The importance of hoarfrost, beards and keeping up appearances

Mychal Wilmes learned as a child that hoarfrost happened when angels descended to touch the earth with heavenly beauty. The women in his life have not found "heavenly beauty" in Wilmes' attempts at wearing a beard throughout his life to combat the cold.

Tree branches are covered in hoarfrost.
Mychal Wilmes as a child learned hoarfrost was from angels descending to spread heavenly beauty on earth.
Jenny Schlecht / Agweek
We are part of The Trust Project.

We haven’t yet had a hoarfrost morning when trees are dressed in white. As a child, the lesson learned from hoarfrost was that angels had descended to touch the earth with heavenly beauty.

The word hoarfrost stems from the old English meaning of frost resembling an old man’s beard. Scientists say hoarfrost forms when moisture in the air skips the water stage and show up directly as ice crystals.

I favor the tale told when I was young by a mother who thought nature was God’s playground. A myth it may be, but it is priceless if it leads to appreciation for all things living, be they a chicken flock, cattle or crows.

I have decided at my rather advanced age to grow a beard. It is quite a shock to look in the mirror and see so much gray. The beard grown decades ago was black and worn to keep the face warmer in the bitter cold.

Another one was grown when the children were little, and the lone cow was milked by hand in the early morning when our two daughters and son were still asleep. We borrowed a pasteurizer to keep the children safe — although none was used when Mother fetched milk from cans or the bulk tank. The children came to love the cow and the steer that was its companion. They were disappointed when the cow wouldn’t breed back.


Kathy barely tolerated the beard, but her mother did not.

“It makes you look like a bum," she said.

Thelma was a wonderful mother-in-law — kind and gentle. I was shocked by her bluntness, and in any case the beard was gone a couple days later. The new attempt has been met with icy disapproval from Kathy.

“It makes you look old and unkempt," she said.

Moses and Jesus were beard wearers, and so was Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln grew one during a tough presidential campaign after a young girl told him he would look better with one.

Grace Bedell was 11 years old when she wrote Lincoln with the suggestion.

The letter read in part: “I have four brothers and part of them will vote for you anyway, and if you let your whiskers grow, I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you."

Lincoln wrote Bedell back but made no promises. A month later, Lincoln sported a beard that he would keep until he was assassinated.


Since I’m not a candidate for public office, and elected officials with beards are as scarce as hen’s teeth, the opinion shared by an 11-year-old girl in the mid-1850s carries no weight.

I have precious little hair left on my head, other than what grows out of my ears. The barber who I went to after outgrowing Mother’s hand-powered shears warned me decades ago that young men who let their hair grow long would pay a price in later years. His opinion was that long hair stressed roots and would inevitably lead to baldness.

His theory was unproven and perhaps held because he liked giving crewcuts. Besides, Mother never allowed my hair to reach collar length before insisting that it be shortened. She never said I looked like a bum, but her opinion was respected and acted on.

I’m having second and third thoughts about maintaining a beard. It would be too much work to purchase a dye product to turn whiskers black. If Kathy’s negative response becomes more severe, I’ll relent.

No use picking an unnecessary fight — especially with Christmas approaching.

P.S. The beard disappeared at 4:30 a.m. on Sunday. My Mother motivated me or at least I think she was the one who whispered in my ear that even an old man must keep up appearances.

Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minnesota, with his wife, Kathy.

What To Read Next
The questions and possibilities are worth exploring when determining what outcome your will has on heirs.
Part 2 of Staff Writer Mikkel Pates’ reflections on a 44-year career at Agweek focuses on the 1980s farm crisis.
I’ve written many stories over my journalism career about farm injuries and the importance of having first-aid kits in farm shops and tractors, and I plan to start practicing what I’m preaching.
Reports of moisture and higher than expected exports were friendly to markets to start February off on a positive.