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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Entries in civilian July 4 photo search (4)


July 4, part 4: iPhoning it at the cookout

My hiking shoes are pretty good, but they seemed to have gotten a little bigger than the last time I wore them and my feet slipped around inside quite a bit. This had been particularly bad coming down and so my feet were sore when we got to Lavina and Jacob's.

I took off my boots and went inside. Next time, I will try to wear two pair of socks with them, the inside one being thin, flexible, skin-tight and a moisture wicker. Then I think my feet might not get so sore. I felt as though I never wanted to put those shoes on again.

There was no one in Jake and Lavina's house when Melanie and I unlocked the door and stepped inside. So we went to the back deck and this what we saw before us.

The battery in my camera had completely died, by the way, and so had my iPhone. I did not have my iPad with me, so I had to borrow Margie's iPhone to take these pictures.

Good thing, because her iPhone is still pretty new and the lens is not nearly so smudged up as mine.

"No, Daddy! No Daddy! My turn, Daddy!" Kalib screamed as he ran to use grandpa as a shield. 

Jobe got into the pool. It had been a warm day.

Now it was turning cool. Jobe's mother called him inside so she could dry him off and put dry clothes on him. Or maybe gramma did that. I'm not sure.

There's my bare feet amidst his tiny footprints.

Lavina, barbecuing.

Jobe, eating his barbecued corn. We all ate and it was all scrumptious - as is all food that Jacob and Lavina prepare.

Lisa and Bryce came, too. Lisa had wanted to go on the hike, but wound up babysitting some dogs for ten days - including the entire weekend of the Fourth - and so had to miss it.

And that's it, folks. I've been dabbling at this blog on and off all day long. I just want to get on my bike and not write another word or place another picture.

If you go to the slideshow view and just see little squares with the words, "Thumbnail Processing" inside, go ahead and click through anyway. The slideshow images will still show. Squarespace is forever misfiring and malfunctioning, causing me headaches and wasting my time in 1000 different ways and this is how it is doing it tonight.

I have been working this in both Safari and Firefox to try and get this solved, but it just won't solve. Although, in time, it probably will. Maybe by tomorrow. So, if you go to the slideshow and see genuine thumbnails with images, just ignore this rant. 

Squarespace does that to me. It is the most exasperating program I have ever used.

Anyway, I have now displayed my Fourth of July, in four parts.



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Melanie and I climb the Twin Peaks trail, where I find the July 4 photo of freedom, which I share with you on behalf of a certain civilian: Part 3 of 4 

Melanie met us at the house at almost the very moment that we arrived home from the parade. I fixed a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, filled up a couple of water jugs, stuffed them into my little backpack along with 100 to 400 mm lens and then we finally left, sometime between noon and 1:00 PM. I had it in my mind that we would hike in Hatcher Pass, but Jacob and Lavina had invited everybody to their house in Anchorage for an evening cookout so instead, we headed towards Eklutna Lake, which is right one the way to Anchorage.

As we drew near to Eklutna, we saw this truck, hauling a bunch of new cars to the north - maybe to Wasilla, maybe to Fairbanks.

No other options, really. It pretty much had to be Wasilla or Fairbanks.

Two trails take off from the Eklutna Lake parking lot in Chugach State Park - one follows the northern shore of the lake for several miles, another heads off up the mountains towards the Twin Peaks. We wanted to climb and neither of us had done this trail before.

The park sign said the trail was 2.5 miles wrong, rose 1500 vertical and was ranked "difficult." That would make it a round trip hike of five miles and I wanted to hike more than five miles. Yet, if we were going to make it to the cookout, five miles would be okay.

And since we would be hiking up a mountain on a trail that was ranked, "difficult," it might feel like we had hiked more than 5 miles at the end, and it might take longer than walking five miles on an "easy" trail. So, off we went.

We pretty walked side by side, but near the beginning, I dropped back a bit so that I could get this picture of Melanie as she walked through the trees in her red rain jacket.

There were many flowers to admire.

I did not believe the hike would be all that "difficult," as it had been ranked. I had been on many hikes that I knew were much more difficult. And I had been riding my bike just about every day, usually ten to 16 miles, sometimes more. I had been taking regular walks.

Yet, in a very short while, I began to feel this hike. It strained my legs and taxed my breath. Maybe because it was my first hike in a year or so. Maybe because I am getting older. Maybe both. Despite all the biking I have been doing, the hike strained different parts of me.

So it was a little more work than I had anticipated.

My first thought was, "if this easy hike is this hard, there is no way I can climb Denali next year. I should just forget it."

My second thought was, "if this is this hard, I MUST climb Denali next year." Well, then, I had better get work on that project right now.

Generally, if I go hiking in a place where the trailhead can be reached from the road system, especially this close to Anchorage, I avoid the weekends and go on a week day, to avoid the crowd. This was not only a weekend, it was a holiday - the Fourth of July.

I figured we would see lots of people on the train - maybe two or three hundred, even.

But we didn't. All the way up and all the way down, we saw maybe 15 people, including these two. It must have been grueling, for them to push their bikes up the trail, but they did it and now they were speeding down.

And the trail was steeper than it looks.

Hanging grass alongside the trail.

After a bit, we reached a good overlook of Eklutna Lake.

Kayakers down on the lake.

Melanie had brought a plastic bag. As we moved up the trail, she plucked the tops off of dandelions, an invasive species.

"It probably won't make any difference at all," she said.

Yet, she stopped the flowers she plucked from maturing into several thousand seeds and those are seeds that now will never grow.

Yet, the dandelions will continue their invasion.

Even so, it looked the only place they could really find a place to grow was right on and along the edges of the trail.

Unbroken country seemed to be inhospitable to dandelions.

We found bear poop on the trail - really big turds. They weren't steaming hot fresh, but were still moist. For awhile after that, Melanie started calling out to the bears as we walked, to tell them we were here and meant them no harm and so they had no need to harm us.

Way up on the mountainside, I spotted what I at first though were Dahl sheep. Upon closer inspection, I think they were goats.

A tiny butterfly - maybe a moth.

These little worm-or-caterpillar like characters were hanging web-like threads from alder trees. They seemed to have taken a hard toll on the alders.

They also found their way onto necks and into our hair. It did not feel good when they did that.

The hiking was much steeper at the end than it had been at the beginning, but my body got used to it and it wasn't as hard. It had rained earlier and the trail was slippery.

This is one of the other 15 or so people that we saw. She came along as Melanie and I were sitting and admiring the country we had climbed over.

And then she took off on a run. Now... Civi has stated that he does want me to take a picture just for him, but I cannot change the fact that when I saw her jog across the mountain side, it looked like real freedom to me, Fourth of July kind of freedom, it looked like the very picture that I had been looking for and I thought about Civi and I took it.

But okay, Civi - this picture is not for you, it is for everybody who reads this blog, taken on behalf of both you and me.

After my first trip to India, I gave a camera that I no longer used to my new nephew, Vijay. He then went out and won an award in an Indian photo contest - that award was this little green backpack. He sent it to me.

Because I tend to carry so much equipment when I travel, I had a much bigger bag but I hated it. 

After Vijay gave me this bag, I figured out a way to leave that bag home and just take this one.

It has proven to be an exceptionally good gift.

Thank you, Vijay.

Melanie kept asking me if she could carry it for me. I was fine carrying it, but finally did let her carry it for awhile. She is always looking out for me like that.

On the way down, we found this beautiful Alaska wild rose.

Down at the bottom, we got back into Melanie's car and drove toward Anchorage and the cookout. I have related no details about the climb and the conversation and the company, because it would take a long time for me to that.

But it was good. The company was good, the conversation was good.

I wish we could do something like this every week.


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I seek a July 4 photo of American freedom for a civilian-mass audience* of Greece: Part 2 of 4: The Wasilla parade

Note: Sometimes strange and unintended things happen when publishing online. I posted this about three hours ago and from my data I know it had some visits. Then, without me ever unposting it, it came unposted. So now I repost it. (5:17 PM, July 5, 2011)

As it happened, I think I took my favorite parade picture after the parade - when I was in Melanie's and she was driving us toward the Chugach, where we would take a hike up the Twin Peak's Trail. As we passed through the main part of Wasilla, these kids came rolling by, going in the opposite direction.

I had not seen them in the parade, as we left early. I needed to meet Melanie and one poor grandmother was exhausted from trying to keep two rambunctious little boys safe and secure while her husband chased marchers and floats around.

Although you see only one picture here, this is a 23 picture post. It's just that I do not have time to include the other 22 here, especially considering that I still have two Fourth of July posts to go.

So, to see the other 22, you must go to the slide show. There you will find many flags, a couple of cute kids and dogs, soldiers decked out in combat gear, boy scouts, various politicians in search of votes, pretty girls dancing and cartwheeling in the street, people on motorcycles and horse, children waving at a hearse and things of that nature.

Among the politicians will be one dressed in red, one hand held up in waving gesture, a Vietnam veteran hat on his head. This is Verne Rupright, Wasilla's current mayor now campaigning for reelection. I post neither for or against him, but as a couple of his political competitors are identified by signs carried in their parade entourages, I figured it only fair to point out that this is the man they seek to beat.

*My friend, a civilian-mass audience has let me know via a comment that he does not want me to find a photo just for him, but to just go about things as normal, giving him no special consideration and he will keep coming back.

One must respect such a request, yet I cannot change the fact that as I shot yesterday's take, I kept wondering when a particular photo might appear. It did appear and when I get to it, I will let you know but I will not say it is just for Civi, but rather is for everybody and I just happened to be thinking of a civilian-mass audience when I shot it.

I did not take that shot at the parade, although I did take a number of decent Wasilla Fourth of July photos.


23 image slide show of Wasilla's July 4 parade


I seek a July 4 photo of American freedom for a civilian mass audience of Greece: Part 1 of 4: Breakfast at Abby's

I had wanted us to be at Abby's Home Cooking right at 9:00, so that maybe we could be her very first customers. But, when you are a sleepy person on a Fouth of July morning and you and your wife have two little kids to get ready to take with you - well, it just takes longer to get ready than you think it will.

So it was closer to 10 when we pulled in.

As we got out of the car, Kalib suddenly said, "taste of home."

I don't know how he came up with such a thing, but he did.

On the third of July, my friend in Greece who I have met only in a burning place online made a comment wishing all his friends in the USA a happy Fourth. Civi is an amazing guy, full of goodwill to just about everybody, but life has been challenging for him in Greece lately - as it has for his entire nation.

So I told him that on this fourth of July, I would find a picture to take, just for him.

Maybe I would find it during breakfast at Abby's?

We had barely sat down when my nose caught an aroma wafting through the air... and it wasn't home cooking.

It was Jobe. Margie had changed his diaper just before we left the house, but he waited until we all sat at the table to drop the bomb... and it was a smeller!

That's not Pepsi Kalib is drinking for breakfast, by the way - it's apple juice.

We placed our orders - eggs, bacon and hashbrowns for me, biscuits and gravy for the Margie and scrambled eggs, apple juice and toast for the boys and then dashed back to the car and off to the house to pick up a diaper for Jobe.

For some reason, I had imagined us having a nice, peaceful, relaxed, breakfast, but it wasn't working out that way. Neither boy wanted to sit still - they just wanted to jump up, run around, roll around, crawl beneath things and cause chaos. 

One kid would take off, I would catch him, sit him back down and then the other one would go.

I had my hands more than full and could hardly touch my camera, but I squeaked this one off. 

Paulie Parkhurst, the sister of Abby, came to the rescue. She took both boys from me and led them to a place where a play area had been set up, just for people in our situation. Paulie was very good at this, and Kalib loved her immediately.

Outside the window, Abby gestured to what I believe was a friend or relative, coming to check out the new restaurant on opening day.

It seemed to me that it should have taken Margie maybe eight minutes to get to the house and come back with the diaper, but it felt much longer than that. MUCH longer. But maybe that's all it was - although I do not think so.

In time, she returned and we commenced to eat breakfast.

Margie took charge of feeding Kalib.

I took charge of feeding my little man, Jobe. Everything was now peaceful and calm - for about three minutes. Then those boys were rambunctious again.

When I eat breakfast out, I generally ask to have my toast served after I have finished everything else, so that I can slowly eat and savor it as I sip coffee.

When my toast arrived, Margie took the boys so they could walk towards home. "You can enjoy your toast in peace," she said.

I hated to see them go, but, indeed, I did savor and enjoy my toast in peace.

And I got a little bit of a chance to visit Paulie, Abby and Abby's husband Andy Hammond. The morning of July 4 might seem an odd time to open an out-of-the way restaurant, but they had their reasons.

Abby and Andy first met in Canada, 20 years ago on the Fourth of July.

They got married in Dawson City, Canada, where the Mahoney's have a ranch, one year later - on July 4. At the wedding, they served a pig and a bear leg and then danced on a platform that Andy and Abby had made.

Since that time, the Fourth has been a doubly special day to them, a day of taking on and trying new things.

Hence, they opened their restaurant on the Fourth of July.

"We had a wild time," Paulie remembers.

Given the fact that there was a parade going on in town, and people were out camping and fishing, shooting off crackers and rockets and doing Fourth of July things, there weren't many customers on opening morning.

In fact, most of the time we were there it was just us - which, given the circumstances we faced with our energetic and rambunctious grandsons, that was probably for the best.

But, here is what I have to say - although I did not really get to savor it, the food was good. This is a real, genuine mom-and-pop and brothers and sisters and children and friends of children operation.

I know - down on the Parks Highways where everyday cars pass by by the thousands - this time of year, tens of thousands, I suspect - there are many good restaurants to stop and eat at - everything from sushi superb to some very excellent Mexican cuisine.

And for breakfast, there is IHOP, Mat-Su Valley Family Restaurant and Denali Family Restaurant and maybe somewhere else too and you can get very good, satisfying and filling breakfasts at all these places and they are right on the highway, which is not Main Street but is Wasilla's main drag, and is a very busy place.

But, I urge you, if you are in this area and you are hungry, turn off the Highway at Church Road, drive about 2.5 miles down until you reach the corner of Church and Seldon.

There you will find Abby's Home Cooking.

Give it a try.

Margie and I will be back... I think without the boys next time, unless Jacob and Lavina are here with us.

When I stepped out the door and got into the car to leave, I discovered that Margie and the boys had not gotten far.

So, I stopped and picked them up.

"Want to go see if the parade is still going?" I asked.

I'm pretty sure Civi will enjoy these breakfast pictures - yet I did not yet feel that I had gotten my special picture just for him.

I wanted that picture to speak of America and the idea of freedom, which at times we speak always of how free we are enjoy more than we do at other times. Indeed, I would say that in starting out this little venture, Abby and Andy are acting in the best spirit of the freedom we Americans seek and boast of

Even so, and although I am pretty certain Civi will be impressed by this family and what they have, I still felt that the the special American Fourth of July freedom picture that I wanted to take just for him had not yet appeared before my camera. Maybe I would take it at the parade.

I will post something from the parade within the next hour or so and you can see if I succeeded.

And don't anyone worry - Metro Cafe will always be the coffee shop where I go every afternoon when I am in Wasilla and sometimes mornings too.


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