HOT

Hot. A hundred degrees. This is how we fight:

I am silent. Why does he always have to be so negative? Okay, so it’ll be expensive to connect the electricity. It’ll be expensive to build the road. We knew that, we planned for it. God. He didn’t even notice the berries I picked. So what if we can’t find water up on the hill? It was just one man’s dumb opinion and anyway, we already have a well.

He is silent. Doesn’t she ever listen? The man said it was just clay, sticky, thick clay. No water. We were stupid to buy this place before we knew about the well. Stupid. Now I’ll have to pay to dig a well I already know won’t produce. And she just sits there like some Pollyanna, oh everything will be fine. It’ll cost a fortune to pump all the way from the old well, and there won’t be enough pressure when we do. Somebody has to be realistic. It’s not “fine.”

So we ride home without talking. We listen to the new/old Michael Connelly and the miles go by. Finally I ask a question about the story and the ice thaws a little. Nothing changes, we are who we are, and apparently always will be.

We drove down that afternoon, happy that the well guy had called back, that he could meet us this very day. Amazing! His name is Joe and he drove up in an old pick-up, of course. As Vik sometimes remarks, “there’s a Portlandia episode just writing itself,” and I wonder if there’s a rural Oregon corollary: Farmlandia. That’s Joe, the well guy. Jeans, of course, bit of a belly on him, bit of a 2 day beard, big smile. “Climb in, we’ll just drive up to the site, have a look.”

At least it’s air-conditioned in the cab of his truck, and we lurch up the hill. He looks for a bare spot of land on which to park, concerned that somehow his hot engine will start a fire on the dried grasses. All these lumps are ant mounds, he says, but when he kicks one over to show us, there are no ants. As before, when the septic feasibility agent was here. Ant hills, but no ants in sight. So? Aliens, maybe? Cows, I’m thinking.

Joe makes his observations, says he wants to examine neighboring well records, and we should drive around to see if we can talk to someone. On the way back down the hill, he shows us a photo of his new granddaughter, 6 months old, adorable. So old shoe, this Joe. Of course, I like him.

We approached the same neighbor that we’d met when John, the realtor, was scouting the area. She’s very friendly, helpful, and I’m glad to have met her. People don’t neighbor too much, she tells us, just go about their own lives, but are amiable enough when they meet. She couldn’t answer Joe’s questions about the depth of her well, but says they have never run out of water, and as they run a horse farm, use a lot for the animals. This seems to be good news, as her home is not far from our site.

Back at our place, the men talk. Joe has called someone, and they have a conversation by speaker phone about the land formation here. I take a plastic tub over to collect some ripe blackberries. So hot! I’m soon dripping sweat, and the berries are lush but mostly out of reach. I stomp down the dried weeds and thistles to reach into the brambles, thorns catching my shirt, my pants. I need loppers to let me get into the patch, but I manage to pick a couple of pints. I’ll cook them down, get the juice and add it to the first batch. Still not enough to make jelly, but I’ll be back.

So I’m happy. Joe has left, and I climb into our car. Larry says he wants to check on “that” pole, and disappears down the road. What that heck? Which pole? Where’s he going? I decide I’ll drive over and pick him up. He gets in. “Well, that was discouraging,” he says. “To say the least.” He slumps into the seat. Stupid. We are so stupid.

I turn the car around and we head home to Portland.

CITY KIDS ON THE FARM

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Okay, Pasadena isn’t all that urban, but I did wonder what the CA Viehls would think of our farm. Larry and I got there first yesterday, and suddenly the lower meadow/pasture looked dried out, weedy. The sun was too hot, a couple of turkey vultures circled, the blackberries were angry with thorns. You’ll note the change from the introductory photo at the top of this blog. No longer exactly your green, lush, countryside.

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“Just exactly how big is a hundred acres?” Charlie asked as we hiked past the first row of hawthorne, into the second section before the hill.
“Put it this way,” Charlie, “Andrew said. “A football field is 1.3 acres.” This interesting bit of info (where did that come from, Andrew?) stopped us in our tracks.
“Including the stadium?” from Charlie.
“No, just the field.”

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“Well, the swimming pool could go here, anyway” Charlie said, making lemonade from this lemon — a weedy patch of ninety-some football fields.
“It’s pretty far from the house,” I told him.
“Okay then, we’ll build a zip line. That’ll be very cool, because we can just let go over the water and it’ll be so great.”
While Charlie was dreaming of the improvements that could be made to this raw hundred acres, Andrew had his camera out and was recording the “before” shots. All of the photos on this post are his, and here’s another: (Be sure to click on the images to enlarge them!)

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The above photo is from the building site, but the air was hazy with dust from all the harvesting round about, and you can’t see what is really there. Rolling hills, agricultural land under plow, and the coast range foothills to the west. I sound as if I’m trying to sell you something, and I think I am. I hope you like this place as much as I do!

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Into the woods. Much cooler, in the old-fashioned sense of temperature. These are the oaks growing on the slope, which should be thinned by 60%, according to USF&W.

We descended into the eastern woodsy landscape by the creek. And I made the mistake of mentioning poison oak. Well, there is a little, and one sure doesn’t want to touch the stuff, but it does not, contrary to the alarms of my Pasadenans, jump out and twine about your legs. What with this concern, and the disappointment of the creek, Muddy Creek, let’s recall, I feared I’d lost them.

I should mention Amy here. Wonderful girl, fits between her two brothers like cool water between a tsunami (Charlie) and a deep, underground cavern (Andrew). She’s quite practical, and if there’s poison oak, she’ll simply step around it.

But Charlie is irrepressible and moves on. We should build a running track, so that he can train for the Olympics. That will be after he orbits the earth in his home-made satellite created from used M & M wrappers. And a climbing wall, adjacent to the swimming pool will be nice. He has turned his back on the creek, thank you, and will find relief and comfort in the tiled, blue waters of a California-style, ordinary, everyday swimming pool, with its adjacent in-ground Jacuzzi.

So we can see that we have quite a lot of work to do: dig a well, create a road, build a house, satisfy the aims of conservation we had in mind in addition to raising another Disneyland.

But I’m saving the best for the last. Finally, the county has responded and YES, we are approved to build a house on the site we’d selected. Now the work, the real work, not the fantasies will begin. On Monday we’ll contact a well digger. And continue to keep our fingers crossed that he/she will find water under our hillside.

Photo creds to Andrew Viehl for the gorgeous scenes. Thanks!

ERRATUM

On my post of July 26, I discussed a document that Not-My-Doctor wanted me to complete called a PULSE. This morning, a friend gently corrected me, pointing out that the form is actually known as a POLST, meaning Physicians Order for Life Sustaining Treatment. So it’s not PULSE, it’s POLST, and I was too PISSED to pay sufficient attention.

Okay, it is a good idea. We old people never know when the shoe may drop and it’s good to be prepared.

Now, let me take this opportunity, when nothing is happening at the farm, to say how much I enjoy comments (and corrections) on my posts. Thanks, Sue for the above catch. Jeanne Ederer agrees with Charlie that we should abandon the farm idea, what with the cows and all, and just create a resort for the family. Sorry, Jeanne, not going to happen! Vik thinks I should reconsider the idea of a kerchief and lose the flip-flops. See what I mean? Great stuff, and I hope you all will keep it coming.

And we’re back to waiting. When will we hear from the County re the building site? We need to dig that well, build that road (gravel,by the way) before the snow flies. No, you’re right. I should have said “before the rains of November.” I’ll let you know!

ODF&W, USF&W, NRCS

“Come on, Charlie, take these dishes into the kitchen.”
“In a minute, Mom.” Mom is Allison, my daughter-in-law, and the Peter Viehls have arrived at Black Butte for summer vacation.
Charlie is “pitching” his idea (his word) for the Hundred Acre Wood, which he has not yet seen. He would like to include a swimming pool, a ground-level trampoline, a tennis court, and an ATV racing track . . .
“Charlie,” I tell him, “you can swim in the creek.”
“Too cold,” he says.

Everyone can dream, of course. But there will probably not be any swimming in the creek or elsewhere on the property. I think we’ve oversold our “farm” to the grandkids.

Yesterday, at the property, we met a group of five habitat professionals from the above alphabet of agencies to walk about and see what should be done in the way of restoration. Not a few surprises were in store for us.

Larry began by outlining the situation. Like, we’ve only owned the place for two weeks. We pretty much have no idea what we have and what do with what we have. We just want to improve it, improve the soils, the grasslands, the oaks, the creek banks. Let’s take a walk, then, we all agree.

Down to the creek, and on the way, Sam, of NRCS (that would be Samantha in more formal context) identified the fragrant blue, low growing herb-like plant that the bees were harvesting. Pennyroyal, which was used historically for various remedies, including abortion. UNSAFE, says my source on Google, may cause death. Right. But it’s pretty, blue, has a mint-like fragrance, and is an indicator species of wetland terrain.

Down by the creek, Jarod, of USF&W pointed out a cluster of poison oak. Everyone looks with disapproval at my ankle-length pants, tennis shoes with footies. They all wear, I notice, sturdy boots and denim jeans. Check.

“It’s an island!” they exclaimed. “Fabulous! You’ll need a kayak to get around down here come winter.” Hmm. Doubt it, as I’m not your water-sport enthusiast. Can’t see myself paddling down the stream or over to the island for watercress, or whatever. But onward we marched.

Onto the portion of the place we’d identified as our wetlands. Again, great excitement from the pros. Seems we have a huge drift of tufted hair grass. Native! We feel proud. Sam, who works in wetland restoration is particularly pleased.

Now we headed up the steep oak woodland. Which we think is pretty and cool. But no. The trees are far too dense, crowded, and should be diminished by at least half. Whoa. That would be a huge load of firewood, and what would it look like? Tom, of NRCS, the oak tree guy, says they really don’t know, but expect that over time, the trees left standing would develop the typical rounded shape of Oregon white oak, and the canopy would provide the shaded understory the area enjoys now.

Up to the savannah. We learn about the grassland which is not, unfortunately, native at all. Bentgrass where there should be fescue or orchid grass. And it needs “disturbance.” As provided earlier by native peoples setting fires, or elk and deer herds. As these methods are not available to us, it means chemical application, mowing, or, ta da: cows! Yes! The cows are back in the picture. But they should be rotated, fenced in, of course, monitored. This sounds fine, if the cowherd (is that the correct word?) agrees to terms.

Whew. We had a little conference standing on the hoped-for site of our little house, and all those folk from the agencies offered advice, the most helpful of which was to relax, watch the seasons unfold, decide what resources we wish to apply to the challenges, and to understand that they are eager to help us with our overall goal of restoration. As proof of that, we both had emails when we got back to Portland from a couple of them cataloging agencies and contact info and, most astonishing, an aerial photo of the property dating from 1936. Wouldn’t recognize it!

On the way back to our cars, Sam observed that our pear tree was sure amazing. Huh? We have a pear tree? We do, about 18 feet tall, at least, and laden with fruit. How had we failed to see it? Now I want to find one of those tall fruit harvesting sticks with a little basket on the end so we can gather the pears before they ripen and fall to the ground. I love this!

GOIN’ TO THE FARM

“It’s not really a farm.”
I know, but we have to call it something. We can’t say we’re going to Llewellyn, or . . .
“Why not?”
Because I don’t like that name. Sounds like Lou-Ellen, which would be a silly name for our property.
“Then let’s just call it ‘The Property?’ Or how about ‘Corvallis’? A ‘farm’ would have a barn, chickens, corn growing in the field.”
We have a barn.
“No one would call that a barn. At best, it’s a hay shed. Whatever. Barns have doors. Ours does not.”

Such is the conversational depth we enjoy while driving south to . . . um, well, you know.
This was a much-needed trip for me, who’s spirits were well below sea level after my yearly trip to my doctor for my “well-woman,” medicare-sponsored visit. I’m FINE! But dear God, not because of my interface with the new practice of medical care obtaining in my physician’s office.

Okay, I do know how old I am. And I do know that the future is one bad moment of hard luck down the road. I get that. But, sitting in the exam room, answering a series of questions posed by three (!) young assistants (one, for whom I’m her first patient, the other two there to supervise and mentor her)?

“Are you able to dress yourself?” First question.
“Can you get up off the toilet unassisted?” Next question. And so on, for half an hour. “Have you visited the dentist in the past year? How do you get around when you have to leave your home?” Again, dear God.

Next, the actual physician, Doctor Molly’s team mate, whom I have never before met, takes over, insists that I fill out a PULSE form, which means that if I am incapacitated and not able to answer for myself, the attending physician will have guidance to what my wishes may be. Yes, fine, a good idea, but seriously, I’m beginning to wonder. How long do I have?

So. Four practitioners, none of whom I know, and who may not be able to tell from looking that I am probably able to dress myself.

Wait a minute. Maybe this was BECAUSE of the way I was dressed? You know, an actual dress?

Let me out of here!

At the farm, the sky was blue, the air warm and fragrant with the first ripe blackberries. Larry suited up in his good farmer-armor to attack the above mentioned blackberries, which are vastly out of control. My job, as sous-farmer, was to rake up the fallen brambles and pile them, maybe to be burned, come winter. Don’t know for sure. While waiting for Larry to chop down enough vines for me to collect, I wandered the property, looking for tansy ragwort, an evil invasive plant. I tried to chop out the specimens I found with one of our new tools, but discovered that I could simply pull them. Much easier. I saw a yellow bird, two deer, a dove. I think I heard our hawk.

And I began to regain my usual optimism. The oak trees are even older than I am! And they don’t care! We ate our lunches in their shade and felt alive and healthy. And very, very lucky.

COW BIZ

Today we met the owner of the (now absent) cows and got a tutorial on the cow biz. I should say that the absent cows are in route to a feed lot, but while they may like the menu in their new digs, I think their happiest days are behind them. Having driven by the Harris Ranch feed lot many times, I can only hope that is not their destination.

Mark looks too young to be the proprietor of this business without a dad or uncle behind him, but it’s pretty clear he knows what he’s doing. While “our” cows have been sold, new, 400 pound calves, secured at auction will follow, if we reach an agreement to have them. I thought I knew the answer to that question, but everything at this moment depends on the county’s decision about our building site.

We got to the property a little early, and Larry took the opportunity to try again to phone ODF&W (remember, Fish and Wildlife?). What are the chances, we wondered, of interesting them in giving us the Wildlife Habitat deferral? Turns out, chances are good, and we have an appointment with several staff members early next week. What they have to say about cows will be interesting!

While we waited for Mark, we walked over to check on the creek. At one point, we stopped, hearing the sound of bees. Looked down, and we were standing in a patch of ground clover, and there were hundreds of bees hard at work. Problem was, I was wearing flip-flops. You can imagine my concern.

Told about our hopes with ODF&W, Mark seemed unconcerned. He could work with that, perhaps tap the spring on the property to keep the animals away from the creek. Wait! There’s a spring on our property? I began to imagine a little pond, the kids would like that. Those baby ducks Alli talks about? Hmm.

FIRST TREE

The villain:
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The Hero:
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One tree at a time, we say.

It was supposed to be hot on Sunday, as in the 90’s. A rare cancellation of Larry’s weekly golf game, coinciding with the acquisition of what we now know to call a “brush chopper,” allowed us the opportunity to get down to the farm and try out our shiny new implement.

Up early (we farmers like to get busy before the sun is too hot), we skipped breakfast, picked up our lattes, and headed south. The uncertain wind, the confused clouds didn’t look like a morning before a really hot day, and by Salem, there were raindrops on the windshield. But by the time we turned onto Llewellyn, the rain had moved north. We unloaded our lunch cooler, the canvas chairs we meant to haul up to the house site for our picnic, and of course, the chopper.

Larry strapped on the harness, tried to start the little engine. This required some time and a few choice bits of intemperate Minnesota language, but soon he was happily decapitating thistles and blackberry brambles. My job was to clear the dead-fall limbs to a pile in what I guess we’ll call the meadow. This area is still on the flat land, separated from the road and the flood-plain pasture by a row of trees we later identified as some variety of thornless Hawthorne. I know, it says “thorn” right there in the name, but by every characteristic, the shape of the leaves, and the berries, Hawthorne they remain. Our first tree stands sentinel to a grove of oak that begins to climb the hill to the south.

The clouds gathered and dispersed, and a few rumbles of thunder threatened rain, but for a couple of hours, we worked, smelled the oxygen, felt the sun when it appeared and thought OMG. This is it.

Full disclosure: By the time I was old enough to know better, I did not love my life as a farm child. Hated the chickens. Stupid cow. No horse? Seriously. Picking strawberries and beans, crawling around in the mud? Then, when I was thirteen, or so, a girl moved into a home up the road newly built by her family. Her mother did not amuse herself hauling dead branches to a burn pile, and most certainly did not tie a scarf under her chin like some Polish emigre. Did not milk the cow, as did mine, for God’s sake. This mother got manicures, knew what a martini flag was (what a martini itself was), drove a Buick, had nervous breakdowns and smoked cigarettes. I became ashamed of my peasant-like mother, who canned tomatoes and sewed all our clothes. (Who also graduated Ohio State Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in mathematics, by the way.) (That didn’t seem to count at the time.) When I grew up, I would live in Paris or San Francisco and write important novels and drink martinis. No chickens, no farm.

Joke’s on me. Sorry, Mom!

But the rain began, settled in, yesterday, and Larry and I had to give up. We’d driven across the lower pasture into the little meadow, and thought we’d better get ourselves back out by the road before the land got soggy enough to sink the SUV. We sat in the car, doors open to the smell of the rain, ate our sandwiches and planned the future. For those of you who expressed concern, thank you, and I’m happy to report that all Larry’s toes are still attached. And if you’re wondering about his buy-in to this adventure, tonight at dinner he asked if I’d mind too much if he went back down tomorrow. Without me! I have an appointment for a pedicure and can’t go (see section re sophisticated woman above). This is just wrong! Must schedule my pedicures more carefully going forward.

Here’s First Tree:

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TWO OLD PEOPLE WALK INTO A FARM EQUIPMENT STORE

Friday night, Larry was tormented. We’d closed on the property without having the precious commitment from the county that we can build a house where we want to. “John never would have closed,” Larry says, referring to a former colleague at Columbia. “John didn’t get that commitment? He’d walk away. Last minute, whatever.”

John was a very successful businessman, all right. Unfortunately, the hard-driving, take-no-prisoners John has gone to his immortal home in the sky, while my more gentle husband is here beside me to make this adventure possible, no matter how it turns out.

Still, the question is, how to begin when we don’t know where the house will be. Can’t arrange to dig the well, build the road. Can’t go shopping for an ATV when there’s no place to park it.
Ah, but we can shop for a weed-eater to attack the thistles and blackberries which have sprung up all over the property. And so, on Saturday morning, two old people walk into a farm equipment store.

Are you telling us a joke?

Sounds like it, doesn’t it. “We’d like to look at a weed-eater,” Larry said. The salesman sprang up to help us. Led us to the wall where these devices hung, and pulled off a light-weight model and handed it to Larry. “How big is your yard?” he politely enquired.

“Um. A hundred acres,” Larry said.

“Did you say a hundred?” the salesman asked, almost successful in hiding his incredulity. We could feel the glances bouncing between the sales personnel in the showroom. The eyebrows lifting. Don’t these people realize they’re old?

Larry explained that we’re not trying to clear the whole property with this tool, just some patches of thistle. Blackberry.

Apparently what we need is a “brush-cutter.” Not a “weed-eater.” The Husqvarna people could be forgiven for thinking we have no idea what we’re doing. After some negotiation, after Larry tried on the harness and had a lesson in starting the thing, after we got a discount because they didn’t have the model we wanted, we walked out into the sunshine. Whew! That was fun!

We no longer felt becalmed. On the way. Yeah. Tomorrow I’ll tell you how it worked out.

IT’S COME TO THIS: HAS, or HAD?

Well, says County, it appears to be a house all right, but does it have, or did it have, a heating system? Huh?

It has a chimney, the tax records show that it has/had a wood-stove insert, would that mean the place had heat? People lived there! It has to have had some heat source. We just don’t know what.

Well, show us, says County.

Sigh. Show them what? Something that isn’t there, apparently. We saddle up the SUV and head south.

It was a very nice day, and we haven’t yet gotten bored with the excitement of the trip. As we turned onto Llewellyn, we saw the spectacle of the harvest. Combines were proceeding in a stately way, one after another through the golden fields of grain. Oh, make that “amber.” Great trucks were being loaded with the grass seed which is the fruit of this harvest. It felt as if we’d driven into an Ivan Doig novel, though I don’t know if they grow grass seed in Montana.

We would have liked to park at the side of the road to watch, but we were people on a mission. On to the house that may or may not be a house. It requires an act of some courage to enter the place, but with a deep breath and our cell-phone cameras at the ready, we stepped inside. It’s even worse than I’d remembered, if that’s possible. But there was the hole in the chimney wall at an appropriate distance off the floor to prove the one-time existence of something that, in any case, left a ring of smoke-stain around the hole. A rectangular space below the hole, a different color from the surrounding wall, and that was it. Proof of a heating system? It’s all we had, so we took the photos and emailed them to Christe, our formidable and wonderful attorney.

Back home to wait for County to comment.

Very good, says County. But. (Here we go. But? Now what?) According to the statute relevant before 2013, the heating system would have to have been in place no longer ago than one year from today’s date. According to the revised statute, applicable after 2013, the house has only to have HAD a heating system at some unidentified point in time. It either HAS a system or HAD a system. To qualify for HAS, though missing today, it should have been removed no earlier than July 10, 2013. Could we please inform the county when the stove or whatever it was had been removed?

If you were with me through all that, thank you. The implication: If it HAS a heating system, we can build the replacement house wherever we want. If it only HAD a system, County has not yet decided how they will interpret the revised statute, and while we may indeed build a house, perhaps not where we’d like. And we have no idea, nor have we any way to discover, when the system had been removed.

What to do? The amazing Christe to the rescue. Why not, she suggests, buy a heating unit of some sort, (like an electric space heater or something — nothing major) plug it in, attach it to the chimney hole, take a photo and bingo. The house HAS a heating system.

She laughs. Seriously, she says, sorry to do this to you. But she’s going to offer this solution to County and see how he responds. You want a house with an intact heating system? Here you go.

Later this same day: Now Christe has pored over the statute and discovered that with the less difficult HAD standard, the house we build must be within so many yards of the house to be replaced. Like 500 yards. Hooray, the site we have chosen in within the 500 yards, and we’re good to go? We don’t have to install a new system?

Not sure. Christe will be talking to County later this morning, and in the meanwhile, Larry and I will take out our virtual pens, sign the documents, and the place will be ours. One way or the other.

I think I’ll go have a glass of wine. Oh, I don’t drink wine, but never mind! I do believe that within minutes, we will own the Hundred Acre Wood, and that’s cause for celebration.

WHEN IS A HOUSE A HOUSE?

Okay, Measure 49 says that an owner of a property in Farm Use Only may build a replacement home on his land. We will be an approved Measure 49 property owner, but to build a replacement home means we must be replacing a home. Got it?

Seems simple enough, but not so fast. Of course, Benton County does not want folks to build a home to replace, say, a tree fort. A camp site. A lean to. A calving shed. We understand, but we have tax records and title history to demonstrate that we’re talking about a real, actual house.

Not good enough. Show us, says the county. But the clock is ticking toward our closing date on the 10 of July, and we would like some confirmation, in writing please, that our house is a house.

So, on this Independence Day weekend, we packed up our gear after a nice weekend at Black Butte and drove to Llewellen — hmm. Is it Avenue? Road? Street? Learned that Highway 20 into Albany is pretty sketchy, but that there is a nice Starbucks in the Safeway in Sweet Home. Also that we don’t have to go all the way to Albany, but can join 34 somewhere around Lebanon and go straight to the Corvallis exit off I 5. This is just good info against the day when we may want to go from the farm to BBR.

We took photos, to show that our “house” has a roof, walls, electricity, plumbing, water, and so on. I think we can all agree that the house is no longer inhabitable, and quite eligible for replacement. Sent the photos, of which these are but two, to the lawyer helping us in our quest.

Now it’s up to Benton County. Tick, tick.IMG_0801

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