Category Archives: Life Out of Balance

Monarch Migration Plunges to Lowest Level in Decades – NYTimes.com

Monarch Migration Plunges to Lowest Level in Decades – NYTimes.com.

But an equally alarming source of the decline, both Mr. Taylor and Mr. Vidal said, is the explosive increase in American farmland planted in soybean and corn genetically modified to tolerate herbicides.

The American Midwest’s corn belt is a critical feeding ground for monarchs, which once found a ready source of milkweed growing between the rows of millions of acres of soybean and corn. But the ubiquitous use of herbicide-tolerant crops has enabled farmers to wipe out the milkweed, and with it much of the butterflies’ food supply.

“That habitat is virtually gone. We’ve lost well over 120 million acres, and probably closer to 150 million acres,” Mr. Taylor said.

A rapid expansion of farmland — more than 25 million new acres in the United States since 2007 — has eaten away grasslands and conservation reserves that supplied the monarchs with milkweed, he said.

The monarchs’ migration is seen as a natural marvel and, for Mexico, a huge tourist attraction. But naturalists regard the butterflies as a forward indicator of the health of the food chain. Fewer butterflies probably means there are fewer other insects that are food for birds, and fewer birds for larger predators.

Here on my ranchito I have seen no monarchs this year.  It is a little early for their migration through central Texas (at least here in north Erath County, Texas), and I will hold off making any conclusive statements about their pattern for several more weeks.

I have only a few sprouts of milkweed on my 53 acres.  I know precisely where the milkweed is and seek to keep it flourishing for the butterflies.

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The drumming lover: the plight of the Gunnison sage grouse

Grouse

SEVERAL springs ago some friends and I arose before dawn in Moab, Utah, to witness the sunrise mating dance of the Gunnison sage grouse: a surreal display of nine ornately plumed, chicken-size birds tottering about amid the sagebrush like windup toys, fanning their spiky tails and uttering a magical sound — “pop … pop-pop!” — as they thrust yellow air sacs out of their snow-white chests.

The Plight of the Gunnison Sage Grouse – NYTimes.com.

Read the rest of the article and support adding the Gunnison sage grouse, the drumming lover, to the endangered species act.

On the matter of we people expanding into the wild, the veld, we decide whether to deep clean and cultivate assiduously the earth or whether to leave unturned and uncultivated the earth upon which we trod.  In between this binary choice–turning or not turning the soil–there is no middle ground.  This choice is one of those locked-down moments of either-or, either alive or dead, nothing in between, either turning the soil for cultivation or leave it alone.

Therefore, to keep alive and robust the biota of this good earth–the Gunnison sage grouse, for example, –we must as a people, as temporary tenants of this space, here and now, leave sufficient areas of territory for species to live, to roam, to rest, to raise families.  Yes, we need to cultivate land as well, but large tracts of it?  At the expense of destroying major habitats?  In response to all living things, therefore, let us ratchet down, pin down less tightly, our clearing land and cutting trees and brush, so that we as a people can rise early in the morning and attend the dance of life in those spaces we have tenderly set aside.

(To be continued, The post-industrial order.)

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WeBLOG adobe las golondrinas

Window with bars, Las Golondrinas, New Mexico (2011)

A few notes from las golondrinas behind the bars:

Private business in cahoots with governmental agencies build solar arrays and oil pipelines that crisscross the American West.  Is this really necessary?  Tortoises are relocated — or at least a great many of them were — and wildlife corridors “will” be constructed to allow wild game to browse in the Great American West.  By all means let’s  power our cell phones, televisions and gaming equipment so that we can “see” nature on television, iPhones and earn all the levels of virtual combat games that we can boast about to our chums by e-mail on yahoo, gmail and msn.com.  Why, who needs “real” critters when we have “virtual” critters?

* * *

An old Native American narrative:  Grandfather takes grandson to see a river that runs between two mountains.  The river has cut a deep gorge between the mountains.

Grandfather:  Grandson, which is stronger, the river or the mountains?

Grandson:  (trying hard, puzzled)  The river, Grandfather?

Grandfather says nothing, looks at Grandson.

Grandson:  (trying harder to figure it out, changing answer)  The mountains, Grandfather?

Grandfather says nothing for a minute or two.

Grandfather:  Grandson, it doesn’t matter!

* * *

Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden that a telegraph line was being built to connect Maine with Texas.  He said, in effect, That’s nice, but will they have anything to say to each other?

* * *

On the topic of a lot things:  It doesn’t matter.

______________________________

Notes, corrections and additions:

“Los Golondrinas” is Spanish for swallows.

There is a huge solar array system being built out on the Mojave Desert between California and Nevada.  Chris of Coyote Crossing has tried to impede the construction of the array because of the tortoise issue.  See his blog on my bloglist below for further news of these “necessary” and stupendous power grids in the making.

The narrative about Grandfather-Grandson is courtesy of Blu Cooksey.

Of course everyman has his Walden, so the quote is in there!  Please go look it up.

The origin of “blog” is from the two words, Web and log.  I don’t know if the OED has caught up with “blog” yet.  “In hindsight, it seems amazing that I did finish [her translation] — and, indeed, that anyone working the British university system ever finishes anything…,” writes translator Susanna Morton Braund in her preface of Juvenal and Persius, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004.  Now, in my opinion, finishing the translation of Juvenal’s writing from Latin to English does matter.  Well, maybe not.

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Pyrocumulus over Possum Kingdom Lake

Pyrocumulus over Possum Kingdom Lake (MSNBC photo, August 2011)

As I drove back to the ranchito yesterday afternoon from Abilene, moving with light traffic on Interstate 20 near Eastland, Texas, I looked northeast and saw towering pyrocumulus clouds. Approximately forty to fifty miles away from where I drove on the highway, I pinpointed the fires at Palo Pinto, Texas, or Possum Kingdom Lake. My ranchito lay far away from the inferno, so my anxiety lessened and I began to think more intently about the precise location. The smoke rose high in the sky, becoming pyrocumulus, rolling and billowing upwards.  It had started at about 1:30 p.m.

When I arrived at the house, I turned on the television and Dallas-Fort Worth stations reported the fires near Possum Kingdom Lake, the southeastern side of the huge lake that dams the Brazos River, the largest river in Texas. In April, fires had erupted about the lake, destroying homes and thousands of acres of trees and grass with attendant wildlife. Once again, Possum Kingdom habitat ignites, the residents flee not having time to salvage photos or documents.

I ruminate that our region suffers a drought, cow tanks dry, underbrush decadent and my primary source of water, the Barton Creek Cooperative, restricts water use with heavy penalties for violators.  In the Possum Kingdom fire zone, summer camps for teenagers and children abound, primary homes and secondary homes stand close to trees that are pruned carefully, the underbrush removed as a fire hazard.  Yet, so, when the spark falls on the dead, crackly grass and brush, natural forces beyond man’s control take precedence and airships with their whap-whap-whap of whirling blades pour water onto flames that send smoke and ashes high into the sky, creating pyrocumulus in the blue skies of Texas.  I think of a line from Full Metal Jacket:  Who is in command here?

The origin of the fire is unknown and as of this morning, August 31, the fire is not contained.

For a morning news report, August 31, 2011, see “Wildfires burning homes in Texas, Oklahoma,” from MSNBC.

______________________________

Notes, corrections and additions:

The quote from the movie, “Who’s in command here?” originally read Apocalypse Now.  The proper citation is from the movie, Full Metal Jacket.

The photograph from MSNBC shows smoke and ash close to the ground and none of the “clouds” are pyrocumulus.  I saw the pyrocumulus while on the interstate highway and I failed to use my iPhone to photograph the phenomenon. 

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Filed under Life Out of Balance, Weather, Wildfire

Chocolate to mesquite

Several months ago in a previous post, I wrote that one of my field objectives on the Flying Hat Ranchito was to identify every tree species rooted about the pastures and Salt Creek.  Beginning with this post, I identify the mesquite tree.  Unless Southwesterners have been reared in a dark box, everyone recognizes the mesquite and usually such identification is followed with a curse word or two.   Except for the far pasture between Barton Creek and Salt Creek, mesquite erupts constantly about the ranchito and requires annual shredding or pruning.  I relate to the mesquite tree without impatience, finding it worthy of praise, not scorn.  But, first, from a objective point of view, then followed by subjectivity.

The mesquite tree…

Mesquite is one of the most widely distributed trees in Texas. It is a small to medium tree with an irregular crown of finely divided bipinnately compound foliage that casts very light dappled shade underneath. It is armed with thorns sometimes up to 2 inches long. In the spring, summer and after rains it is covered with fragrant white flowers, and the long bean pods are ornamental as well as providing food for wildlife and livestock. Mesquite is not a rancher’s favorite tree: it readily invades overgrazed sites and other disturbed land, is virtually impossible to get rid of, and the thorns injure livestock. However, the foliage, flowers and fruit are attractive, it adapts to almost any soil that is not soggy, it is heat and drought tolerant, it fixes nitrogen in the soil and provides many areas of Texas with shade, fuel and timber where otherwise there would be none. The wood is used in flooring, furniture, and as a cookwood for seasoning.

“Texas Native Plants Database,” Texas A&M University (2011).

The mesquite bean is also ground up and can be used as an additive to wheat flour or corn flour for making tortillas and bread.  I’ve not tried the recipe, but I shall from a Native American reference I have on file.

* * *

Objects that appear void of emotional affect to one person may be illuminated with soundings of deep, ineffable meaning to another.  The mesquite and juniper trees in my life resound with spiraling emotion that takes me to a different plain, evoking events in my memory that I never forget and can only begin to understand.   I shall write about the juniper another day.  Today my focus is the mesquite.

When I was a boy, about five or six years old, I used to play underneath a mesquite tree adjacent to my mother’s studio apartment in Brownwood, Texas.  It was shortly after World War II had concluded and my father had separated from us and was reestablishing himself in Pennsylvania, far away from Texas, the place he met my mother.  Across the street from mother’s apartment, my grandmother lived in a small trailer house and took care of me while mother worked at Southwestern States Telephone Company.  At the time, I did not know how close we were to destitution.  I was a boy and I played outside underneath the mesquite tree, thoughtless and innocent about money matters.

One day as I played under the mesquite tree, I heard the sound of the wind — a southwest wind — flowing through the trees as I had never heard it before, but have ever since.   The sound was of medium pitch, neither high nor low, and it persisted with a rising and falling velocity, bending branches, shifting the shade about me and my toys.  As I heard the wind, I felt lonely, really alone in the world.  My mother was in the house — I knew that — but I sensed a separation from her and a state of emotion that evoked a sadness, a sorrow that I found inexpressible at the time.  The moment remains clear and even the affect is still apparent.  It  never leaves me.

Years later I came to realize that under the mesquite tree I felt, for the first time, a separateness from other things, other people.  I realized I was an individual, distinctively apart from others, and there was no going back I came to find out.  Under a mesquite tree was the place  the affect of estrangement spooled out and bound me.  I’m not alone in that awareness and that is a comfort, for we all sense that estrangement and how we meet the abyss and gain unity or self-loss is the rest of our life.  These days, as I walk underneath and beside mesquite trees on the ranchito, I sense the mesquite as a companion one day and a intransigent master teacher the next.  It helped me grow.  I didn’t want to, but it threw me out of my Eden.

* * *

In Aztec mythology, Quetzalcoatl, the giver of knowledge and wisdom to the people was thrown out of his city, country and reign for moral turpitude.  As he went into exile, going east, he crossed the mountains to the sea, his dwarf companions died from the cold and the chocolate trees he passed turned to mesquite and great sorrow came upon the land.

[This is first of several posts on the mesquite.]

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Filed under Cedar, Life in Balance, Life Out of Balance, Recollections 1942-1966

The clarity of wildfire Possum Kingdom 22 APR 11

Firefighters loading bulldozer for the run to Palo Pinto, Texas, when it was ordered evacuated.

I have resided mostly in Texas all of my life and when young I do not remember wildfire. For some reason pastures and forests in Texas have changed, and within the last ten years in south Palo Pinto County and north Erath County, fires have erupted and destroyed trees, wildlife, livestock, pastures, firemen and innocents.

By my count, around Strawn, Mingus and Gordon, Texas, three large wildfire outbreaks have occurred within the last ten years. On two occasions, I have hitched trailers to move horses off of our ranch and have prepared checklists for evacuation. At night, the mountainsides appear to have torches marching down to our pastures to kill and maim the living. The next morning, trees smolder on the slopes, the torches of the night before.

Fire brings a clarity to decision-making: there’s no ambiguity about whether to do one chore or another, read one book or the other or how to spend one’s day at work or on the ranch. You don’t worry about combing your hair or washing your face.

You fight the fire. You wait. Or, you evacuate. Forget muddling around and killing time for your home, livestock or grassland may not exist this time tomorrow. And, neither may wildlife you have observed. Only fishes in cow tanks will make it through the day if they are not sucked up by helicopters filling their water tanks.

Within this last week, the Possum Kingdom Complex Fire came within seven miles of our place before the night fell and winds died. Then the next day, the winds shifted and carried the flames northward. A shift in wind the day after that and Palo Pinto was ordered to evacuate, the town where we have our house insurance and our branch bank.

The clarity of wildfire is the clarity of life and death. Today you are here, but tomorrow all you possess and cherish may be gone. Non-existence may be sooner rather than later. That much is clear.

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Kiowa wind, grass, colors

Map of the Kiowa Territory in Western Oklahoma, 1833-1843, from Alice Marriott, The Ten Grandmothers, p. 15.

In 1944, Alice Marriott in her book, The Ten Grandmothers, recorded Kiowa Spear Woman’s narrative of the motion and color changes of prairie grasses.  The “Ten Grandmothers” are ten Kiowa medicine bundles.  The bundles still exist, but they have not been opened since the 1890s when the last person who had the right to see the contents died.

For Leah the south porch of the big house was the best part of home.  Here you could sit and watch sunrise or sunset; watch the shapes of the earth change and move as the sun moved.  Then you knew, when you sat out there, that the earth was alive itself.

Spear Woman sat beside her granddaughter and thought that the earth had gone dead.  Lights played and moved, and cloud shadows came and went, but the earth itself had somehow died.  It was all one color now; not like the old days when its shades really changed and flickered like flames under the wind.  She stirred and sighed and spoke.

When the buffalo moved across it, there were other colors and other lights.

The thought was near enough Leah’s own to startle her.  There are lots of colors there now.

Her father spoke behind them.  Not like there used to be.  In the days that even I remember, there was one color when the wind was from the north and another when it was from the south, one from the east and another from the west.  Now the grass is all one color on every side, and it doesn’t change with the wind.

Sometimes the colors change.  Down near Lawton there is a prairie where the grass takes different colors.

* * *

[Spear Woman insists they travel to Lawton (Fort Sill, Oklahoma), fifty miles away.]

She brought her best Pendleton blanket from the trunk and spread it over the seat.  She put on her very best clothes and painted her face….

Two lines of high, tight fence spread across the prairie from a gate, and Spear Woman sat stiff, suddenly.  What is that!  That is grass like the old days.  Real grass.  All different colors.

It was, too.  It was like changeable silk, the kind the Delawares used to trim their blankets.  Yellow as the wind struck it; rose-color as it died away; then a sort of in-between color, with patterns that moved like patterns in silk when you folded it….

Shade was not even in sight, and when they had driven through the gates, with the lines of the fence on either hand, it was still not easy to find.  Spear Woman didn’t care.  She sat and watched the grass turn over in the sun, flickering and bending and straightening like little campfire flames, and was happy.  It was the old kind of grass, the old, rippling, running prairies, even if there were fences.  She was glad her eyes were dim, because she didn’t always see the fences, and could forget about them.  It was all peaceful and alive again.

From Alice Marriott, The Ten Grandmothers, pp. 285-288.

* * *

When I was a boy, my grandmother drove between Brownwood and Bend, Texas, near San Saba to visit relatives.  I watched fields of grass sway in the wind on either side of the road, a narrow two-lane highway.  She would point out to me where she and her family had camped and where she had seen buckboard wagons ascend a hill along the creek, the hubs carving their initials along the cliffs.  I saw them and put my hands in wagon-hub grooves when we stopped to rest.  The prairie wind flowed over the grass, moving stems and leaves in a rhythm, a wave of motion like water I saw in Corpus Christi Bay.

* * *

Last year I planted six acres of native grasses in the Pecan Tree Pasture.  The grasses are native to the Cross Timbers of Oklahoma where Spear Woman found peace again, and the grasses are native to our ranch that is also designated as Cross Timbers.  The grasses in our pastures grow waist-high, chest-high in some areas, and when the prevailing wind, a southwest flow from Mexico, crosses the pastures, grasses move and bend and change color.  As I go up the road towards Huckabay, Texas, about six miles away, I always notice a very old stand of Bluestem that turns reddish-brown in the Fall and Winter, but becomes blue and green in the Spring.  The stand of Bluestem is only an acre in size and machines have not touched it in many years for it is on the side of a hill.  It is old, that family, and I care for it.  If I could move that acre of old Bluestem to my ranch, I would.  I can’t.  But I have planted its relatives in the Pecan Tree Pasture and there I shall attend to their health and growth.

______________________________

Notes:

The citation is: Alice Marriott, The Ten Grandmothers, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1945.  I have the fourth printing, October, 1951.  In the excerpt, I have omitted quotation marks and substituted italics for the spoken words.

Lawton, Oklahoma, is also the home of Fort Sill, Oklahoma, that is seen in the map above.  If you click on the map, then enlarge it with your computer, you can see more clearly the locations of encampments and the Sun Dance locations.  The Cross Timbers designation flows all the way down into Texas and includes our ranch, Flying Hat Ranch, Mingus, Texas.

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New Mexico natural gas emergency

Here is a link with news about the natural gas emergency in Taos and Espanola, New Mexico.  The blog also has a list of the most recent articles and news concerning the Arctic blast in New Mexico.  If you use Twitter, @streamtaos is tweeting up-to-date items.

What’s The Word ?: Martinez dispatches more guardsmen to assist gas company.

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Why western American landscape photography matters

John K. Hillers, Mesa at Zuni Pueblo, ca. 1875

Cameron Walker writes in a recent issue of High Country News,

Recently, I asked Martha Sandweiss, a Princeton University historian and author of Print the Legend: Photography and the American West, why people are so attracted to Western photographs — hoping, really, that I’d learn something more about myself.

Photography, she said, became a way of reframing the country after the Civil War. “The West was a place beyond history, during a time when recent history was really painful,” Sandweiss said. Many landscape photographers kept their cameras trained on the wilderness and its prospects, often omitting the West’s history and people to create a powerful illusion of a place where only the future mattered. “There’s this intense desire to imagine the West as our last great hope.”

To Sandweiss and Walker, the West in landscape photography is a place beyond history, a place where only the future matters, the West as our last great hope.  I agree.  Placing this position on one side, say, the positive side, we have the other position that Western landscape photography displaced a painful past (Civil War in this case), created an illusion and omitted actual history (relocating Indians, extermination of vast herds of buffalo, hollowing out natural resources).  Both sides fit together although we repress the pain, illusion and facts in favor of a place beyond history.  Look at the following three photographs, continue reading and let me explain.

Ansel Adams, Tetons and the Snake River, Wyoming, 1942

Jeff Lynch, Palo Duro Canyon, Texas, 2011

Montucky of Montana Outdoors, Cool, clear water, 2011

In the three photographs of Ansel Adams, Jeff Lynch and Montucky, each has captured a western landscape in pure form, without human artifice intruding — no church spires, courthouses, schools or bridges.  As we wander into these Wests, I submit that we want to leave behind those objects that change the terrain — automobile, antennas, roads.  Further, if we seek to preserve these pure forms, we must leave behind the ideologies of exploitation, over-consumption and race.  We may desire preservation, but the ongoing drive of the machine into the West can hardly be slowed down, much less stopped, as population expands.  We may want to leave behind the ideologies and terrain-changing objects and, though difficult, it is not impossible.

I do not view nature in these photographs as a cropping or harvesting opportunity and they are not presented as such by the artists.  I see rivers, streams, trees and mountains that are in themselves moving and living things, having the same molecular and atomic substance that make up my flesh, bones and hair.  Different arrangements for a time, the land and me, but substantially the same.  These three photographs give rise, I believe, to humanity’s kinship with the earth and invite gentle, ethical occupation of the land.  When I move into these Wests I do not want to construct a Monticello, but rather fit my home and hearth into the line and contour of the earth as in John K. Hillers, Mesa at Zuni Pueblo, seen above.

Leaving artifice behind, slowing the machine and having kinship with the earth in thought and deed has been tried before, and the dream has died ten-thousand times and it will die again.  Sand Creek and Ludlow coexist with the Rockies as backdrop in our history — blood and beauty.  Nonetheless, every vignette of western landscape offers the dream again, a chance to move on past the pain of history and into the wild without the machine.  Art museums, galleries and photographic books elicit a response in the viewer that there is a purity of form beyond the city, in all landscapes, all regions.  As a special art, western American landscape photography matters because it renews again and again what has been torn in our history.  We build upon beauty momentarily captured on film and not what has been shattered in history.  Western landscape photography can help us transcend what has terribly gone wrong.  As a result, I submit, we will take lighter loads and bigger hearts in our wagons when we migrate West next time.

It is all there in the photographs, beyond the lens of Adams, Lynch and Montucky.  They point the way.  Can you not see it?

* * *

Not all people that view landscape photography of the West will see renewal or lessen their impact on the land.  The West is still seen as ripe for exploitation and extraction.  New lamentations are writ everyday in the West and many of them are never heard, yet they are always seen — on film.

______________________________

Notes:

Cameron Walker, January 24, 2011, High Country News, interviews Martha Sandweiss, “Depth Afield: Why is the Western Image so Appealing?”

Mesa at Zuni Pueblo from James L. Enyeart, Land, Sky, and All That is Within: Visionary Photographers in the Southwest, Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1998.

Additional comment, February 2, 2011.  Caralee Woods of Kanab, Utah, sent this by e-mail and I post it as another example of the appeal of the western image.

Caralee Woods, Paria River, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, 2010.

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Pronghorn sunbursts

N. Scott Momaday

One morning on the high plains of Wyoming I saw several pronghorns in the distance.  They were moving very slowly at an angle away from me, and they were almost invisible in the tall brown and yellow grass.  They ambled along in their own wilderness dimension of time, as if no notion of flight could ever come upon them.  But I remembered once having seen a frightened buck on the run, how the white rosette of its rump seemed to hang for the smallest fraction of time at the top of each frantic bound — like a succession of sunbursts against the purple hills.

— N. Scott Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain, p. 19.

* * *

In the early seventies, between Clayton and Springer, New Mexico, Charles Fairweather and I drove fast to the Sangre de Cristos for our yearly getaway with several other friends who had already made camp.  We came up out of the roadbed onto a small hill and to the right, off the highway about 200 feet, were several pronghorn.  Charles quickly stopped the car and pulled out his deer rifle.  Charles, I said, let the pronghorn be.  Besides, it would be poaching if you shot him.  He was a good man, but impulsive at times.  He re-sheathed his weapon without a word and drove on to camp.

* * *

Between Snyder and Post, Texas, large ranches abound.  On one ranch, the Covered S, I saw pronghorn graze five years ago.  In the last four years, with the placement of wind mills for power and an extensive clearing of brush, I see no pronghorn.  They grazed in pastures on either side of highway.  This holiday, as we traveled to Lubbock, I looked intently onto the eastern pasture of the Covered S, hoping to see white rump in brown and yellow grass.  I saw none on either day we passed the Covered S.  I counted plenty of oil wells, but no antelope.

* * *

In the Journals of Lewis and Clark, they reported that antelope would rub themselves against sagebrush in order to perfume themselves.

* * *

Pronghorn at Red Rock, Idaho (J. Purdue photographer)

 

 

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