• 55°

Seal hat ‘seals’ in warmth

At a sled dog race start, a lady came up to me and introduced herself as an elementary school teacher. I generally appreciate the efforts of our teachers and had just started to talk to her, when she started attacking my hat.

Now, my hat is quite striking. It is very dark gray fur with black spots and is quite unusual.

She first asked if it was seal, when I replied that it was, she loudly said that she had studied this with her class. The ex-wildlife biologist keyed in on what was going on way before I did.

The teacher stated that my hat was a harbor seal (it is not) and that it was awful what they do to the harbor seals. I have not been on a harbor seal hunt and I do not know what happens. I do know that sometimes things that are reported are not exactly reported as I see things when I am present.

I do however know exactly who made my hat. But first, let me tell you how I came to have my hat. When I worked the Iditarod in 2007, it was warm when I boarded the plane in West Virginia. I arrived in Anchorage around midnight and I caught the first Piper Cub out to the trail in the morning.

That means that less than 24 hours after leaving Kentucky, I was on Finger Lake in the bush of Alaska. Finger Lake is one of the coldest places around. Not only are the veterinarians sleeping on 6 feet of lake ice in a small tent, but there is a lodge 600 feet up on the bank.

Now sleeping in a “heated tent” where ice forms inside your bivy sac between you and your sleeping pad is interesting in itself. But physiologically knowing that there was a lodge just up the bank that we were not allowed in because “we tracked,” make it even colder.

I spent three, almost four, nights there.

When I arrived back in Anchorage, I begged to be allowed enough time to go buy a fur hat from the gift store at the Native Alaskan Medical Center. Natives sell their goods to the store or on commission and any profit goes to scholarships for the Alaska natives. This is a win-win in my book.)

There was only one hat that fit me, a seal skin hat with beaver trim. It was about twice what I really wanted to spend, but I quickly purchased it so I could get back and go on the trail.

It is beautiful. Mary from a village 100 miles north of Shaktulak made it for me. I provided about 3 months of subsistence living for her and her family. A baby seal is very light almost white when born. So my seal was an old, probably adult male.

The seal meat is eaten in the village. I have eaten seal meat, (definitely not to my taste, but it does have a bizarre warming effect). The fact that the natives eat it makes me glad that I support their way of life.

I do know that my hat has saved my life. Not only does it protect me from painful frostbite, but it has cushioned my head when I have slipped on the ice. I take care of my hat and appreciate the life that gave it, but this hat helps me take care of the dogs that are much better suited to cold than I.

The biologist ended up giving the teacher a lecture while I watched. I do wish people would educate themselves and not believe everything they are told.