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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Standoff with skinny moose; buried truck, the train rumbles past Subway, etc. and so forth

I photographed this truck in early May in Point Hope. I include it in today's post just to assure interested readers that, although the rest of today's post will be devoted to Wasilla, I am continuing on with my series from my recent Arctic travels.

I spent two weeks on that trip and by the time I put yesterday's post up, I had made my way through just a little bit more than a day-and-half of that two weeks. I have been moving very slowly on that edit, because I have a different project that I must have proof ready by June 15, so I would do a little bit of editing on the Arctic trip, then put it aside and get back to work on my project.

But I want to get this blog series done, so I decided that today, Saturday, I will put my project aside and see if I can make my way through the entire take, then hopefully do a bit better job planning for the remainder of the Arctic Spring 2011 posts and get them ready so that they can appear through next week while I do nothing but concentrate on my project - and maybe drop in a picture or two from Wasilla here now and then, just to make it clear where I really am.

Despite appearances, it does not really snow that much in Arctic Alaska, where annual precipitation is about the same as Phoenix, Arizona. But once the snow falls, it does not melt for a long time and the wind blows it all about, so, whenever it finds anything to drift up and pile against, or even bury, it does.

And so it buried this truck. Looks like someone decided it was time to start digging it out.

Now, here I am, solidly back in Wasilla, driving home the long way after stopping at Metro Cafe. I see a kid on a bike out the window, so I quickly lift the camera and take a blind snap to my side through the dirty glass as I look straight ahead at the road. A moose could walk onto the road.

Yesterday morning, Margie and I decided to have breakfast at Subway, where it is pretty cheap but still good. As we were eating, I was thrilled to hear the whistle and rumble of the train, coming down the tracks. So I got my camera ready and.... sure enough, the train rolled into view! And, employing all my skill, talent, and experience as a hard working photojournalist, I caught the exact moment that the train rolled into view.

The exact moment! People will now marvel at this photo from now until the end of the world. Hmmm... according to some, folks won't get to marvel all that long, so look at it now and enjoy it while you can.

I love the train and yet, you know what? I have never ridden on the Alaska Railroad - not one time. I have never even been on a passenger car or in an engine, either. Nor has Margie.

Someday, this must change.

As it turned out, the Alaska Railroad engine was towing passenger cars, operated by Princess Tours. I could only wonder what these people were talking and thinking about as they rolled through my now famous/infamous home town.

I suspect some were basking in perceived glory and glowing in adoration. Others were probably discussing US history, Paul Revere in particular, and wondering if our schools could really be that bad.

They're not. It's an individual thing.

On my walk, I came upon this adolescent moose. As I approached, I was searching for its mom. One never wants to step between a mom moose and her calf. I saw no mom. Maybe the adolescent had been turned out on its own.

Maybe the mom had died.

Who knows?

Then the moose came walking toward me, looking at me. I looked at its bristles and they were up, but not dramatically so. I was not quite sure what to think. My first thought was that maybe somebody had fed this calf and now it was hungry and coming to me in the hope that I might give it an apple or something.

Or maybe it saw me as threat and was warning me to back away or it would stomp on me. Or maybe it was saying I am one mean moose and I am coming to get you and I will jump on you and there is not a damn thing you can do about it.

It can be very hard to know with a moose.

And, despite all our bear stories, in Alaska, moose afflict more damage upon human flesh than do bears.

"It is okay, moose," I calmly told it. "I mean you no harm. You have nothing to fear from me." I started to walk slowly to the side. I did not back up or retreat in the opposite direction, because I did not want it to think that I was afraid of it, either. I just moved away to the side.

Finally, the moose turned away. See how skinny it is? I felt badly for it. I did not feel optimistic for its future. I doubt that it will make it to hunting season, but I could be wrong. Maybe it will eat, thrive, and grow strong.

In the afternoon, Margie drove to town and brought Jobe and Kalib home with her. Once again, they are spending the weekend with us in order to allow their parents to work on their house.

Jobe wants to be friends with Jim.

Jim is still trying to decide if this is a good idea.

And for all my readers who have become fond of Charlie - who has not been in this blog since before I went traveling - his family dog, Rowdy, who was a genuine smiler, died this past week.

Condolences, Charlie, Jim and Cyndy.

Kalib bounced on the bed.

That plastic is up to give better insulation against the cold of winter.

I suppose we could take it down now.

Margie did open it up at the bottom, to let fresh air in.


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Reader Comments (5)

Bill,Thanks for your mention of our Rowdy dog...... Here is a link to him and his smile ;)


June 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCyndy E

I am in the middle of a huge project that must be finished by Wednesday. Knowing the deadline is nearing, I have piddled away most of today doing little on that project. Now, I am reading here while pages and pages of photos are printing. None of them are of a moose, but two are of a young hawk that has taken to perching on our fountain, and waiting for fish to appear. Our fountain has no fish, but we haven't the heart to tell him.

June 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathryn

To the ROWDY...and to all our friends "upstairs"

Circle of life,circle of friends
we love you All

from your greek friends

oh. Poor skinny moose. Why would it be so thin? Is it not old enough to graze? Poor thing. I'd have probably been trampled to death in my efforts to feed him an apple, but I'd have felt so sorry for him that I would not have been able to control myself.

June 5, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdebby

The moose was grazing when I first spotted it. I don't know why it would be so skinny. Snowfall was light this winter, so it should have had a problem finding food.

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