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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Our Christmas, 2011, part 1.5: we gather, we give and receive gifts, we eat

I took this picture the day before Christmas, as Margie and I were finishing our shopping. On Friday, the 23rd, we had heard from Rex that Cortney would like a kuspik for Christmas. So we stopped at the Alaska Native Medical Center gift shop, but the selection was small and the sizes too big.

After we got home, I called Arlene Warrior to see if she might know someone locally who had either kuspiks or atikluks for sale. Kuspiks and atikluks are pretty much the same thing, but they tend to be kuspiks if made by the Yup'ik peoples of southwest Alaska and atikluks if made by the Iñupiat of northern Alaska.

Arlene told me she had a couple that were nearly finished, that she would be home alone Saturday and would complete them.

I did not wish to put her out on the day before Christmas, but she said this would give her something to do.

So Saturday afternoon we went over to the warrior house, where I saw the BB gun I had as a child hanging on the wall, and she had two atikluks ready to go. Margie liked the darker one and I liked this one - with the blueberry-raspberry print.

Arlene would not let us pay anything, because she says she doesn't know how to charge and so only sews for family and good friends.

I would have tried to find a way to pay, but I had just shot the wedding of her daughter and I don't know how to charge, either.

Now, it is Christmas morning. Santa was still in the house. We were all very surprised at how tiny he was. We wondered what had happened to his white hair and beard.

As we waited to open gifts and eat, Jobe took a stroll in the backyard.

So did Kalib. I still find it hard to believe he is growing so big and handsome.

Four dogs had gathered with us. Here are three of them: Rex and Cortney's new pup Akiak, Cortney's Kingston and Lavina and Jacob's Muzzy, who is well known on this blog.

Lisa and Bryce arrived bearing gifts - even as it is written in holy scripture that wise men, shepherds, noble men and others arrived bearing gifts to a tiny baby born in a manger in Bethleham over 2000 years ago. So we gave gifts on this Christmas Day, because they gave gifts way back then.

Jobe opened one of his many presents with his feet. It was a sled.

Margie used her hands to open this gift from Lavina, which turned out to be a beautiful basket that she had brought on the trip back to Arizona that Margie and I missed when she went into the hospital for emergency surgery and I was in some of the worst stages of my continuing battle against shingles.

Jobe jumped right in.

Rex gave this baseball bat to Lisa and Bryce. Rex had once seriously hoped to go pro, and this is one of the bats he had used to knock the ball around.

Charlie received some beard socks.

I am not sure who received this book, Charlie or Bryce, but something in it had them both amused.

I was curious, so I had them show me... oh, no! What kind of book is this? And why didn't my mother give me some of this medicine?

The raspberry-blueberry atikluk had a cut more to Melanie's fit than Lisa's, so Melanie got it. Lisa wants one now.

Cortney in her new Arlene Warrior atikluk.

Margie offered the blessing.

And then we ate... and ate... and ate...

I was too busy eating to take pictures of the food items, but Jake's squash did not come out of the oven until I thought I had finished and had left the table.

Jake came up with this recipe of squashed stuffed with blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, walnuts, pinons or whatever he feels like putting in it after reading about how the Wampanoag brought squash cooked with berries and nuts to the first Thanksgiving they shared with the Pilgrims.

It is the best squash dish that I have ever eaten, bar none.

There were many more gifts, of course. I will not try to recount them all.

One came courtesy of our niece/cousin/aunty Sujitha. After dinner, I assembled that gift and then it became the center of joyous and excited attention for hours.

That gift, and all that followed in its wake, will be the subject of part 2. I probably won't post it until mid to late Tuesday afternoon.


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Reader Comments (5)

First Jobe is looking SO much like Kalib! Oh my he has grown..

And I also am on the hunt for a good kuspik.. they are beautiful! We have some talented seamstresses here in the north.. They are SO SO beautiful! Lucky Courtney!

It looks like you all had a fantastic christmas!

Many Blessings for 2012!

December 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRocksee

what a lovely basket, and the boys sure are growing up before our eys

December 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commentertwain12

I love this family so much! Awaiting for tomorrow's blog eaaagerrly! :)

December 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSuji

Wonderful to see everybody together. Hope I get a chance to celebrate with your family next year. :)

December 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGane

I cannot understand why you were so surprised to see a tiny Santa. He is, after all, a right jolly old elf. I am surprised that you did not laugh when you saw him in spite of yourself. I was a little mystified about the fact that there was no pipe and smoke that encircled his head like a wreath.

December 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdebby

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