big wooly mammoth...er, musk ox
sunday in the valley. raspberry pancakes and lattes. mmmmm. arent sundays wonderful? something about the day suggests permission to stay in pj's longer than any other day, of saving toothbrushing and hair combing till either someone threatens to drop in, (insert loud laugh here. no chance these days) or we need to run out of the house for something.
today we visited the musk ox farm. be warned, i will now proceed to give all kinds of (largely) uninteresting and previously unknown facts about musk ox.
first of all, musk ox are not ox, nor do they produce musk. they were named musk ox by european explorers who first saw the great beasts in a muskeg (a soil type, also a peatland or wetland type called a bog, common in arctic and boreal areas) and they looked like oxen.
they are native to the artic areas of canada, greenland and alaska and are ancient- rubbing shoulders with the wooly mammoth! the population here was largely wiped out in the late nineteenth century. they were reintroduced to alaska in the early part of the century, traveling all the way from greenland.
musk ox wool (qiviut, an inuit word) is highly prized for its softness, length and insulative value. it is 8 times warmer than wool. (yeh baby, 8 times!) also, when looking at wool under a micorscope, wool has tiny barbs, which is what makes it so itchy when wearing it. qiviut; no itchy barbs.
so some anthropoligist got this idea to create a cooperative in the 1950's . the cooperative, headquatered in anchorage, collects qiviut from the 2 farms here in ak. and those in canada and then sends it to isoloated native alaskan villages, where in turn, navive women weave and knit it into scarves and hats in patterns native to that particular village. these hats and scarves are sold (for lots and lots of money, the average hat; 300 bucks) and a percentage is given to the individual. at the end of the year the profits generated by the cooperative are distributed to the members.
you might wonder, how does one get this lovely qiviut from these woolly beasts? ( they average over 450 pounds). its all hand combed, with not-so-fancy picks. you know, the kind you would use on a big fat perm, 70's style. AKA: afro.
i just have one question. who knew?