Winter beards, and beards in general, have become increasingly acceptable in the past couple years. Gone are assumptions that the bearded man is homeless, a logger, a homeless logger, a 19th century sailor, an iconic Christmas figure, a sexual predator, or, God forbid, a hippie. It's come to the point that a man can have a beard and a job. In fact, some 71 percent of the Source's male staffers and contributors are currently bearded.
Upfront columnist Mick McMenaminuses sports a trimmed black number that features largely clean cheeks, resident beer specialist Ric E. James is currently sporting a "rebirth beard" (a beard that is grown immediately following the shaving of the previous facial hair installment), while I myself have an increasingly unruly face full of hair that currently smells like Cheetos. Yes, I had Cheetos with my lunch today.
But if you were to come into our office in July, we'd all be clean shaven. The reason Bend gets so beardy come winter is obvious. We live in the mountains and it's cold, or at least somewhat cold, for most of the winter and a beard is Nature's blanket for the face. In other words, the beard is essential to your survival. Well, kind of essential.
Bendite Shane Austin grew himself one hell of a beard this winter - excellent thickness, full coverage, even coloring - and says his bearding is an annual event.
"I've done it every year since I've lived in Oregon. In fact, I don't think I ever had facial hair when I lived elsewhere. But I've always shaved it off when spring comes around," Austin says.
Austin's beard has since been trimmed down significantly after what he calls a "miscommunication" with his barber and is now smaller than he'd prefer, considering there is snow falling to the ground as we speak. "The glory of my beard is not what it once was," he laments.
Another proud local beardo is Dave Feldman, who moved to Bend this fall from Southern California to take a job as an attorney. Feldman is pleased with the beard acceptability in Bend and Oregon as a whole, saying that a beard is a rarity in Southern California. Oregon's beardiness has been documented in the media as of late, with The Portland Monthly going as far as to call PDX "the beardiest city in America." I don't mind Portland bestowing this honor upon itself, in fact, I'm somewhat prouder of my own beard because of my proximity to the country's beard capital, but I can't help wonder if there is a more bearded city, at least per capita. What about Amish colonies? Or maybe a community full of Hasidic Jews? Just something to think about.
But back to the winter beards. It's also important to note that not every beard you see during the winter is especially a winter beard. Such is the case with Feldman.
"The main reason I have a beard is because I don't like shaving. I really don't like razors," Feldman says. "Even if I do shave it off, I'll probably just grow it back again."
The shaving of the winter beard is a ceremonious welcoming of spring for some and merely a reaction to an itchy-as-hell face for others. Austin jokes about the shaving process and the resulting consequences.
"Maybe it's like Ground Hog's Day, if you keep your beard you get two more weeks of winter or something like that," Austin says.
Shit, maybe, he's right. Perhaps if we all de-beard come March 1 we can avoid snowfall in late May like we saw last winter. Then again, there might be other reasons to show some cheek sooner than later. Maybe the downright physical discomfort, or the smell of rotting food on your chin, or the fact that a wickedly bearded Joaquin Phoenix single handedly knocked the respectability of the beard down a notch with his appearance on The Late Show last week. Phoenix, whose beard looked more like a testament to his dwindling self awareness than a winter novelty, may have given reason to leave the ranks of the bearded, rather than endure jokes from friends and passersby about your emerging hip-hop career.