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  • Ken Ilgunas

Beard update: Day 65

As you can see, I’ve been growing my beard out.

For some reason, I’ve always been fascinated with facial hair (and bodily hair in general for that matter). Facial hair—to me—is just so wild, uncultivated, savage. Beards—especially those that haven’t been groomed and primped to the point of femininity—are vestiges of our primordial past and reminders of times when hair—and lots of it—was necessary for our hominid forebears.

Beards are trustworthy, too. Ever mindful of the day when more head hairs will be lost than grown, I know I can always count on my faithful follicles to sprout on cheeks and chin.

Plus, there are so many questions unanswered about beards that give them a mysterious, enigmatic quality. Why can some people grow beards and others can’t? Why are some beards curly and others smooth? And why don’t women have facial hair? Aren’t they, too, subject to face-freezing chills, winds, and snow?

I can happily say that I am one of the fortunate few who can grow a rich thick tuft of facely fur. And I love my beard. Well, maybe it’s not the actual beard that I love; I think I may just enjoy flagrantly disregarding what seems like pointless and incessant grooming and upkeep.

I can get away with a beard in Alaska (versus others places) for several reasons.

1. Given the sparse population and even sparser female population, I have little-to-no chance of mingling closely with the opposite gender. Thus, I’m neither concerned about deterring potential mates with my grotesque garden of whiskers, nor wary of delivering face-scarring brush burns in a moment of intimacy.

2. Lots of people have beards up here. Back in New York or North Carolina a scraggily beard and unkempt appearance could get you wrongly labeled as “bum” or “hippy,” and could even hurt your chances at landing a job. Now, I’m part of a culture that embraces the beard. We men can walk around town with shoulders back, chins held high, proudly brandishing beards of all shapes and colors as if we were members at a convention for Scandinavian deities.

It wasn’t always this way up here. Last summer, us rangers were required to shave in the backcountry.

We followed the rules, begrudgingly, but in protest we would only shave on the last day of our patrol.

Not willing to carry an extra pound of shaving cream in my already overloaded pack, I sometimes used the bone-chilling river water to prep my face, which could have been ice just days before. Other times I’d boil water in my pot, but on one desperate and unsuccessful occasion, I had no more than a dollop of leftover butter to lather my face with.

Here I am shaving off a week’s worth of stubble last summer using a compass as a mirror. No matter the method, this was always a painstaking process.

This year, my beard blossoms like never before. While it may appear to throw my face in the chaotic disorder of unchecked nature, I embrace the chance to let my wilder processes flourish. Oh beard, source of warmth, symbol of brotherly camaraderie, and faithful friend.


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