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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Cross Island: Young hunters play in the wind; Nanuq family rides in with the ice, takes a stroll down the beach

For days, all the hunters on Cross Island, young and old, male and two females, have been working hard to cut up and prepare the whales. Now it is time for a break. The older hunters retreat to their cabins to get out of the cold wind, to eat, drink coffee, visit and relax.

But the young hunters - their energy is boundless. They eat quickly, then run out to play with the wind. They climb upon a roof, scramble across it and, with the wind at their backs, leap off.

The wind howls in excess of 30 knots. It is the kind of wind that cuts through clothing, skin, fat, blood and meat to chill the bones. 

The young hunters don't care.

To them, the wind is fun. It transforms their coats into sails and pushes them about.

Young hunters, at play with the wind.

For a moment, I worry that the wind will lift him right off the island, hurl him out over the Beaufort Sea and drop him down amongst the icebergs, or perhaps carry him over the top of the North Pole and all the way to Russia.

Won't the Russians be surprised to see a boy from Cross Island drop into their country?

"How did he elude our fighter jets?" Putin will rear his head and grill his military advisers.

It didn't happen that way, though. All the young hunters had fun, but stayed on the ground.

Even as the boys played with the wind, this nanuq family rode in with the ice, then stepped onto the beach and took a stroll.


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Reader Comments (5)

Hi Bill,

you managed to capture some great fun there. I used to do the same with my then boyfriend in Iceland a couple of years ago, but thankfully the wind was not that icy. Unfortunately with a wind like this it gets quite difficult to sit down on the beach without becoming a sand dune yourself.

Loved the nanuq family ... Amazing that they did not mind you being so close, I thought they would be much more cautious.

One day, Bill, one day I will come to visit!

Big hug,

September 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLassal

ahhh, to be young again...i'm hoping for a lot of ice this year, for the nanuq family and the walruses

September 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertwain12

I love the faces of those exuberant boys, and I love the polar bear family taking a stroll. You fave a wonderful world up there. Thanks for the look into it.

September 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdebby

Lassal - thanks! As to the Nanuqs and their interaction with humans, stay tuned.

Me too, Twain. Me too. There is a lot of ice in the Beaufort over Eastern Alaska right now, but not much in the western Beaufort and Chukchi.

Debby. Thanks. Yes, this place is marvelous. It can be awfully tough at times, but that's part of what makes it so wonderful.

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

Bill, I thank you for your further coverage of Cross Island. I've been out three times in three summers while working on Crowley tugs from Prudhoe and have been facinated by the island, the villagers I've met from there and the visually stunning row of Bowhead whale skulls. I ordered your book "Gift of the Whale" a couple of summers ago and had it up here, sharing it with the other boat crews and going over it with the villagers from Nuiqsut who were sailing with us that summer as Marine Mammal Observers, learning a lot from them and hearing many stories. I remember writing you that I would love to see and to have photos of the island from the air, especially showing the row of skulls, and I hope that you have the opportunity to post something along that line some day. I managed to get some really great photos of the baleen in two of the seasons up here and will send you some of those. Keep up the great work.

July 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterR. Whitehurst

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