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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I stepped out of the house twice today and these are the people that I saw

Determined to get myself on a schedule that is more in sync with the world around me, at 3:30 in the morning I set my iPhone alarm for 10:00 AM, right about sunrise. I had not engaged in my favorite morning activity for quite some time - going out for breakfast. I told Margie that if I made it up before 11:00, I would go to breakfast at Abby's and invited her to come with me.

I didn't sleep very good and I don't think I will until these shingles leave me. I believe they are on the retreat, the scabs are gone and the color is fading, but even so they are pretty damn tenacious. When the alarm went off, I could hardly move. So I tapped "snooze." Pretty soon it went off again, so I tapped "snooze" again.

I did this about three times and then finally got up at about 10:20.

Margie had already eaten, so I went to Abby's Home Cooking by myself.

Tim Mahoney was there, drinking his coffee from a cowboy cup. That's bowhead balleen from Barrow on the wall, brought back by another Mahoney brother who had been working on a construction project.

This is baby Luke. Just like baby Lynx, he was born small - five pounds, eight ounces. He went down to five pounds before he started gaining weight but now he is growing and looks fit and happy.

The eggs, ham, hashbrowns, homemade wheat bread toast cut thick and topped with butter and raspberry jam were excellent.

Abby said she had been worried about me and Margie because she had not seen us for a long time. She looked at this blog to reassure herself but still was worried. So she wouldn't let me pay for breakfast, because she was that relieved to see me.

I left a big tip.

A little after 4:00 PM, I headed out into the dark and ventured off to Metro Cafe. I have not shot any Young Writer studies for quite awhile, but here is one:

Shoshana the Young Writer, Study #2228: Shoshana about to prepare my Americano.

And one more:

Shoshana the Young Writer, Study #4: Shoshana stirs cream and raw sugar into my Americano.

And that pretty much sums up the people I saw during my two adventures outside the house today.


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Reader Comments (4)

Now, your friend Tim has a Leaning Tree mug, and I want to know what it says. Because I am nosy, and I get a kick out of Leaning Tree stuff.

December 3, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdebby

Bill, check this out!!
Garrison Keillor says he's reevaluating retirement

Garrison Keillor says he's reconsidering thoughts about retirement.

The host of public radio's "A Prairie Home Companion" told the Sioux City Journal this week that he thought about quitting the show, but it panicked him and led to him "rethinking the whole brilliant idea."

He said the show is going well and he loves doing it, so why quit.

In March, Keillor had said in an interview for the AARP Bulletin that he planned to retire in the spring of 2013, but would have to find his replacement first.

Keillor's spokesman, David O'Neill, confirmed the report to the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, saying Keillor doesn't have any specific plans to retire and is still enjoying doing the show..

December 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMirage

interesting comment by mirage above. bill, when i had my terrible sciatica, i knew the meaning of pain, as you do right now. getting out of bed was the worst. simply agony. you're right that it's getting better every day, but still. loved the cowboy in the top photo, tim mahoney. your studies of shoshona are fantastic. i can see her in a david lynch movie.

December 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRuth Deming

Debby, sorry I did not think to photograph the words. And I didn't even know it was a Leaning Tree cup. All I knew was that it had the face of a cowboy on it and was in the hands of a cowboy. There are not many real cowboys in Alaska but Tim Mahoney is one.

Mirage - Some day, I suppose, he will have to retire, but I hope not for year's to come.

Ruth - Thank you. Someday, I am going to combine my Young Writer Shoshana studies into one package. I think it will be pretty neat.

December 5, 2011 | Registered CommenterWasilla, Alaska, by 300

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