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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On the final, blustery, warm, snowy day of fall, I drive around, decide to archive this blog and start a new one.

For some damn reason, even though I went to bed at 2:15 AM feeling very sleepy, I could not fall asleep until after 5:00 - then I woke up for good just after 7:00 AM. Margie is in town baby-sitting the boys, and I just did not feel like cooking oatmeal and eating it here with the cats.

I didn't feel like I wanted anything big like ham and eggs, so I worked at my computer for a couple of hours, then grabbed a banana and headed to Metro Cafe somewhere between 9:30 and ten.

It had snowed three or four inches overnight but had now stopped. This snowplow came blasting along, flinging snow.

I took a picture of Carmen with a customer, then quickly forgot his name.

Before I proceed further, I had said here and there that today I would finally start my New York David Alan Harvey Loft Workshop series today.

If anyone came here looking specifically for that, I apologize, but I have a very good reason - as I will very soon make clear.

A lady coming through the drive-through handed a dollar bill and a nickel through the window to Nicole. 

Long time readers of this blog know that sometimes I get very frustrated with this blog format. The vertical pictures appear at a good enough size, but the horizontals are just too small - especially when viewed on high resolutions screens like Macintosh.

I could change the dimensions of this blog to allow future posts to have wider picture windows, but the photos already posted would remain just as they are and so the posts containing would look very strange.

I know. I did a test and it looked very strange.

In the afternoon, I could no longer take being in the house and so I got in the car and went, curious to see where I might wind up.

I stopped at a stop light and was very surprised to see that I had wound up alongside an angel. I always knew angels had halos and wings, but I thought they wore white robes and gowns.

Guess I was wrong.

It's a good thing Mom has gone off to dwell with the angels, because if she were still here, this one would have upset her.

Of course, if there are angels flying around naked up there, then she can't be happy in Heaven at all.

Anyway, back to this blog:

I have decided just to archive it and start a new one. It will have a wide column and the horizontal pictures will be bigger. I would have done this long ago, but I did not want to lose all of the links that have been established all over the place to bring people here.

But this format can't take me to where I want to go.

So I am going to bite the bullet, start anew, take my link losses and then hope I can not only quickly rebuild to where I am right now but quickly surpass it.

Wasilla Lake, by the way, with a low drift of ground snow blowing across the ice.

After I drove onto this parking lot, I could not resist the temptation to spin a 360 degree brodie.

But I failed to make it all the way around. That's because I was a driving a Ford Escape, they are so well built when it comes to recovering from slips and spins that to put one into a 360 degree spin is almost impossible.

Well, if there were no snow on the lake and I could drive onto it, build up some speed and then put it into a spin, I am sure I could do the 360 spin - a few of them, maybe.

But I couldn't build up that kind of speed in a parking lot.

It wouldn't have been safe.

I left the parking lot and drove by Wasilla Lake again. I saw two ghost moose, or perhaps angel moose, floating through the drift of snow.

And just beyond the moose was the Nativity scene that rises on the shore of Wasilla Lake every Christmas season. The baby Jesus in a manger in a tiny trailer on the edge of Wasilla Lake.

And almost directly across the highway and the railroad tracks from the manger - condos.

Snow blowing off the lake.

Margie and I ate here once, many months ago, but less than a year, I think. It was superb. Perhaps the best sushi I've ever had.

And there was a very nice aquarium inside, with happy looking freshwater parrot fish swimming about in it, observing I ate my sushi.

I have almost quit eating fast food since I first got struck by shingles. Ditto to Pepsi's and soda pop. This is because when the shingles first struck, before the rash appeared and the doctor told me, I did not know I had shingles.

I thought maybe I was dying. No joke. That's how bad the pain was. I thought maybe I was dying and it was because I was pushing myself too hard, eating too much junk food, drinking too much Pepsi.

So, even though that was not the case, the scare was so bad that I pretty much just quit. And I haven't even wanted any. I didn't even want any today, but I wanted to get something to eat and I did not want to get out of the car.

It is pretty hard to find healthy eating places with drive throughs.

Still, I figure as fast food goes, Taco Bell is about as healthy as it gets - especially when one orders off the low-fat, low-sodium, fresca meals, which I did.

First time.

It was good, too.

Real good.

I drank less than half the Pepsi.

Ironically, given all the times Melanie has scolded me for eating at Taco Bell, this young lady is also Melanie. Today, Melanie did not scold me for buying my food at Taco Bell Melanie handed me my order with a smile.

But my Melanie is right.

I can't do this very often any more.

I hadn't had a Pepsi in weeks.

It sure tasted good.

Yet I drank less than half.

And later, when I got home, I ate only two of the Alaska Wildberry Christmas chocolates.

In the past, I would have eaten four.

Maybe six.

Yep, I was in Wasilla all right.

I have no gold to sell. If I did, I would not want to sell it. I would want to keep it, to feel the weight in my pocket and hear it jangle as I walked.

I would keep a six-shooter strapped to my side, just in case anybody tried to rob me.

I wanted to see an airplane, so I drove close to Lucille Lake.

Sure enough, there was an airplane.

We are just about out of firewood. I ordered some from Jim about six weeks ago but he fell ill. I stopped at his place on the way home. He is feeling better. Our two cords should be here soon.

We have already burned three cords - most of it in November.

As you can see, December been ridiculously warm - it's those Pacific winds. And when it gets warm here, the cold air that should be here has to go somewhere.

So it goes south, this time to Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and nearby states.

As I pulled up to the house, I saw my neighbor, Joe, clearing last night's snowfall from his driveway.

We don't have a snowblower, but we do have Caleb.

Oh - I almost forgot. I plan to introduce my new blog January 1. Then, on January 2, I will launch the New York series. I went to that workshop, hoping, in some ways, to begin anew.

So January 2 will be a good time to start this series. New year, new beginnings.

I just looked outside. It is snowing like crazy right now.

I just talked to Margie on the phone. In Anchorage, where she is at, it is not snowing at all.

Normally, they get at least three times the snow we get.

So one never knows.

Once this snow stops, I hope it gets cold again and stays cold.

Until April.


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Reader Comments (7)

no snow here either, a lot of Canada will have a green Christmas, very disappointing, but it will be better for all that are travelling. Can't wait to see your new blog

December 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commentertwain12

Horizontal or vertical, your pictures will be wonderful Bill!!! Horizontal may be better with 3 little boys in the picture now and a Thomas the Tank train with two bridges. Will be easier to see who wipes out the bridges in CinemaScope!!! You will be able to get more of the real trains on the track too! The whole dog! The whole fish tank! The whole school bus! A nice time to ring in the new year. Merry Christmas to all the Hesses and may you both have a healthier year! I have to admit, I have never seen a naked angel either. I think I go along with your mother, I'm closer to her generation, or at least an older generation and we never had naked angels but that was before digital cameras and the internet access. It was a good thing.

December 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Gunka

I love your blog and I reached it originally from Mudflats. Do remember to update your address so people can find you! I wish you and your family an excellent holiday and a fine 2012.

December 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNaomi in California

Hah! We got your snow here in New Mexico. We've had, in the past four weeks, a 13-inch snow, an 11-inch snow, and a 6-inch snow. Plus lots of cold. But! The cold disappears right away, as does (mostly) the snow. Anyway, if you could do me a favor, you'd keep the cold riight up there in Alaska, where it belongs!

Looking forward to the new blog/format.

December 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOmegaMom

No matter where you have your blog Bill I will follow, as I am sure all your other readers will also.

I recently bought a Ford Escape and you are right, its hard to get them spinning....trust me, I gave it a try last night in the parking lot of the school I work at :0)

We dont have a snowblower either. I've always enjoyed shoveling the driveway myself but lately the arthritis in my back prevents me from lifting the wet snow we've gotten. Thats when I call in the big guns....my 3 teenagers :)

Merry Christmas to you and your family Bill!

December 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisaJ

I have decided to change my blog format January First so I guess it's catching. I got a huge response to my five a day format and I'm b rining in a smart friend of mine who is going to share the format with me as we try to create a magazine page about Key West. Of course I wish you all the best in the New Year from sunny Key West where 80 b y day and 70 b y night with a light breeze is a perfect winter day. Enjoy the frozen lakes...Erk.

December 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterconchscooter

Bill, I know you are a big fan of cats, so, when I saw this video, I thought of you immediately.

Cat Soothes Crying Baby (Baby Whisperer)

December 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMirage

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