The knitting ladies of Knit-on-Pearl, the yarn shop in Jackson, Wyoming, were good enough to knit 117 gorgeous hats for poor and orphaned Mongolian children. So my luggage, on departure, consisted half of camping gear and clothing, ten percent of the kind of highly fashionable outfits that you have to wear in Ulaanbaatar if you are to be taken seriously, and forty percent of knit hats.
Hats are important in Mongolian culture – a hat should never be put on the floor, nor left upside down (lest malevolent spirits settle in, and then enter the wearer’s head), and it should generally be respected. Mongolians sport a variety of hats, from cowboy-esque summer hats, to luxurious fur affairs for winter. The knit hats would fit right in.
No sooner had I dropped the knit hat collection at the hotel in Ulaanbaatar, then I was on the trail of more hats, at the State Department Store, where the upper floor hosts a vast array of fur products, produced primarily for tourists.
This is the first point of exploration on wolverines in Mongolia. Last year about six wolverine products went through the store over the course of three months – five hats, and a stole. This morning, when my friend and I walked in, we found at least seven wolverine fur hats, out of a total of about 200 (most of them are fox or sable.) Surreptitiously, I plucked a few hairs from each. Most furs in Mongolia are not chemical-tanned, which means there’s a better chance that they could contain viable DNA.
In a few days, my friend Marissa and I will head out to the western aimags to start interviewing about wolverines, pikas, and other wildlife species there. For now, though, hats seem to be the central theme of my life in Mongolia.