The Golden Fleece

Long live the beard.

For most of us Montana men, it simply happens. It might be a Tuesday, around mid-October. We stand shirtless at the sink with a razor in one hand, and look at ourselves in the mirror. For some subtle reason, we’re displeased with what we see—boyish cheeks and a naked chin grinning out from beneath a hideously denuded upper lip. Then carefully, deliberately, we return the razor to its drawer.

It’s at that glorious, freeing moment that a beard is conceived. But the beard is no more than an idea at this point. It’s fragile and vulnerable and demands commitment—and we all know how well men do with commitment. The beard is just begun.

You can’t plan a decent beard. You can’t sketch it on paper or make a scale model. It has to happen naturally—spring forth without premeditation or purpose. It must be allowed to grow unfettered (perhaps even slightly out of control for a time) in order for the follicles to settle into proper order. As the Co-op crowd says, “It has to be organic, dude.”

It grows slowly at first, maybe coming in a little patchy or diffuse. It’s understandable: the young beard is frightened and struggling for traction in a world that, honestly, wants it to die. Just ask your mother, wife, or girlfriend.

“That thing is disgusting,” they scorn. “When are you going to be rid of it?”

“You used to be so good-looking,” they condescend. “What, are you trying to be a biker or something?”

“If you ever want another kiss,” they threaten, “you’d better shave the beaver pelt off your face.”

They buy us razors and electric shavers, thinking naively that shiny new blades might fool us into destroying our budding prize. But they could never understand the bond that develops between a man and his beard, kisses or not.

By the time they notice, however, the beard has taken on a life of its own. The hairs stand proud and prickly, fresh and thick. Only later will they be full enough to curl and split and soften into the luxurious face-mane we desire. But it’s a start, and damn, we look like MEN. There’s no doubt now that we drink whiskey neat, hunt griz with a knife, and brave fierce Arctic blizzards for fun. Quite simply, a beard is 99% testosterone and 1% hair—your face on steroids.

Then it snows, and our beards prove their worth in earnest. Frost grows on our furry cheeks as icicles drape from snot-drenched moustache filaments. Inside our frigid face cocoon, however, we men smile smugly—and warmly—in defiance of winter. Give us your worst, Wicked Winter Witch; we rebuff your icy advances. We are Men, wearers of beards.

But in spring, late March, perhaps, there comes an itch. Figurative in our minds as it is literal on our nape, the itch grows with each passing day like some murderous impulse until we stand shirtless before the sink once more. Clutched in our fist is a razor, gleaming new and sharp. Before we can reconsider, we make the inevitable cut and watch our hallowed hair fall away like fresh-shorn wool. A frenzy of careful cuts ensues, until our faces shine impossibly bare and clean once more.

In the sink, our beards lie limp and lifeless—and are bound to seriously clog the pipes. But we’re free—free to dream of the day in late fall when we’ll begin the cycle anew with promise and anticipation, and a vision for what might be.

The beard is dead. Long live the beard.