“I can see Russia from my house”, these infamous words are often associated with Alaska’s very own Sarah Palin and were made famous during a Saturday Night Live skit. For most residents of Alaska, this statement isn’t entirely accurate. When Mrs. Palin referenced Alaska’s proximity to Russia, she wasn’t insinuating that she could literally see Russia from her house, instead she was referencing how in certain locations in Alaska you can see the Russian mainland. Most people realize that Alaska is practically Russia’s neighbor, but I don’t think people realize just how close we are to the Russian mainland, I’ll admit, I didn’t realize it myself until I saw it with my own eyes.
Flying to the village of Gambell, AK, which is located on St. Lawrence Island, was my first eye opening experience about our proximity to Russia. The village of Gambell is 200 miles southwest of Nome, AK and has about 700 residents. Although the community is extremely isolated, it does have an airport, clinic and a K-12 school.
Also located on the island is the village of Savoonga, which is located on the opposite side of the island and has a population that also hovers around 700. An interesting fact about St. Lawrence Island is that the island itself is jointly owned by Gambell and Savoonga. Meaning the island is private property, which entitles the residents to take advantage of the many resources which include whales, walruses, seals, birds, eggs, and fish.
St. Lawrence Island, or ‘The Island’ as the pilots like to call it, is notorious for poor weather. Even if it is clear and sunny in Nome, the weather on The Island can be blizzarding with visibility so low you can’t see your hand in front of your face. On the rare occurrence, and I do mean rare, that the weather is clear and sunny we get the chance to see something unique when flying out to The Island; something that many people will never get the chance to experience.
A mere 30 miles west of The Island is the Russian mainland, more specifically, the territory of Siberia. This proximity gives pilots the unique opportunity to see a whole separate country and continent while taking off or landing in Gambell.
So, I may not be able to see Russia from my house, but at least I am fortunate enough to be able to say that, “I can see Russia from my office window”. Just another reason Alaska is such an amazing and special place to work and be able to call home.