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In Palinland

Moose head
Mrs Palin is 'moosing' whether to run for the White House

The BBC's Kevin Connolly travels to Alaska to try to discover what makes Sarah Palin tick.

I have waited a long time to write this sentence but now the moment has come and it is rich and satisfying; everything I'd hoped for.

No moose were hurt in the making of this morning's programme.

I was slightly concerned that I didn't know the plural word to describe this strange animal with its noble antlers and its limited ability to spot heavily-armed hunters who might wish it harm. Mooses ? Meece ? Moos-ei? ( for any classical scholars out there).

You're very unlikely if you live in Britain to require a word to describe more than one heavily-antlered gamniverous quadruped at a time but believe me Alaska is different.

Moose hunter Dan
Packing heat: Moose hunter Dan out in the field

This is of course the home of Sarah Palin and we came in search of clues to the forces that shaped the woman who aspires to shape the nation.

Alaska is to Americans from the "lower 48" what the rest of America once was to Europeans - a wilderness of beautiful hostility where settlers had to balance great hardship against great opportunity.

And Mrs Palin draws heavily on the iron durability of the Alaskan soul to form the political persona she peddles as she travels the United States through Campaign 2010, packing stadiums and picking candidates.

No-one is quite sure whether we're watching Presidential Palin preparing to run in 2012 or Celebrity Sarah using the opportunity of Campaign 2010 to enhance the value of a lucrative brand.

But it seemed worth returning to the wilderness which created her to ask.

The moose-hunting question is not frivolous by the way. It goes to the heart of the frontierswoman image Palin tries to sell. There are those who suspect the only moose she's ever goes near is the chocolate mousse they serve at Republican fund-raisers.

Old-time religion, new-fangled technology

With producer Sophie Morrison I set out to explore just how authentic that image really is with a couple of real moose hunters, Dan Rinella and Matt Rafferty.

We bushwhacked up through the densely snowy undergrowth of the Chugach State Park on to high ground from where we could look down through clean blue air onto a cloudscape of grey woolly cloud and North to the glittering Arctic whiteness of Mount Denali, North America's highest peak. ( Yes it used to be Mt McKinley but in modern America the need to enshrine native languages trumps the duty to record the names of assassinated presidents.)

Alaska
Wide open spaces: Alaskans pride themselves on being different

Matt and Dan were packing heat of course - they're hunters after all - but happily we saw nothing they might shoot. Only the hapless ptarmigan was in season and luckily we didn't see one.

Their description of whist happens when you shoot a moose will live long in the memory. It's the size of a big, fat horse for a start and it bleeds like a broken fire hydrant.

When you reach the corpse you have to butcher its still-warm carcass into joints. That means hacking up maybe 900 pounds of dense, steaming flesh into portions you can pack into rucksacks - and that's assuming you don't want to keep the antlers.

We travel of course in a spirit of enquiry and it's for you to judge.... can you imagine our kitten-heeled soccer mom hacking up a moose corpse and yomping it back to a freezer?

Unfathomably vast

It is certainly much easier to imagine Mrs Palin feeling at home in the Church of the Rock in the town of Wasilla where she used to be mayor.

They are experts here at mixing the old-time religion with that new-fangled technology... they have a moose-head over the door and they believe in speaking in tongues, but you can download their services from iTunes.

In this world Sarah Palin seems suddenly understandable... a bible-believing Christian who wants to see lower taxes and a higher regard for the US constitution and whose supporters see government as a larcenous conspiracy against the people.

The pastor at the Church on the Rock
iTunes and moose heads: The pastor at the Church on the Rock

Clearly a powerful tide of conservatism is running in the United States and it's a form of conservatism Europeans find difficult to understand with it's values firmly rooted in Christian faith and it's politics based on the idea that the government should collect a lot less of our money in taxes and then do a lot less with it.

It is anti-intellectual, patriotic and takes for granted the idea that to be born American is to be issued with a winning ticket in the lottery of life.

Liberals are inclined to sneer but the more they sneer at Sarah Palin the more they risk looking like smartly-educated metropolitan toffs beating up on an ordinary American mom.

You might argue that Alaska isn't really typical of American life... it stretches up into the Arctic for one thing, and it's unfathomably vast... if you superimposed it on a map of the lower 48 states it would stretch from Mexico to Canada and from Florida to California.

As a result, one Alaskan in ten owns an aeroplane and one-in-four apparently knows how to fly one.

But it has a fascinating Senate race this year which you'll find reflected in our report for the programme. And of course, there's the Palin factor.

Please email me with any thoughts you have about Alaska, the mid-terms or Mrs Palin's prospects.


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