Last fall, I ordered thirty-six cubic yards of shredded bark for my flowerbeds. Three truckloads of bark may seem like a lot of mulch, but I got carried away with the landscaping on Wolverton Mountain several years ago. To maintain the flowerbeds, I need to replenish the mulch every couple of years, and this year was the year.

After spending a long weekend with a shovel and a wheelbarrow, I was finished-in more ways than one. My back was in open rebellion against my mistreating it during many hours of work. To quell the uprising in my back's lumbar region, I decided to reward it with an hour's worth of soaking in my bathtub filled with hot water. However, after ten minutes of just sitting in the tub, I got bored-so bored that I found myself reading the label on the back of the shampoo bottle. Now, I buy shampoo based solely upon two criteria: whether it is cheap and whether it smells good.

This long held purchasing policy for shampoo might have been a tragic mistake on my part. I learned a lot while reading the label. The shampoo that I presently use prides itself on the fact that all the ingredients come from pure renewable plants, that it is biodegradable, and that it contains no animal by-products, petrochemical, or pesticides.

After reading this, the normal person would be relieved that their shampoo was so wonderful. Not me. I was upset. As I lay there compensating my back and starting to look like an albino prune with a little pink around the edges, I worried about my past shampoos. Having learned that shampoos aren't just soap and fragrances, I wondered whether any of my previous shampoos contained animal by-products. That got me thinking about what animal by-products I could have been rubbing into my hair and scalp. It didn't take a nanosecond for an alarm to go off in my head about the use of animal by-products in my shampoo. Feeding sheep by-products to cows started mad-cow disease; Europe is still dealing with that catastrophe. What dire consequences might rubbing animal by-products on my scalp create for me? It was something that I just did not want to think about any longer. I wish that I had known this before; I would have changed to my new shampoo a whole lot sooner-believe me.

I also learned that petrochemicals must be bad for my hair since this product doesn't contain any. However, what really bothered me was the pesticide issue. What are pesticides doing in other brands of shampoo anyway? As I scratched my head and thinning hair, it dawned on me, perhaps, my hair loss is the direct result of pesticides in my previous shampoos. Had I known that I was using some sort of DDT mixed with the soap, I would have not used those other brands. The thought of all those years of sudsing up my hair with pesticides sickened me. It isn't much wonder that I have thinning hair. In addition, could the pesticides have bleached out my brown hair and caused my remaining hair to turn gray? I wonder.

Then I looked at the list of actual ingredients in my present shampoo: water, sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate, cocamidopropyl betain, cocamide mea, ppg 5-laureth-5, jojoba extract, rose hips extract, tocophe-rol, peg-80 almond glycerides, quaternuim-75, etc. After reading all the ingredients, I decided to quit my soaking and showered without washing my hair.

Maybe, Henry David Thoreau was correct. Perhaps, we would all be better off if our lives were less complicated by modern conveniences and technology. Thoreau shampooed his hair without cocamidopropyl betain, and from pictures that I have seen of him, it didn't seem to have any ill effects upon him or his hair. In fact, he had more hair than I do. In addition, the lack of all those ingredients didn't seem to affect his writing adversely either. And I'm still trying to get my first book published.

Maybe, we need to simplify our lives a little. Thoreau kept his life very basic: "I had three chairs in my house: one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society." As I dried off, I resolved to simplify my life and avoid using any animal by-products on what hair I still have.