I’ve been on vacation with my family in the Finger Lakes this week, and it’s been a lovely opportunity to disconnect from screens, get some time in the sun, and relax with my family.
Renting a cottage in this part of the state is a summer tradition of ours, and I spent many summers running around the western Finger Lakes, from Conesus to Owasco and Seneca. On the last night, I found myself at the end of the dock after dinner with my family. We were enjoying the sunset, the lake views, and a few cigars.
I grew up around cigars. My father has always been a fan; lighting up on the deck outside my childhood home throughout the summer. He let me try when I was younger, and I loved the smoky taste of the tobacco on lips and the ritual of smoking. Just the smell calls back fond memories of warm weather and long hours of sunlight. These days, my dad can be found lighting up with my sisters and I.
Since the first thing I ever smoked was a cigar, cigars were how I learned to smoke. My dad explained how to pull in the smoke, hold it in your mouth, and gently release. As any novice cigar smoker is wont to do, I pulled too hard, swallowed the smoke, and induced a coughing fit.
Smoking cannabis is, of course, different than smoking cigars, but it’s a nuance most people don’t bother explaining to an 18 year old novice smoker. When I tried cigarettes, I smoked them the same way as cigars, and found myself wondering why anyone enjoyed the taste of chemicals.
In fact it wasn’t until a year after the first time I smoked weed that I learned the proper way to get high, which made for quite the disappointment the first time I smoked a bowl.
I was 18, a freshman in college, and delirious with freedom. The designated smoke spot was the woods behind the freshman dorm, where a small ravine provided shelter from the prying eyes of the RAs. Typically I preferred to smoke cigars, the cheap, plastic-tipped Black and Milds ( vanilla flavor) from the gas station down the road. But when a friend asked if I wanted to smoke weed for the first time, I couldn’t say no.
There were five of us, huddled in a circle waiting for the bowl to be lit. I stood on a downed log because it was better than sitting on it, and patiently waited for my turn. When it came, I immediately stumbled and failed to relight the bowl. The wind whipped the flame every which way but over and I was instantly humbled to ask for help. Once lit, I inhaled deeply and passed the bowl, not wanting to be impolite. I held the smoke in my mouth, exhaled, and waited.
The bowl made another round and I exhaled again, still waiting to feel something other than the smoke collecting in the back of my throat. We walked back to the dorm together, the others laughing and visibly relaxed. My throat was raw and my mouth tasted like smoke, but I felt no different. I fell asleep that night wondering if I was immune to cannabis or if everyone else knew something I didn’t.
I didn’t touch weed again for a year and when I finally tried again, my friend noticed the strange way I held the smoke in the mouth. He was a cigarette smoker, but understood when I explained that I was used to smoking cigars. Laughing, he showed me the right way to inhale so the smoke went into the lungs and from there into the bloodstream. My next drag was followed by intense coughing, but I was elated.
Most of the people I knew back then learned how to smoke on cigarettes or weed, so there was never any need to talk about the right way to do it. Few suspect an 18 year old woman of knowing her way around a humidor but on the flip side, the first time my partner smoked a cigar was with me, and he promptly inhaled all the smoke.