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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We nearly got blown off the road but finally the sky began to clear; bareness revisited

I took my walk at 3:00 PM and was delighted to see that the sky was finally beginning to clear. Good. Maybe it will get cold again. Around here, in winter time, clear skies mean cold weather and overcast warm. November was a good month - clear and cold most of the time.

But December horrible - we got blasted by a train of storms that orginated in the South Pacific and then got nasty when they reached Alaska and smacked into the cold air coming down from the Arctic. That's what this place is - a battleground between cold air coming down from the Arctic and warm air coming up from the Pacific.

In the summer, just the opposite. Then the cold air comes off the Pacific and the warm from the north, heated by the sun that shines all day to generate temperatures that can climb into the mid and upper 90's and, at Fort Yukon, where winter can go to -78, even to 101 degrees.

Over the weekend, as had happened the week before - the warm air got the better of the cold, but the conflict between the two set off some helacious winds, exceeding 100 miles per hour in some places and even over 110.

I did not mention it in last night's post, but on the drive in to Lisa's birthday party, our Ford Escape nearly got blown off the road several times. As we crossed the Palmer Hay Flats, we had a 90 degree crosswind and the Flats is one of the windiest places around.

The temperature climbed above 40 degrees and the snow turned to rain -- rain that blew so viciously that even as we were buffeted practically off the highway, we were sometimes blinded, too.

It was a scary ride.

In some nearby places, the snow never did turn to rain, it just turned to wet snow, driven by hurricane force winds - a hellacious blizzard of wet, driving, snow.

And even if the temperature was warm, no one caught in it would ever have known it.

Oddly enough, when we drove home a few hours later, the wind had dropped to perfectly still.

The temperature dropped a bit, the rain turned back to snow and today, after the sun went down, I saw clear sky - as you can see here.

So maybe it will get cold again. I hope so. I have not looked at any forecasts. Sometimes, if it is not in my vital interest to check the forecast, I prefer just to watch the weather develop as it will, and to observe and speculate what it will do next based on what I see.

Now I speculate that it is going to chill down.

But I also fear that another storm born in the South Pacific might already be headed this way.

I hope not.

I want it to be cold. Ten below, 20 below, 30 - even 40 below would be okay with me.

I might freeze, but still I would be okay with it.

Margie wouldn't, though. 

She would be talking every day about how we should go back home to Arizona.

See, to Margie (and Lavina, too), "home" will always be Arizona.

Me, I love Arizona and especially Margie's White Mountains and wish we had the means to spend more time there.

But "home" is Alaska.

Only Alaska can ever be home to me.

This has been true all my life, even before I knew it - and I knew it when I was boy, as soon as I figured out there was an Alaska.

I was born into exile, you see - an Alaskan, born in Ogden, Utah.

But finally I made it home.

And dragged my poor wife from her home.

Of course, I have said all of above before and some of you might now be yawning, but maybe some others of you missed it.

I took my coffee break immediately after my walk - at 4:00 PM, when I headed to Metro Cafe. Coming home, I reshot the scene that appeared on this blog on December 9 - just four days ago. See what a difference a little bit of new snow makes?


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Reader Comments (2)

gorgee -oso photos and for godssakes don't get blown away. we need you!

December 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRuth Deming

I'll try not to, Ruth.

December 15, 2011 | Registered CommenterWasilla, Alaska, by 300

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