Vibrissae (Wikipedia link) are a feature of all mammals. They are much longer and thicker in nocturnal animals like cats or aquatic mammals like walruses and hippopatomi. They perform an important sensory function in these animals. Ours are tucked away, unused and vestigial. They are very sensitive, and probably are as sensitive as a cat’s or walruses. I bet if you that if I let these bad boys grow to, oh, about three inches -I could detect textures, quantity, and moisture with my eyes shut.
The image (from Natural History Museum of London) is of the sensory homunculus -a graphical representation of the proportion of the brain taken up by sensation from the various body parts. The brain is plastic -meaning malleable and I am willing to bet that with effort, time, and growth, my vibrissae could be as acutely sensitive as the palm of my hand.
But here’s the problem -I have very little control over my facial hair. Any mention of growing a mustache or a soul patch brings threats. My better half is always clipping away my proud and long eyebrow hairs while I sleep -I even have a long blond one growing off my right eyebrow patch that grows long enough to tickle my cheek of which I am particularly proud and it has gone missing last week! My vibrissae become a topic of conversation whenever they grow long enough to do any sensory detection.
I think I’ll have to gel them back in the mornings to keep them hidden until they grow long enough. I might be able to take the shortcut of gluing on extensions and then tucking them back into my nasal passages when I’m not training my vibrissae.
Will keep you posted.
Our favorite people in town are M and V, and to celebrate our friendship, we invited them last night to Wakonda for dinner. Wakonda was decked out in her full glory, and we enjoyed a very hearty meal. M is a golfist, and referred me to Golf in the Kingdom, one of the venerated texts of golfist mysticism. Out of the corner of my eye, over my wife J’s shoulder, I could see the first tee blanketed in snow. It was snowing and the shimmery Christmas lights added a cheerful glow to the evening’s pleasures. Dinner was a medium rare Chateaubriand filet mignon served with young vegetables and a grilled floret of seasoned potatoes, chased with a very balanced pinot noir (Cambria).
As the night went on, I could swear there was a small dark figure on the first tee. He was bent over, and his eyes shined as brightly as the Christmas lights bedecking the halls. He was wearing a bear coat, clearly a bear because of the bear head that was fashioned into a hood draped across his forehead. He had a gnarled oaken branch that he was using as a staff -it was capped with a golden monkey’s head. He dropped a fiery red globe on the ground, flipped his oaken staff over and took his stance. He waggled his primitive club, and made a mighty blow at the fiery globe, the golden monkey head pierced the fire orb, resulting in an explosion of light. Then darkness.
I turned back to the conversation, which was alternatingly about J and V’s tennis obsession, M’s day trading obsession, and my golf obsession. The retinal flash of that burst of light persisted, and I finished up my pinot with savor and not a little shiver of dread. Dessert was crepes with caramelized pear served with a dollop of fresh cream and a spearmint leaf. As I sipped my coffee and pondered the possibility of ordering a nice port to cap the night, the night golfer appeared in the window behind M, his bony finger pointed at me.
Clearly, it was my turn to tee it up. I gestured at my watch, and pointed at my friends and family around me. No time for golf with the scary bear spirit at the moment. Scary bear spirit shrugged, and floated off into the snow storm. From the red glow in the distance, he had hooked it into the woods between #1 and #4.
Some day, my friend. Some day.