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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Rex takes me to the concert, where a puffin flies over the orchestra, and moose, too

Just as I said I would, I ate breakfast at Mat-Su Valley Family Restaurant and so did this couple. I did a number of other things throughout the day and took pictures of various subjects, ranging from mountains to airplanes to a dog running directly in front of the car going in the same direction as me, but I've got to get to the concert, so I will skip all that.

Rex bought a couple of tickets to the Saturday night performance of the Anchorage Symphony and invited me to join him. So I drove into town, parked the car and walked over to the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, where I saw a family who identified themselves as the Barnes passing by on the sidewalk.

Other people were looking at the ice sculptures that adorn the plaza adjacent to the Performing Arts center. I heard a story on NPR this afternoon that explained why the Lower 48 and the mid-latitudes of Europe and Asia have experienced such cold weather this winter while the Arctic - even the North Pole - has been unseasonably warm.

It is not just because of El Niño, as I had suspected, but because of the Arctic Oscillation. Normally, the air pressure at the pole is lower than elsewhere and so the cold not only forms, but settles in. This year, there has been a shift in the air pressure, which has been higher on the pole than normal and lower to the south and so the cold air that would normally linger in the north has moved to the south.

The guy said that the odds of it happening this way are about the same as being given one draw from a deck of cards to pull out the Ace of Diamonds, and then you pull out the Ace of Diamonds.

I went into the lobby and soon Rex showed up with the tickets. 

After we entered the auditorium and found our seats, I snuck up to the front real quick so I could get a shot of the bass players as they limbered up their fingers and tuned their instruments.

I returned to my seat as the crowd poured in.

Here I am with Rex, waiting for the concert to start. Rex told me that part of what he has done to cope with Stephanie's abandonment is to start attending concerts and such, so that he could hear music that he had heard growing up in our house and remember it.

A guy in front of us looks at his watch. He needn't worry. The concert will start on time.

The concert opened with Bach's Brandenburg Concerto #2. The fellow playing the trumpet is Linn Weeda. BBC#2 requires the trumpeter to blow his instrument up an extra octave from its normal range and, if what I was taught in college is true, in order to play it, the musician must have lung power strong enough to inflate a car tire.

This is kind of hard for me to imagine, and I am not certain that it is true, but it is what I was taught.

I would like to tell you that the performance was flawless, that not a note was missed nor rendered even slightly shrill, but that would not be an honest statement.

What is true is that I greatly enjoyed sitting there with my son, having all these musicians playing their instruments to send sound waves of Bach flowing over us. It was very good.

It reminded me too of when Margie and I were first married, and I would often take her to recitals and concerts - classical and rock and roll. Then we would come home and go to bed and life would be sweet. Those were good times.

Linn Weeda played the trumpet, Roxann Berry the flute, Sherman Piper the Oboe and Kathryn Hoffman the violin. 

They accept their applause.

This is Paul Sharpe, playing a solo on the double bass during the performance of A Carmen Fantasy for Double Bass and Orchestra Prelude by Frank Proto.

It is a fact that I could have gotten pictures of much greater technical quality with any one of my big DSLR cameras then I got with my pocket camera - and with a telephoto lens I could came in much tighter on the subject.

But... I could not have used such a camera at all in here. I could not have taken any performance pictures at all. The pocket camera is perfectly quiet and exceptionally discreet and so I could get away with taking pictures, without getting kicked out or rising the ire of nearby audience members.

And that is a big advantage of a pocket camera.

For his encore, Sharpe played the Alaska Flag Song.

After a bit of Debussy, the Symphony wrapped up the evening with Exposition on the Anchorage Museum, a commissioned piece by California composer Gregory Prechel - who has also composed music for The Simpsons and various shows and films.

Throughout the work, selected paintings, sculptures and carvings from the Anchorage Museum of History and Art were projected overhead, beginning here with Alvin Amason's rendition of a puffin, title "It's a Sweet Dream that Keeps Me Close to You."

The painting, "Easter Tableu" by Pat Austin.

The mask: Txamshem (Raven Man) by Jack Hudson.

Update insert: As I prepared this post early this morning, I had naturally planned to give credit to the conductor, Randall Craig Fleischer, who has done good things with the Anchorage Symphony. You see the time stamped at the top: 3:06 AM? That's when I opened Squarespace to begin constructing this post, not when I closed it. I closed at about 4:45 AM and I was so tired and so anxious to get this done so I could go to bed that I forgot to credit the conductor!

Very bad of me, but here he is, Conductor Fleischer, waving his baton beneath the picture of Hudson's mask.

Afterwards, I said goodbye to Rex under an awning that he had helped to construct.

And on the way home I encountered this crazy driver. I had set my cruise control at 65. When I first came upon this vehicle, it was doing about 50 in the left lane - a no no - and so I passed on the right. Pretty soon, it shot by me, doing 75 or 80.

Shortly after that, I again passed it on the right. Then it zipped past me. Then it fell back... then it passed me...

That's the kind of driver that was in control of this vehicle.

Notice the fog - how it engulfs the lights, but does not touch the ground.

There's lots more that I would like to write about the day that has most recently ended, but its almost time to get up and I have a big day ahead of me Sunday, so I think I had better stop and go to bed.

I should note, though, that of all the music performed, it is Bach that continues to play in my head. The other pieces have fallen silent. 

Bach rules!

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Reader Comments (10)

Wow! What an incredible night for you! I can hear the Symphony from here! (course, I have KingFM playing in background...lol!)
In early December, listening to King, the DJ suddenly said "first 3 callers will win tickets to Seattle Symphony at Benaroya Hall". So DIAL I did, and after being put on hold for a minute and a half, he comes on saying I won! I never win anything, so you can imagine my excitement. Come to find out, it was S. Symphony performing with Cirque du Soleil! Needless to say, it was an exciting show, one I and my husband will never forget! He's still talking about it. (and he's not crazy about Classical)
Hope you have a wonderful day Bill! Thanks for the great post!

January 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteraview999

As far as I am concerned, "Hess Rules!" Your photos make my soul soar. I give you a standing ovation. Thank you for creating an oasis of ordinary beauty and a reminder that there is beauty everywhere when seen through the eye of a master.God bless, and thank you.

January 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGrandma Nancy

Like Bach? Go to YouTube and search for "Alexander Lischke sings Bach" ... amazing!

January 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlbert Lewis

Re Lischke: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wp9lH7A0nTw

January 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlbert Lewis

What a lovely evening. Except for the "crazy driver". When I come upon crazy drivers I drop back and give them plenty of distance. They make me a very "careful driver" and I become very cautious of the unexpected.

I like this quote..."The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul." —J.S. Bach

January 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWhiteStone

WhiteStone has got the quote!

January 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMGSoCal

I like that you and Margie have given your children a childhood that provides solace even now that your children are adults. That is the sign of successful parenting.

January 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdebby

looks like a lovely evening out...enjoy the pictures very much

January 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertwain12

WhiteStone wrote: What a lovely evening. Except for the "crazy driver". When I come upon crazy drivers I drop back and give them plenty of distance. They make me a very "careful driver" and I become very cautious of the unexpected.

Is Bill supposed to slow to 40 mph in the right lane? I don't think so!

Hit it, Bill! Pass that fool by doin' 90 on the right! heehee

(Note to self: Remember to sign up for driving school to erase latest moving violation/speeding ticket.)

January 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMona

aview - Wow! I never win anything, either - but you have given me new hope.

Grandma Nancy - That's high praise, more than I deserve, but I'm glad my work has made a difference for you. Thanks.

Albert, I will do that.

Whitestone - I understand. I don't think this driver was hostile - just unaware, which can be pretty dangerous, too. Thanks for the quote.

MgSoCal - That she does.

Debby - Thank you, and in all honesty it was Margie who did the good parenting. But I always loved my kids and they knew it. They also knew that I loved their mother. So that was my contribution to their parenting.

Twain - Wish I could have shared the music, too.

Mona - Sounds like you had fun on the road.

January 17, 2010 | Registered CommenterWasilla, Alaska, by 300

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