Quest For Fire

Years ago I visited a museum in an old castle in Transylvania, a historical region of Romania. I was there looking for pipes, of course, because you never know what you may find.

The director of this museum was a withered, ancient little man who resembled a molting turkey vulture emerging from the spin cycle of an industrial clothes washer. His eyes tended to dart from side to side, as if he was still spinning. He smoked an old Hungarian pipe, which gave me hope, though whatever tobacco he was smoking had an aroma that made me not ask about it.

"Pipes?" he said when I inquired. "We have only one pipe in our collection. It's the very first pipe in human history."

Jackpot. The director unlocked a small, ancient door and opened it on squawking hinges. "It's not been opened in a hundred years," he explained. He pulled an item from a dust-laden shelf.

"Here's the pipe. And a scroll explaining its provenance."

The pipe was little more than a rock with a shallow bowl worn into it and a channel emerging from one end where a reed might be inserted as a mouthpiece. We unrolled the scroll. It was written in ancient Sumerian and the director was kind enough to translate.

"This pipe belonged to and is the invention of Yowk, Firekeeper of the Weasel People."

He smoked an old Hungarian pipe, which gave me hope, though whatever tobacco he was smoking had an aroma that made me not ask about it.

"'Weasel?'" I asked.

"I'm translating as best I can. It might also mean 'fish-hearding,' but I think in this context it's weasels. Let me read it and get the basics." He pored thoughtfully over the text. "OK, I think I have it. This Yowk fellow was responsible for keeping fire ready as the tribe moved around, and he invented this device for that purpose. By breathing in and out through a reed attached to the chamber, an ember could be kept alight while moving."

"So the first pipe was for fire keeping, not smoking?"

"It appears that way. But there's quite a bit here about different herbs that stay lit best, and even a section on herbs that taste good. It seems Youk became an enthusiast and others in the tribe joined him, smoking for pleasure rather than fire transport."

"What happened to them?" I asked.

"Everyone in the tribe became adept at 'carrying fire,' as they called smoking. They stopped migrating so they could smoke more; they settled down and started farming so they could grow better smoking mixtures."

According to this evidence, humanity shifted from a nomadic to an agrarian society because of pipe smoking. Without pipes, we probably wouldn't exist today.

Sadly, I can't confirm that now, nor can I prove anything related here. The castle and museum I visited years ago are gone, replaced by a Romanian Walmart. But we know the truth. So next time you hear that smoking is a useless pastime, remember that without pipes, we'd probably still be wandering the savannahs as Weasel people, smokeless and miserable.

Category:   Pipe Line
Tagged in:   Editorial Humor Pipe Culture Satire


    • Bill McMillin on February 5, 2019
    • Chuck, this is some of your best work. My Dad's nickname for my mom was "Weasel". Now it has an even greater significance. Of course he also called her Mabel and her name was Mary. So it could have been just his senility.

    • Bat on February 9, 2019
    • I think I remember that Youk guy?

    • Howard R. Houck on October 29, 2019
    • Just in case it's a coincidence: "Quest for Fire" ("La Guerre du Feu") 1981 French-Canadian award-winning flick by Jean-Jacque Annaud, which I first saw on TV at the Hotel Capri in Havana in 1986.

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