A blog by Bill Hess

Running Dog Publications

P.O. Box 872383 Wasilla, Alaska 99687


All photos and text © Bill Hess, unless otherwise noted 
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Wasilla is the place where I have lived for the past 29 years - sort of. The house in which my wife and I raised our family sits here, but I have made my rather odd career as a different sort of photojournalist by continually wandering off to other places to photograph people and gather information, which I have then put together in various publications that have served the Alaska Native Eskimo, Indian and Aleut communities.

Although I did not have a great of free time to devote to this rather strange community, named after a Tanaina Athabascan Indian chief who knew Wasilla in the way that I so impossibly long to, I have still documented it regularly over the past quarter-century plus. In the early days, my Wasilla photographs focused mostly upon my children and the events they participated in - baseball, football, figure skating, hockey, frog catching, fire cracker detonation, Fourth of July parade - that sort of thing. 

In 2002, I purchased my first digital camera and then, whenever I was home, I began to photograph Wasilla upon a daily basis, but not in a conventional way. These were grab shots - whatever caught my eye as I took my many long walks or drove through the town, shooting through the car window at people and scenes that appeared and disappeared before I could even focus and compose in the traditional photographic way.

Thus, the Wasilla portion of this blog will be devoted both to the images that I take as I wander about and those that I have taken in the past. Despite the odd, random, nature of the images, I believe they communicate something powerful about this town that I have never seen expressed anywhere else. 

Wasilla is a sprawling community that has been slapped down hodge-podge upon what was so recently wilderness of the most exquisite beauty. In its design, it is deliberately anti-zoned, anti-planned. In the building of Wasilla, the desire to make a buck has trumped aesthetics and all other considerations. This town, built in the midst of exquisite beauty, has largely become an unsightly, unattractive, mess of urban sprawl. Largely because of this, it often seems to me that Wasilla is a community with no sense of community, a town devoid of town soul.

Yet - Wasilla is my home and if I am lucky it will be until I grow old and die. Despite its horrific failings, it is still made of the stuff of any small city: people; moms and dads, grammas and grampas, teens, children, churches, bars, professionals, laborers, soldiers, missionaries, artists, athletes, geniuses, do-gooders, hoodlums, the wealthy, the homeless, the rational and logical, the slightly insane and the wholly insane - and, yes, as is now obvious to the whole world, politicians, too.

So perhaps, if one were to search hard enough, it might just be possible to find a sense of community here, and a town soul. So, using my skills as a photojournalist and a writer, I hope to do just that. If this place has a sense of community, I will find it. If there is a town soul to Wasilla, I will document it. I won't compete with the newspapers. Hell no! But as time and income allow, it will be fun to wander into the places where the folks described above gather, and then put what I find on this blog.


by 300...

Anywhere within a 300 mile radius of Wasilla. This encompasses perhaps the most wild, dramatic, gorgeous, beautiful section of land and sea to be found in any comparable space anywhere on Earth. I can never explore it all, but I will do the best that I can, and will here share what I find and experience with you.  

and then some...

Anywhere else in the world that I happen to get to, such as Point Lay, Alaska; Missoula, Montana; Serenki, Chukotka, Russia; or Bangalore, India. Perhaps even Lagos, Nigeria. I have both a desire and scheme to get me there. It is a long shot. We shall see if I succeed.

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Four standing portraits; my health care/Obama comment on New York Times website gets top number of reader recommendations

One week ago today I took portraits of four individuals standing still that I had intended to post that very day. However, I got distracted by Pia and her tomatoes and so did not.

On Saturday, I took many pictures, but I do not want to edit them right now. It is well into Sunday morning and I want to go to bed as soon as I can. So I am going to hold them for tomorrow and post last week's standing portraits instead.

This is Dillon, a reincarnated gangster from the 1920's and he has dropped by Vagabond Blues in Palmer to pick up a little "protection money" to insure that the coffee shop does not fall victim to the local bad elements.

I jokes! I jokes! 

It's just Dillon, a kid in a cool hat, and the money that the barista holds came from our own Charlie. He was buying coffee and pastries for us all.

And here he is, Charlie, one week ago today at Vagabond Blues. As you can see, Charlie is a man of the world. He, Melanie, and his dad should right now be camped out in Charlie's dad's boat, somewhere out in Prince William Sound, not far from Seward.

They wanted me to come and I desperately wanted to, too, but I couldn't. Not because of Margie - she is doing much better and between Jacob, Lavina, and Caleb, she would have been covered. The fisher trio will not be coming home until Monday afternoon, and I just have too much work to do to take that kind of time off right now.

I just hope they bring us back a salmon, a halibut and a rockfish, because they are hoping to catch all three.

We saw this cat standing in a mud splattered car, about four blocks from Vagabond Blues. I hope it heals, soon.

Given what has happened to both Margie and me over the past 14 months, it kind of unnerved me to see Kalib standing like this. But you know what? Little kids are going to climb and stand on many things and they are going to fall, too, and most of the time they won't lose their shoulder, like I lost mine after I fell in Barrow, or break their knee caps and femurs the way Margie did.

They might cry a bit and then they will get up, laugh, and go climb something else. Most of the time. That's what they've got to do.

Still, it makes me a bit nervous.

Speaking of falling, on Friday, I left a comment regarding health care reform on an opinion piece written by New York Times columnist Bob Herbert. Over 400 other readers left their thoughts before the Times closed the comment period down. The Times allows readers to recommend columns and then gives those that get the most recommendations special attention on their own page.

To my amazement, my comment has so far received the most reader's recommendations of any, 369, making it number one on that list.

I know that this sounds like I am boasting and I guess I am, but I am so disgusted with the current state of health care in our country, and the demagoguery, lies and deceit that the opposition, including-you-know-who from right here in Wasilla, has thrown out there to scare people in the hope that they might inflame unjustified fear and thus bring down our President, the good of the country and its people be damned, should that good get in the way of their political ambition, that I must speak out.

You can find my comment, and the Herbert article that it is attached to, right here:


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  • Response
    I went on to the University of Pittsburgh to work toward my Ph. D. in Biochemistry. I made a point of attending nearly every home game at the stadium next to the medical school where I was working. During those years just before Dorsett and Marino, Pitt was ranked one of ...

Reader Comments (5)

Just added another recommend to your excellent comment at the NYT. I enjoy stopping by your blog (discovered thanks to Gryphen of The Immoral Minority). Glad Margie is doing better. Thanks for speaking out on health care! (Love the photo of the kitty in the e-collar)

August 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLinda in Virginia

great response to the bob herbert editorial, bill! your experiences w/your health insurance should be on the bill moyers' PBS show where he's publicizing the monstrosity that passes as american healthcare. i too have my own horror stories that i obsess about in the middle of the nite.

so glad margie is doing better. love the shots of darling Kalib. love his different colored socks. as far as balancing w/o falling, some kids are absolute naturals. my daughter roamed around our apartment on top of couches and table tops like a little monkey. never ever fell.

okay, time to plant my autumn flowers. the cicadas are out in full force. enjoyed your visit with pia. for some reason, bill, your blog is the best around - always a delight.

August 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRuth Z Deming

Hey -- I just went there and you now have 384 recommendations! Thanks for commenting.

Give Margie a big hug for me. So glad to hear she is getting better. Love your photos, esepecially those of Kalib -- and thanks to Gryphen, I know when you have a new posting!

This internet is a special place where we have friends we care about, even when they don't know us or that we care about them.....

August 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGrandma Nancy

Thanks for the picture of Charlie. The map background is great! We often check in your blogs and love the stories and pictures.

They should be catching some fish this AM. They got going around 6:15 last evening. Wish you would go out too sometime.

Your comment on insurance / health care hits home with us..... Currently uninsured, unable to afford it and hoping we'll stay healthy. Charlie's Mom

August 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCyndy [Charlie's Mom]

When the whole of America seem to praise your say, all I want is to just sit, read them & admire you - your words!


August 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSandy

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