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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Breakfast, coffee break; Melanie comes out and we decorate the tree


Now, today:

In the morning, I got up and drove to Abby's Home Cooking. Abby had been at the wedding last night with her family, including daughter Emily who was a member of the bridal party.

So I decided I would go and let her fix breakfast for me.

I passed this cyclist along the way.

As you can see, another horrid mass of warm air has moved in from the Pacific - just like I speculated it would when I was trying to read the signs and predict the weather.


I hate this warm weather in December.

Funny, if any place else in the country, including the coldest states of the northern tier, had experienced the degree of consistent cold that we did in November, the religious among them would have said it was a sign that end was coming soon.

Hmmmm... perhaps all this warm weather in December here in South Central Alaska means... the end is coming soon?

There she is - Abby - cooking away behind the counter. This morning was the busiest I have ever seen it at Abby's. Every table but one was filled and there was action at the counter, too.

Shelly was not there to help her, because Shelly had run the restaurant all by herself all yesterday so that Abby could go to the wedding.

Abby's husband Andy was there, helping her.

Still, Abby was waitressing, cooking and busing.

If business keeps building up like this, she is going to have to hire more help.

As always at Abby's, I enjoyed my breakfast.

I guess I didn't totally work through the afternoon. Margie took the car and went shopping, so, having little rituals that I follow to keep me sane, when the time came, I walked to Metro Cafe for my coffee break. As I walked, this airplane flew by to both inspire and taunt me.

If it had been me up there, I would have had skis on by now.

I surely would have.

I'm not criticising, mind you.

This pilot might have a perfectly good reason to have kept this plane on wheels.

I can't think of a good reason, but the pilot might have thought of one.

Still, I would have rejected such a thought.

One of Carmen's guests had brought his 1974 yearbook to Metro. I would tell you his name, but I am going to let you see if you can figure it out for yourself.

If you can't, then I am sorry to say it, but your own education was a waste.

I don't care if you are a historian now, getting paid millions of dollars by government agencies and $60,000 a speech - if you can't figure this out...

Now, don't anybody post your answers in comments.

If you were wrong, I would hate to have to inform you.

In the evening, Melanie came over. We ate dinner, then we ate Alaska Wildberry chocolates. After that, we decorated the tree - or least Melanie and Margie did, after they went out into the yard while I was working on the wedding and cut it down.

For a long time, Margie had what she called "a Charlie Brown tree" all picked out.

They didn't cut it, though, because Melanie found another, even better, Charlie Brown tree.

Now, I have a very serious question to ask you:

Do you see any chocolate on the left side of Melanie's face?

Do you see any chocolate on the right side of Melanie's face?

Neither do I.

This is important, because a bit after I took these pictures, Melanie saw the image of herself in a mirror. She claims that chocolate was spread all across her face. She says she then washed that chocolate off.

She then began to scold me, telling me not to dare put a picture of her with chocolate on her face in the blog.

You didn't have chocolate on your face, I told her.

Yes I did, she insisted, and don't use any pictures showing chocolate on my face. Delete them. Delete them all.

I never delete a picture, I told her.

It didn't matter. There was no chocolate.

Margie hangs a Christmas tree ornament.

Melanie hangs a birch bark canoe ornament on a high branch. "We should get a star for the top," Margie said.

"Okay," I agreed.

This conversation has taken place now for, oh, I don't know... 25 years now? 30.

We really should, though.

Or an angel.

Or a cat, holding a song book, singing Christmas carols.

It could have a chip in it and really sing.

Last came the tinsel.

When it was done, I noticed they hadn't put the airplane oraments on the tree.

"Why didn't you put the airplanes on the tree?" I asked, reasonably.

"You have to do it," Melanie said.

"No," I said. "You could have done it."

"No. You always scold me. 'Don't put the airplanes on the tree,' you always say, 'only I can do that.'"

"No," I countered, truth on my side but to no avail, "I never say that."

Yet, it was clear that if the airplanes were going to get on the tree, I would have to do it.

So I did.

There were only two of them.

What happened to the rest?

I had enough airplane ornaments to decorate a whole tree all by themselves.

Not that I would ever do that.

But I had enough.

Where did they go?

Probably flew away, I guess.

Finally, the tree was done. The three of us stood before it and altogether we sang, "Oh Christmas Tree."

Or at least I did. All by myself.

Or at least I sang this much of it, in a non-existant key of my own invention:

"Oh, Christmas tree, oh, Christmas tree! How lovely are thy branches!"

"Dad," Melanie challenged, "are those the real lyrics? Or did you make them up?"


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Reader Comments (7)

Lovely narrative both in pictures and in words!

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Montague

Traditions are grand things, aren't they? Just the fact that you know the tree topper debate word for word warms my heart. Now get busy and hang the airplane ornaments like you always do.

In our house, there is no debate left. I decorated alone this year. It was much easier when I had a houseful of kids to do it for me help me.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdebby

what a lovely tree

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commentertwain12

Bill I miss the cold, hate this melt. I feel trapped by the slippery streets. I guess the shortest days are the best to be hunkered in though. ;)

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCyndy E

One of your best posts. Love it all, especially the tree decorating. You have a beautiful, blessed life and I thank you for sharing it with us. Happy a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMikey

"Margie hangs a Christmas tree ornament." What a beautiful picture! Merry Christmas to you and your family. Thank you for the joy your blog brings.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Johnson

That was beautiful! Charlie Brown would be so happy. Loved Margie hanging the ornament. The quiet angel! Thank you. We have a tree and lights, but no ornaments. The cats keep looking for a birdie in the tree and would break all the ornaments. They haven't found any birds yet, but they keep looking. It looks OK driving by at night.

December 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Gunka

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