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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On the day that Lance Mackey wins his fourth straight Iditarod, I meet a husky, go to the Barrow Whaler girls game, visit baby Jobe; Pioneer Peak

In the morning, I took a walk and this airplane flew overhead. It felt like our poor excuse for a winter had ended. It was warm - in the 30's and would rise into the 40's come afternoon.

Shortly after the plane passed over, I saw this woman, walking this husky. Somewhere, I have both of their names written down from a much earlier meeting, but I don't know where.

Just before 3:00 PM in the afternoon, the nose of Lance Mackey's lead dog would cross the finish line under the burled arch in Nome, giving cancer survivor Mackey his history-setting fourth straight Iditarod win - and he has won that many Yukon Quests. No one else in the history of dog mushing has accomplished such a feat. If you haven't already, you can read about it here at the Anchorage Daily News or here at the Alaska Dispatch.

When Mackey crossed the finish line, I was at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage, ready to photograph the semi-finals Class 3A basketball game between the Barrow Whaler girls and the Mount Edgecumbe Braves.

Five Barrow starters were suspended by their coach when they were caught drinking on a road trip earlier in the season. Most people figured that it was it for this team this year, but the younger, less-experienced players continued on and played hard and strong. They won the Western Conference Championship and a spot in the State Championship tournament. On Monday, they won their first game against Cordorva.

I was not there, but today I went to the semi-final. In the third quarter, the whalers were down by 12, but in the last two minutes came within three points of the Braves, but lost 34-29.

I took quite a few pictures and they are still downloading into my computer. I have no time to edit them for this blog post and so just pulled this shot from the pre-start huddle. I have not yet taken even my first glance at any of the action pictures.

Wasilla played at the Sullivan today, too - and won - and some may wonder why I did not photograph them as well - especially since three of my children graduated from Wasilla High.

I could only spare the time to go to one game, though and my community ties remain much closer to Barrow than to Wasilla. Plus, I have a little publication that I have put together that this will fit nicely into. The problem is, that publication is completely done and I am just waiting for my client to finish the review before it goes to press. 

I do not want to take anything more out of it than I already have, but I want to put the Barrow Whaler girls in, so I need to find a way.

After the game, I stopped and paid a visit to baby Jobe. I was amazed to see how alert he was. He studied everything, including me.

Kalib was home, too, but he was sick and asleep. I never got to see him.

I hate even to mention it, but this was also the day that a judge held a hearing and made the divorce of my beloved youngest son and the wife he so greatly loves final, save for a bit of paperwork.

So it was a sad day, but, as it always does, life went on and it will continue to.

As I drove back into Wasilla, I looked into my rearview mirror and there loomed Pioneer Peak.

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Reader Comments (6)

Sorry about your sons divorce.
Jobe is just adorable and i love the last picture.

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertwain12

Thanks for the Jobe photo! Positive vibes sent to your son.

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

They are the Mt. Edgecumbe Braves not the Wolves just to clarify.

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGrace

I'm pleased that Lance Mackey won the Iditarod. Amazing thing is that I've never 'rooted' for the Iditarod before, but Lance's story was so inspiring, that I found that I was interested after all.

My sympathies to Rex, and a reminder that like all pain, this one will eventually end.

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdebby

thanks for the update about the iditerod. fascinating! i wiki'd lance to learn about his fascinating history includg victory over throat cancer and need to have finger amputated due to severe pain. what fortitude! when i scrolled down and saw the pic of jobe i laffed out loud! he's so adorable. yes, divorce is sad but your column ended happily w/that magnificent mountain in your rearview.

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterruth z deming

Thanks for the picture of Jobe. Here's wishing serenity and peace for Rex and a new beginning. The loss of a dream is difficult, but life changes and there can be wonderful things ahead for him too. Blessings on your family.

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGrandma Nancy

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