THE ISLAND
c1988 Airweaver

This fantasy occurred a few years back while I was sailing by small freighter off the west coast of Norway. We had docked one night at a small island, and the following morning after breakfast the captain and I walked up to the town to look around. As we were turning a corner, I noticed a girl with a mane of exceptionally long and absolutely gorgeous hair. She could not have been over 15, and her hair hung loose in luxurious waves almost to her knees, swaying rhythmically in the summer sun as she walked away from us down the street. We had gone no more than a few yards further when I spied a slightly older girl with the longest and thickest braid I had ever seen. It was so thick that at first I doubted it could even be real. It had been brushed until it positively glowed, then twisted tightly into a single impeccable braid that extended almost to the ground. It was the color of rich honey and exceptionally sleek and glossy. Scandinavian girls are noted for their beauty, and I had seen several in Copenhagen and Oslo, but few of them had long hair and none nearly as stunning. This young woman, who could have been no more than twenty, was not only gorgeous, but her hair was utter perfection.

I pointed out the lovely blond with the gleaming ankle-length plait to the captain. "Have you ever seen anyone with such long and absolutely breathtaking hair?" He laughed. "Ah,! yes," he said, "one of the lovely young virgins! That will all get chopped off soon enough, I reckon, soon as her man gets her, or they catch her in bed with another guy. I can tell you've never been here before. Her hair is really kinda short by their standards. The girls with the really long hair would never wear it down like that; gets so long it right drags in the dirt. Canít have that!"

This was when I learned that the inhabitants of this island, whose name I will not divulge, belong to a Lutheran sect that take seriously the admonition of St. Paul that if "a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her."(1 Cor. 11:15). Here, a virgin's hair is more than a fashion statement, but is considered an article of faith and her ultimate glory. A girlís hair is never cut, I discovered, and the longer and fuller it grows, the more highly she is regarded, For generations the unmarried women and girls of this island have vied with one another on the length and abundance of their tresses. Then, when she marries, all this luxuriant hair, coaxed to its ultimate length since birth, is abruptly and ceremoniously cut off. What a shame, I thought, that such wonderful hair, so patiently cared for and nurtured since birth, should suddenly be sacrificed upon marriage, just when it would most please a man.

Now, I'm all for the emancipation of women, but I have always rather regretted the changes in fashion that first inspired women to keep their hair cut short. The discovery of this island seemed like a dream come true. Here was an entire population of young and beautiful Scandinavian woman who actually wanted long hair, and the longer the better!

I took leave of the ship and during the next few days discovered that what the captain had said was absolutely true. I never saw a school girl without a flourishing crop of long and immaculately pampered pigtails. These hung down their backs in rich, glossy profusion. Many must have had hair even longer than the braid Iíd spotted on my first lovely lass, since their plaits were gathered up in graceful loops to their heads and yet still arched almost to their waists. A few of the more zealous ones took to encasing their braids in soft, protective linen for added protection. I rarely saw anyone with her hair actually hanging loose for fear it might get tangled in the wind. And, as the captain had reported, there were some who always wore their braids coiled in elaborate piles on their heads, and several who seemed to always have their heads covered. These I soon discovered were the 'favored few.' They could never let their hair down on a whim for the simple reason that it had grown so long they would have trod on it if they did!

After several days of this delightful sightseeing, I was curious to learn just how long the hair of these favored few might be, for it was impossible to tell from the way they wore it. I had never seen a woman engulfed in a mantle of exceptionally long and flowing hair, and if I was ever going to do so, this was the place to do it. But one canít just ask a mother to unbraid her daughterís hair for you. Since no woman ever cuts her hair until she marries, I began to hear stories about prodigious growths, and to learn something of the elaborate measures and extraordinary efforts taken to maintain and tend for all the extravagant manes I saw around me. School girls invariably get up an hour before their brothers for their hair to be carefully brushed and braided before school. No single woman ever leaves her house without making sure every strand is impeccably groomed, even if this means combing and rebraiding an awkward mantle of heavy hair several times.

While a mother can shampoo her own hair in no time, it might take her hours to wash and dry her daughterís, particularly if she has more than one. Girls endowed with such long, abundant tresses were made to stand on tables or chairs for long periods of time, covered with dripping masses of wet, flowing hair, and then wait further for tangles and snarls to be carefully and sometimes painstakingly combed out. This has lead to more than one crisis, and countless tired arms. Many houses contain expensive barber's chairs that can be elevated, so exceptionably long hair can hang free while being tended. Girls whose hair does not grow to a respectable length, or those who do not believe in the practices of the cult have tended to migrate to the mainland, so over the years a genetic pool has developed which favors extremely vigorous hair growth. Here on the island, I was told, were women with hair longer than any in the world. Certainly the phenomenal accumulation of braids and coils of hair on many of the women tended to support this.

Being a stranger on the island did not help me in my quest to see any of these tantalizing hair rituals in action. Sometimes through an open window I could see a brush in action tugging through a long, flowing mane. But save for this, I had to remain content with the daily display of all the beautifully maintained braids of the school girls and the astonishing coils of hair I saw mounded on the heads of their older sisters. Then I heard about the annual "blessing of the virgins." This festival took place each October in the Cathedral and was one of the major events of the local church year. I was told the festival was held each year to honor the long hair of the favored few. It took place on the Feast of St. Olga, the 13th century martyr, whose own extraordinary tresses were a legend on the island (she is frequently pictured with her hair cascading as if it were a river into whose depths men plunged in baptism). The festival was only a week away and all this magnificent hair would be exhibited in public.


Part 2

There was certainly increased attention paid to grooming in the days preceding the festival. Lights burned early and late all over the island as entire families tended to the needs of their long-haired daughters. Hours on end were spent in coaxing long, luxurious manes to fall as sleekly and perfectly as possible. Lines formed at local stores for brushes and favorite shampoos. Professional consultants went to many homes to treat the tresses of the more fortunate. Finally the great day arrived and I hurried at the Cathedral early to be assured of a seat near the front. I had learned that all the unmarried women were required to come to the service with their hair unbraided and hanging loose, so as to better to judge its natural condition. The only exception was made for those few (and I couldn't imagine there could be many) whose hair, so rumor has it, is so long it can't be let down without danger to the tresses or to their owners.

It was a spectacular sight to watch the congregation filing in with these wonderful virgins. At every hand were young women and girls engulfed in long, seductive hair, all of it flowing free and bellowing in great waves down their backs. Tender young faces peered through great masses of cascading hair. Each mane had been washed and brushed until every immaculate strand shimmered to perfection. The heavy folds swayed and undulated against the girls' dresses as they walked down the aisle with their parents and friends. It gleamed under the lights as they took their places. Almost everyone under twenty could boast hair that extended past her waist, but many had thick manes that engulfed them to their knees and even beyond. These they carefully gathered into their laps as they took their places. The sight of all this almost perfect young hair almost made me come in my seat, but I knew this was only the prelude to what would be happening later. A few proud families arrived with daughters whose hair was still firmly piled on their heads, although all were now bareheaded. These, I understood were the "favored few," whose rarely uncovered hair would be ceremoniously let down at the end of the service.

After the sermon, a series of special wooden racks looking rather like drying racks were carried forth and placed before the altar. The first of the favored few then entered and knelt before it. In the bright light I could see a mass of beautiful blond hair glimming like spun gold. It had been meticulously plaited, then painstakingly coiled into a series of graceful spirals that covered her head like a halo. This mound of soft, breathtaking hair was held in place by two small blue bows and she wore a dark blue dress the better to show off her coloring. Two nuns, or so I supposed them to be for they wore dark clerical habits, appeared and, as the choir intoned a hymn, began the ceremony of letting down her hair. One nun carefully untied the small blue bows, and they proceeded to slowly dismantle the thick golden braids. The graceful coils were suddenly transformed into two long, heavy plaits. As the nun continued to dismantle each sleek braid, her companion stepped up beside her with a large hair-brush and as every silken strand was unraveled, she brushed it out into an ever-thickening mantel. The rich skeins were then carefully smoothed back to form thick, silken waves over the special rack, like choice fruit left to ripen.

It was a breathtaking sight. The late summer sun filtered down through the windows onto these simmering waves of golden hair, now spread smooth and ripple-free across the frame. Each tender stroke from the nun's brush only seemed to add further luster to these extraordinary young tresses. Every strand shone in the sunlight, and when the girl stood up, her silken blond hair fell about her young body engulfing her in a golden curtain. Her hair covered her completely, even hiding her feet in its profusion

I was given to understand that she had been found to have the longest hair of anyone of her age on the island and was being honored for her exceptional achievement. Maintaining such a remarkable mane of hair over the years must take a great deal of patience and effort on her parents' part, but more is to come. Her mother entered and with practiced hands parted the long waves and carefully rebraided her daughterís hair into two stout ropes. She did not tie these plaits back on her head, but led the small blond angel off the stage with her braids still dangling down her back. As she left, I can clearly see the luxuriant blond pigtails falling practically to her ankles.

As she departed, her place is taken by a slightly older girl. Her hair was much darker than the first, and rather than being piled on her head, she had two plaits which hung down and then pinned up behind her ears. Even so, these loops extended past her waist and she could have sat on them easily. They were incredibly thick and obviously very long. As with the previous girl, she knelt before the altar and the nuns untied the two large red bows that hold the heavy braids in place behind her ears. The corpulent pigtails immediately fell under their own weight onto the chancel carpet, one landing to each side of her. The plaits slithered and slide along the floor as if they were alive. The nun picked up first one and then the other of these stout, glossy ropes and held them out for all to see. She then began to undo each tightly twisted strand. The freed hair was passed to the second nun who carefully brushed it over the frame and down the other side. This girl's hair proved to be so long and profuse that it not only entirely covered the frame, but reached the carpet on the far side, where it undulated like waves on the beach at each stroke of the brush. When the girl finally stood up, she was hidden in a torrent of hair that entirely hid her from view. It is much longer then her height, and I could see the tendrils trailing across the floor. I heard one of my neighbors whisper to her companion that this girl's hair was now over seven feet long and in another few years she might have the longest tresses in the parish!

I will not bore you with a description of each of the twelve 'favored few' I saw that day. (The third was a high-school girl; her hair was long, all right, falling to her feet and then some, but I was not overly impressed for it seemed thin and lank). One of them, however, deserves special comment. I noticed her immediately because her hair stood out from the others like the moon among the stars. It was almost platinum blond with a few contrasting strands the color of rich honey. It was not braided like the others, but had been arranged on her head in graceful rolls that gleamed in the sun as if by their own light. These twists framed her face in perfusion and must have been held in place by pins, for I could see the nuns searching through the radiant coiffure for fasteners. As the pins were found, these rich rolls were ceremoniously unfolded. Inch by inch, foot by foot, her hair was let down like rich cream until it hung free in all its blond beauty over the rack. Her hair had a slight wave to it through which you could see the darker streaks of gold flowing in rich, undulating waves. After her stunning blond hair had been carefully brushed smooth over the frame and each silken wave gleamed in the sunlight, the lovely creature stood up to have her hair measured. The entire mane was gathered up and carefully laid out behind her. My heart was captivated by this stunning blond whose shimmering locks cascaded in blinding profusion down the entire length of her simple blue dress and trailed out behind her in a silken train. When it was measured, this almost platinum mane was just over eight feet long. Now that's something to take your breath away!

Only after the service did I learn this stunning creature was to be married in just a few weeks. At that time, all these magnificent tresses would be sliced off. Perhaps she would be relieved to be freed from such long hair and its upkeep, but it seemed a great shame.

But wait, this story has a happy ending. This woman is now my wife!


Part 3

Awhile back, you may remember, I wrote of the unusual circumstances under which I came to meet my wife. A number of readers have asked for a few more details of this event, which I neglected to give, partly because I feared it might sound like boasting, and partly because of how we came to leave the island.

You may remember I told you about a small island off the Norwegian coast which I discovered to be populated by members of a Lutheran sect who encourage their unmarried women to grow their hair as long as possible. I also mentioned that I was able to attend the annual Feast of St. Olga that honored the 'favored few,' those members of the community who had the longest hair. These women, and there were never more than a dozen at any one time, could never let their hair down in public for the simple reason that it had grown so long they would have trod on it if they did. It was during this festival that I first saw the woman who would eventually become my wife. Although all the 'favored few' had hair of remarkable length, and there is nothing that excites me more that the sight of a woman with long hair, there was one Scandinavian beauty among them who put the rest to shame. While she did not prove to have the longest hair of all (that honor went to an older woman who had never married and had thus been able to grow her hair to a remarkable length of over eleven feet), the girl who most captivated me was one whose hair was almost platinum blond. It did, indeed, stand out 'like the moon among the stars.' When her hair was finally released and measured, this almost platinum mane turned out to be over eight feet in length. A truly breathtaking sight!

The following day I was strolling by the docks of the town musing over the delightful sights of the day before. I was also distraught, because shortly after the service in the Cathedral I had learned that the stunning blond I had just seen display her hair was shortly to be married. This was hard to swallow, because it is the practice on the island for the women to cut their hair to chin length upon marriage and never to allow it to grow again. "What a pity," I remember thinking, "that all this beautiful hair, the result of a lifetimeís care and pampering, would soon be sacrificed just at the time it would most please a man."

As I was walking along the quayside, a small boy, perhaps eight years of age, came tearing along the wharf. As he passed me and was running along the pier, he suddenly tripped over a loose plank and fell head first into the water. There was no one in sight, and I could hear his pleas for help. Without stopping to think, I leapt in after him. Fortunately, I am a strong swimmer and was soon able to bring him to safely. He had become wedged into the pilings and surely would have drowned had I not been there.

Shortly after this, back at the hotel where I was staying, the innkeeper brought me an invitation from the boyís parents. They had invited me to dinner to express their thanks for my rescue of their son. I had grown up in Minnesota and traveled enough through the byways of Norway to have at least a passing knowledge of the language, so I looked forward to a sociable visit. The ladís parents proved a likable pair, and as we sat down at the table to eat, their daughter entered the room with the food. Something seemed familiar about her, and then I realized she was the fabulous blond I had seen in the ceremony the day before! Like most of the 'favored few' she wore a scarf on her head so I was unable to see her remarkable hair, but there was no mistaking that radiant face.

For some reason, the two of us hit it off right from the beginning. As the meal went on, we discovered similar interests, and she even knew the families of some of my friends from my Minnesota days. As we sat talking on the porch after dinner, I began to realize that, although she was trying to appear cheerful, somewhere underneath was a great sadness. It soon turned out that she was in distress about her forthcoming marriage. It had been arranged by an uncle, and she not only was not in love with her intended, but had an active dislike for him.

During the next two weeks, we saw each other practically every day, and eventually planned to elope. I sent a wire to the captain who had first brought me to the island and arranged for him to pick us up the next time the freighter was in port. We left the island secretly, without even telling her parents for fear word might get back to the uncle. This seemed unfair to her parents, who had been nothing but kind to me, but we couldnít afford to take any chances.

Today Helena and I are happily married. When she discovered how much I admired her hair, she seemed more than pleased to keep it. I might say she even seemed relieved, for I know, she too, considers it one of her better features. In fact, her hair has continued to grow. Since it is so very long, she is only able to let it down at night, a sight I look forward to with great anticipation. I love to watch her as she slowly unpins that crowning glory of braids and carefully brushes out that incredibly long mane. She removes the pins and slowly lets down two extraordinary braids that are so long the ends bunch up on the carpet by the dressing table. She lets me unwind each silken plait, and her hair spreads around her in a glowing web until she is standing in a pool of golden tresses. She then stands on a library ladder and I meticulously brush this shimmering mass until every blond strand falls in perfect place. Then she carefully braids it again for bed. Occasionally we will fall into bed with her hair flowing loose about her, spilling across the covers and over the sides to the floor, and we will make love, drowned in a lovely sea of soft, perfumed hair. I never tire of stroking this rich cape of heavenly silk, this priceless mantle of blond beauty.


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