The Uniquely American Art of Tobacco
Myths. They’re powerful things. We tell them because they’re full of capital “T” Truth — even if the stories themselves aren’t historically accurate. Throughout antiquity our forebears nourished these narratives to maintain the rhythms and rituals of daily life. I don’t accept that the Greeks believed fanciful stories of their gods warring away on Mount Olympus, anymore than I believe that Odysseus lashed himself to the mast of his fast black ship to keep from falling to the Sirens’ salacious succor. But it doesn’t really make them any less true either, does it?
Hestia is the goddess of the hearth. The communal center. Civilization, as the Greeks understood it, would crumble without a central hearth. And I’m obliged to think we too are better served in coming to the central hearth fires to commune. To be still. I know you’ve done it: sitting there in stilled silence as the campfire embers burned low. Mesmerized by the last lapping flames. Centered. Whole.
I started Hestia Tobacco after having the privilege to work with a few farmers and their families who embody this ethos. Alongside Kentucky’s patron saint of organic tobacco farming, Wendell Berry, we seek “The Peace of Wild Things” through farmers studying the terroir of their land. And instinctively understanding how best to work their dark silty fields. Like coffee plants or grape vines, the tobacco plant remains brittle and frail through its early growth. You don’t tend to it with gargantuan machinery or store it in sky-scraping silos.
We stripped the tobacco down to its perfect, environmentally respectful ideal: pure naked tobacco plants left to grow wild and unadulterated. To care for these plants you have to do it the hard way. The meaningful way. And the knowledge to plant it, prune it, harvest it, and cure it remains an art form passed down by word of mouth, and guarded like a family secret. Our tobacco families are the center of our operation. This is their ritual. Their craft and rite of passage. Because the beginning of Hestia’s art is to consume and partake in their story. To become a page, not a footnote.
And this is my rite of passage, too. My morning meditation and prayer. On my porch. With a perfectly designed and constructed cigarette or two and a brimming, frothy ceramic French press. I drink the steaming beans ripened on a Costa Rican hill, roasted by some folks down the street. Whilst breathing deep the burning leaves of my farmers’ fields. I commune in their craft. In their ritual. And make it part of my own, collecting myself for the day. It’s certainly a myth that tobacco is good for you. And maybe there’s still some kernel of Truth in that after all, too.
DS / August 8, 2014