FAIRBANKS - All this cold weather has me thinking about staying warm. When I had to dig out my parka the other day as this cold snap settled in, I was reminded how wonderful it is to be surrounded by fur and feathers. My parka is an old-style down giant with a thin outer lining. It’s like wearing a sleeping bag.
I found it at a yard sale in Fairbanks a few years ago after the one I had (which incidentally came from the transfer station and was identical) started to give up.
I was thrilled at the find and at the price: $20. All it needed was a ruff around the hood. I simply took the ruff off my old parka and sewed it on the “new” one and returned that old one back to the transfer station for someone else to find.
Never one to buy anything when it can be scrounged, the ruff initially came off an old-style wool coat I found at a thrift store. Its wonderful white fur keeps me very warm in the Delta wind.
Another loved parka I own was a gift from a friend who was cleaning out for a move. It is made entirely of sheepskin and covered with a thin later of outer material. Fox trims the bottom hem and the wrist cuffs, while a mystery fur makes up the ruff. The whole thing goes on over your head and is very snug around the neck and hood. This is the type of covering you would wear in serious weather.
I wore it for a two-mile walk to get the mail in the picture you see here. It was 30 degrees below zero and I couldn’t feel it.
When it comes to boots, the warmest ones I own are not bunny boots but mukluks, given to me as a gift many years ago. My engine runs cold, and I was skeptical that such light, flexible boots could keep my feet toasty. Turns out they’re the best boots I’ve ever had.
With a moose-hide bottom and canvas uppers, they’ve kept my feet warm at the most extreme temperatures. Moose-hide laces wrap up the leg and are sufficient for wading through deep snow, too. Love these boots. The only thing inside is a felt liner with an extra felt insole.
Of course, Alaska Natives had these boots figured out a long time ago, using materials at hand including animal skins. I’ve got a very old pair of mukluks that are made entirely of a caribou hide. The hair is still attached to the inside of the lower part of the boot, which must have made for some toasty toes. They were made by a fine craftsman as the detail is in the design.
They are impressive in their simplicity and practicality.
I’d like to try to make a parka and possibly a pair of mukluks this winter. I made my husband a fur hat a few years ago but haven’t played around with fur since. Nothing like a little cold weather to motivate a person. Send me a picture of your homemade parka, mukluks or hat if you would like to show off your work or help inspire me. Check out www.mukluks.com to see the modern version of mukluks that have been keeping people warm for ages. If you have cold feet, you might want to give them a try.
Brookelyn Bellinger is an independent filmmaker and author of the book “The Frozen Toe Guide to Real Alaskan Livin’.” Send your questions to email@example.com.