Part of Siberia includes Sakhalin Island, near Russian east coast, just north of Japan. It was originally a prison colony during tsarist times, much like the state of Georgia (U.S.), and Australia. A mere six hundred miles northeast is the peninsula of Kamchatka. dividing the Sea of Okhotsk from the Bering Sea. Kamchatka lies squarely within the Pacific Rim’s Ring of Fire, and still has active volcanoes. In fact, the highest point in Siberia is the Klyuchevskaya volcano at 15,580 feet.
A common joke for Russian school children makes reference to this remote land. The worst students sat in the far back of the class, called Kamchatka. But I do remember learning the name of this remote peninsula in high school geography class. The well-known board game, Risk involved ruthlessness and intercontinental strategizing. Since the crossing at Kamchatka controlled the only crossing of the game’s board, gaining control of Kamchatka was key. Just ask Kramer and Newman when they played Risk, even on the New York subway!
In general, Siberia has endured some bad breaks geographically. The rivers of Siberia unfortunately all flow north, or join others that do. Their waters end up in the Arctic Ocean. In the spring, north-flowing rivers thaw upstream, while still frozen at their mouths, causing a back up. This creates swamps, in fact, Western Siberia has the largest swamps in the world. As a result, the land cannot do much but gradually sag to the Arctic. The rivers flow so slowly, they hardly seem to move.
With the poor drainage and swampy lands, Siberia is infested with mosquitoes, flies, and biting insects. Summers are hot and often dry and dusty. In winter, the cold can reach -90 degrees, which does not seem to impress many Russians. But the cold keeps most of central Siberia and east under permafrost, ground permanently frozen, often to three thousand feet under. This makes agriculture here almost impossible. If the permafrost ever melts due to global warming, the future of the forest becomes problematic. It would change the earth’s atmosphere, resulting in huge amounts of methane gas to be released into the air.
Basic necessities must be brought in, mostly in the form of fuel that arrives in steel barrels, about three feet high and holding 53 gallons. So, you might surmise that empty barrels are everywhere, as far as the eye can see, and beyond. Some experts have estimated the barrel count in excess of two million. That amounts to about 16 barrels per person living here.
So, perhaps the term, “I have you over a barrel” came from Siberia, maybe not. I wonder if anyone has figured out the scrap metal value of all those barrels yet? Perhaps I will have a new career.