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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Kalib feeds the fish, waves goodbye and then he leaves to be surrendered to his parents

I didn't really settle down to sleep this morning until about 7:00 AM, so I did not get out of bed until after 11:00. When I came out, Caleb said that I had a Kalib hairdo, kind of like what you see here, on the real Kalib. Except that mine is thinner, of course.

Judging from the look of things, Kalib must have been playing indoor golf.

Margie planned to drive him into town to surrender him to his parents, so I would not have a car for the rest of the day. I would not be able to go out for my late afternoon coffee break or anything. I pulled out the oatmeal, but before I could add water to it, Margie said, "why don't you go out for breakfast? Then you at least have some kind of outing today."

So I did. And as I backed out of the driveway, Kalib came to the window.

I ate breakfast with strangers, but that was okay, because the food was truly excellent, even the hash browns. Sometimes, at Family, they turn the hashbrowns into mush with a hard, crispy coat, but today they cooked them just right. They were excellent.

On the way home, I passed by this dog.

Right after I got home, Kalib decided that he wanted to feed the fish. When they saw him coming, the fish got excited and came to greet him. The fish know that when they see Kalib, they are going to get fed.

Kalib feeds the fish.

Then it was time for him to go. He gave his grandpa a hug. It still annoys me to hear the word "grandpa" applied to me, but I sure do enjoy having a grandson.

He reached the door, turned, and waved bye-bye.

He was anxious to get going.

Uncle Caleb buckled little Kalib into this car seat.

Uncle Kalib then cleaned the headlights off. As you can see, the weather has turned dreadfully warm. It was 31 above at this moment.

Margie gets into the driver's seat, Caleb says goodbye to Kalib and then my wife drove away with my grandson.

When she returned many hours later, she informed me that Kalib and his mother were both delighted to see each other.

As I have already informed you, Margie leaves for Arizona Thursday night.

"Somehow," she told me, "I have got to find a way to spend some more time with that little boy before I leave."

What will she do? How will she do it? How is she going to bear being gone from him for almost a full month?

She has gone to Arizona a few times since Kalib was born, but he and his mother have always gone with her - or she has gone with them.

Except for a very short walk, I spent the rest of the day, into the wee hours of this morning, right here, at my computer.

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Reader Comments (13)

"Dreadfully warm", indeed! Send some of that "warmth" down here to the lower 48! It has been dreadfully cold here in Iowa (23 below two nights ago, 17 below last night) and my mom's furnace quit running last night. She lives in a little house and the repairman has to order a part. He brought her an electric heater to keep things warm and she has an electric blanket and she wouldn't come to our house and I felt guilty all night long that I was toasty warm and that I did not make her come over here. She's a tough cookie at 88 years.

January 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWhiteStone

Hmmm...I recalculated that temperature differential. If it is 31 above there and 17 below here, that is a differential of 48 degrees warmer there than here! Yikes! I'm moving to Alaska where it's warm! Just as soon as I get my bags packed. And I'm bringing my Mom with me. She knows how to cook good hash browns.

January 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWhiteStone

But Bill, what are you going to do for a whole month without your wife?

Hopefully you'll post more and show us more of your fantastic photography skills!

January 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterVisitor

I didn't know if you would be returning to the page where we spoke about this, Mr. Hess.. So I'll continue here if I may.. Buddha advocated the practice of following the 'Middle Path' in life.. i.e to not resort to and to not be influenced by extremes.. It is believed that Lord Krishna also advocated the same.. This is a principle that I admire a lot and wish I could practice.. Alas, I am a fiery, short tempered, extremely impulsive Arien and I can only hope to do so :)

January 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAsh

31 above sounds might balmy right about now ... that little grandson has the most beautiful eyes

January 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

Yep, have to say that it is much warmer where you're at than where I am. Hmmmm. Okay. WhiteStone is bringing her mom who can make excellent hashbrowns. She herself is known for being the country's best pancake maker. I can made really excellent cinnamon rolls. Can I come to vacation where it is warm?

January 5, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdebby

I'm so sorry - this is the first time I've ever read your blog, but it seems like your Grandson just left? You must be so sad. I am sorry.

January 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRach

Love the Mat-Su Family Restaurant!

January 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterInWasilla

Will you be shooting Celebration this year?

January 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMorgan Howard

Whitestone - I just hope that your mom remain a tough cookie and not a popscicle. Yes, come up and bring your mom. We will supply the potatoes. But keep in mind that the largest, single-day temperatures ever record have happend in this general area - as much as 100 degrees in a single day. That was from cold to warm, but it can also drop from warm to cold might fast. I keep hoping that it will.

Visitor - I will only be without my wife for ten days. After that, I will be joining her in Arizona - and I will keep photographing and blogging from there. Show you some of Margie's Apache country, hopefully Navajo, too, as we want to visit Kalib's family on his mom's side. Plus, he has a little cousin that feels bad that Kalib gets in my blog all the time, and he never does.

So I want to give him a story in the blog.

Ash - I have so much to learn. Thank you - and keep your fires burning down the middle.

Susan - This time of year, 31 degrees is balmy. And if ever there is a true deep freeze down in the Lower 48, especially the kind that reaches all the way down to Florida, it always gets warm up here. You are right about Kalib's eyes. He takes advantage of that.

Debby - Hashbrowns, pancakes and cinnamon rolls! I hope that you are all here by breakfast time. You had better be on a jet right now, or you won't make it.

Rach - You have just taught me a valuable lesson about blogging. I have been running on ongoing story about Kalib - pretty much since I started this blog, and certainly for the 19 months or so that he and his parents lived with us until they could save up enough to buy a house of their own. That just happened last month, so he has moved out, but not far. We will still see him regularly.

InWasilla - Me too! I could easily become one of those people that you see there everyday.

January 6, 2010 | Registered CommenterWasilla, Alaska, by 300

Morgan, I have no plans to at the moment - but that could always change. How about you?

January 6, 2010 | Registered CommenterWasilla, Alaska, by 300

I'm not sure if you or Margie will be spending any time in Phoenix, if so, you're both more than welcome to stay with us.

January 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAngel

interesting that the fish are smart enuf to know kalib will feed them. maybe these are the same fish that wandered up on dry land to eventually evolve into being US!

know what you mean about being called grandpa. my dtr/law is 6 wks preg w/my first g'child. i think i just typed those words for the first time. and what shall i be called? emannuel? the prince of peace? almighty god? oh, that's from the messiah.

am thinking of bubby, a trad'l jewish term for grandmom. altho when i went into a restaurant yesterday - no, not Family - a very lovely woman was called granny. 8 months to decide. grandpa bill.

January 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterruth z deming

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