It was a very welcoming, cool July morning. Josh and I were driving through the beautiful mountains of New Mexico. I was feeling the butterflies in my stomach in anticipation as we listened to the defining nostalgic songs of our youth with all the windows down. Though I was singing with a full heart, it was merely reflex. Only one thing was really on my mind at this point, I was on my way to meet with an incense master.
All I had to go off of were the sample sticks I had received a month before. Together Suzy, Josh, and I lit up what was being crafted in the hills of New Mexico, and we all knew there were no questions. We sought to make a deal immediately. The incense is simply a work of art. The hand-dipped style exuded an uncomplicated elegance that can only be learned from a lifetime of dipping a stick into naturally fragrant resin over and over and over. While the visual aesthetic alone was stunning, the incense really shines where all incense should. It burned remarkably slow. A little over 3 hours by our estimation, and the soft resin mist that filled the room was wholly divine. It didn’t overpower my often sensitive nose, it felt more caressing than that. A gentle voluptuous smoke that you can sink into like a big couch made perfect for napping in. This was the incense that was made for Supernatural and I knew I had to meet the compassionate heart that created this masterpiece.
We’re in the car and on the road when all of a sudden I could literally smell that we were close, with the windows down we were greeted by scents of soft bouquets that filled the air around us. I checked my phone and we were still a half mile away! The gentle breeze of heavenly aromas slowly grew in presence as we drew closer, and before I knew it, we had arrived.
We pulled into a small parking lot in front of a whimsical storefront with a slightly (but not by much) larger warehouse behind it, both tucked with care into the mountains around them. I was in awe that any place could radiate such a beautiful presence as this, the scents alone were enough to feel you had arrived at a holy place. We picked up our equipment and walked right into the front door.
We were greeted by the maestros of the incense immediately as we stepped through what felt like a portal to another world.
“You’ve arrived! Welcome.” they both exalted.
We were inside of a small shop that had raw crystals, incense burners, art, and every flavor of incense you could imagine. We said our hellos and learned quickly that the master was actually a pair of masters! I wasn’t sure what to suspect when I started out on this journey, but I was still pleasantly surprised when I met them. They were a couple of unpretentious, down to earth, self styled rock and roll hippies. And I immediately loved them.
Josh and I dove right into the world of these incense masters.
Dustin: How did you get started making incense?
Incense Master: I got started making incense with my old friend Genoa ,who gave me some Pinyon pitch, resin from the Pinyon tree, and taught me how to make incense out of it. And that was our first flavor, Pinyon. At the very beginning. When Genoa taught me how to make incense out of the Pinyon resin, these thoughts were sent to me to make it a certain way to add some ingredients. And that's when I thought it was magical. I didn't hear this from anybody. And it was nothing that came from me. It was something that I captured. This is the beginning. And this is when I thought it was magical, the first time.
D: What does incense creation mean to you?
IM: To me, incense means pleasure and enjoyment and taking me to different places, having me think of different people and basically the enjoyment that I get out of it. I'm on the more esoteric side and trying to do the best job that I could do, trying to stay focused and just not getting too twisted.
Earlier, you asked some questions, and to me, one of the answers is that I'm not used to being a boss. But my thoughts are just trying to make the best incense and concentrating on that and not letting go, staying right on top of it. The mother hen type of deal, testing everything, smelling everything, trying to do the best job that I could do to make sure that it all flows right.
D: What lessons have you learned from your experience of incense creation?
IM: One of the lessons that I've learned is that you never know how something is going to come out when you mix it. You really can tell by testing one and testing another somehow you have to put it together and that's the only way you can do it. Kind of like by trial and error. And one of my truisms is that I have nothing to work with here. So one of my truisms and no path to go on is that, it sounds a little silly, but it's not. Equals subtracted from equals are always equal.
I try to take all of my variables and hold them. Solid. I make fluids that have to be the right viscosity and that's part of the nature of my business in trying to develop these flavors. So I would keep viscosity the same. I would keep the duration the same. And so the more I can hold on to solid things, the better I can develop.
Josh: When did you know that Frankincense was going to be the most popular?
IM: I began with the Frankincense products after four Pinyon based products, my first four. And so as soon as I got into Frankincense, it was popular right away and more popular than my first four Pinyon ones. Nowadays, that's probably still true with the first four Pinyon flavors, but we have a lot of good selling Frankincense flavors, and we have a lot of good selling Pinyon based flavors. I mentioned the Pinyon based, the Sage for your wife, and maybe like Cedar or Sage and Cedar or Rosemary and Sage.
These Sage products are also very, very popular and they're mixed with the Pinyon. Trying to mix it just the right way, as I discussed and that's one of my things. Trying to get that really nice smell, obviously out of the incense, Patchouli would be another one. We have the finest patchouli products, I believe. Desert Patchouli, Patchouli and Dragon's Blood, Frankincense and patchouli, we have a real beautiful, deep, rustic Patchouli that we use.
Josh: It seems like you really curated a lot of great scents, and you kept this process of how you create it for a long time. Can you explain why? Even with mass modernization across everything, you still hand dip it. Is it for the quality? What led you to this? Still doing it this way?
IM: Lack of a better way. We stick to what we know and what we do, and our thing is just to do that over and over again. I don't want to make the buckets too big. I don't want to make twice as much stuff. I've had to come to the conclusion that I make it the same way I put the same goodness into it and what I get out has been really nice. I'm sticking right to that.
D: What do you hope people experience when they're using your incense when they're burning it?
IM: I could say it in one word. Magic.
Josh: We had a window down as we pulled up and you really can just smell magic in the air!
D: Can you leave us with some closing thoughts on your incense.
IM: You know, I'm always attempting to convey the pure joy of Incense. I feel that magic can be found everywhere, anywhere. The Catholic Church and the Frankincense (He imitates the swinging of the Thurible), Baby Jesus and the Frankincense and Myrrh and I think that throughout history, these products are spiritual. They've gone on for the longest time. And I think that feeling and that vibration is what I offer with my incense. The incense does it. I don't do it. I am just wise enough to not adulterate it. I just make it as it is. As it wants to be.
That's what I do with the Dragon's blood just in itself. That's what I do with the Copal. So we make this incense that has the pure vibration of these resins that have been anointed with people for centuries and centuries. What a joy to be a part of that experience.