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.

Blog archive
Blog arhive - page view

On the final, blustery, warm, snowy day of fall, I drive around, decide to archive this blog and start a new one.

For some damn reason, even though I went to bed at 2:15 AM feeling very sleepy, I could not fall asleep until after 5:00 - then I woke up for good just after 7:00 AM. Margie is in town baby-sitting the boys, and I just did not feel like cooking oatmeal and eating it here with the cats.

I didn't feel like I wanted anything big like ham and eggs, so I worked at my computer for a couple of hours, then grabbed a banana and headed to Metro Cafe somewhere between 9:30 and ten.

It had snowed three or four inches overnight but had now stopped. This snowplow came blasting along, flinging snow.

I took a picture of Carmen with a customer, then quickly forgot his name.

Before I proceed further, I had said here and there that today I would finally start my New York David Alan Harvey Loft Workshop series today.

If anyone came here looking specifically for that, I apologize, but I have a very good reason - as I will very soon make clear.

A lady coming through the drive-through handed a dollar bill and a nickel through the window to Nicole. 

Long time readers of this blog know that sometimes I get very frustrated with this blog format. The vertical pictures appear at a good enough size, but the horizontals are just too small - especially when viewed on high resolutions screens like Macintosh.

I could change the dimensions of this blog to allow future posts to have wider picture windows, but the photos already posted would remain just as they are and so the posts containing would look very strange.

I know. I did a test and it looked very strange.

In the afternoon, I could no longer take being in the house and so I got in the car and went, curious to see where I might wind up.

I stopped at a stop light and was very surprised to see that I had wound up alongside an angel. I always knew angels had halos and wings, but I thought they wore white robes and gowns.

Guess I was wrong.

It's a good thing Mom has gone off to dwell with the angels, because if she were still here, this one would have upset her.

Of course, if there are angels flying around naked up there, then she can't be happy in Heaven at all.

Anyway, back to this blog:

I have decided just to archive it and start a new one. It will have a wide column and the horizontal pictures will be bigger. I would have done this long ago, but I did not want to lose all of the links that have been established all over the place to bring people here.

But this format can't take me to where I want to go.

So I am going to bite the bullet, start anew, take my link losses and then hope I can not only quickly rebuild to where I am right now but quickly surpass it.

Wasilla Lake, by the way, with a low drift of ground snow blowing across the ice.

After I drove onto this parking lot, I could not resist the temptation to spin a 360 degree brodie.

But I failed to make it all the way around. That's because I was a driving a Ford Escape, they are so well built when it comes to recovering from slips and spins that to put one into a 360 degree spin is almost impossible.

Well, if there were no snow on the lake and I could drive onto it, build up some speed and then put it into a spin, I am sure I could do the 360 spin - a few of them, maybe.

But I couldn't build up that kind of speed in a parking lot.

It wouldn't have been safe.

I left the parking lot and drove by Wasilla Lake again. I saw two ghost moose, or perhaps angel moose, floating through the drift of snow.

And just beyond the moose was the Nativity scene that rises on the shore of Wasilla Lake every Christmas season. The baby Jesus in a manger in a tiny trailer on the edge of Wasilla Lake.

And almost directly across the highway and the railroad tracks from the manger - condos.

Snow blowing off the lake.

Margie and I ate here once, many months ago, but less than a year, I think. It was superb. Perhaps the best sushi I've ever had.

And there was a very nice aquarium inside, with happy looking freshwater parrot fish swimming about in it, observing I ate my sushi.

I have almost quit eating fast food since I first got struck by shingles. Ditto to Pepsi's and soda pop. This is because when the shingles first struck, before the rash appeared and the doctor told me, I did not know I had shingles.

I thought maybe I was dying. No joke. That's how bad the pain was. I thought maybe I was dying and it was because I was pushing myself too hard, eating too much junk food, drinking too much Pepsi.

So, even though that was not the case, the scare was so bad that I pretty much just quit. And I haven't even wanted any. I didn't even want any today, but I wanted to get something to eat and I did not want to get out of the car.

It is pretty hard to find healthy eating places with drive throughs.

Still, I figure as fast food goes, Taco Bell is about as healthy as it gets - especially when one orders off the low-fat, low-sodium, fresca meals, which I did.

First time.

It was good, too.

Real good.

I drank less than half the Pepsi.

Ironically, given all the times Melanie has scolded me for eating at Taco Bell, this young lady is also Melanie. Today, Melanie did not scold me for buying my food at Taco Bell Melanie handed me my order with a smile.

But my Melanie is right.

I can't do this very often any more.

I hadn't had a Pepsi in weeks.

It sure tasted good.

Yet I drank less than half.

And later, when I got home, I ate only two of the Alaska Wildberry Christmas chocolates.

In the past, I would have eaten four.

Maybe six.

Yep, I was in Wasilla all right.

I have no gold to sell. If I did, I would not want to sell it. I would want to keep it, to feel the weight in my pocket and hear it jangle as I walked.

I would keep a six-shooter strapped to my side, just in case anybody tried to rob me.

I wanted to see an airplane, so I drove close to Lucille Lake.

Sure enough, there was an airplane.

We are just about out of firewood. I ordered some from Jim about six weeks ago but he fell ill. I stopped at his place on the way home. He is feeling better. Our two cords should be here soon.

We have already burned three cords - most of it in November.

As you can see, December been ridiculously warm - it's those Pacific winds. And when it gets warm here, the cold air that should be here has to go somewhere.

So it goes south, this time to Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and nearby states.

As I pulled up to the house, I saw my neighbor, Joe, clearing last night's snowfall from his driveway.

We don't have a snowblower, but we do have Caleb.

Oh - I almost forgot. I plan to introduce my new blog January 1. Then, on January 2, I will launch the New York series. I went to that workshop, hoping, in some ways, to begin anew.

So January 2 will be a good time to start this series. New year, new beginnings.

I just looked outside. It is snowing like crazy right now.

I just talked to Margie on the phone. In Anchorage, where she is at, it is not snowing at all.

Normally, they get at least three times the snow we get.

So one never knows.

Once this snow stops, I hope it gets cold again and stays cold.

Until April.


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Breakfast, coffee break; Melanie comes out and we decorate the tree


Now, today:

In the morning, I got up and drove to Abby's Home Cooking. Abby had been at the wedding last night with her family, including daughter Emily who was a member of the bridal party.

So I decided I would go and let her fix breakfast for me.

I passed this cyclist along the way.

As you can see, another horrid mass of warm air has moved in from the Pacific - just like I speculated it would when I was trying to read the signs and predict the weather.


I hate this warm weather in December.

Funny, if any place else in the country, including the coldest states of the northern tier, had experienced the degree of consistent cold that we did in November, the religious among them would have said it was a sign that end was coming soon.

Hmmmm... perhaps all this warm weather in December here in South Central Alaska means... the end is coming soon?

There she is - Abby - cooking away behind the counter. This morning was the busiest I have ever seen it at Abby's. Every table but one was filled and there was action at the counter, too.

Shelly was not there to help her, because Shelly had run the restaurant all by herself all yesterday so that Abby could go to the wedding.

Abby's husband Andy was there, helping her.

Still, Abby was waitressing, cooking and busing.

If business keeps building up like this, she is going to have to hire more help.

As always at Abby's, I enjoyed my breakfast.

I guess I didn't totally work through the afternoon. Margie took the car and went shopping, so, having little rituals that I follow to keep me sane, when the time came, I walked to Metro Cafe for my coffee break. As I walked, this airplane flew by to both inspire and taunt me.

If it had been me up there, I would have had skis on by now.

I surely would have.

I'm not criticising, mind you.

This pilot might have a perfectly good reason to have kept this plane on wheels.

I can't think of a good reason, but the pilot might have thought of one.

Still, I would have rejected such a thought.

One of Carmen's guests had brought his 1974 yearbook to Metro. I would tell you his name, but I am going to let you see if you can figure it out for yourself.

If you can't, then I am sorry to say it, but your own education was a waste.

I don't care if you are a historian now, getting paid millions of dollars by government agencies and $60,000 a speech - if you can't figure this out...

Now, don't anybody post your answers in comments.

If you were wrong, I would hate to have to inform you.

In the evening, Melanie came over. We ate dinner, then we ate Alaska Wildberry chocolates. After that, we decorated the tree - or least Melanie and Margie did, after they went out into the yard while I was working on the wedding and cut it down.

For a long time, Margie had what she called "a Charlie Brown tree" all picked out.

They didn't cut it, though, because Melanie found another, even better, Charlie Brown tree.

Now, I have a very serious question to ask you:

Do you see any chocolate on the left side of Melanie's face?

Do you see any chocolate on the right side of Melanie's face?

Neither do I.

This is important, because a bit after I took these pictures, Melanie saw the image of herself in a mirror. She claims that chocolate was spread all across her face. She says she then washed that chocolate off.

She then began to scold me, telling me not to dare put a picture of her with chocolate on her face in the blog.

You didn't have chocolate on your face, I told her.

Yes I did, she insisted, and don't use any pictures showing chocolate on my face. Delete them. Delete them all.

I never delete a picture, I told her.

It didn't matter. There was no chocolate.

Margie hangs a Christmas tree ornament.

Melanie hangs a birch bark canoe ornament on a high branch. "We should get a star for the top," Margie said.

"Okay," I agreed.

This conversation has taken place now for, oh, I don't know... 25 years now? 30.

We really should, though.

Or an angel.

Or a cat, holding a song book, singing Christmas carols.

It could have a chip in it and really sing.

Last came the tinsel.

When it was done, I noticed they hadn't put the airplane oraments on the tree.

"Why didn't you put the airplanes on the tree?" I asked, reasonably.

"You have to do it," Melanie said.

"No," I said. "You could have done it."

"No. You always scold me. 'Don't put the airplanes on the tree,' you always say, 'only I can do that.'"

"No," I countered, truth on my side but to no avail, "I never say that."

Yet, it was clear that if the airplanes were going to get on the tree, I would have to do it.

So I did.

There were only two of them.

What happened to the rest?

I had enough airplane ornaments to decorate a whole tree all by themselves.

Not that I would ever do that.

But I had enough.

Where did they go?

Probably flew away, I guess.

Finally, the tree was done. The three of us stood before it and altogether we sang, "Oh Christmas Tree."

Or at least I did. All by myself.

Or at least I sang this much of it, in a non-existant key of my own invention:

"Oh, Christmas tree, oh, Christmas tree! How lovely are thy branches!"

"Dad," Melanie challenged, "are those the real lyrics? Or did you make them up?"


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On the way home from the wedding, I see a railroad get ripped apart; I witness Lynxton being burped

I did photograph the wedding of Arlene Warrior's exquisitely lovely daughter Aurora - especially so in her white buckskin dress - just like she asked me to at Abby's Home Cooking restaurant one week ago. It took place at Alyeska, about a two-hour drive from here. Along the way, I dropped Margie and Jobe off at what was then the empty house of Jacob and Lavina.

It was a truly beautiful wedding. I was a bit off my usual game, because I am afraid that five weeks of shingles has really left me drained, my energy low. Still, I did the best I could - yet I was not at my best. I will see if I can get a few up tomorrow.

When I stopped on the way back to pick Margie up, I found Kalib engrossed, once again, in the Thomas the Train Railroad. It had some new features, including the overpass and the green bridge arches.

A minute or two after I started taking pictures, Jobe came along to drive his own Thomas the Train engine under the overpass.

Somehow, Jobe managed to knock out several links of track, plus the green bridge arches.

I wanted to get home so I could get the download of the wedding going before I went to bed and also put up this blog. I grabbed Margie and off we went without hanging around to see what happened next at the railroad.

We did make a quick stop upstairs though, where Lavina had just fed Lynxton. Now she was burping him.

"Burp! Burp! Burp!, Belch! Belch! Belch!" went Lynxton.


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Child janitor caught at work during last night's Fox News Republican debate - right under the approving eyes of Newt Gingrich as Mitt Romney glared in disdain; it all got swept under the table

Jobe, who regular readers know has been an enthusiastic child janitor ever since he first discovered a broom - this one in particular. He sweeps for free - you don't need to pay him anything. Provide him with a Thomas the Train toy engine and he'll be happy as can be.

I caught him during last night's Fox News Republican debate when he worked right under the televised eyes of Newt Gingrich, which seemed to look on in approval and Mitt Romney, who appeared to glare at his opponent in barely constained disdain.

Jobe swept it all under the coffee table. 

Jobe just loves his broom.



We take a scary drive to take a dog home and then we get to see three boys who are not as little as they were last time

Muzzy had been separated from his immediate family for almost four weeks now and besides that he kept eating the cats' food. So, somewhere between 2:30 and 3:00 PM, we loaded his own food and personal possessions into the car, opened up the gate to the back and in he jumped.

We - Muzzy, Margie and I - then set off to drive to Anchorage. Down on the floor of this valley, the sun, which at its zenith now barely rises above the tops of the mountains to the south, had already set.

It's rays still created a beautiful fringe of light on the icy mountain tops.

The highway was icy, too, and scary. Here and there, cars had slid off the road.

I thought of the day before, when I had decided to sleep and let Margie drive herself into town for her doctor appointment. As I stated, she hates to drive in the dark, especially if there is ice on the road. In contrast, my night vision is probably about as good as anyone's except for a cat.

When I saw the ice on the highway, the big trucks and thought of Margie driving this gantlet in the dark, I felt very badly that I had slept. But, she did good. She came back alive and well.

We reached Muzzy's house in safety. In the window, I saw the face of a little boy who, it felt, I had not seen in years - even if it had only been a bit less than four weeks.

Dog and family exploded in joyful reunion.

Finally, it calmed down a bit.

Then Jobe noticed that grampa had come, too.

Kalib dragged his grandma to the downstairs playroom to see the trains. Jacob and Lavina bought this set of Thomas trains off Craigslist for $40 - and it has proved to be the best toys these boys have ever had - better than anything electronic or magical.

They hold it, they carry its cars here and there. They push it around the tracks and even where there are no tracks.

They never tire of Thomas the train.

I want such a set for myself.

I don't know where I could put it, but I want one.

Lynxton was sleeping in the very dimly lit master bedroom. His dad was still at work. It is kind of hard to get off a plane after three-plus weeks in Arizona, southern Utah and Las Vegas and go straight to work, but that is what he had to do.

Lavina goes back to work Monday.

It was hard enough for her just to leave the warm sun of the southwest and come back to Alaska.

Margie plans to go in Sunday night so she can stay and hang out with the boys.

The cats and I will be alone again.

Last Christmas, Melanie gave Margie and I a gift card to Century 16 and we still had one movie and one set of refreshments left on it.

So, at 5:00 PM, we headed to Century 16.

We saw Hugo.

MAGICAL movie.

I was entranched from the first fame to the final.

And that was the 2D version. The time of the 3D was off for us.

Yet, even the 2D often seemed 3D.

Gotta see it in 3D, some day.

Oddly enough, this latest wonder of modern communication technology really brought to life the wonder of books.

It made me want to do nothing but read books - and create books.

Afterward, we returned to the house to see if Lynxton had woke up yet. We found him asleep in the cradle of his dad's arm.

He soon awoke. Then his grandma took him.

I was amazed at how big he had grown - how chubby his face had become.

His had left with a lean, slender, face. He returned with chipmunk cheeks.

Lavina ate a lot of mutton in Arizona.

And then we left to go home.

As we always do.


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