A blog by Bill Hess

Running Dog Publications

P.O. Box 872383 Wasilla, Alaska 99687


All photos and text © Bill Hess, unless otherwise noted 
All support is appreciated
Bill Hess's other sites

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.

Blog archive
Blog arhive - page view
« Three iPhone studies of Lisa drinking an iced-Americano at Kaladi Bros; tomorrow, I begin a trip into the near past | Main | A dog gets fed, I freeze in mild weather, a traffic ticket gets issued »

Sub-zero walk at dusk

I read that cats sleep up to 16 hours a day - a little piece here, a big piece there, a chunk here. I fear that in some ways I have become kind of like a cat lately - except that I know for a fact that when cats sleep, they sleep good, even though they are ready to wake up and spring into action in a fraction of a second.

Today, I got up a little after 2:00 PM - just in time for me to cook and eat my oatmeal, catch just a bit of news and web updates, put on some thermal underway, two pairs of socks, three sweatshirts, a light but good jacket, an ear band and a baseball cap and then head out onto my walk, only to discover that the sun had already set.

Judging both by the degree that my nostrils stuck together when I enhaled and the amount of frost that built up in my mustache and beard when I exhaled, I estimated the temperature to be close to -10 F (-23 C).

I was dressed plenty warm enough for such weather, but, as I have noted before, these shingles which I no longer want to write about seem to have greatly cut down my resistance to cold. So I walked and froze, stopping every now and then to snap a frame and when I stopped, I froze even more.

Some might think that under the circumstance, I would be justified in foregoing the walk. No. I must walk. And pretty soon I am going to get some studded tires for my bicycle and then I will start biking again, too.

I wanted to get the studded tires today, but I got up too late.

And pretty soon, I am also going force myself back into a better sleep pattern. As it stands, I have been going to bed about 2:00 AM and then getting up at anywhere from 10 or 11, or, today, after 2:00 PM. 

I do a few things and then pretty soon lie down upon the couch, the woodstove burning hot just beyond my feet and doze in and out of the kind of dream world I have described before. Always, I am joined by at least two cats and sometimes three. They want to snuggle up right on my shingles, but I do not let them, so they wind up on my legs or lower tummy, where they add their own warmth to that of the fire. While the dreams can get bizarre and the pain never goes away, these couch naps are in some ways the and most pleasant part of my day.

In this picture, I have just completed my walk and am back at the house. This is the smoke coming from the woodstove that makes my naps so toasty and nice.

I justify these long hours of sleep and rest by telling myself that I need them and that is why my body is forcing me to do it. But I have lots to do and I must get back to it.

After I finished my walk, I did not want to bring my frozen camera into the house, so I put it in the car, started the car, went inside while the car warmed up then came back out and drove off for coffee. The temperature out here was, indeed, - 10.

Metro Cafe was still closed for the holiday weekend, but some kind of group must have rented it for a party of somekind. I snapped this shot from the car as I drove past. I continued on to Kaladi bros, where the temperature was a warm - 2 F, bought a 12 oz Americano black, then brought it home, gave half of it to Margie and used the other half to wash down a left-over piece of the pumpkin chiffon pie she had made for Thanksgiving.

Pumpkin chiffon must have been invented by the angels. It was a heavenly experience, shingles be damned!


View images as slides


PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (1)

eerily beautiful photos, bill. also loved the study of lisa and the two red straws. looking f/w to seeing who the famous american is. i can't even guess!

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRuth Deming

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>