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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A happy, painful, Christmas thus far untold

We had a great Christmas here, a wonderful Christmas - even if it ended in tears most bitter, with an excited little heart most broken. It was the kind of Christmas when the driveway fills up with cars, driven by loved ones, who did not let falling snow and ice upon the highway prevent them from coming.

It was the kind of Christmas where many gifts were exchanged, where all present engaged in a feast in which every item - from the turkey to the squash cooked with berries and nuts and the grand finale pumpkin chiffon pie - seemed created to perfection.

It was a wonderful Christmas, a great Christmas, for we were all here. Not a child born into this family or descended from it was absent, and those adult children of others who have merged with our children in intimacy were all here as well.

There is even one more car that you do not see - a little tiny one parked behind the big, black, truck in the row to the right.

I took a flood of pictures, too many to deal with in a short time, and I had intended to make two big posts today - one on all the usual proceedings and the other upon a gift meant for all to enjoy, a gift made possible by the generous and beloved spirit of a niece/cousin/aunt from India, now living in London, soon to be married in Pune.

But I was too tired this morning. I got up early, but then fell back asleep. Now I have no time to make either of these posts.

I have no time because today is the fourth birthday of this little boy, Kalib, who loves Thomas the Train; this little boy who yesterday was brought to the heights of joy and excitement by that love, but also to bitter grief and pain. In just over half-an-hour, we must leave for Anchorage to help him celebrate his birthday - although he may not want to see me, his understanding of certain things being limited, both by his age and desire.

Regular readers are familiar with the Thomas the Train that he plays with here. It is not a gift from this Christmas. Yet, many Thomas items did appear under the tree this year.

So the question I now face is, do I put my Christmas posts up tomorrow, two days after Christmas, combined with a birthday post from today?

Does anybody want to read about Christmas come December 27?

I don't know.

I will give it some thought.

There is a story to be told - not a huge story, not an earth shaking story; not a story that will make a difference to the course of world events - but a story just the same, and I kind of want to tell it.



As we do our next-to-last minute Christmas shopping, we see Little Alan drive his motorcycle through Dimond Center Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Happy Holidays!!!

The plan had been to head out the door and off towards Anchorage in time to go through the McDonald's drivethrough in time for breakfast. Unfortunately, I woke up at 9:34 AM, Margie at 9:38 and little Kalib - none of us are quite certain when he woke up.

He was still snoozing soundly at 10:00 AM - the time when McDonalds ceases to serve breakfast. At some point between then and 11:00, I stepped into the bedroom and found him sitting up in bed, looking around.

"Good morning, Kalib," I greeted.

"No!" he shouted back. "I'm trying to get some sleep!"

With that, he flung himself back down on the bed and yanked the coveres over his head.

So Margie and I cooked up some fried potatoes and eggs and we headed for town a little before noon.

Yesterday's snow had tapered off to a few random flakes here and there and soon stopped altogether.

The first time that I tried to take a picture, I was very dismayed to discover that I had forgotten to put a compact flash card in my camera.

We started out at 5th Avenue Mall, where we bumped into Caroline Cannon of Point Hope, with the young woman who is about to marry her son.

Whenever I go to town and to a shopping place, I almost always come across friends from the North Slope - and at Christmas time, Always.

From there we went to Sear's and from there to Dimond Center. It was there that we ran into little Alan Beall III  with his mom, Sharene Ahmaogak. Regular readers know them, because when I go to Barrow I almost always stay with Sharene's brother, Roy Ahmaogak, and Sharene lives right next door in the home of her parents, Savik and Myrna, where we take our meals.

I felt real bad that I had forgotten my camera and then I remembered the obvious - my iPhone!

So here is Little Alan of Barrow, Alaska, and his little motorcycle, at Dimond Center, photographed wit my iPhone.

Little Alan drives his motorcycle through Dimond Center.

Next, we went to Pier 1 Imports. And that was it. And this will be my last post until the day after Christmas.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Happy Holidays... happy whatever it is that this season, which marks the beginning of the return of light, means to you.


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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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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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