Commentary: From Alaska, it's mighty hard to see Russia
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Why haven't I seen Russia? I've spent as much time in the bush of western Alaska as any reporter kicking around the state these days, and I've looked for Russia. Haven't seen it. Apparently, I am not alone. I've polled a fair...
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Why haven't I seen Russia?
I've spent as much time in the bush of western Alaska as any reporter kicking around the state these days, and I've looked for Russia.
Haven't seen it.
Apparently, I am not alone. I've polled a fair number of adventurous outdoor Alaska types who've been all over the state, and it's hard to find a one of them who has seen Russia.
Bud Rice is just back from hunting ptarmigan on the Seward Peninsula along the Bering Strait north of Nome. That's near as close as you can get to Russia on the Alaska mainland.
He didn't see Russia.
Yet given the strange way in which Americans get their news these days, it's probably safe to say the country is full of people who believe "you can see Russia from Alaska." I'd wager to guess that when Tina Fey on "Saturday Night Live" impersonated Alaska Gov. Sara Palin gushing "I can see Russia from my house," some potential voters even took that as a statement of fact.
Unfortunately, the governor's house is on a lake in Wasilla and doesn't have a very good vantage point for looking west. You clearly can't see Russia from there. But then again, you can't see Russia from much of anywhere in Alaska.
Our house is 1,000 feet high on the Anchorage hillside. It faces west. On a clear day, we can see a long, long, long way.
Aleutian Range Mountains are visible almost 200 miles away.
Ain't no sign of Russia.
How many times have I flown into Nome for the finish of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race? Nome is just across the Bering Sea from Russia, but even from an airplane above Nome, I never saw Russia.
I've read that if conditions are perfect, you can see Russia from Saint Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea.
I've been to the village of Gambell on the western most tip of that island. It is as close as you can get to Russia -- 37 miles -- short of visiting hard-to-reach Little Diomede Island across from Russian-owned Big Diomede Island in the middle of the Bering Strait off the tip of the Seward Peninsula.
I did not see Russia.
While in Gambell, I went running out past the airport and as high as I could get on the bluffs behind the village.
Larry Daniels, the real estate manager for the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, assures me, however, that you can see Russia from above Tin City on the Seward Peninsula north of Nome.
Tin City is a now-abandoned military installation that once stood guard over North America as part of the Distant Early Warning Line, or DEW Line, for short.
During the Cold War, radars at DEW line stations all along the Arctic Coast scanned the skies for invading airplanes from what was then the USSR -- the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
What's left of the USSR is now known as Russia.
Daniels said he was at Tin City in the mid-1980s to help repair a tram that served one of the radar facilities, and from up high on the tram above the Bering Strait he could see some sort of land mass to the west.
Had to be Russia.
OK, so you can see Russia from Alaska.
Sort of like "from one of the most remote corners of Alaska you can see the outline of the most remote part of Russia."
Is this what the average American thinks when told "you can see Russia from Alaska"?
Gov. Sarah Palin had it right when she told ABC's Charlie Gibson that you can see Russia "from an island in Alaska."
OK, so tiny Little Diomede isn't exactly "in" Alaska; it's "off" Alaska. But she was close enough.
Since then, everything has spun out of control.
Now, even Palin is telling CBS's Katie Couric about how we in Alaska are all concerned because "this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to ... to our state."
Well, sort of.
Except you can't see Russia from hardly anywhere in Alaska, and up until this political silliness started, almost nobody in Alaska ever paid any attention to Russia. Alaskans were a lot more interested in Hawaii.
Hint, hint: For all you Lower 48 readers who don't know, Hawaii is another country you can see from Alaska.
I've seen Hawaii. I've also seen Canada. I know what it means to say "you can see Canada from Alaska":
You stand there at the U.S. Customs Station on the border between Alaska and Yukon Territory and you look southeast, and right there in front of you is Canadian dirt, brush and trees. Canadian dirt, brush and trees look a lot like American dirt, brush and trees at that point, but at least you can see it.
Frankly, I can't wait until next summer when the tourists start pouring into Alaska -- as they do by the hundreds of thousands every summer -- and ask, "Where do we go to see Russia?"
Maybe the city should build a Russia-viewing platform downtown so there's somewhere to send them.