Toad in the Hole

July 29, 2006

Spare the Hair Days

Got to thinking about this when I posted the shot of Matt and his by-products.

Last place we lived, I had a pretty good garden, mostly because over the 12 years there I had less obstruction and annoyance connected with it, fewer fatalities in general, and only rare human-inflicted damage. We were in the ground-floor flat; the bedroom was in back, and there was an overhang from the upstairs deck over one window. I grew native wild ginger (some Asarum) and such shade plants there, and got into the habit of cleaning my hairbrush and dropping the hairballs into that patch, where they disappeared neatly under the Asarum leaves and, I figured, contributed some slow-release nitrogen to the soil.

One year, partly to obscure the stench from the ill-cared-for dogs next door, we planted a pink jasmine vine next to another bedroom window and trained it up along the side of the frame. The next year, house finches nested in that thick tangle, which was gratifying indeed.

In early autumn, when the birds had gone a-wandering in their little finch gangs, I decided to thin the vine out. When I cut into it, I found the finches' nest -- made of bits of straw and grass and plant matter, and quite a lot of my easily-recognizable hair. Now, you want a moment of connection with Great Nature? Plus, I felt as if I'd had a hand, so to speak, in paying the ecosystem that year.

I don't know what ever happened to my great-grandmother's hair receiver, but I'm thinking I need to find its extra-large equivalent one of these days.

Posted at July 29, 2006 06:05 PM


hmm. maybe we'd have less hacking of furballs around here if i combed the felines more often... sometimes i just amaze myself with my own brilliance -- thanks for the nudge.

i had never heard of a hair receiver before, and it turns out my daughter needs one badly. she is prone to leaving graceful clumps of her beautiful long hair around the shower, as well as in the hairbrush. the story about your finches is terrific!

Posted by: kathy a at July 30, 2006 05:29 PM

Look in an antiques store for an old dresser set. One odd piece will be what looks like a loose-powder container with a two- or three-inch hole in the center of the lid. That's the hair receiver. (Other oddities might include a buttonhook for shoebuttons, and various rather surgical-looking manicure implements.)

What the Victorians did with all that received hair was hair pictures... Hmm, I might be forgetting a more precise name for then. Mourning pictures. They made shadowbox-type displays of, oh, flowers and such out of bits of a person's hair, maybe some beads or flower petals as accents. Some of them are quite elegant, though it can give you the willies when you realize what they are. In a way it's practically Catholic, what with the first-class relics and all.

I have some small Haida souvenir boxes on the dresser, and I'm pressing one of those into service. Nesting season's pretty much over, except for the sempiternal English sparrows and I don't want to subsidize those little blights at all. Maybe I'll stuff a pillow...

Here, cut 'n' paste:

Posted by: Ron at July 30, 2006 06:34 PM

i've seen some of the hair pictures, lockets, etc. lovely and creepy at the same time.

we lived in the deep south for a few years [charleston s.c.], and they keep all manner of weird stuff around in museums. or for that matter, out on the streets -- the old slave market is now a tourist destination, with a combination of bars, rich-people shops, tourist junk, and an ongoing craft fair, including traditional local african-american basket-weaving. i worked in a former tentament that was built before the revolutionary war, but slightly more recently refitted for electricity and plumbing. [hurricane hugo took the top off that building in 1989, and they have restored it to some other use than overcrowded offices for low-paid county workers.] the area is littered with ancient homes and church graveyards dating back over 200 years.

charleston was also the place the civil war ["the war of northern aggression"] began, "when the union fired back," but it was spared the destruction of sherman's march to the south. as a native californian, it was amazing to see so much that was so old.

Posted by: kathy a at July 30, 2006 08:50 PM

** i guess i should qualify the "deep south" part of my last post. charleston is a very civilized and in many ways a progressive southern city. although i was told i could live there 50 years and still be "from away," charleston is a port town, and many people told me that they compared it with san francisco because charleston has always had [a] the natural beauty, and [b] an influx of people from various backgrounds. also [c] it depends a lot on tourism. it is a reasonably tolerant city, considering -- or at least it was, when i lived there.

even then and there, there were huge problems and not great solutions. drugs -- charleston was on a beaten path between miami and NY. entrenched poverty. lack of opporutnities. segregation. there were still families living close to downtown [in historic buildings, probably] who lacked indoor plumbing in the early 1980's. the N word was still used regularly, and not as some kind of joke.

when i returned to california, my eyes were opened. it turns out that a lot of people here in the land of plenty also suffer in many of the same ways.

how i got here from your hair in a small nest is either the odd way my mind works, or a series of rational connections. i don't know what to do about nature or the past or civilization generally, except trying to recycle and use what i can pick up along the way. it doesn't all fit together neatly.

Posted by: kathy a at July 30, 2006 11:31 PM

Ha! We found part of a nest this year that had a good bit of Jasmine's hair in it. (The Pyrenees.)

I love to watch the swallows swoop down and pick up little duck feathers for nests too!

Posted by: Rurality at July 30, 2006 11:58 PM

I've heard of people knitting sweaters out of great big dogs. Yeah, duck feathers, who could resist? I've seen a nest (oriole? some passerine, I forget) woven mostly of the blue plastic strips you get when a standard-issue blue tarp starts to weather and unravel. WTH, probably more waterproof than the average nest too.

I've also heard that some of the big flycatchers like kiskadee and kingbirds, who have been in the habit of weaving shed shakeskins into their nests, sometimes use used condoms instead.

And yeah, Kathy, I'm given to rambling myself. Goddamn IE swallowed a post I was doing the other night about sitting in the campsite thinking of the location and developmental biology of bats' tits. I'll try it again after I finish the Planet piece due tomorrow.

Posted by: Ron at July 31, 2006 03:06 AM

I often wonder how many places my DNA will get to before (and after) I quit this body. It's nice to know it's not just food or trash but also coziness we leave around us.

Posted by: Sara at July 31, 2006 03:00 PM

I have inherited a rather large human hair shadowbox. The actual piece is in the shape of a horseshoe, different shades of hair are too numerous to list, as are the various shapes, each of which has a pearl ornament. I am looking for more info on this art. Would welcome any replies.

Posted by: susan at September 10, 2006 07:37 PM