death bound.

One may be intrigued to understand the threats that constantly assault a colony of wood gnomes living in a tree.  Well, I am here to tell you that several disasters befall these innocent creatures that work hard to ensure humanity’s well-being.  Although many don’t believe it when I tell them, I once had the rare joy of meeting a wood gnome.  To say it was a pleasant experience would be shortcutting the occurrence as I was able to learn much about their ways and purpose in life.  I very distinctly remember his name, Sir Noreek Mapleshaper.  Very short, just half the size of a newborn hedgehog, with dirty tan clothing and a tiny redcap coving a head of grey hair, Sir Mapleshaper was not the least bit hesitant after I was able to capture him.  In fact, through our conversation, I was able to ascertain that wood gnomes are well aware of us humans and our behaviors (just FYI, they are not fond of us cutting down trees for what they believe are ‘insignificant personal needs’) and not the least bit scared of our kind.

Wood Gnome

Over the course of a cool but sunny autumn afternoon with Sir Mapleshaper, I was able to learn much about the life of wood gnomes.  For instance, wood gnomes live to be around 600 years old.  They, just like us, have families and live in a hierarchal government setting, but when asked about taxes, Sir Mapleshaper just laughed stating in a somewhat high pitched slurred Irish accent “when everyone cares about the well-being of each other, the need for forced payment to help get simple things accomplished, that everyone will benefit from, is no longer necessary.”  I couldn’t argue with him on that philosophy.  Going back to our beginning conversation of threats to wood gnomes, Sir Mapleshaper shared that the major dangers to his kind are termites, squirrels, raccoons, weather, and pesky children who pull bark off the trunks of their trees.  However, you’ll be most intriguing to know that the highpoint of our meeting came when I lit my pipe.  Come to find out, wood gnomes also enjoy smoking pipes.  They prefer tiny clay pipes full of their homemade pipe weed blends, which I humbly had the opportunity of trying (don’t worry, you are not missing out on anything….it is quite disgusting with tastes of sawdust and mulch).  They prefer clay pipes, as the use of briar could be considered an insult to some of their kin.  But please do not misinterpret what I’m saying.  Sir Mapleshaper made it very clear that the use of briar for making pipes was not considered an insignificant human waste as previously discussed.

As the afternoon wisped away in clouds of captivating conversation and pipe smoke, I gained a humble gratefulness for this tiny but vastly significant species.  Although I had not previously known wood gnomes existed, my new-found appreciation and respect for this tiny but meaningful creature was all but superficial.  As I currently observe the tree in my own front yard, that at one time was beautiful, full, and lush, slowly wither away and die.  I cannot help but stop and reflect on the once wonderful kingdom established by the wood gnomes that allowed shade, beauty, and love to my family for many years.  Now however, as I smoke my pipe and view the slow passing of this once charming creation, my hope is that those who once inhabited and protected this formidable piece of nature, recognize my gratitude toward their hard work and persistence.  For until we meet again my wood gnome friends, may your pipes be full and bark unblemished.

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