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 do some early Christmas shopping - Kalib gets trapped in a tube

I think it cooled down a bit last night. It got quite cool in our bedroom and I did not have enough blankets on to keep me warm. I could have got up and got another, but I was too lazy. When I first got up this morning and stepped outside, there was still clear sky and the air felt quite crisp.

Yet, in what seemed like no more than 15 or 20 minutes, clouds hid the clear sky, the temperature quickly warmed and it began to snow - fairly heavy, too. Margie and I had decided that we would do our Christmas shopping early this year and this was the day to begin, so I strapped Kalib into the car seat and off we went.

The temperature was 10 degrees (-12 C) but would rise to 20 (-6 C) by the time we would return home.

As we headed into "downtown" big-box strip Wasilla, we passed this man as he walked through the storm.

He held his head up high.

I can't be certain, but I'm pretty sure that he is not afraid of the night.

Walk on, man!

On the Parks Highway, we saw Coca Cola, coming down the road. Was this Wasilla Coca Cola, or was it headed to Fairbanks? Or places in between?

Wherever, off it went.

We were all hungry, so we went to McDonald's so Kalib could have some Chicken McNuggets, a tiny portion of french fries, apple slices and get a chipmunk toy. He showed little interest in the chipmunk. He is into Thomas.

Not so long ago, it was a spatula. He really got into that spatula.

Now it is Thomas the Train.

I have no idea what it will be next.

Whatever it is, Kalib always takes it very serious and delves deep.

He wanted to go into the McDonald's playground, climb into the tube and then come down the slide on the other end. Not long after he started, he stopped at a porthole to show off for his grandparents - grandma in particular. Boy, does he love his grandma!

I think its all that time she spends babysitting him.

Then things got tricky. He moved to the end of the tube, where it doubles back to the slide and there he paniced. Kalib froze. He would not move from this spot. "You've got to keep going, to the slide!" his grandma and I told him repeatedly.

"No!" he would shake his head and cry.

It was an exasperating feeling, both from inside the tube and out. Looking in, I even felt a little claustrophic, the way you do when you are not dead but people think you are so they bury and then you wake up in your coffin and no one can hear your shouts, because there is six feet of dirt on top of you.

We, of course, are too big to enter the tube. So I could not go in and coach him out. There were other kids in there, most a little bigger than he. They could see his plight. I kind of hoped one of them might lead him out, but none did.

This went on for many minutes - us trying to coax Kalib to either go forward to the slide or back to the entrance.

"No!" he would shake his head each time, crying all the while.

"Ok, Kalib," I finally told him. "Your grandma and I are going to go now. Goodbye."

Then we walked away - maybe 7 or eight feet, to a place where he could not see us.

Filled with new motivation, he soon popped his head into the entrance/exit, saw us there and smiled. "Hi Grandma," he said.

Boy, does he love his grandma!

As we prepared to leave, I saw two dogs waiting in the very long drive-through line. The lady told me their names, but I have forgotten.

So I will call the one on the left Frank and the one on the right, Henry.

Henry barked at me.

The lady told him to stop it.

Then we headed down to Target. We would have to make a left turn into the parking up there where you see another car waiting to turn left. I wondered if we would ever get a chance.The traffic coming from the direction of Anchorage seemed to be a nonstop river of lights.

But, when we got to the left turn lane, the drivers across both oncoming lanes of traffic stopped to create a gap that we could drive through. Margie waved thanks to them from the passenger seat as I quickly shot through the gap.

I briefly put my iPhone in the cart. "No!" Kalib said. Then he grabbed the phone and threw it onto the floor. Not so long ago, I swore to myself that no matter what he might do, I would never harshly scold Kalib. But I did. Then I put the phone back in the cart and refused to go any further until he picked it up and handed it to me.

He did.

A bit later, I discovered that the "on-off" button was missing.

So I can't turn off my phone now. That's not really a problem, except that sometimes an ap will lock up and the only way to get that ap working again is to restart the iPhone.

It still doesn't matter much, though. Before the end of the year, I plan to get an iPhone 4s - mostly for the camera. The camera in the 4s - really good.

Maybe we bought some gifts at Target, maybe we didn't. Shopping in these stores is almost impossible for me. We go down the aisles and my mind just blanks out. Besides Kalib throwing my phone on the floor, the only thing I clearly remember is the many Thomas the Train toys. 

We could not buy any of those. Kalib was with us.

If the highway is not too hazardous, we will drive to Anchorage tomorrow and try again.

On the way home, we stopped at Metro Cafe - right about the usual time of 4:00 PM. Branson and a new boy named Jacob were there, claiming to be helping out.

When we pulled into the driveway, I looked in my rearview mirror and saw that Kalib had fallen asleep. 

When he felt the car stop, Kalib woke up. Sort of. Waking up wasn't an easy process.


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Reader Comments (2)

i think it is pretty brave of you to take a child out for Christmas shopping :)...good luck tomorrow

December 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commentertwain12

Good luck in Anchorage! I was out earlier today in Wasilla and it wasnt too bad. Some traffic, but not as bad as I expected. I sure am enjoying all this new snow though, I love it!

Kalib is getting SO big, and is such a handsome young man! I bet he'll have a lots of fun on Sunday :)

December 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisaJ

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