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 celebrate my birthday in Anchorage to the taste of Arctic char from Kaktovik

On the evening of my birthday, I drove into Anchorage where most of the rest of my family already was. Margie had been staying with Jacob and Lavina since the day that I left for Kaktovik, as Jobe had been a little under the weather and she needed to take care of him while Lavina worked.

Soon after I arrived, Lavina threw a few of the Arctic char that I had brought back from Kaktovik onto the grill.

These particular char were given to me by Marie Rexford. Elizabeth Rexford also gave me a generous number from the cache of she and husband Fenton.

Oh, boy, was it tasty! Char is one of my favorite fish - right up there with salmon, halibut and trout.

Thank you, Marie, Fenton and Elizabeth - your generosity made my birthday extra special.

I will still try to work a few char fishing pictures in here, maybe tomorrow, maybe Sunday, maybe Monday.

I am told that Kalib still wields the spatula - usually on a weekend morning when he is cooking eggs, but I have not personally seen him carry the spatula for awhile.

It had been rainy and cool when I drove out of Wasilla, but when I got out of the car at Jacob and Lavina's house, the sun shone brightly upon me and I was surprised by how hot it felt - just like I remember from the southern Arizona desert.

Well, maybe not quite that hot.

We ate on the table that graces the back deck of Jacob and Lavina's house. When I sit here, I am always amazed at the typical American suburban environs my son and daughter-in-law have planted themselves in and how comfortable they seem within.

After dinner, a few of us sat in the living room and talked while others readied something out in the kitchen that I was not supposed to see just yet.

It was Lisa whose stories dominated the conversation, and they were mostly about the dogs that she had been caring for while their owners were away. One day, she came to the house to find that one of the dogs had pooped on important tax papers. She had to save those papers, and the process involved rubber gloves and drying and sterilizing things and it was not pleasant.

Charlie said the dog had only done what everybody wants to do.

After she told the story, Jacob came out with Jobe. Jobe tackled Jacob.

Look up there, on the wall. It's Jobe's Apache cradleboard, the one made especially for him by one of the most skilled cradleboard makers on the White Mountain Apache Reservation - his Aunt LeeAnn.

Jobe will never sleep in it again.

That makes me kind of sad, yet I so greatly enjoy watching him grow, learn and experience.

Margie came out, pulled the curtains and turned out the lights. Then Melanie entered from the kitchen, followed by Kalib, Margie and Lavina. She carried the object that I had not been allowed to see until now. It was a flaming cake that she had made, just for me.

Count the number of candles and you will see that on my birthday, I turned younger than I had been for five decades.

The little ones watched intently as grandma inhaled a deep breath. Could he do it? Not quite!

So Kalib, the expert candle blower-outer, finished the job.

Once again, I drove home by myself. Jobe was doing quite a bit better, but Lavina's good friend, Sandy, has hit her due date and could go into labor at any minute. She wants Lavina with her when she delivers and Lavina has promised that she will be. 

Jacob had to leave for Kipnuk early in the morning, so Margie stayed to be on hand to care for the little ones should another little one choose the next day to be born.

This is what I saw as I neared Wasilla, just a few minutes before midnight.

Midnight won't look like this for much longer.


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Reader Comments (8)

Happy bday again currently waiting at brothers pizza in bethel for flight home kipnuk was wet wet wet

July 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJfh

Wishing you a very happy Birthday! Although it looks like you've already had one :) What a great family you have, it warms my heart.

July 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMikey


birthday?...was I supposed to be notified...ASAP...?


cake (the one I see) on you
ouzo (u don't see)on me

VIVA my friend

Happy Birthday ♥

July 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commentertwain12

Oh, Bill... once again, I laughed, then I cried. Then I was engulfed in a fit of more laughter, and then I cried because Jobe has outgrown his cradleboard. You are running me ragged with a roller coaster of emotions! But that's perfectly ok, because you bring us scenes we are lucky to have a chance to see. Please keep us updated on your potential "e-magazine"...I'm in with all 4 feet!

July 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHeidi3

Nice birthday -- warms my heart as well.

July 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGrandma Nancy

Oh, I wish I had been at your birthday party! That char looks wonderfully yummy! I am envious.

July 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWhiteStone

I'm glad you had a wonderful birthday. I like the last picture on your way home.

July 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShoshana

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