Saturday, October 28, 2006

Using Bear Grease

In my Review of the Historical Accuracy of Thirteen Moons Charles Frazier mention bear grease numerous time, yet I was disappointed that he never once mentions the most common uses for Bear Grease, namely as a hair pomade and as a tool to forecast the weather.

For those not familiar with Bear Grease, it has a most curious viscosity. At room temperature, bear grease is as thick as sticky as pine tar, yet at body temperature it becomes liquid. Bear grease makes for a marvelous hair dressing, as I discovered in childhood when I had to hide my long hair for a conservative social function where my long 1960’s mop would be an embarrassment to my parents.

Ironing bear grease into your hair

Bear grease is not easily applied. You have to dab it into your hair in sticky gobs and apply a hot iron to make it melt, whence it can stick-down long hair with a shiny gleam, very much the style of the roaring twenties and the 1950’s “greasers” DA’s hair styles (DA was short for Ducks Ass):

But Frazier forgets to note that almost every colonial American has a jar of bear grease as a weather forecasting tool. Bear grease is sensitive to changes in barometric pressure, and bear grease is quite reliable, provided that you know how to read it.

“He commented that it appeared to be like living cells responding to chemical and pressure changes in the atmosphere. In 1963, when Dr. Dolph Hatfield, who was a genetic scientist with the National Cancer Institute in Washington, D.C., became interested in using the bear grease for culture studies, he visited Gordon and received several of the jars as a gift. Gordon pointed out the various patterns to him, and the two kept in touch, comparing notes on their patterns. They discovered the patterns were similar, even at such a great distance apart. The bear grease was later tested at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, where they were unable to find any specific biological reason for the patterns.”

Today, Dr. Gordon Winsatt revives the lost art of reading bear grease to forecast the weather: