Thursday, May 31, 2007

My rural, southern education, part 3

"If you hold a cat by the tail you learn things you cannot learn any other way."
~Mark Twain

Please begin this story by reading part 1.

Afraid that my traveling companion would soon appear beneath my feet from under the seat, the drive home took on a new urgency.
The term “from soup to nuts” took on a new meaning.
And, I just wanted to get home.

Despite her seemingly indestructible nature, the turtle had, in fact, received a fatal blow. I had resolved to release her if I discovered she was able, but her injuries were far beyond that. It seemed best to end this quickly. And I did.

Determined to make the best of this messy situation, and still seeking the gourmet dinner I'd been dreaming of, I did see this through to its conclusion. The recipe for Turtle Soup follows, as do my lessons learned in the process.

Lessons learned:
There are leeches on the skin of snapping turtles.
If you handle snapping turtles for prolonged periods, as might be necessary for preparing soup, there will be leeches on you.
Leeches are difficult to remove.
A creature that has spent years living in the bottom of a pond, smells like the bottom of a pond.
If you cook this creature, your entire kitchen will smell like the bottom of a pond.
After spending hours preparing soup from a snapping, leech-covered, foul-smelling prehistoric reptile, you will have absolutely no desire to eat Turtle Soup.

Turtle Soup au Sherry
10 ounces (2-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 pound turtle meat, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup minced celery (4 stalks)
2 medium leeks, minced
1-1/2 teaspoons garlic, minced
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 cups tomato purée
1 quart beef stock
NOTE: If turtle bones are available, add them to the beef bones when making the stock for this dish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, as needed
1/2 cup lemon juice
5 hard-boiled eggs, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced parsley
6 teaspoons dry sherry

Melt 8 ounces (2 sticks) butter in a heavy saucepan. Add the flour and cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat until the roux is light brown. Set aside.
In a 5-quart saucepan, melt the remaining butter and add turtle meat. Cook over high heat until the meat is brown. Add celery, onions, garlic and seasonings, and cook until the vegetables are transparent.
Add tomato purée, lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the stock and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the roux and cook over low heat, stirring, until the soup is smooth and thickened. Correct seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Add lemon juice, eggs and parsley.
Remove from heat and serve. At the table, add 1 teaspoon sherry to each soup plate.

I never ate my Turtle Soup that day, or any other.
I've decided the snappers deserve their place in my pond--and we'll leave it at that!

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

My rural, southern education, part 2

Please begin this story by reading part 1.

Now, to clarify, I’m not in the habit of collecting roadkill, although I’m convinced I could easily feed a family of four quite well on the carcasses I pass every day on our winding back roads. But this snapping turtle was different—a fresh kill, still resembling the large turtle she was, but obviously no longer having a future in anyone’s pond.
I pulled off at the first opportunity to turn around. Keeping her location pinpointed across the highway, I looped back around and quickly pulled onto the shoulder where she lay. After all, such a prized turtle would be attractive to so many, I was sure. I had to act fast.
The traffic whizzing by, I grabbed her by the tail and slid her motionless remains into the only covering I could find—my Walmart bag, its contents dumped onto the back seat. I hoisted the heavy bundle into the car, setting it carefully on the floor, just behind my seat, and sped off—feeling very proud of my scavenging abilities and dreaming of turtle soup.

It might be interesting to mention at this point, that turtles predate dinosaurs. In the 215 million years they’ve been on earth, they’ve even survived a nuclear winter. I wish I’d known these impressive statistics before we drove home together that day.

I didn’t give a second thought to the rustling behind me as I happily drove along—windows down, enjoying the spring day. It wasn’t until I stopped and idled quietly at the traffic light that I realized I wasn’t alone. The snapping turtle, still encased in the shopping bag, was walking around in the back seat.

(to be continued, go to part 3)

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

My rural, southern education, part 1

I came across Momma in the grass behind the barn.

If I had to describe this place, the description would not be complete without mention of our snapping turtles. And every time I see one, up close and personal, I’m instantly reminded of an early adventure in our southern Ohio home, years ago. It was the beginning of my education.

Of course we immediately recognized their presence in the pond. What we didn’t recognize, until having a local excavating contractor come for an estimate of some repairs to our dam, was their potential as a food source. And apparently, we were quite envied to have such a fine “crop” paddling around in the muck!
Snapping Turtle Soup—I’d heard of it, but never had tried it. (And never really wanted to, until everyone’s interest in our turtles made me think I might be missing out on a great treat!)
We had offers to come trap them,
offers to come shoot them,
offers to come fish for them—
I began to realize we were sitting on a veritable gold mine! And, I began to be concerned that the word would get out…we had snappers!
I’m not what you would call a hunter-type. For the most part, I’m very content to shop for my dinner, unless, for instance, I cross paths with a wonderful something-edible. Something edible that I don’t have to kill, myself.
The fates were smiling on me that day in May, fifteen years ago. Returning from a shopping spree at Walmart, girls in school, the day to myself and my errands, I was first on the scene of a snapping turtle’s misfortunate meeting with a semi.
How much more perfect could this be? Fresh turtle, on my way home, the afternoon wide open—we’d have soup for dinner!

(to be continued, go to part 2)

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Has anyone seen my froggy?

Found this frog peering back at me from one of the vernal pools in the woods. (zoom in--he's right in the center) The perimeter had been rummaged through by something--I'm guessing a raccoon, but no obvious tracks in the muck. Anyway, this little green, googly-eyed guy seemed to feel pretty safe, amidst the duck weed.

I walked back through the field, checking back at the spot where we've seen the Indigo Buntings nest-building, but no activity today, that I could see. She'd been building a nest in the blackberry thicket--smart bird.
This dragonfly kept me company for a good while back there. We sat looking out across the field--later to be ablaze with goldenrod--I on one log, he on the other.
He's a Common White-Tail skimmer (according to what I can find), and very "common" as there were many flying all over near the pond. Although a close-up of his lacy wings makes him seem anything but common.
The milkweed are ready and waiting for monarchs. Some years we don't seem to have many milkweed and I find the caterpillars just as happy chomping on those winding, twining, strangling vines--bindweed. But, I'm pulling bindweed like crazy--milkweed will be served on the menu this year!

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Saturday, May 26, 2007


My ear has been trained on the tanagers. Often, the first sound of the morning, I hear them chipping to eachother just beyond the open door of the front porch--a very uninteresting "pitichip", in the midst of the lovely dawn chorus. Both male and female stay relatively close to their nest in our maple, but fairly well buried in the leaves. Treated to a fleeting glimpse from time to time, I seldom catch them in the open long enough for a good look.
(I call this picture, "Tanager Tail on nest")
By now, I've become so eager to see them, I bolt from the kitchen table with every slight, but distinctive "pitichip", running upstairs and peering out.
I can hear them from every room in the house.
I can hear them from across the yard.
They're playing hide and seek with me.

And, every once in a while, they let ME win!

We have another first , too. One of the new bird houses we put up this spring has attracted a pair of tree swallows.
He sits on top,
she sits inside.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

What I love about pond scum...

The lack of rain and summery temps we've had for the last few weeks have really dropped the water level on the pond. Usually, these spring months add enough rain to start us out nicely, filled to the rim. Not the case this year. Broad mud flats edge the shallow arms, and the deep-water end is showing almost all its stonework. Great for raccoons pawing around in the shallows; death for the fish if the water gets too warm.
Ironically, just a couple of weeks ago, I was noticing how many of the tiny fish were FINALLY recovering and filling back in from our last rough year. Seven or eight years ago, we lost almost every fish to a hot, dry summer.

The clean, shimmery surface of early spring is replaced by the murky, green growth of summer. Undisturbed, except for the heat of the day, it swirls into a natural form.
Yinyang--in Eastern thought, the two complementary forces, or principles, that make up all aspects and phenomena of life.


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Weigela, w-e-i-g-e-l-a, weigela

It seems that flowers are my best-behaved subjects. They stand still for photos, only swaying slightly in the breeze, and never fly off just as I'm clicking the shutter. Our weigela bush is LOADED with brightness, boughs bending beneath the weight of the blossoms! I'd never wear something this bright, but this bush is always my favorite. It wears fuchsia, f-u-c-h-s-i-a, fuchsia very well.

And, finally, I've succeeded in finding plants that like this space. Twice as big as when I planted them this spring--can you see the ecstasy, e-c-s-t-a-s-y, ecstasy on their faces?

I'm wrestling within myself with a rant I came across on another site. The person was very frustrated, to the point of anger, with errors he found in other blogs he was browsing. Misidentified things, misspellings,.... And it made me feel, for the first time since I've begun to write postings, that there's an audience that seeks to be critical.
One(s) who miss the forest for the trees.....wanting to correct others, instead of share the sentiment that is being expressed. And it changed the way I thought about writing an entry.
What if I call something what it's not? What if I incorrectly describe something?
The excitement of finding and wanting to share, gets bogged down with the responsibility of having to be right.
So, for those reading, who are using blogs to substitute for reference books.....this is not where you should be.

Changing gears...
I got very brave the other night and ventured out into our field. No man-eating tigers here, just tons of sparrows and warblers! I swallowed hard, and settled in, binoculars in hand. Trusty bird book by my side and camera loaded and ready to aim, I waited. Eyes scanning the tree tops, mouth dry, alert to the slightest movement....serious birding.
The target was sighted at the top of a small bush. And to my many birds can look like THAT!

A Common Yellowthroat (I think) (I hope)

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A thought to pass on...

Wow, what a nice surprise! I was given a Thinking Blogger Award by Susan Gets Native.
I had never heard of this, probably an admission that confirms how very new to blogging I really am! After meeting Julie Zickefoose 5 weeks ago and hearing her invitation to tune into her blog, I decided to give it a try. I'm finding so many knowledgeable people, so many encouraging people, so many inspiring people, so many helpful people-- it's an honor to be accepted as having written something someone found of value.
But, most of the bloggers I've begun to read have already received this award, probably many times over. And, as new as I am, I feel a little funny "giving" an award to someone else who has so much blogging history they could run circles around me.
So, maybe the best contribution I can make is to say this:
I really enjoy spending time at these sites, and if you are reading this post, make your next stop one of these!

Endment is a site full of original poetry and wonderful photography--as good as a coffee table book.

Natural Notes 3 has the greatest bird photos out there. You've heard, "a bird in the hand is worth...."--that's this site.

A Passion for Nature is from an Audubon Center in western NY (where we used to hike!)--a dose of the familiar for me.

And, lovely dark and deep is about the Mohawk Hudson area of upstate NY (where I grew up!)--a double dose of the familiar!

Though not really a blog, I like to snoop around at treehugger--all the latest on everything environmental.

And, there you have it. If you were named and if you would like to participate in this meme, please choose five of the blogs that make you think, and please put the following participation rules in your post:
1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.
3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn’t fit your blog).

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Monday, May 21, 2007

The greatest gift

The day was supposed to be sunny and cool.
Our half-finished project of cleaning out the grape vines seemed to be the perfect match for the day. Badly neglected over the years, the concord vines had been overgrown by every opportunistic, snarling, thorny plant imaginable—and wrestling with them was both tiring and dangerous. The leather gloves, heavy jeans, and long sleeves, made this quite a production. Thankfully, the bulk of the work had been accomplished in early spring. Now the cleanup was needed.
Piles of blackberry brambles and wild rose lay all around, tangled into the now knee-deep grass. Woody vines which had been slumbering peacefully, now sent forth reaching, wrapping tendrils. Tony headed out for battle, pitchfork in hand.
I, equally dressed for some serious branch wrangling, headed into the wooded area just beyond the grapes. The pines that had been planted on this hill years before, are now almost 30 feet tall. In the midst of southwestern Ohio, this area most reminds me of my northeastern home. A hot summer day's heat makes it smell of the north woods. A deep, soft pine needle cushion makes it a quiet spot—a place to seek refuge from the sun, beneath the dense pine branches.
By noon, our cool day had warmed to hot. Steamy and sweating beneath heavy clothes, I abandoned my task of clearing a trail and rested in the woods.
An object, partially buried in needles, caught my eye--probably another one of many cast-off pieces of trash, thrown away, out of view, to litter the woods. It resembled the mouth of a sneaker, white-rimmed, oval, and a few inches across.
When I picked it up, I discovered it was a box-turtle shell, bleached white bone, the edges uncovered of their scales, but otherwise a perfect, oval bowl.

Box turtles have a special place in my heart. On the roads, whenever I safely can, I stop the car and cross them, or whisk them to safety to our property, if I have the time. Too often, though, in the time it takes me to turn around and go back for them, they’ve been hit. Perhaps it’s the memory of my dad’s stopping to cross them, or the summers spent as a little girl growing up at a biological station. For as a child, I was given the appreciation and understanding of the world and our place in it.

I wonder which turtle left their shell for me to find, for it is magnificent. Such beauty in such a humble creature, its translucent scutes –an amber and black stained-glass window. If others could only see them as I do….
To see a world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, an eternity in an hour.
~William Blake

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Good night

My fire was in all its glory about midnight, and, having made a bark shed to shelter me from the rain and partially dry my clothing, I had nothing to do but look and listen and join the trees in their hymns and prayers.~John Muir

A perfect evening for a fire. The air is crisp. Frogs are calling, muskrats swimming in the light of the crescent moon. The first firefly of summer is lost--wandering alone near the rising sparks.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Good morning!

Easy come, easy go.
Our excitement at finding orioles and dreaming of her hanging nest, swinging from a branch just outside our front porch has passed. Maybe she had second thoughts about being close. Or, maybe Wednesday's horribly wet, windy night discouraged her. The orioles are gone. The few strands she'd started to lay down are all that remain--of the pair, or any intentions to nest--there.
But, the activity just off the front porch remains. Thursday morning as I sat peacefully reveling at the pretty day, pretty tree, pretty little hummingbird, ...something swooped in and scooped up a snack! Immediately assuming "my" hummingbird was someone's dinner, I whipped my head around to find a smaller-than-I-had-imagined bird perched on a locust branch, crunchy legs sticking out of his mouth. A Summer Tanager, snacking on a wasp he'd caught as it flew beneath the eaves. His bright red coloring not obvious, backlit against the morning sun--but nevertheless, very pleased with himself for snagging dinner. And I, very pleased it was NOT my hummingbird.
Again this morning, the tanager's here--and apparently, staying.
I located his mate, dressed in her olive drab, mouth full of twigs--and watched to see where she would go.
Back to the maple tree. Straining to see through the leaves, I discovered her nest.......
...and she seems to agree, that beige scraps look very nice!

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007


It’s such a struggle. Wanting to fully enjoy nature, yet giving it the space it needs to be natural.
Sitting on the front porch a few days ago, and lingering that extra wonderful bit that a weekend allows, we noticed a different bird in our maple tree. Actually heard her first—so many leaves make seeing her like assembling a puzzle. Add yellowish head to dusky yellow breast. Now add grayish wings—wing bars? Can’t see. Dark eye. Dark, thin bill.
And the best part—she was building a nest. Using her body to smooth long strands against the maple branch, just at the point where it forked into 3 prongs. An oriole for sure!
Maple trees make such good nesting spots. Their long, broad branches so welcoming. And, for me, a perfect ring-side seat, from the upper front porch.
I’d love to hang on that spot with her, watching her skillfully lace her nest. But not if my being there makes it a less-suitable place to raise a family. I know I mean no harm—but does she?
So, I’ll close the window on my watching for a while and leave her to do her craft.
I’ve offered some scraps that I think would be lovely, if I were building a nest. It may be the best way for me to share that with her!

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Need help with this bird ID

Eastern banded-tail ruff-back? Seems flightless--must be his belly full of black-oil sunflower seeds. (notice feeder rod BENT to ground!)

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Now you see him...

There he naps in the crotch of the tree--so perfectly camouflaged against the bark in the faint morning light. The short, stumpy hollow section to the right is his home. Last night I saw him emerge as the sun was setting. And minutes after taking this picture, as the rising sun wakes him from his napping, he tucks himself inside again.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

His spirit has captured my heart

It had been such a beautiful day.
The sunshine and warm temperatures had given us the perfect opportunity to walk some trails at the nature center, then gather at the house for a bit, relaxing on the patio out back--my little hummingbird zipping back and forth to the feeder, then past my ear as I sat chatting. Yes, everything was perfect.
I had meant to buy a second feeder for him that morning, one we could hang on the porch upstairs. But the pretty day had distracted me. I’d try to pick one up this week.
Later that afternoon, back inside the kitchen, my attention turned toward the meals for the next day. Should we grill out? Did we have charcoal….buns…
The sound of impact was unmistakable. I immediately looked to the window in horror. Out of the corner of my eye, I’d sensed his darting flight—now nothing. Scrambling out the back door, I scanned the ground beneath the glass. Tail fanned, a motionless little green jewel, my hummingbird lay on the patio.

Birds hit our windows several times each year—instances we’re aware of. And every time, the routine is the same. Pick it up gently, put it in a shoebox, place the box in the laundry room, close the door, wait—dark, warm and quiet. And almost every time it works. But he was so tiny and had hit the glass at top speed.
I picked him up gingerly, the little daredevil so helpless in my hand, and set him in the box, closing the lid before his last ounce of life could escape. On my finger, a bright red spot—the tiniest red feather.

The brave little world traveler lay still on his side in a shoebox.

Almost certain of what I would find, about half an hour later, I decided to check the box. As soon as I heard the scratching of tiny toes, I knew. He was ready. Out into the yard we walked, before lifting the lid. He sat very quietly for a minute, adjusting to the bright sunshine. Then, like starting an engine…tested his wings and began to slowly rise, lifting straight out of the box like a little helicopter, and rested on a branch directly above.

It is beauty that captures your attention; personality which captures your heart. ~Anonymous

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Mother's Day

If I had a single flower for every time I think about you, I could walk forever in my garden. ~Claudia Ghandi

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Thursday, May 10, 2007


The poison ivy is growing--BOLDLY. No more tender, hesitant shoots peeking between blades of grass--the kind that a firm footstep can pin to the ground. It's tall enough now to reach above socks or smack your face extending from the branch of a tree. Which makes getting out in it a bit more of a production! Long pants, long sleeves... whack, whack, whack it back--but at least you can see its threat.
If there was only a way to see chiggers.
"Probably no creature on earth can cause as much torment for its size than the tiny chigger." Every year I live dangerously--holding off on dousing myself with deet for as long as possible. And every year I wake up after a wonderful day in the yard, to find they're here! Actually, they're there, and there, and all the most unscratchable places.
I hope that day is not tomorrow.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Sometimes captured in memory is best

Last night was a night for owls.
When the weather is warm, before the humidity sets in and takes your breath away, we sleep with the bedroom door open--screening out the bugs, letting in the night sounds. It's never perfectly still, even in the very early spring. Before the peepers start their chorus, we have the sounds of the owls.
We've always known the barred owls in our ravine--heard their questioning calls and hilarious monkey chatter--but, not until last spring, did I actually see one. A visit one morning, as I was sitting at the computer, there she was on the branch just outside the window looking at me. Tears ran down my cheeks. We sat staring at eachother, neither of us moving for several minutes--then she was gone.
She and her mate stayed hidden for the remainder of the year, but their calls reminded us of their presence. Nighttime was very settling--lying in bed, owls calling softly outside.
Last fall, as I was driving to work, I passed a strange lump on the road, not far from the house. Far too big for a cat, more the size of a raccoon, but very mottled. Assuming I'd discover a strange mammal-type roadkill, I stopped and got out to check. My owl! How could she have been so careless... a car ...early that morning.
I hoped it really wasn't her. Maybe it was someone else's owl. But it had become quiet at night now. And even as the chilly winter nights kept us inside, I strained to hear what I hoped would be a sign that she was still there. Finally, in the spring, a call. But each time, only one--never an answer.
I wondered how long we'd be owl-less. The once comforting calls each night were now very disturbing. And each time I heard one, I wished, like the calling owl, for an answer.
In mid-March, I walked through our pine woods, eyes on the ground, trying to avoid the little streams of runoff from the adjacent field. I hadn't walked there in a couple of years and it surprised me how quickly the trees had grown tall and dense--the perfect spot for an owl. She had thought so, too, for, when I looked up, there she sat--a few feet in front of me, on a sturdy branch.
I don't have her picture, but I don't need one. In fact, I think that would spoil the magic for me. I can see her perfectly, every time I hear the owl call...and hear her answer.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Circle of Life

My morning off--the perfect opportunity to snoop around in the barn. The bluebird houses sit empty, very likely put up too late for the early spring nesters. But the barn's full of nests. Birds aren't stupid.

These weren't too hard to figure out. The barn swallows are fairly tolerant of our comings and goings.

Actually allow me to approach fairly closely, before flying off, chattering.

This one had me stumped, though. Sorry it's so fuzzy--the light is pretty poor under the rafters, and the camera has a hard time focusing. Made of fine sticks and grasses, covered in moss--with 4 light, whitish eggs inside.

Naomi wasn't quite sure what to make of all this snooping. She stands by, quizzically, while I drag the wobbly, 3-legged chair from stall to stall, peering into the muddy creations.
Outside, I decided to make the circuit--walking out to the "Y" of the pond and back through the woods. Saw an Eastern Kingbird, Indigo Buntings, Phoebe, and (maybe) Magnolia Warbler.
One more peek into the barn to see the nest before looking it up inside, and the mystery was solved!

Phoebe's raising her family in the barn, above Bo's stall.

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Monday, May 7, 2007


I'm learning--learning to grab the camera, even if I don't "have" anything to take a picture of. Nothing planned, nothing posed, nothing performing. Just the pond, surface like glass, reflecting the evening sun--just being perfection.

This spring seems greener than usual. Lush, bright, clean, green. This arm of the water is our snapper's favorite dining spot--a quiet table in the corner. The sandpipers cruise this shoreline, too. And turtles stack up to sun.

Wow. What more is there to say? It's so easy to escape the concerns of the day--just hang them here on this tree, breezes carrying them away.

Sun setting, the mighty oak standing watch.

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