Roads less traveled
Winter’s gift to men
I earned my first ice-covered beard over Christmas.
I spent much of my youth pouring over climbing and outdoor magazines, seeing pictures of rugged men with full, ice-caked beards.
My dad also kept old slides of his climbing excursions with his buddies. I loved looking at their misty breath frozen in the air. I loved the ice caves. The images stirred me: wool balaclavas, crampons, sunglasses, ice axes.
But most intriguing and wonderful was the full crust of ice on hairy faces. That was the image of a perfect man.
I love winter. I enjoy camping in the snow. I love the crispness you feel when you step out from a warm house into a sub-freezing day.
One winter while camping in the White Mountains of northern Arizona, my dad and I hopped on some c ross-country skis and skated into the woods at midnight. The moon was full and glowed against the snow. The air was still, the lighting surreal.
Our panting breath hung in swirls as we swooshed our way forward through the night. I can still hear the sound of our poles creaking in the snow.
But, at that time, a beard was not an option for me; puberty was still in the works.
Frankly, my beard has been slow in coming. In high school, I could still go a week without shaving. There are some (mostly my sisters) who would argue that the once-a-week shave was only nominal anyway.
So, when my brother, Jacob, and I set off on a hike in the mountains of Chignik Bay, Alaska, the winter of my junior year, I still couldn’t hope for an icy beard.
It was cold that day. Many days of around 15-degree weather following a warm spell had given the four feet of snow on the ground a shell about two inches thick. It easily supported my weight.
We usually had to plow our way through the underbrush of salmon berry bush and alder tree when we hiked in Chignik, but this day we were able to walk on top of the snow through the skeletal tips of the winter-dead trees. We crossed over the hills, crossed a frozen lake and tromped into the mountains. We used our feet as skis on the way back down the hills, hunkering down to maintain our balance. My coat got a little icy around my mouth, but it was no beard.
Now, however, my beard comes and goes as I please.
It just so happened that I had grown my beard for a number of weeks so that, this Christmas, after 26 and a half years of waiting, I finally achieved an icy beard.
The day after Christmas, my wife,Valorie, and I went cross-country skiing with her family at Harriman State Park in eastern Idaho. The temperature was around 15 degrees F – the coldest I had been in a long time. It felt great.
We spent all afternoon on the trails skirting Harriman Lake – up and down hills, turning to watch each other try to keep balance on the slopes in our narrow skis.
The weather was calm and the sun was bright.
As dusk approached, we picked up our pace to get back before darkness set in. When we reached the van, I felt the ice on my face.
“How’s the ice on my beard?” I asked Valorie.
Hardly waiting for an answer I ran inside the lodge to look at my beard in the bathroom mirror.
The frost on my beard had melted leaving a series of tiny beads of water on the whiskers.
I smiled. I hadn’t seen it, but I knew it had been there – an icy beard. My journey to manhood was complete.