One of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make recently has had nothing to do with how my beds will look or what sort of mulch to use or which plants to purchase. No, my decision was much more complicated and personal than those trivial gardening matters.
I needed a hat.
I’ve known about the need for a hat ever since arriving in Florida. The nickname itself, the Sunshine State, practically invites the need for some personal shade. My neighbors have nagged me about it, and so has Joe.
Even the crews repaving local roads gave me some not-so-subtle reminders. As they worked with boiling tar in the heat of summer, they were also very much well-protected from the sub-tropical sun: long sleeve shirts, long pants, facial protection that looked better suited to protect one from winter winds than daily sun, and, naturally, hats.
I’ve never gardened in a hat. I always felt it got in the way of whatever I needed to do — but the chant that I needed to wear one if I wanted to garden in zone 10 became so insistent that I jokingly contemplated wearing one of Audrey Hepburn’s hand-me-downs from My Fair Lady.
Now, that’s a hat!
Nevertheless, a good hat for gardening is a logical, practical necessity. Recent estimates from the Centers for Disease Control say that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States and rates of newly diagnosed cases continue to increase on both a national and global level, despite efforts to raise awareness.
The biggest culprit in all this skin cancer talk is UV exposure.
While health agencies around the world have made a sound argument for sun protection, I’m unable to shake the but-I-don’t-want-to-wear-a-hat tantrum — mostly because I don’t think my head is built for a hat.
I’m not sure if it’s head shape or hat style, but the two seem to go hand-in-hand. Some heads make any hat look cool, and some hats make any head look cooler. Consider the phenomenally talented Pharrell for a moment. If we can consider his now famous hat as a bell curve, he sits alone at the top of the hat, a place where head and hat come together in a way that has the rest of us tipping our hats to him.
I, on the other hand, happen to be in a part of the curve where head and hat don’t meet, regardless of my best efforts.
Actually, I own one baseball cap. I spotted it a few years ago in a catalog and I liked it immediately because it was green and it said “Head Gardener” on the front. I had visions of working around the yard each day, proud of all of the smudges and stains that would accumulate on it over the years — the sort of hat that could never be thrown away because of our history together.
But I’ve never worn it — because me wearing a baseball cap is as American as chicken tikka masala. See what I mean? It just doesn’t fit. Besides, I don’t even have a head for baseball much less for a baseball cap. I guess I’m just a Head Gardener who doesn’t want to get his hat dirty — and for years, my smudgeless hat has resided in my closet.
Still, I’m not a hat hater.
I wish fedoras could be used for gardening. I’m always drawn to the plaid ones. They’re suave and smooth and oh so cool. Each time Joe and I go shopping for gardening headgear, I insist on placing a fedora on my head. No matter which way I place it, though — close to my eyes or off to the side — it cannot do what a proper gardening hat must do, which is provide enough shade to protect my face, ears, and nape. The fedora, for all its style, is built for a night on the town rather than a day in the garden.
My hat hunt has only grown more desperate. In one shopping trip, I tried on hats that made me look like a cowboy, a member of the French Foreign Legion, a Vietnamese rice farmer, and Gilligan. At one point, I wasn’t sure if I was hat shopping or auditioning for The Village People.
After exhausting rack after rack of styles and listening to my red carpet critiques, Joe was convinced that I was more of a head case than a hatless one. And I was this close to agreeing with him.
I knew, though, that somewhere out there was my hat. After all, Joe’s grandmother used to say there was an ass for every chair — surely, then, there must be a hat for every head. Right?
On a whim, Joe and I visited a local hardware store that happened to have a hat rack. I again began the process of trying each style on for size — try one and walk to the mirror, try another and walk to the mirror, try one . . .
And this one didn’t look so bad. It fit all the criteria — wide-brimmed to shade my face, neck, and ears, made of straw so my head could breathe, and more Pharrell than Eliza Doolittle.
Now, I garden with my hat. While it keeps my face well shaded and somewhat cooler, the top of my head bakes beneath the woven straw, despite the open weave. When considering the health consequences, though, a little bit of sweat isn’t so bad.
In fact, when I’m wearing my hat I think I can almost hear Professor Higgins excitedly shouting, “He’s got it! By George, I think he’s got it!”
And that makes me, in the words of Pharrell, quite happy.