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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He drinks his mother's milk; the cross and the rifle; when the visits end, loneliness sets in

Lavina and Jacob stopped by early Sunday afternoon to drop Jobe off so that they could take Kalib to the State Fair. Poor Kalib! For so long, he got used to being the one and only, the center of attention, for his parents and all of us.

And then along came little Jobe, smaller yet, not only cute and adorable, but one of the most good-natured babies ever born on this earth. Suddenly, Kalib had competition for all that love and attention that had belonged to him only.

Jacob and Lavina could have taken Jobe to the fair, too, and pushed him around in a stroller and it would have been fine, but they decided that on this day, they were going to devote their attention solely to Kalib. On this day, for the several hours between when they left Jobe at our house and then returned again, Kalib would be their one and only.

So here is Jobe, on his grandmother's lap, drinking his mother's milk.

Kalib is nowhere within range of my camera. He is off with his parents, enjoying their attention at the Alaska State Fair.

Doing what was at once right, healthy, and fiscally prudent, I had cooked steel-cut oatmeal in the morning and had eaten it with blueberries.

Yet, all through the day into mid-afternoon I had that Sunday morning, go-out-for breakfast feeling; the kind of feeling that makes you want to sit down in a restaurant and be served ham and eggs, with your cup being refilled by an attentive waitress as quickly as you can drain it.

So, at about 3:00 PM, I said "see you later" to Margie and Jobe, neither of whom wanted to come, drove to Family Restaurant and ordered just such a breakfast.

Afterward, as I drove through the parking lot toward the exit, I spotted this scene.

As I continued on towards home, I spotted this couple. Apparently, the male half lives with the worry that someone will feed him to the bears. He obviously does not want to be fed to the bears.

I came home via Church Road, and found myself behind this vehicle.

This is a crop from the previous image, so that readers can clearly see what the Astro owner wants you to see: a decal of a man with a rifle, kneeling before a cross. There are many ways this could be interpreted and, frankly, I do not know for certain what message the Astro owner is trying to send. 

The decal could represent a soldier, stationed in Afghanistan or Iraq, about to go into combat and so he prays for guidance and protection. It could signify a hunter who desires to feed his family, so he also prays for guidance protection and for help to put food on the table. It could signal the conviction of someone who believes that the barrel of a gun is the way to advance the gospel of He Who commanded those faithful to him: "whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also" and "whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain."

Update, 5:52 PM: I just looked at this again, and was struck by another possibility: it might represent a soldier, kneeling before a monument to his fallen friends.

Sometime after I returned home from my truly wonderful late afternoon breakfast, which also served as my lunch and dinner, Melanie and Charlie arrived at the house. Melanie performed for Jobe's amusement.

Charlie showed me his new, used car, a hybrid Honda Insight that he says gets 56 miles per gallon. My nephew, Thos Swallow down in Salt Lake City, engaged to marry in October, has such a car. Only his is a bright, lime, green. You can see it coming, even in the fog, from ten miles away, on the other side of a mountain.

I like that little car.

Jacob and Lavina reported that Kalib, who appears to be completely restored from the ailment that had him down last week, had a happy time at the fair - so much so that he ran his parents into a state of exhaustion.

I did a self-portrait of Jobe and me. And don't be worried that Jobe might suddenly pitch himself backwards with no support. See that patch of maroon and yellow just over my right shoulder?

That's Jacob, and he has his hand on Jobe's back.

Charlie took a picture of me taking this picture. He posted it on his Facebook page.

Kalib never came into the house, because he also exhausted himself at the fair and so he stayed in the car to sleep. All too soon, his parents and Jobe joined him so that they could go home and prepare for the work week ahead.

Margie joined them, too, as she needs to be in Anchorage to babysit Jobe.

Not long afterward, Melanie and Charlie climbed into Charlie's new car so that they could burn less than one gallon of gas and still get home.

I hated to see my daughter go. And Charlie, too, of course, but a daughter - no one holds the heart of a father quite like a daughter. And my daughters - yes, they own my heart.

Still, she and Charlie had to go.

Once again, I was left alone, me and the cats.

By now, I suspect most readers have deduced that I spend a tremendous amount of time alone. I write alone, I drive alone, I walk alone, I bike alone, I sit in airplanes alone, I dine alone.

I am a person who does good alone, because the people that I have met and countless people who I haven't but know of and many who don't even exist outside my imagination all inhabit my mind and when I am alone, many conversations and actitivities take place there. For every word that I write in a form that others can read, I compose ten thousand in my mind, when I am alone.

So I do good alone.

But somehow, on this night, after Melanie left with Charlie, I slipped into a horrid, hollow, state of painful loneliness. I sat at my computer and did the usual things, but nothing could diminish the ache - perhaps because I know that if things go as I hope, in no more than two or three days I will be on a plane going north and then I will be in a place where wireless does not reach. 

I will have no contact with my family - perhaps for a week, two, three... hard to say. It depends on many factors, not a single one of which I will have any control over. So maybe that's why I felt lonely to such a painful degree

At 2:02 AM, I received an email notification that Thruptha Mp had just sent me a Facebook message. I met her in Bangalore, India, during Soundarya's wedding. I had not heard from Thruptha in quite some time, but she wrote to tell me that she had created a folder labeled "Best of Bill's photography" but was frustrated, because she was having a hard time narrowing the images down.

That message cheered me. I went to bed about an hour later, still lonely, but not near as lonely.

Yet, even now, on this new day of this new week, the loneliness has returned in full. Many lonely hours await me.

But don't feel sorry - if one never experienced loneliness, one could never do what I do. It is an integral part of the process and must be faced.


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Reader Comments (13)

Have a safe trip and good luck with whatever the project is that is calling you

August 30, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermocha.

Great post. Hang in there Bill.

August 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

have a good trip Bill and i hope your loneliness will only be fleeting

August 30, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertwain12

We are here FROSTFROG... We follow your journey...
When you see my post...I am the MASS AUDIENCE

Inspiration through your vision...
Keep us updated !!!

August 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterA civilian-mass audience

Safe travels!

August 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGrandma Nancy

Bill thanks for sharing your feelings of loneliness--i can relate to that, i feel it all of the time. maybe it's a universal feeling.

August 30, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdahli22

That self-portrait of Jobe and you looks so adorable.

August 30, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercawitha

The self portrait of Jobe and you is so adorable.. Safe travels Bill..

August 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAsh


I still wonder who is your other daughter - Melanie and ?? I think I had asked for one family photo once :) I am waiting :) !!

God be with you thru out the journey!


August 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSuji

Hi Bill, I know YOU know Patrick from Gates... i'm just reposting my comment EVERYWHERE this morning.

He has a very important warning for ALL today:

From Patrick at PalinGates, which is out of Germany. These people know exactly what is happening here:

I have witnessed in Germany in 1992/93 how a racist "mass rage" can spin out of control.

This kind of mass rage can easily happen again in other places as well. All you need is an incident, a reason to ignite the flame. There seems to be already a broad base of people in the USA who are heavily prejudiced against Muslims, and we have seen the first "incidents" against Muslims. What would for example happen if a Muslim "hits back" and hurts a "white person?" Wouldn't that give people a reason to "strike" against the Muslims?

That's why Glenn Beck's and Sarah Palin's game is so dangerous: If you whip up the masses, you might as well see some (unwanted?) results.


Best wishes Bill. Love your blog!

August 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterc

Everbody - thanks for the good wishes and safe travels. It now looks like I will be able to secure a ticket to go not tomorrow, but Thursday morning.

Suji - Lisa is my other daughter, and here is the url to posts that she appears in:


She must either accompany me on my next trip to India so that you can meet her like you met Melanie, or you must come here and meet everybody.

As to that family picture - you know, I think the last time that we took one was in May of 2006, at the funeral for our good tabby cat, Clyde. The family has changed significantly since then. We must do a picture and then I will send it.

It won't be for awhile, yet, as I don't know when we will all be together again.

I believe I did send that last one to Sandy, way back when.

c - Sometimes, I cannot believe what I am seeing in this regard - one of those dark movements that sometimes rise up in America and that, in time, everyone is ashamed of.

August 31, 2010 | Registered CommenterWasilla, Alaska, by 300

One more - Dahli - yes, I think you may be right. Even when we love, and are well loved, we do face loneliness.

August 31, 2010 | Registered CommenterWasilla, Alaska, by 300

ooh, beautiful family portraits. i used to carry my 2 kids on my shoulders too. comfy for me and they had a good view. this week's issue of the online new yorker had a photo essay on america by lee friedlander. definitely reminded me of your work - all the shots from the car w/that lovely telltale side mirror. loved the reflexions above in the car window.

September 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterruth z deming

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