Sunday, August 1, 2010

Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge

Creamer's Dairy supplied Alaska's interior and northern area with milk products for fifty years. Over those years the family enjoyed the return of the migratory waterfowl every spring. When the dairy closed in 1966 the family wanted the fields saved for the migratory birds. When we were there yesterday the only waterfowl we saw were the sandhill cranes. A few of them do stay over for the summer months. At the visitor's center we were informed that the soil had just been turned over in the fields and that brought in cranes looking for bugs to eat in the fresh soil.
The waterfowl refuge also has trails through a boreal forest. Boreal means "of the North". It is a forest made up primarily of birch, aspen, spruce trees and other vegetation which stretches across the far northern regions of America, Russia and Asia. Interpretive signs along the trail we took pointed out various features of a boreal forest. The layer of permafrost found in this forest is covered by a layer of organic matter which feels quite spongy when walked on. Over time the permafrost contracts and cracks. Melted water flows into the cracks and, when that freezes, creates ice wedges. When the ice wedges melt the soil surface slumps, causing trees to tilt or fall. The park service noted this  has been happening more frequently since 1996. The trail around the group of trees in the picture below has been rerouted three times from 1996-2006. The blame seems to lie with global warming.
Today, Sunday, we were fortunate to find a Lutheran church in North Pole where we attended services. The services were held in a tent outside on the church grounds. After services we were invited inside for a light lunch. When we had finished eating we went upstairs to tour the nave of the church. We were pleasantly surprised to find a cross of diamond willow above the altar. Diamond willow is a willow tree which has been invaded by a fungus. When the bark is peeled away from the branches diamond patterns can be seen on the wood. Those patterns have been created by the presence of the fungus. When the branches have been sanded and wax rubbed over them, they can be made into beautiful art objects. This was the first time we saw that wood used for a cross. What a beautiful setting for it! Tomorrow we will start our journey out of Alaska, this may probably be my last posting until we arrive back in the states.

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