Inupiat craftsman Isaac Atungana of Point Hope specializes in these luxuriously warm and comfortable beaver fur hats.
After months of admiring the ruffs on the parkas of our students and friends in Shishmaref, I got a beautiful wolf ruff for Barbra. Our friend Nancy sewed on it. Aside from its beauty, the ruff around her hood serves a very practical purpose: protection from the elements. Whether made of polar bear fur, wolf fur, or, perhaps best of all, wolverine fur, a good ruff traps a pocket of warm air around the wearer’s face, keeps the wind off bare skin, and cuts down on the sun’s glare. Barbra loves hers. “You should get one,” she’s been urging this past winter.
Partly out of tightfistedness, partly out of skepticism, I’ve been resisting. First, good ruffs are fairly expensive. Second, I just couldn’t see how a little fur, fur that isn’t even lying next to one’s skin, could make that much difference. So I’ve soldiered on with my performance fleece face mask and my Mountain Hardware Polartec watch cap. Quality gear, and with my head and face thus ensconced and tucked beneath the down hood of my Mountain Hardware parka, I reasoned that I should be plenty warm.
And down to about zero degrees Fahrenheit, I am. Below that, if I have to be out long, especially if there’s wind, I get cold pretty fast.
“Face hurts,” I say to Barbra.
“You should let me get you a ruff,” she replies. “A real good one. Wolverine.”
“Maybe,” I answer back like a record with a needle stuck.
The other day, Isaac Atungana, who makes superbly warm beaver fur hats, showed me his latest creation. Unlike his other hats, this one was completely lined with thick, soft, warm beaver fur.
I try it on. It’s a little big. “I can take it in right along this seam,” he says pointing.
The first time I wore the hat, it was negative 17 outside with a windchill pushing the temperature down to negative 50. It was a revelation. My face didn’t hurt at all. In fact, I felt downright… cozy! And that was with the hat on backwards! (I’ve since been instructed as to the proper positioning of the hat on one’s head.)
The beaver fur extends past my face and traps a pocket of air the same way a ruff does. And the hat, which weighs nearly a pound, is thick and well-insulated, comfortable and warm. Man, if I had had this hat when deer hunting and ice fishing back in Pennsylvania…
Well Jack, as much as I’d love to , I can’t give you a like on this post. 😦 I just read a piece Ann Noveck posted tonight on Chinese Fur farming, where they skin the animals alive to take their fur. I am still mad, and saddened, that people steal their fur, when fake fur works just as well. I know, you probably didn’t want to hear this, but think about it, please. That piece of fur belonged to a living creature. … signed big time animal lover.
Thanks for the response, Orples. We appreciate the encouragement we get from you, and are happy to have the opportunity to clarify our views on a matter we recognize as being controversial.
The issue of whether or not to utilize animal skins, fur and feathers is complex to begin with. It becomes even more complex given that for emotional and economic reasons, people on all sides of the issue skew facts in ways that make finding credible information extremely difficult. For example, it’s tough to find a credible study on which material – synthetic or fur – is really warmer.
We can tell you this: In Inupiat villages across the Arctic, skins and furs are widely used, and most people who come to live in the Arctic adopt the practice of including some fur in their outerwear. The advantages of fur are several:
– Natural fur requires a minimum amount of processing. No dyes, no chemicals.
– It’s local. No diesel fuel is required to ship items across the seas; no jet fuel is needed to fly items in from hundreds or thousands of miles away.
– It’s locally crafted. That means no sweat-shops in third-world countries. When we purchase fur, close to 100% of what we pay goes directly to the hunters and the craftsmen, not to the corporate executives of big box retailers or advertisers.
– Natural furs inspire their owners to treat them with care. Up here, ruffs and other fur items often have a lifespan covering multiple generations as they are passed down from grandmothers to mothers to daughters.
– Fur, down, and skins bio-degrade in a comparatively short time, but if they do end up out on the tundra or in our oceans and pieces of them are inadvertently ingested by fish, birds or other wildlife, they don’t harm the animal that eats them. By contrast, synthetic materials take hundreds of years to bio-degrade, and as they do, the become an environmental toxin.
– Our oceans have become overloaded with the refuse of societies that are overly-reliant on petroleum-based synthetics – from plastic bottles to microfiber scarves. Aside from creating eyesores on land and filling landfills to overflowing, when these items enter the world’s oceans, as hundreds of thousands of tons of them do every year, in the process of breaking down they become part of the food chain. Increasingly, around the world, dead sea birds are washing up on shore full of fragments of synthetic materials they’ve mistaken for food. These birds die a slow, painful death from starvation or from intestinal blockage. And in some areas of our oceans, as much as 50% of the contents in fish stomachs are plastics, microfibers, and other petroleum-based litter.
Click here to see an example of a seabird full of plastics and washed ashore on the remote Midway Islands.
We do agree with you regarding the manner in which many commercial fur ranches are operated. The same could be said of most of the facilities that commercially produce chicken eggs. They’re inhumane, and in California, when given a chance to cast a vote on this matter, we voted for laws to ensure that farm animals be treated better – even if it means we pay a little extra for groceries.
But here in Alaska, the furs being worn in Arctic villages are not farm products. They come from wild animals that are harvested in limited numbers, ensuring healthy populations for generations to come. This approach, we believe, is ethical, benefits wildlife, and is environmentally responsible. We’d love to hear what others think!
Hello Jack and Barbra,
I hesitated to leave my original comment, fearing you might find it offensive. That of course, was not my intent, and now, I am glad I did say something. Your return comment, not only brings up some valid points, as to how other animals might be saved using natural methods; it also shines light on the fact that where you are, fur is used as a necessity, more so than a fashion statement. I will never like the use of fur, but at least the points you make in regards as a whole, make sense. It saddens me to think of some of the animals that die such tragic deaths for their hides, and in reading your answer, I suspect you feel the same way. Thank you for returning such an insightful, educational, and lengthily reply. I will take your response to heart in the future.
We enjoy the correspondence, different points of view and always appreciate the opportunity for a good dialogue.
umm… Ever tried to skin an animal alive? You would cut it to pieces and be cut yourself to smitherines. THats the most rediculous thing I have read in my entire life. Its hard enough to skin them dead.. So for Millinea people were wrong. Freedom of speech here if i may, I would try to Love humans as well.
I knew someone would comment on the fur issue. I can’t imagine synthetic fur working in below zero temps no matter how “technical” the material. Yes clearly factory furs, factory meat, factory chickens & eggs etc is a horrific life for the animals, anyone with any compassion doesn’t like animals suffering. Unfortunately, the reality of life on this planet, with this many people living in big cities who must eat, consume all types of products etc is a hard pill to swallow. What is the alternative? How many people will give up their comfortable existence to live a rural, grow your own, hunt your own existence? Not many. It’s a complex issue and there are NO easy answers. Synthetic is HARD on the environment.
Thanks for the response, Delicio. I’ll never forget my first visit to a large production chicken “farm.” It was horrifying. Knowing that “way leads to way” and plans don’t always come to fruition, Barbra and I still study up on homesteading, the hope being that at some point in the future we will buy a piece of land and live as close to the earth as possible.
I’ve always wanted a fur hat like the ones they wear in Russia. I thought if I ever get a chance to travel there I might trade a pair of my $30 Levis for a $200 fur hat! HA
I remember those stories from way back – how much you could get for jeans in Russia! Wonder if it’s still like that?