When you run a dog sled in the bitter cold, you need bear mitts.
You can swing an axe and carry a rifle with these mitts on, but you can’t strike a match or squeeze a trigger. I wear a light finger glove inside when hunting something that requires fast action, when squeezing the trigger is imminent, I shuck the glove and proceed. What follows is the directions of how to turn that spare bear hide into a pair of black bear mittens that will keep your hands warm in the coldest weather the globe has to offer, and they are wearable trophies. But first, a little background.
I don’t own a pack of sled dogs, nor do I own a Qamatiik (dogsled.) But I have run both, north-east of Alaska, near the Canadian town, Inuvik in Northwest Territories. Olav and Judi run Arctic Chalet Resort and Adventure Tours there, and before they rent you a sled and a team of dogs Judi will hook you up with the right (over) sized pair of her prized bear mitts. She knows how warm these mitts are. The trail the dogs will take you on is a crazy loop through the extreme cold-stunted forest on the Mackenzie Delta. Don’t go without the mitts. These might be made from polar bear, black bear, or grizzly. The local Inuvialuit would just as likely use Caribou for the over-mitt, but the thick fur of the bear drives the cold away and keeps your hands toasty when you’re on the sled. On my return from the sled trip, I reached out to my glove-making contact and commissioned three pairs of black bear mitts.
Jonathan, the glovemaker, is part of a local Hutterite Colony. His day job is Field Boss. He’s the guy who’s in charge of crop rotation, planting, and harvest schedule. His side gig is glove making. He does this mostly in the winter and I wanted to photograph Jonathan in his black work suit, suspenders, and hat. I imagined the smell of tanned leather and glue, the backlit shot of him in his work shed leaning over the press as he places his hand-made steel cutting dies in various sizes, corresponding to the customer’s hand size. (Mine size 12) I would want a shot of him arranging my black bear hide and one of him lowering the massive press handle. I imagine a photo of Jonathan laying the neatly cut glove components on his side table and another of him working the sewing machine––the kind you would see at the shoe shop if they still made handmade boots. But none of this could happen, besides Jonathan being the modest type, there is a no-press no-interview policy on the colony.
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November - December 2020