A view from the backroads: In beardedness is the preservation of the wild

Though it may look like it in this photo, I’m not mad. That’s just the way I look unless I’m smiling. Christine, my wife, asks me all the time why I’m mad and never believes me when I say I’m not. I guess it’s the heavy eyebrows. Anyway, the purpose of the picture is to show you one of my annual rituals. A ritual that my wife looks forward to every autumn (not true, that should have been typed in sarcasm font). It’s the annual growing of the beard.

This is really a misnomer because I haven’t been truly beardless since 2002. I shaved it all off that summer for who knows what reason. It was a bad decision, and one that I won’t make again. I felt naked and powerless — like part of me was missing, like Sampson must have felt before he had his peepers gouged out, but I digress. No, the annual growing of the full beard is my transition from a summer coat (goatee minus the mustache) to the luxuriant winter coat of a full beard. In order to balance things out, I also let my summertime-cropped head hair grow out. It’s a tradeoff to keep the wife happy. She hates the beard but likes the longer locks. In short — razors, scissors and trimmers are put away until spring except for the occasional clipping of a rouge whisker and neck shaving. Neck beards don’t bother me, but I’ve learned where the boundaries are in order to keep everybody happy on the home front.

I don’t sport the beard as a fashion statement, and I was growing a beard when the only way to watch the Robertson boys from Louisiana was on a “Duck Commander” VHS tape. No, the beard is beyond skin deep, so to speak, despite its physical epidermal origins. I am the beard, and the beard is
me.

It’s been hard to put my finger on the reasons why a full beard was so important at this time of year. Dad always had a beard, and he let it to grow shaggier during deer season long before no-shave November. Maybe that’s part of it. And I’d like to think he did it for the same reason I think that I do. It’s a rewilding
of myself.

The full beard is a snub to the neatly manicured standards by which we men are judged job worthy, trustworthy or even respect-worthy. A well-heeled businessman once told me that a bearded man had something to hide. This logic was passed down from his father, another well-heeled businessman that had likely never tasted fresh from-the-carcass deer steak or heard the pleasant “shnikt” of a red oak stave splitting under the maul. It was all I could do bite my tongue and walk away.

There’s evidence that uncut facial hair and head hair are vital extensions of our sense of touch. There is an interesting article about Native American U.S. soldiers trained for tours in Vietnam to back this up. At the very least they are God given parts of the body, and as such play valuable roles in our lives outside the confines of society. I’m going to go out there a bit further and say that I’ve experienced similar heightened awareness during the fall and winter months. I’ve always thought it was because I was in predatory mode, but maybe I’m in predatory mode because of the beard and hair. Hmmm…

I’m not going to shave it off to find out. Somebody else can run that little experiment.

But beyond the possibility of tangible benefit, the full beard is a physical symbol of my mental transformation as the days shorten and the air becomes crisp. It’s a symbol of my return to the wild for another season of blood trails and wood smoke. It’s a symbol that I’m taking the road less traveled and that the approval of a society gone crazy over appearances is something that I do not require.