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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Deprived of sleep, I dream of women and Mormons; ham and eggs, toast and coffee

Thirty-one hours and 53 minutes after I got up, I went back to bed and took my iPhone with me. I had gotten everything done that I needed to in that time.

Couldn't go to sleep, though. Damn. It's like my body forgot how to sleep.

Sure do want to sleep. Sooner or later.

I think of all the sleep I have missed these past few months.

How can a person do this again and again and again?

Hell. I've been doing it for 35 years.

I gave up a bit after 3:00 PM, went out and laid down on the couch. Margie had the TV on, alternating between news channels - MSNBC, CNN, Fox.

I laid there for four hours, slipping in and out of strange dreams as pundits pundited and people vying to lead this nation demonstrated why our government has been stalled into nonsense, stupidity and ineptitude, why people are staging more and more occupations, and caused me to fear for the future of this nation that I once thought was better than this.

Then I got up, ate some mac and cheese and I'm still up. Been coming in and out of my office. Keep sitting down at my computer, trying to get some work done, but nothing happens. I go out and sit on the couch with Margie who has been watching various tv shows, all of which involve murder, mystery, crime solving and beautiful, mysterious women who make you want them but of course you cannot have them.

I watch a few minutes, get bored, then come back in here and fail to accomplish anything.

But I can always place a picture or two from the day on this blog, write a few words of nonsense.

So that is what I have just done.

I think I will go to bed now. See if I can get some sleep. 

Don't feel like I will be able to. Maybe if I lie there long enough, I will.

It is 10:47 PM now. I would tell you how long it has been since I first got up yesterday morning, but I can't do the math anymore.

I already put up a post today, so I will wait and post this tomorrow, see what happens overnight.

Overnight. I laid in bed, feeling like I would never sleep. Outside, the wind howled and tore. Jim settled down on my shoulder. He felt warm, comfy, but still I lay awake. Another cat settled at my ankles - I wasn't sure which one. Margie said she would come to bed at midnight but I was never aware of her doing so, so I guess I did go to sleep.

I awoke at just about 3:30 AM. I had imagined that I would get up about six when Mat-Su Family Restaurant opens and go there and order breakfast, but that was two-and-half hours away. So I stayed put, hoping I might go back to sleep. And I did - the in and out kind of sleep, punctuated by vivid dreams - and there were beautiful women in all of them.

Between punctuations, I would wake and check the time... 3:42.... 3:59... 4:12... 4:37...

Then I awoke and it was 5:54. If I could pop right up and head to Family Restaurant, I would be virtually assured of getting my favorite table... the one wedged in the corner between the window and the wall that separates the main dining area from the large, over-flow, one behind. The table where I can sit with my back to the wall so no one can shoot me in the back, the table from where I can sit and observe all the people that go in and out, from where I can watch their reflections play upon the night-blackened window and if the train passes by, that is a good seat from which to watch it.

But I didn't pop up. I dozed back off, fell back into a dream. Once again, there was a beautiful woman.

She wore a white blouse and a black skirt, which stopped at the top of her knees and her legs looked pretty good. Her hair was long, thick and black. She appeared to be about 25. She had come to the train station, which was in Iowa, to pick me up - along with the platoon of other brand, new, Mormon missionaries who had come in on the train with me. 

What the hell was I doing there? I had done this once before, decades ago, and once was enough. But, lacking the necessary conviction, I had none-the-less committed and so had to follow through.

The woman led us to a car and we got in. She was a new convert to the Mormon church and expressed firm and total faith and dedication to her new creed. She looked at me skeptically. Perhaps it was because of my age. All the other new missionaries were, like... 19, 20... perhaps it was because she sensed that I felt lust toward her, even though I knew that lust to be futile, just as it is 99.999999... percent of the time.

This is true all the time for all men, straight or gay - even those who deny it - be they monagamous or promiscuous. It doesn't matter. The Creator built this desire into men and it is always there and then we are told that God will condem us for it, even those who hold it only in their heart and remain faithful to one partner.

The beautiful woman drove us across farmland, freshly plowed. There were no mountains to be seen, there was no wilderness, the whole country was fenced and farmed and I did not want to be there. I thought about Margie, my children, my grandchildren - baby Lynxton. I would not see them for two years.

What the hell had ever gotten into me that I had agreed to do this?

Except to attend to funerals of loved ones, I hadn't been in a Mormon church in 30 years and now I was committed to a two-year mission?

The beautiful woman drove us to a church in the middle of a field. It was brick, with a tall steeple, no cross on top. She led us inside. Many people were gathered there, all Mormons, Iowa Mormons, but it looked just like Utah. The men all wore white shirts and ties, all had short, neat, hair and all were engaged in serious and earnest discussions.

I awoke again. It was 6:52.

Then a very curious thing happened. Jim, who was now lying beside me, suddenly rose into a sitting position, leaned back onto his haunches, lifted his paws into the air in front of him and sat up very straight, so that in profile he reminded me of a kangaroo. He had an intense glint in his eyes, the earnestness of which was magnified in his stiff, but spring-laden, posture. He stared intently at the south window - the same window that you see in the top frame, but now it was black beyond, because it is the darkening time of year.

Then I noticed the other two cats, Pistol-Yero and Chicago, also sitting up in very alert positions on the bed, intently staring at whatever Jim was staring at. I listened carefully, to see if I might hear a moose, or a vandal, but all I could hear was the wind and it was howling, tearing, destroying the very light snow cover that we had.

Then, in unison, all three cats began to slowly rotate their heads to the left, as though they were watching something move around the bed and into the wall. I listened as intently as I could, but, other than the wind, detected nothing. Soon, they were all looking toward the east window, the east wall.

I was fully awake now. I auto-started the car, waited until the cats settled back down and then got up. I dressed and then went out and got into the car, which was still warming up. The wind had indeed destroyed the snow cover. The ground was pretty much bare. The temperature was a warm 28 (about -2 C) and the lady on the radio said the winds were hitting 65 in some places. She said it would cool off toward evening and we could expect temperatures of about 10 (-12 C).

Still, in years past, it had not been uncommon to send the kids trick-or- treating in sub zero (sub -18 C) weather and Wasilla's lakes remain unfrozen, whereas, until recent years, they would generally freeze up in mid-October.

I drove to Family Restaurant. My corner table was waiting for me. I sat down and ordered, feeling very glad that I was here and not in Iowa, where I have never been. The ham was good, the eggs were good and so were the hash browns - not as good as Abby's, but Abby doesn't open until nine. I had Connie hold my mult-grain toast for desert, then lightly coated it with strawberry jam and washed it down with my third coffee refill.

Now, another big task awaits me and once I post this, I will get to it. I must complete it before I go to bed again. No matter how long it takes, I cannot stop until it is done. It could also take 30 hours, but I don't think so. I think I can complete it in 20.

Twenty hours. Not bad. Not bad at all.

It's going to be a good day.


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Reader Comments (3)

Oh Bill, how I know the feeling of sleeplessness!

I work night shift, so my world is backward from everyone else's. To participate in stuff during the day I cheat myself out of sleep, and when I pull the same thing you do - like not sleeping for 30+hrs.- I end up in the same state; exhausted but unable to sleep. Dozing in and out of some kind of dream world that is somewhere between awake and dreams.

In fact, I had the night off work last night, and could not sleep; as I'm usually awake during those hours. So, about 3:45am. after tossing and turning for the better part of 2 hours I relented, came out to my computer and read your blog. I was not alone in my relentless quest for sleep! Good luck with the project your working on...hope you get it done with time to spare - for sleep:)

November 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChrissyinPA

What did those cats see, I wonder. Great dream story. Maybe your dream was to let us know Mitt Romney is toast! ;)

November 3, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermocha

Good choice.

November 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdebby

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