Thursday, 5 October 2017

Blue Mountains Botanic Garden

I recently visited the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden at Mt Tomah, and saw many beautiful things. Here is a small glimpse.

Autumnal spring foliage.

Huge trees!

The view, roughly south-east, towards Sydney.

‘Tis the season for waratahs.

I neglected to take any photos of the famous Wollemi pines, but here is one of their fossil relatives.

This brown barrel gum was definitely the highlight. Enormous in girth and reach, it probably pre-dates European occupation, meaning it is about 250 years old, or more. What tales this tree could tell.

A coastal redwood, planted during WWII, and already very tall.

The Magic Flower or Sacred-Flower-of-the-Incas (Cantua buxifolia).

One of the locals.

There were many birds (including a brushturkey!), but this is the only one I managed to capture: a New Holland honeyeater.

The amazing bark of Acer capillipes, one of the snake-bark group of maples, found in the mountains of central and southern Japan.

A species of birch with coppery bark.

And the amazing view. 

Thursday, 28 September 2017

The Day of Kindred Night

I am not sure where September went, it seems to have whizzed by so fast. And, perhaps because of how I am feeling, I have not smelt spring this year. Of course, I’ve smelt the blossoms (there are freesias in our garden that smell exquisite), but I have not felt the awakening in my bones that I usually do. Normally, spring is the season that affects me as much internally as externally, created within the body as much as unfurling in the newly green world. It is sad that I do not seem to be able to open to it this year, because I lack the very essence of spring—energy. Though the blossoms have still been beautiful, and that is something.

Because of my lack of inner spring, I found myself unprepared for the equinox.

The equinoxes—when night is equal to day—are the twice-yearly celebrations that I find most difficult to mark, perhaps because they are all about balance—something that I often lack entirely. Things are weighing me down, pulling me in different directions. I am unsteady on my feet, unsure. 
The equinox in my part of the world occurred on 23rd September, a day of far above average temperatures around the state—summer blowing in from the centre of the continent. Warmth and sunshine are lovely things, and should be enjoyed; but when they come as extremes, at the wrong time, they are part of the imbalance of an unbalanced world. Here, it has barely rained for several months (after far too much rain in March), and the fire season has begun a month early. I worry that it will be a dangerous summer. 

Fluctuations do occur. Balance is not always maintained. Weather, climatic trends, and the seasons themselves, dance from one pole to the other. This is to be expected. Yet, in a healthy world, nature has a habit of regularly moving back to equilibrium. But our world is not healthy, and the return to balance (and calm, of a sort), seems to be occurring less and less.

Perhaps that makes these astronomical events even more important, for there seems so little else to rely on. Even if the weather is strange and the seasons ill-timed, at least we can trust the sun to keep moving through the sky. And the moon. At least we can trust in the cycle through endless change that spurs Life to be, even if Life itself is changing.

So, at the equinox, night was briefly kindred with day; but the light now begins to reign. Though in time it will swing back again, coming back to balance next autumn, so the darkness can take its turn once more.

I’m moving from pole to pole myself, dancing with my own imbalances and extremes, travelling an erratic path. This means I may post a little less regularly for a while. I’ll share some small things from time to time—photos, inspiring quotes, perhaps art—but am unlikely to write anything lengthy for some time. Like the sun, I need to show my face a little more to the world (energy-permitting), and a little less to this online space.

I hope to be back soon, feeling better, with things to say, stories to tell. 

(The three photos above are from late August.)

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Elsewhere, Elsewhen

I spent much of my youth longing to be elsewhere, elsewhen. Perhaps not the wisest thing, to be dreaming of other places and times rather than being fully immersed in my own. Still, I’ve been thinking lately of how I need a holiday, a change of scenery. I feel like I have been stuck for too long on the same old wheel, going round and round, not knowing how to get off and strike out in a new direction. I want to have adventures; at the very least, some novelty to my days.

These kinds of wishes—for new places, new experiences—however, are fruitless. My body-mind barely has the energy for normal, everyday activities at the moment, let alone the idea of travel. Sometimes I can barely even read! And yet, when I can read, it is books that have been taking me to places elsewhere and elsewhen. After several months of reading far too much nonfiction, it is story that has managed to take me out of myself, to show me other views, other ways of being. I thought I would tell you about a few of them.

Deep in the Far Away (2014/2017) by Sarah Elwell

The first part of this novel was full of much that I expected, knowing from Sarah’s blog the kind of gentle, quiet things she loves, and the magical, mythic writing she is capable of. I found myself identifying with the plight of her character, Emma, stuck inside with a mystery illness, not feeling herself (indeed, not even really knowing herself):

… I have been unwell too long : outside of myself. 

The thought makes me restless. I want to open my body to the wind like the earth does, let clods of poetry, and tears like dew, fall out. I miss dancing when no one is watching, and flower-gathering, apple-picking, taking rambling walks in random weather from wayward skies. I miss myself. 

But it's just being unwell, that's all. It's not about the house or my husband. I'm suffering weariness, not sorrow. And so I turn away from the window, for after all what hope lies in dreaming alone? If I get dressed, go downstairs, something real might happen. (p. 12)

The writing is lush and poetic, the setting wonderful. Though as the story progressed, I found myself feeling a growing sense of unease. And this unease led to the second part, which is a complete departure from the first, unexpected and exciting. 

You can purchase this novel from Sarah as a PDF for a small donation of US$6. I’d also highly recommend her six-part essay series, Suburban Magic.

The Dark Country (2017) by Sylvia V. Linsteadt

This novella is set on the fictional island of Kefthyra, somewhere in the ancient Aegean. It arrived beautifully wrapped with red string, stamped with Bear, Moon and Crocus, and the cover art by Catherine Sieck is stunning.

It is hard to know where to start with Sylvia’s writing. It is always so layered with meaning, evocative and poetic. She has an immense knowledge of so many things, from ancient cultures, to ecology, to myth and folklore, and she seamlessly weaves that knowledge into her narratives. I can only dream of being able to write like her.

The Dark Country is something of a feminist story, telling of the arrival of a patriarchal, destructive culture to the island, and the abuse of both land and women. There are three key characters: Lillet, a young bandit girl; Zola, a mother, renowned for her red kermes dye; and Arete, an old charwoman. Between them they represent the three aspects of women—maiden, mother and crone—and they are the heroines of the tale, bringing about a ruthless, beautiful justice, and bringing back the lost wisdom of their foremothers.

I loved this book. Like most of Sylvia’s writing, it spoke to me. One chapter gave me quite a visceral experience—I shivered at the strange beauty of the events, as if in some bone-deep recollection of truth. I think that is part of what I love about Sylvia’s writing—that it is mythical, magical and so elementally true, all at once.

Unfortunately, this book was only available as a limited print run. We can only hope that it, and more of Sylvia’s writing, become obtainable as more ‘official’ publications in the future. In the meantime, there is her debut novel, Tatterdemalion, which is wonderful; and her blog, The Gleewoman’s Notes, is a treasure trove as well. 

Corrag (2011; also published as Witch Light or The Highland Witch) by Susan Fletcher 

I listened to the audiobook of Corrag at the beginning of last year, and loved it, more than I’d loved any novel in a long time. Thus I have just started reading the book, to immerse myself in the Scottish highlands once again. Fletcher’s descriptions of the landscape are so vivid, I even dreamed I was there!

This novel is particularly powerful because it is based on real events (the Glencoe Massacre) and characters—Corrag was indeed a famous highland witch, though little is known about her. Still, Fletcher has conjured up a character of strength and wildness, and she tells her story in the most haunting way. 

In a dank prison cell, awaiting execution, Corrag is interviewed by Charles Leslie. At first, he hates her. Yet Corrag summons up visions and feelings of such magic and love for the world that she manages to completely change the heart and mind of her interrogator. For all the harshness of Corrag’s life, it is also full of immense beauty. Everything about this book—the characters, the landscape, the language—is about as good as writing gets. 

All of Fletcher’s novels are brilliant—I particularly admire her attention to detail—but Corrag is, to my mind, the very best. She writes:

… the theme of instinct, of faith in the self and inner wisdom, pervades the book entirely. It leads on to the concept of kindness, of tolerance of the other, on to the importance of caring for the world we walk in, and even to religion itself. It runs into everything, as if self-acceptance is in fact the source of it all. Such themes were relevant in a time of witch-burning and political intrigue; such themes, unfortunately, remain as relevant now. The joy of Corrag, for me, was her simplicity, her small beliefs: treat all lives well, including your own; be grateful for all that comes by you; believe, quietly, that there is something more to this life than we know. It was joy writing as a person with such a take on the world. (Susan Fletcher, ‘“An eye which sees the smaller parts of life”: How living in Glencoe brought the language alive’, pp. 11–12, in the bonus materials at the back of Witch Light, Fourth Estate: London, 2011)

It is a joy to read as well.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

(Not) Mountain: A Poem

Mountain not itself: 
sea floor and sediment 
a tectonic dream 
yet to quake into being

Mountain itself: 
orogenic, fossil-marked 
underworld in flight 
uplifted in volcanic memorial

(June 2017)

Peak, watercolours and gouache on gesso prepared paper, 2017

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Awakening at Winter’s End

Now that the August winds have departed, and the air is still once more, I’ve been able to spend more time enjoying this time of in-between, when winter is slowly turning to spring. Already, the cherry blossoms in gardens are almost spent, and other blossoms begin to take their place. And the daffodils are nodding their heads, saying Yes! Yes!

Bee and nectarine blossoms
I’ve been in a strange place lately, edge-dwelling, resting in the liminal. I feel the need to mourn the passing of each season, even as I welcome the next. I don’t want winter to go—I am not ready for the light. Yet spring is calling to me, tugging at my sleeve, and I cannot help but be drawn towards it.

I wanted to spend this winter cocooned in darkness, going inward and focusing on reconnecting with imagination and magic. It hasn’t exactly played out that way. My energy has remained low, and I’ve had to (re)learn that my body-mind can only do so much. In fact, as I read recently, people with CFS tend to procrastinate. This is not because we are lazy, but because our bodies are wiser than we realise. A lack of energy or motivation is not a fault, but a natural occurrence in times of illness. The body knows its limits, even if you, consciously, do not (or wish it were otherwise), and the body asserts itself, removing motivation and interest in order to cause you to stop, rest, slow down. Kat Duff writes:

The first thing that happens when I get sick, even before physical symptoms appear, is that I lose my usual interests. A kind of existential ennui rises in my bones like floodwaters, and nothing seems worth doing … That is when I know I am succumbing to the influence of illness … I slip, like fluid through a porous membrane, into the nightshade of my solar self, where I am tired of my friends, I hate my work, the weather stinks, and I am a failure. (The Alchemy of Illness, 1993, p. 6)

Losing interest in what normally enlivens and enchants us is not pleasant, as often much of life’s meaning inheres in our passions, and not to have or feel them is dispiriting. Yet it fills me with humility, and a kind of awe, to know the wisdom in my own body, that it speaks. I want to be able to understand it better.

So, even though I would love to be writing more, especially writing stories (which my mind simply cannot manage right now), I am trying to be content with where I am, where my body needs me to be, for now. And I’m happy that I have been able to create some small things over the last few months, despite everything. Thus I know that the spark of magic that I seek is still within me, and always has been, and I should not despair over its seeming disappearance. It is just hiding a little deeper than usual, waiting in the darkness—which is such a lovely, generative place to be—for when it can emerge again. Remarkably, even when illness is with me, that spark can still sometimes rise to the surface, very briefly, and it is those moments that I try to catch hold of, in the midst of the ‘existential ennui’ Duff speaks of.

I’ve said before how important creativity is in a world filled with destructiveness, but I don’t really mind that I am creating less at the moment. It seems more important to just let my body have what it needs: rest, quiet, a certain kind of nothingness. And small beauties: the migrations of tiny birds, calling to each other as they go; magpies singing; spring’s gradual unfurling; the few butterflies I have seen; the scent of violets; and the delicate green of a gum leaf, bringing with it the knowledge that the tree sheds the leaves it no longer needs—as can I—and the shed leaf feeds the soil which feeds the tree, which is a whole world in itself, a continuous circle of life inside the earth-circle—as am I. 

I can’t quite smell spring yet, but I feel it coming, rushing over the earth like a great green wind, petals flying in its wake.

The world is awakening. And since my body is part of the earth-body, so am I. Just in my own way.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Making Monotypes

I did another printmaking workshop recently, this time making monotypes, where you paint or draw onto an acetate plate, with ink or oil paint, and then print it—making a one-off, ‘mono’, image. Unfortunately, I am not as happy with what I created as I was back in January, when I made an intaglio etching that I was very proud of. Yet I thought I would share the rough results of this workshop here, for there is certainly potential in this technique.

My first print, based upon a photo of a grey fantail I took earlier in the year, turned out a little too pale. Though I do like the texture on the branch, formed simply with the bristles of the paintbrush. (My second print, an attempt at a darker version, was a write-off.)

Later in the day, at a loss for ideas, I decided to use my backup image (the same tree I had used for my etching), and try the subtractive technique: inking up the plate, and then removing ink to create the image. The result has a certain drama, though there are areas where I removed too much ink, and other areas where I didn’t remove enough.

Finally, I had just enough time to do another print, painting over the ghost of the image that remained on my plate.

Although we made use of the press in the Etching Studio at the Norman Lindsay Gallery & Museum, it is possible to make monotypes without a press. Thus, I am considering how I could experiment with this technique at home. Maybe, in time, I will have more, better, work to share. 

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Mountain Mother

All over the world, mountains have been considered sacred—it seems to be a human constant. 
(Jay Griffiths, Wild: An Elemental Journey, 2006, p. 379)

All the great mountains were seen as the Goddess “sitting” on the earth. The mountain was the original throne-womb; it combines the symbols of earth, cave, bulk, height, and immortality. In the towering mountain overlooking the land is embodied the enormous strength of the Goddess. 
(Monica Sjöö and Barbara Mor, The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth, 1987, 1991, p. 73)

Plenty of indigenous people … see mountains as female, … this gendered attitude suggest[ing] a mothering deity, a protective stance both from the mountain and from the people. Ecological writer Dolores LaChapelle, in Earth Wisdom, describes Paleolithic statues that combine the veneration of mountain as mother and the observation that the mother is mountain to the child.
(Jay Griffiths, Wild: An Elemental Journey, 2006, p. 345)

In her autobiography, environmental activist Wangari Maathai describes her people’s traditional understanding of Sacred Mount Kenya thus:

Mount Kenya, known as Kirinyaga, or the Place of Brightness, and the second-highest peak in Africa, was a sacred place.  Everything good came from it: abundant rains, rivers, streams, clean drinking water.  …  As long as the mountain stood, people believed that God was with them and that they would want for nothing.
(Carol P. Christ, ‘The Mountain Mother: Reading the Language of the Goddess in the Symbols of Ancient Crete’,

As a mountain, I can sit, deeply rooted, substantial and strong and completely still, as the winds buffet my flanks, or the rain wears lines of erosion into my skin. I can allow my emotional weather to pass over me as I remain at peace. An occasional earthquake may shatter the stillness, but I move with it, in synchrony with the earth. I ride it out, with patience and acceptance.
(Myself, Being the Mountain, July 2016)

Mountain Mother, watercolours and gouache on gesso prepared card, 2017

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

An Everywhen: A Poem

Expanding inwardly, 
creating more space for the generative darkness.
An inhalation that opens the interior
– in-held breath – 
so there is (no longer) an exterior – 
only self, whole.

Bird-self, tree-souled, 
a bow to the Others who 
make me.

Yellow wattle shining in afternoon light, 
gold-lit green fierceness at midwinter. 
The same yellow in the lemons, 
round-bright and sweet with sour.

I write from myself and for myself, 
from what is not myself, 
to be more truly myself
– transparent – 
cutting through illusion to the real: 
tree, sunlight, breeze, bird.

Rainbow lorikeets, faster than 
my eye can follow, 
entering me with their feather-selfs, 
opening me to what I am not, and to
the interplay of complements without hierarchy.

Relishing this place, this 
everywhen – for I am,
now, I am; 
will not be, one day; 
have not been, before –
but now – NOW – 
I am – 
and the earth embraces me, 
one small molecule of 
her curvaceous flesh.

(July 2017)

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Carpenter’s Wife: A Recreation Story

Lately, I have been feeling quite pessimistic about the state of the world, getting lost in despair over what we are losing, and have already lost, as climate change (amongst other calamities) destabilises and destroys the healthy workings of this fragile blue-green planet. I’ve felt guilt and hopelessness, exacerbated by my own health issues, yes, but tied first and foremost to the fate of the earth. I believe and know that we are connected with the natural world, and that an unhealthy culture and polluted landscape creates unhealthy and unhappy people. (And this is to say nothing of the fact that life itself is in the balance.)

If this is the case, what are we to do about it?

I wish I had easy answers, solutions to all the problems we are faced with as humans, and as earthlings. 

But I’ve been reminded, thanks to Jacqueline, the wise writer of Radical Honey, and this article that she recently shared on Facebook, that the seeing of beauty is radical resistance to despair. And that is, after all, part of what this blog is about—beauty and creativity as an antidote to destruction (and/or illness). So all I can do, at this point, is make my own small offerings of beauty to the world. It won’t solve any problems, but it is a small act of resistance, at least, and for now that will have to do.

Thus, I offer a brief tale of renewal—a different kind of creation story. Since today is the early spring festival of Imbolc, I thought it apt.

This is one of my early stories, written between January and March 2015. I do not think it one of my best—I really dislike the ending—but I think it is full of hope. That is, active hope, based upon taking action to take apart what is damaging (industrial civilisation), and to heal and recreate what is beautiful, joyous and full of the pleasure of life itself.

* * *

The Carpenter's Wife

A Recreation Story

‘I cannot live in this world,’ said the carpenter’s wife. ‘There is too much ugliness and not enough beauty, too much sorrow and not enough joy, too much pain and not enough pleasure. No one speaks with the Earth, with the growing things, with the four-legged ones, the winged ones and the swimming ones. No one speaks with the oceans and the deserts, the rivers and the mountains. There are voices in my head, voices all around me, but no one else seems to hear them. Husband, I cannot live in this world,’ she said, tears glistening in her eyes.

‘Well, this won’t do,’ said the carpenter. ‘I cannot have my wife unhappy. This simply won’t do.’ He rubbed the stubble on his chin and looked thoughtful for a moment. ‘My dear, I think there is only one course to take. We will have to dismantle the world, undoing the ugliness and sorrow and pain, and then we can begin anew, creating a new world. We can build and form and magic into being a new place, a new Earth, with beauty and joy and pleasure woven into its fabric. A world in which there are people—such as you, dearest—who will speak with the Earth and the growing things, with the four-legged ones, the winged ones and the swimming ones, the oceans and deserts, rivers and mountains. Many people will hear the voices, nothing will be silent anymore. You will be able to live in this new world, my love.’

The carpenter left his tearful wife and walked out of his humble house into the big world of smog and machines, populated by millions of deaf and blind humans going about their business. As he surveyed the blighted scene before him, he realised with dismay that dismantling this world was going to take a lot of work, so he enlisted the help of his friends: the stonemason, the blacksmith and the magician. Together they combined their skills and strengths, their knowledge of wood, stone, metal and magic, and they began the painstaking task of taking the old world apart, piece by piece. 
They began by deconstructing the skyscrapers, bringing the overbearing towers back down to the earth from the dirty sky, and they broke up the suffocating highways, freeing the lifeless ground underneath so it could breathe again. Then they burst the rigid, blank-faced dam walls that held back the freedom of the rivers, and water gushed out once more like life-giving blood through arteries. They broke the belching, sulphurous smoke stacks into pieces and cleaned the choked air of pollution, and already the Earth held more beauty, joy and pleasure than it had before. 
It seemed to the four men that their work was made much easier because large cracks had already appeared in reality, as if the new world was trying to burst through, for every manmade thing disintegrated at their touch—ashes to ashes, dust to dust. A reinvigorated world was beginning to take shape as concrete and steel crumbled to fine powder, and earth and water and air were liberated from the shackles that had been imposed on them. 
After some time the men found that the great dismantling was complete, so the carpenter, the stonemason, the blacksmith and the magician, weary and sore from their efforts, returned to the carpenter’s house and sat down to rest. The carpenter’s wife, hearty and rosy-cheeked, brought them steaming cups of tea with a twinkle in her eye. 
‘It’s your turn now,’ said the carpenter, happy that his wife was no longer tearful, for now that the men had played their part, it was time for the women to make their contribution to the reconstruction, the recreation of the world. 
The carpenter’s wife went out and called her friends: the stonemason’s wife, the blacksmith’s wife, and the witch, and together they combined their skills and strengths, for all women are skilled in creation and womancraft, and all women are strong. Swirling out from their dextrous hands came an alchemy of earth, water, air and fire, and the most important ingredient—love—and this enchantment obliterated what was left of the old world and replaced it with interwoven strands of beauty, joy and pleasure.
The new world that sprung from the women’s hands and hearts had green things growing out with snaking tendrils to cover the land, vast breathing forests like green lungs, meandering rivers wandering sedately or splashing wildly to the deep sea, and majestic mountain peaks that caressed the crystalline blue sky. It had four-legged ones, winged ones and swimming ones, creatures with fur and sharp teeth, feathers and slippery scales, who helped to chirp, howl, grunt and sing the Earth into life. There was snow and wind and rain, and flowers blossoming in the sunshine. Moon-bright nights and fragrant days. A marriage of every element.
Surrounded by all this wonder, the humans were no longer deaf and blind. Now there were wise women and men who spoke with the Others and listened to their wise and wild counsel, forming new friendships to ensure that the newly made world of beauty, joy and pleasure would endure and flourish.
The carpenter’s wife, the stonemason’s wife, the blacksmith’s wife and the witch looked upon what had been created and they saw that the world was filled with all manner of wondrous things. They spoke with the Earth, with the growing things, with the four-legged ones, winged ones and swimming ones, the oceans and deserts, the rivers and mountains, and all the Others said they were satisfied with their new home. The women saw that their work was finally done, and weary and sore, but elated as well, they stopped to rest, returning home to join the men who were enjoying their steaming cups of tea.
‘We can all live in this world,’ said the carpenter’s wife, smiling at last. 

* * *

I can’t for the life of me remember why I decided to write about a carpenter—only that the first line of this story came to me, and I tried to allow it to be what it needed to be. I think perhaps, in writing of carpenters, stonemasons, blacksmiths and magicians/witches, I was remembering what Jay Griffiths wrote in Kith: The Riddle of the Childscape (2013):

As a child, when I pictured the Middle Ages I could see who everyone was: a woodcutter with his axe, a merchant selling satins, a farmer or a weaver. People’s activities and their trades were graspable, visible and knowable, unlike careers in finance, project management, or consultancy, which are incomprehensible to children [and to me!]. Where there were unknowns, in the Middle Ages, they were known unknowns, the secret magic of witch, healer, seer and wizard … In terms of landscape, the Middle Ages told me of a finite, knowable village and an infinite and knownly unknowable beyond, and both glimmered with appeal. No plastic. Things were handmade and crafted, unprocessed and unfactoried. Everything was itself and was knowably makeable, findable, buildable. Everything came from the known earth around: leather, wood, wax, honey and apples. Things known, in this sense, shade into being close, intimate and beloved: this is not about information but relationship. (pp. 276–277)

The carpenter, stonemason and blacksmith represent trades/crafts that deal with tangible, handmade things: wood, stone and metal; while the magician and witch add the crucial element of magic, which is as much a part of the physical world as anything else. 

I’m not convinced that stone and metal, being non-renewables, are truly sustainable (and certainly timber used faster than it can be replaced is not). Yet there is a big difference, for instance, in the blacksmith plying his trade at the edge of the village, making horseshoes and shovels, compared with the building of massive skyscrapers which require tons upon tons of steel. One is small-scale, indeed, human-scaled, and still attached to the earth; the other is massive, industrial and completely artificial.

I think I also thought that if these men are ‘makers’, they can also be ‘unmakers’, and tear everything down. Initially I had them doing that work, as well as the recreation, and that caused the story to stall for a while. I needed a couple of months to realise that it is right and proper for the men to take apart the unnatural world they have created, but that it should be the women—the ones who had always stood behind the men, merely as ‘wives’—who should now step forward, moving from passive to active, to put things right again. 

I am seeing much that suggests that something to that effect will indeed take place. If we do manage to survive what is coming, it will be women, and supportive men, who will be the creators of the new cultures that take us beyond this time of endings, and into a brighter (though difficult) future. 

I don’t like the ending of my story—too simplistic? Too twee?—but I do hope it will come true.

Imbolc Blessings!
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