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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Bob kisses Nola, Santa rides a bike, Seymour launches a project, Kalib takes the train to Saigon, and other winter solstice stories

On this winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, about 5 hours and 20 minutes in Wasilla, I slept very late - until 12:15 PM - but only because I didn't sleep much during the night. I needed to go Anchorage, so, along the way, I stopped at Metro Cafe and ordered a breakfast sandwich.

Nola and Bob were at the inside window. Carmen told me it was their third wedding anniversary.

They then gave each other a kiss.

In case you don't know it, Bob is a misplaced surfer from California and Hawaii, yet a real Alaskan, too. He is also a recovering alcoholic. Sometimes, when I go inside and he shows up, we talk about it.

He has told me he will be willing to share some of those stories here.

So one day we will - but not here... on the new blog that I plan to launch January 1.

The Talkeetnas, in my rearview mirror, on the shortest day of the year. Still, compared to Barrow, which is just half-way through a two-and-a-half month but often very beautiful night, our 5:20 hours or so of daylight is long.

How can a two-and-a-half month night be beautiful, you ask? The moon. Sometimes the moon will stay above the horizon all day long. It will cruise low over the broken ice offshore, seemingly magnified in size. Gorgeous.

And the Northern Lights. They are not out every night, but when they are... electrifying.

Upon entering Anchorage, I saw Santa. He had fallen on hard times and had traded in his reindeer. And this picture is a perfect example of why I am going to archive this blog and start a new one. This is a crop. The full frame picture is much better, but it just doesn't work at this size.

I actually do this fairly often. Crop photos that I don't want to crop, just because the full photo doesn't work on in this little blog.

This is Claudia and Seymour Tuzroyluk of Point Hope. Seymour is 87 now and Point Hope winters have become very hard on him, so he and Claudia winter in Anchorage. Seymour is working on a little project and asked my help.

"You're just like an Iñupiaq," Claudia told me, in explaining why he chose me to seek help from.

In truth, I know that only an Iñupiaq can ever be just like an Iñupiaq, but her words made me feel real good.

Seymour's project is extremely interesting. I hope he makes a success of it. I will do all I can to help him.

I have been without my wife since Sunday, but Lavina is off work Thursday and Friday, so I drove over to pick her up.

I again found Kalib playing with Thomas the Train.

He stood the little man on the tracks and then started running the train right at him.

Oh, no! The little man got smacked by the train!

"Sorry," Kalib said to the little man. "I'm sorry." Then he picked him up, stood him back on the track and had the train smack him down again - at least three more times, maybe four.

Then Jobe came along and again started to tear the railroad apart. In case you are wondering who he is looking at, it is Kalib.

I kind of think he was trying to tease Kalib a bit.

Last time, Margie and I took Jobe home with us. This time, we took Kalib. Lavina and Jobe watched us go.

And yes, Jobe, it was you.

I saw you do it.

I won't tell your mom.

But I can't stop her from reading this blog.

All I had eaten the entire day was the breakfast sandwich I bought at Metro. I was very hungry. For some reason, hours earlier I had started to think about Pho Saigon. So we stopped there before leaving Anchorage. Thomas the Train came with us - in triplicate.

Kalib, leaving Pho Saigon.

We will take him back home Friday, do some Christmas shopping and I will go visit Seymour and Claudia.


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Reader Comments (1)

JobeZilla!!!! ROAR!!!

December 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJfh

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