Over the first week of January, while weather broadcasters urged the masses to huddle indoors next to the furnace, I decided it was time to break out. I layered myself with lots of wool. This included  a favorite boiled wool sweater that I had snagged at the “free shack” at the Mt. Lorne dump in the Yukon. Finally I donned my Swedish cotton pullover anorak (a jacketlike pullover parka), strapped on my WW II surplus Alaskan snowshoes and took off with a friend for a couple hour hike.

The woodshed thermometer read a few degrees below zero. . . not so very bad. The windchill made it nippy when we plodded across a frozen lake where there was no tree cover.  Over the first hour of trudging, the left half of my nose twice turned white as a bride’s gown. I only know this because my friend noticed and warned me of the color change. I unwrapped the long tartan scarf cinched around my waist to keep out the wind and coiled it around my neck and lower face. In a matter of a couple of minutes circulation was back and the nose had returned to a healthy ruddy complexion.

The left hemisphere of my nose doesn’t do well in bitter weather. I froze it back in the winter of 1974 during a winter camping outing when temps dipped to a nippy -38°. (See last blog post.) While no serious tissue damage occurred, several days after the freezing skin turned to parchment and then peeled off. Since freezing it, the nose is subject to turning snow white when it gets too cold. It’s my habit to inform my fellow winter travelers and have them keep on eye on any color change of my schnoz.

I love my anorak. I bought it a few years ago from Don Kevilus at Four Dog Stove.  Not only because it makes me feel like an arctic explorer but it is a garment that is easy to adjust my inner fires. The long scarf belt keeps the wind from blowing up my back and can be used to cover my face. With the copious hood pulled over my stocking capped head I feel snug and cozy and my head is in its personal tent. The loose fit of the anorak allows colder air to enter the bottom. The cinching belt is generally not needed when I am exerting. Once inside the parka or anorak, the air chimneys up over my warmed torso and funnels through the neck washing over my face before flowing out the hood opening.

Even with bitter cold temperatures our bodies constantly disseminate water vapor. This is easy to witness when we momentarily pull off gloves or hat during a winter outing after exerting ourselves.  The vapor becomes visible as a drift of steam. Work too hard when overdressed and you will sweat. Then you run the danger of getting your layers of clothing wet. Wet clothes in cold weather can kill you.

My favorite feature of my anorak is the lush ruff of coyote fur that encircles the hood opening. I rarely pull the hood up but if the wind is biting, particularly if I am standing still like when I’m ice fishing for lake trout up in the border country. The thick fur ring  is a wonderful feature and is a keen feature to control humidity and temperature.

This ring of dense fur is not from a roadrunner-chasing, scrawny, Arizona coyote. This plush ruff is from a north-dwelling, British Columbia, thick-pelaged coyote.

The best fur ruffs are made from long, durable, and uneven length hairs. Coyote, wolf and dog fur all make excellent ruffs. The best of ruffs are made from wolverine or a blend of wolverine and wolf. Whereas, softer furs like fox or lynx might look more fashionable, they are not an effective clothing item for cold weather hoods. Their soft hairs absorb moisture from your breath and turns it sodden.

On the other hand, a wolverine ruff, considered the best in cold environments, will hold hoarfrost but it is easily shaken free with a brush of your hand. No fur sheds frost better than wolverine.

In 1986, I found myself in the small Inuit community of Homan Island, located on Victoria Island in the Canadian Archipelago.  On the edge of the Arctic Ocean, with floating ice chunks clogging up their harbor, it was surrealistic as I heard distant rifle shots from Inuk seal hunters and nearby barking sled dogs staked out at the stony beach. I relished the moment thinking it could have been the same sounds heard a hundred years earlier.


It was August and I just finished a canoe trip with some friends down the Kuujjua River. I strolled into an Eskimo Cooperative to look over some of the native art that was for sale. While the soapstone carvings and the unique  silk screen prints were captivating, my eyes were riveted on the three or four full wolverine ruffs hanging over a stretched cord.

I had coveted a wolverine ruffed parka for a long time. Here was a chance to buy a strip of prime fur with a lovely span of buff colored hairs flanked by the more typical chocolate brown colors. Reverently, I approached the ruffs and leaned in to read the tiny handwritten price tags. One hundred seventy five dollars! I had no credit card then and the $30 or so cash I had would not come close to a sale. I’ve never forgotten those ruffs.

Today I am in a better fiscal position to buy one but a recent check on the internet informed me that the price has more than doubled since 1986 and I would be lucky to find a ruff, that’s just a ruff, under $375.

In the spring of 2009. Nancy and I had spent the winter in the Yukon and I was riding my road bike on the Alaska Highway with Yukon friend Gerry. It was May , warm and the days were getting long.  The ditches wore the spray of dirty snow and the adjacent woods were still white on the forest floor.

As we rode west in single file, I noticed a hunk of fur sticking out of the snow down in the ditch. My inner naturalist is always at the forefront and that means I have to check out dead things. This one was likely a road-killed something. But what?

“Hold it Gerry,” I called out as I braked, turned around and biked back to the small plume of fur.

I got off my bike and post-holed down the ditch in my cycling shoes to the tell-tale tuft of fur.  Gingerly, I gripped it and pulled it carefully out of the snow. Up out of the snow emerged a wrecked winter parka trimmed with a wolverine ruff!

I kid you not. Admittedly the parka was in really poor shape and covered in dust and gravel from winter snowplows blading debris over the parka but the ruff looked okay. We wondered how the garment ended up here as a piece of roadside flotsam. Had it blown out of the back of a pick up truck? Gerry loaned me his pocketknife and I cut the ruff off the muddy and worn parka. After shaking the sand and gravel out of it and swishing it through the wet snow, I tucked it into Gerry daypack.

Later, I repeatedly rinsed the gritty ruff off in the river that races by our Outpost. After drying, I shook it to a reasonable fluffiness.  It looked pretty good. The ruff still has not been sewn on a parka but it graces a thick caribou antler that hangs on our wall.

I could create what is called a sunburst ruff by simply sewing the wolverine ruff just inside my coyote ruff. Now that would be the ultimate.









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