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27 June 2015

Sled Motherlode

For almost as long as I can remember I’ve always collected things. When I was a little boy my English and history teacher was a pipe smoker and his tobacco came out of a tin. Us boys all wanted one of those empty tins and on to Mr. Hodges' tin list our names would go. He was a dear man. I can still remember him bending down to give me one of those special tins at playtime.

I kept my tins. In them I kept my treasures. Collecting things that didn’t cost me anything except a toffee or two and became a source of pleasure. For a long time the tobacco aroma lasted until it was overcome by the smell of dirty marbles, brass bullet cases and stones I thought precious. In time and with constant use, my tins generally lost all their artwork colour rendering them shiny from being inside my school shorts. I always rattled.

I still collect things. Without pressure a theme comes about by accident. Collections are personal, perhaps with no value to anyone else. The collector derives warmth inside and a smile.  Things I collect now include dog sleds. Most model dog sleds have been presents given to me from Jennifer after her travels to other parts of Greenland; model sleds from Tasiilaq, Ilulissat and Qaanaaq.

Dog team (fan hitched) and sled carved from caribou antler.
Another special dog team and sled model was given to me by my friend and explorer Geoff Somers.

Dog team (tandem hitched) explorer toy.
Way back in the 1990s Geoff was a team member of the Trans-Antarctica Expedition lead by Will Steger. Geoff was responsible for the logistics, navigation and drove the expedition's leading dog team. This seven-month, near 4,000-mile (6,200 km) journey will never be repeated. No thanks to the Antarctic Peace Treaty, dogs are now banned from Antarctica.

Collected outside I have stacked old abandoned sleds. Some have come my way in exchange for a bag of dog food or two. Some were just dumped. Ittoqqortoormiit refuse collection only began in the 1980s so I didn’t have far to look. Not so long ago, when the dog population was much bigger here, the garbage men would stop by our house and ask if I wanted the damaged sled they were hauling to the dump. Those days are gone but I still have the sleds.

A stack of my old sleds topped with a white floe edge boat.
Old sleds mean so much to me that it's not enough to leave them outside. The best ones I've made in to furniture inside our house. Our sofa is a beautiful full-length old sled.

The photos below show a chair (sled stern), tables (sled middle) and a desk (sled prow) in our house.

One day Jennifer and I will have a bigger house and more sleds will come inside. And perhaps one day I shall make a double bed from two sleds side by side, by which time more sled models will be hanging from the ceiling.

Some of the model sleds hanging from our ceiling.
For more about Gary and his dogs go to www.garyrolfe.com