By John K. Offerdahl 

Some may find my two hobbies, or perhaps I should call them obsessions, to be quite far apart. Dissimilar. Almost at odds. And certainly two huge drains to my meager librarian’s income. I’m a pipe enthusiast (and dabbler at pipe making), and an orchid grower. 

Today I received a wonderful box in the mail, postmarked in Virginia. I knew, of course, what was inside. For years I’ve been trying to obtain the orchid plant Paraphalaenopsis denevei, a Malasian species which I had once been told was now extinct. One of the first orchids I ever bought, in 1980, was this species. However, through some long searching – the search has lasted about 8 years, I found not only a nursery able to supply me with two of these exquisite, exotic plants, but able to do so for about $100. In the orchid world this is a bargain price. My plants are only a couple of months past living somewhere in Malasia (so I guess they are NOT extinct, even in the wild). 

When I picked up the box, held it in my hands unopened, I felt the same excitement that I’ve felt when, for example, I received my first true high grade pipe, Jan Zeman’s beautiful Dorado. In neither case was opening the box a let down, anticlimactic, or in any way less than thrilling experience. They arrived in what is called “bare root” condition, meaning that some moist moss was wrapped around the roots but they were not in pots. I carefully removed them from the box, looked them over, and smiled. The plants arrived in fine condition. This, too, was a feeling not at all unlike Dorado’s arrival from New Zealand. 

I selected clay orchid pots as the plants’ new homes.  The potting medium had been readied before the arrival, knowing that they should come today. And again I was struck by a pipe similarity as I carefully potted my new beauties. The medium I used was a mix of orchid bark and sphagnum moss which I “blended” myself. A bit was added to the bottom of each pot, about a third filled, before the plant was put in. Next the plant was carefully placed on the medium and more mixture added, almost filling the pot before being tamped down around the roots in a way to provide support for the plants without actually choking the roots. Finally, the last third of the pot was filled and carefully tamped in to create a surface even with the base of the plants. One third, followed by one third, followed by one third. Sound familiar? 

And now these lovelies are resting among their new family, almost all species (and a few hybrids) of the Phalaenopsis alliance, my favorite orchids. In a similar way, Dorado was given a new home among the other pipes of my pipe collection, which just happens to include about a dozen other Jan Zeman pipes. 

The daily care of an orchid is a process which is slow and takes patience. Each plant, just as each pipe, has its own needs and so must be tended to as an individual. They need to be kept clean, given just the right amount of light and water, occasional fertilizer, and love. The grower must check them for disturbances caused by insect, fungal, and light damage (yes, too much light can harm an orchid just as too much light can harm a fine ebonite stem) and cared for if any signs of problems may appear. The care is given slowly, patiently, and very carefully. 

A well cared-for orchid, though, rewards the owner just as does a well cared-for pipe. Sure, the rewards come in a different way. With a pipe that has been loved as it deserves the reward comes with each smoke. A clean, well tended pipe gives a cool, sweet smoke which lasts until the last bit of tobacco burns away to ash. When the smoke is finished, having been savored, sipped, and enjoyed, the feeling upon reflection is one of absolute satisfaction. I’ve never gotten less from Dorado, and expect I never will. An orchid provides a similar, though slower, reward by offering a flower, or several flowers, or even a delightful, long spray of blooms, perhaps even a fragrance from those blooms. The flowers can last literally for months; in fact, some orchids are almost perpetually in flower when large enough and healthy enough. And the reward is, again, one which, with reflection, provides a world of satisfaction. 

Now, obviously I can’t work on carving a pipe while around these lovely plants but I can enjoy a good smoke while admiring them. And I don’t personally need to see a flower to feel satisfied. I can discover a new leaf coming – a Phalaenopsis only grows one or two new leaves in a year – or just from finding the tiniest beginning of a flower stem growing from the side of a plant. I can load a pipe and enjoy it while tending to the orchids, or while simply sitting and looking at them. 

Thus, for me, I find a world of parallels between my pipes and my plants. There is the search for just the right one. There is the relaxed pleasure of taking care of either a pipe or a plant. And there is the bliss of the reward given me by either, telling me that I have done right by both.

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AuthorOlie Sylvester