Happy new beard!

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Pictured: not a beard

For the first time in years, I’ve found myself using a comb twice a day.

But this sudden attention to hair styling is not for the reasons my mother would be happy with. I’m trying to tidy the beginnings of a beard.

Within an hour of arriving in Maine in December 2013, on my initial visit to get the lay of the land in Augusta, I found myself apologizing.

My boss-to-be had picked me up at the Amtrak station in Portland after an eight-hour train ride from New York City, where I’d spent the weekend (drinking) after Thanksgiving.

“I’m sorry in advance,” I sheepishly told Maureen. “I have every intention of being clean-shaven tomorrow, but I was up so early to leave this morning that I didn’t have the chance.”

As I would soon find out, that would be one of the more misplaced apologies of my life.

“Man, this is Maine!” Maureen reassured me. Everyone’s got facial hair here.

Over the past few years, the beard seems to have undergone a renaissance in its trendiness, which is kind of a strange thing to be en vogue, but whatever.

Here in central Maine, though, beards seem to be less about style and more about function. I’ve never seen so much facial hair worn so naturally. Listen to me – am I waxing lyrical about beards? Jesus Christ.

Anyway, back to November 2013. My conversation with Maureen progressed to work dress code, which was something I was mildly concerned about, given I’d just spent the better part of the last two years back home wearing shorts, a T-shirt and sneakers to work – and then kicking off my sneakers once I got to the desk.

Again, my mind was put at ease by the news that jeans were a perfectly acceptable form of attire both at the Kennebec Journal and in Maine at large.

I quickly learned that comfort is key in climates like this. I’ve definitely never been the most cosmopolitan of dressers, and the idea of spending three figures on a single piece of clothing makes me shudder.

When you’re wearing multiple layers, the mercury is hovering around freezing and there’s two inches of slush on the ground, form matters far less than function. I wrote soon after my arrival that I had footwear envy – I couldn’t stop looking at other people’s shoes to see what the best options were for navigating slippery terrain – and I still have jacket envy to a large degree.

Maine winters are rough, and Mainers are a rugged bunch. People who’ve spent their lives here have accumulated the arsenal of warm-weather attire they need. The iconic outdoors brand L.L. Bean is a homegrown company, one of the state’s biggest employers, and a label you’ll see in everyone’s closet.

In the first few weeks of last winter, I railed against dressing down to a certain extent. I was still in the mindset of “dress up to leave the house,” especially on weekend nights. But the reality was that my nicer shirts and the coats I brought from home just weren’t up to the task.

I even recall feeling overdressed the first time I entered the Liberal Cup in Hallowell, and I was wearing jeans and a North Face fleece. In my imagination it was one of those scenes where an outsider walks into a saloon in the Wild West, the piano player takes his fingers off the keys mid-song, and everyone turns and stares.

So it almost goes without saying that I’ve absolutely embraced the ability to put comfort ahead of style since I’ve been here. But mostly, I’m pleased that I don’t have to shave as frequently as I probably did at home.

I’ve often flirted with the idea of growing out a beard, but I’ve never been able to follow through. I’ve been unable to get past the seven-day itch, and my skin doesn’t take kindly to it. I considered it a couple of times last winter, but for the same reasons I never followed through.

I’m leaning closer and closer to it this time though. I hate shaving, the weather is cold on my face, the new lady in my life is a fan of the facial hair, and did I mention I hate shaving? A beard would also go well with the closet full of plaid and flannel I now own, and it’s an endless source of amusement to me that I’ve got more hair on my face than my head.

My mother is NOT going to like this development. Not one little bit.

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