When I first ventured out onto the Playa on my 2010 visit to Burning Man, I was immediately drawn to a large sculpture of a nude woman that struck me as being beautiful and full of life. The sculpture, I learned was titled Bliss Dance and had been created by the Bay Area artist Marco Cochrane based on his model, the dancer Deja Solis. Bliss Dance would go from Burning Man to Treasure Island next to San Francisco and is now on permanent exhibition in Las Vegas. Here’s what Cochrane had to say during the unveiling of the sculpture in Las Vegas:
What I see missing in the world is an appreciation and respect for feminine energy and power that results when women are free and safe. It seems obvious to me that feminine energy is being suppressed and that this must change. If we are to find real, lasting solutions to the problems facing humanity, men and women must be able to work together as equals. Bliss Dance is intended to focus attention on this issue.— Marco Cochrane, Feb. 2016 press release
This sentiment also applies to the two other sculptures that Cochrane created for Burning Man as part of a trilogy: Truth Is Beauty in 2013 and R-Evolution in 2015. I consider myself privileged to have been at Burning Man on each of these years. Truth Is Beauty is now on permanent exhibit overlooking the BART station in San Leandro, California.
An 18-foot rendition of Truth Is Beauty and several other art works from Burning Man were recently on display at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery in Washington DC. An introduction to the exhibit stated:
Burning Man, one of the most influential events in contemporary art, is both a cultural movement and a thriving temporary city of more than 70,000 people that rises out of the dust for a single week each year in late summer in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. During that time, enormous experimental art installations are erected, some of which are then ritually burned to the ground. The desert gathering is a uniquely American hotbed of artistic ingenuity, driving innovation through its philosophies of radical self-expression, community participation, rejection of commodification and reverence for the handmade.
Nora Atkinson, the Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft at The Renwick went on to say this about the exhibit’s title: No Spectators
“‘No Spectators’ is a long-standing saying on Playa. You are encouraged to fully participate. It’s all about being there, being fully present, and not just observing. Two of the ten principles of Burning Man are radical participation and radical inclusivity, meaning that there are no outsiders. Everyone is part of the experience.”
If both of these statements seem a bit familiar, they reflect what I have been saying about Burning Man art and Burning Man in my posts over the last several years. In ways, I believe that Burning Man has been fostering a mini-renaissance in art and is now being recognized world-wide for its contributions.
R-Evolution, the last of Cochrane’s trilogy was actually scheduled to be exhibited on the National Mall in Washington DC between the Washington Monument and the White House. The group responsible for moving and installing the sculpture had written to me and asked for permission to use photos from my blog in a documentary it was preparing for the exhibit. The exhibit was cancelled. It may have been that the idea of a giant nude on the mall was too controversial. Anyway, here is one of my favorite photos of the sculpture:
Peggy (my wife) says what she loves about sculpture is that it is three dimensional art that you can touch and feel as well as see. One of her favorite things about Burning Man is that the art has an up-close and personal aspect, a hands on policy. Most museums have a hands-off policy. The three dimensional aspect of sculpture also has great appeal to me. I believe that that you should be able to appreciate sculpture from any angle. I’ll use the concluding photos on this post to further look at the three sculptures.
BLISS DANCE AT BURNING MAN 2010
TRUTH IS BEAUTY AT BURNING MAN 2013.
R-EVOLUTION AT BURNING MAN 2015
That’s it for today. NEXT POST: UFO’s, aliens, and a giant robot at Burning Man.
You can blame Leonardo for today’s post. That’s Leonardo as in Leonardo Da Vinci. I was reading Walter Isaacson’s magnificent biography about him on Monday and he attributed Da Vinci’s genius to “an omnivorous curiosity, which bordered on the fanatical, and an acute power of observation that was eerily intense.” So that’s what it takes to be a genius, I thought, and determined to test the theory by curiously observing my surroundings in an intense, eerie way. A large toad stared back at me. A sometimes doorstop, sometimes bookend frog was lying down on the job. I don’t know if my I.Q. jumped, but I did observe that weird things were hanging out in our home. I decided it was a subject worthy of a blog post.
Who is weirder than Bone? You’ve all met him if you follow this blog. This past summer he hiked down the PCT with me. And of course he loves Burning Man. He has traveled to over 50 countries with people on adventures that have ranged from being blessed by the Pope to deep sea diving. There is much more. What you may not know about Bone, however, is that when he is at our house and isn’t carousing with his wife Bonette or the jackass Eeyore, he likes to hang out on a pedestal.
Many of the ‘strange’ art pieces found in our home reflect that both Peggy and I like so-called ‘primitive’ art. Like children’s art, it carries a level of creativity and even power that is lost as children and cultures ‘grow up’ and lose their connection with nature, “omnivorous curiosity,” and “acute power of observation.” The mola at the top of the post was obtained by Peggy in Panama from an indigenous tribe. A number of modern artists such as Picasso have used primitive art for inspiration.
Our kids, recognizing our quirkiness, have contributed some of the weird things but I am usually the target. Mom gets more practical things, like chocolate.
Much of what we have simply reflects our own unique brand of quirkiness and can be found outside of our home as well as inside.
There are more, lots more in fact, but you get the idea. And that leads me to a question: What strange things hang out at your house?
Situated on a flat playa that stretches out for over 100 miles, Burning Man is dwarfed by surrounding mountains and a vast, flat, desert floor. Once, the playa was filled with a huge, glacier fed lake that was over 500 feet deep. Wooly mammoths and Native Americans lived on its shore and called it home. Like other Great Basin Lakes, there were no outlets. Water that flowed into the lake stayed there and sediments carried in from the surrounding mountains sank to the bottom. As the climate changed, becoming hotter and drier, the lake dried up and the sediments became the base for today’s Playa.
By the 1840s and 50s pioneers and gold seekers from the young United States of America made their first forays into the desert heading for the goldfields of Northern California and Southern Oregon. The Applegate brothers created a trail through the Black Rock Desert that bears their name. I live in the Applegate Valley of Oregon beside the Applegate River, all named for the family. I also have family connections. Applegates and Mekemsons intermarried in the early 1800s.
Today, I am going to post several photos that place Burning Man in its Black Rock Desert surroundings.
NEXT POST: I was reading Walter Isaacson’s book on Leonardo Da Vinci this morning and Isaacson was discussing how incredibly observant Da Vinci was. This led me to look up at our house from a slightly different perspective. I was struck by some of the weird things we collect and decided it would make a fun post. The next post: A Home Full of Whimsy… What’s in your House?
I spend the majority of my ‘out and about’ time at Burning Man on the Playa. That’s where the major art pieces are displayed, and seeing them is my primary reason for going to the event. Some, I return to several times to admire and photograph in different light. And there is night, where they take on a totally different personality.
Peggy and I always reserve a day for walking around Black Rock City, however. The same creativity found in the creation of art, mutant vehicles, and major camps is found in BRC as well. In fact, you never know what you will find, such as the goat above. In addition to the fun and curious, there are things to do, food to eat, more art, and camps to admire. People watching is also fun, as it is out on the Playa and at the Center Camp cafe.
I’ll let today’s photos reflect our walks over the years. Most of them were taken by Peggy and me, but some were taken by the two other photographers in our camp, Tom Lovering and Don Green.
NEXT POST: A look at the Black Rock Desert, home to Burning Man and Black Rock City.
If you have been following my Burning Man posts over the past couple of months, you now have a fair idea of what mutant vehicles look like. Today, I am moving off of the Playa and into Black Rock City, starting with a look at the structures built by large camps (villages). A camp is usually made up of people who share a common interest or background. All of these photos were taken during the 11 years I have attended the event: 2004-5-6-7-9-10-12-13-14-15 and 17. It is interesting to note that these structures are built to last one week, going up at the beginning of Burning Man and coming down at the end.
NEXT POST: A view of Black Rock City outside of the large camps, out in the boonies where I lived.
The Burning Man Organization, BMO, works hard to insure that the mutant vehicles that wander across the Playa and through Black Rock City are both creative and safe. The process starts with an application from Burners who want to bring a mutant vehicle to the annual event. A photo or detailed drawing of the vehicle must accompany the application. A committee then reviews the applications for originality and safety. Numbers are strictly limited. Burning Man is primarily a walking/bicycling event. Upon arrival the mutant vehicle must check in with the Department of Mutant Vehicles, DMV, and pass a safety inspection before receiving a license. Vehicles that shoot out fire must pass even more stringent requirements.
I am wrapping up my series on Burning Man’s mutant vehicles today. There are, after all, another 14 categories of photos from my 11 years of attending the far-out happening in Nevada’s remote Black Rock Desert. Being last, however, does not mean least. Most of these simply didn’t fit into the groups I created. Take this eye, for example.
Well, enough on body parts, already. I’ve written a fair amount about steampunk at Burning Man, especially as it applies to mutant vehicles. Here’s a couple more.
Burning Man constantly throbs with the sound of heavy metal music. I always carry sound makers to reduce its impact on my beauty rest. A number of large venues are found throughout Black Rock City. Mutant vehicles carry on the tradition out on the Playa. Whenever one stops to whip out the tunes, Burners gather around to dance. There’s no question about the intention of the boom box mutant vehicle. Large speakers are another sure guarantee that loud music is about to happen.
With music rolling across the Playa, it’s not surprising that there was also a bar. This one was hauled by an old tractor.
What if Picasso made it to Burning Man. The first mutant vehicle below might be what he would create. The second would be more likely to be found among the ‘primitive’ painters who were inspired by the South Pacific and exotic tropical islands.
Big things come in small packages, as the diamond merchants like to remind us, over and over.
There were times that communication with Curt was critical. For example: Circumstances sometimes required that I change my location from where we had agreed to meet. That’s where the trekker telegraph came in handy! Curt was hiking north to south while most through-hikers were traveling south to north. This meant that the majority of hikers I met at the trailhead would pass Curt along the way. Much to my delight, I could send messages with them. They had a true appreciation of just how difficult the hike was and were more than supportive of Curt’s adventure. They were also used to sharing information with fellow hikers. (It didn’t hurt that I bribed them with apples, apple juice, fresh water, peanut butter, scones and beer.) I’d give them his card with his photo and away they would go. The more worried I was, the more hikers I gave the message to. Curt laughingly told me when he came out at Burney Falls that he had heard I was in a new location some 13 times! Good thing, since I was several miles away from where he was expecting me. Laugh all you want, Curt.
I truly enjoyed getting to know the through-hikers. I was amazed at the variety of ages, genders, nationalities, repeat trekkers, segment trekkers, first timers, and seasoned hikers. They all had stories to tell and were glad to share. They also wanted to hear about Curt. We had a sign on the back of our van that featured his adventure.
The sign also drew people in at campgrounds and in the small towns where I shopped along the way. They would stop by to visit, ask questions, share personal or family stories about the PCT, and often ask how they might help out. I distributed lots of Curt’s cards.
Trail angels are people who volunteer to support trekkers by providing water, food, lodging, and transportation along the way. We met a great one in Seiad Valley. Jeanine had hiked the PCT, as had her son. She lived near Burney Falls and regularly supported through hikers on the 30-mile section south of the Falls where there wasn’t any water. She immediately offered to help Curt, becoming a friend to be cherished! I saw her again near Burney Falls where I had a fun lunch with her and her friends. Later, she and her husband joined both of us for pizza in Burney. Her information about the trail was invaluable. The lack of water combined with 105 F temperatures ultimately persuaded Curt to save the Burney section for another time, however.
Other people jumped in to help whenever help was needed. My friend Barbara and her husband Carl, long time hikers, gave us a ride to Mt. Ashland where we started the TMT. Tim and Sandra Holt in Dunsmuir, friends from Curt’s past, offered to let our nephew Jay leave his car at their home when Jay joined Curt for a 100-mile segment. My own trail angel activities paid dividends. One couple I had given a ride to, drove all the way to Sonora Pass just to check on me and to see if there was any news from Curt!
RV Angels is a new category! I made that one up but I have a few stories of campground hosts and RV Park hosts who helped me out. I was traveling without reservations for most of the trip as I needed the flexibility to be where I was needed most. The challenge was finding space. One host (in Chester) who had no open spaces heard my story, told me to wait a moment, made a call, and then returned to tell me she had a spot. That night she returned and said I could stay as long as I needed! Another host (in Burney Falls) offered her private phone number for emergencies and her private internet server so that I would have consistent service. Another host (Lake Tahoe/Truckee) squeezed me in between some big rigs and said she would find a spot for me if I needed to stay longer.
Several friendships were made. Some will continue to grow over the next few years. A favorite story is about Linda. I had just returned to Quivera (the van) and saw Linda with her quilting supplies, sewing machine, and materials spread out over the picnic table. Yes, I love quilting so, of course, I had to introduce myself and rave about her skill! Next thing I know we are sharing a glass of wine and just having a great time talking a mile a minute! She and her husband Pete were part of a local group that RV together. The men would go fishing and the women would quilt. Then all would party in the evening. Turns out she grew up in the Lassen NP area and still had a summer home. We agreed we would tackle Lassen Peak next summer. When we finally returned home in September, Linda had sent me the quilt that I had so admired. What a gem!
Then there was the homemade coconut cream pie. Jeanine and her friends had recommended a restaurant in Falls River. It was known for its coconut cream pie. Curt was excited; he loves coconut cream pie. Bad news, they were out. Good news, when the baker heard Curt’s story, she headed into the kitchen and made another pie!! Little things mean a lot. Curt claimed it was it best he has ever eaten. (I wonder if that had anything to do with eating backpacking food for weeks?)
Family connections:Yes, I worried about Curt on the trail. That is who I am. Our kids were great about checking in regularly. They were also receiving the evening messages from Spot, the GPS tracker, letting them know where Curt was and that all was well. What was best, though, was that our 13-year-old grandson Ethan joined Curt for one segment and Jay, our 30-year-old nephew, joined him for another. Now I could relax. A bonus came along with Ethan. Our daughter Tasha and her other son, Cody, joined me and we were able to play for a week.
Birthday at Castle Crags:Believe it or not, I have never spent my birthday alone! I LOVE birthdays and have turned mine into a day per decade celebration. So, this summer was a bit different. However, there were a few surprises. Of course, the kids called. Then I received a phone call from Jay and Curt who stopped on top of a mountain and discovered a cell signal. I had answered concerned about an emergency and was greeted by a stirring rendition of Happy Birthday to you! What fun! To celebrate, I then called our friend Sandra Holt and invited her to join me for train-car dining at the Railroad Park where the wait staff spoiled me rotten. OK, I really was not alone.
On being by myself:One afternoon I was enjoying a beautiful spot at my campsite in a forest campground about ten miles from Sonora Pass. Shaded by pine trees and enjoying incredible mountain views, I pulled out my guitar and softly sang and played my favorite folk songs (Think 60s-70s.) I noticed a father and daughter standing behind the van and listening discretely. When I picked up some artistic word searches I had been designing, the two of them approached. The father said his daughter had a question: Was the TMT sign on the van true? Yes. Then what did I do with myself each day?
It was a good question. I had never really traveled on my own in the RV. There was plenty of down time while I waited for Curt. My day included reading (lots), playing the guitar, writing a daily journal, creating artistic word searches (the daughter got quite excited about this and offered to test them for me!), following the news, keeping the RV resupplied, researching campgrounds, hiking, and supporting Curt. I used social media when I had an internet connection to keep up with friends and my responsibilities as President of the Friends of Ruch Library.
Hiking alone in the woods by myself was also a first. Walking 2 to 3-miles daily on local trails wasn’t a problem. Longer hikes presented a bit more of a challenge. First, I had to get used to the quiet. Then there was the expectation of encountering large, furry animals on my own. Deer fine. The mama bear and her two cubs was another story— especially when they decided to walk toward me. Being directionally challenged, I am always concerned about getting lost. I paid real close attention every time the trail split, carried a whistle, and loaded up with water and snacks. My conclusion, I love hiking but I prefer to hike with Curt. (Grin.) We finished off our adventure by backpacking together in the Three Sisters Wilderness of Oregon.
This wraps up my observations. I was reminded that being back in nature does rebalance the mind. The think time and quiet time when wandering in the woods cannot be matched. There is a good reason that Curt and I are soulmates. So, here’s to our next adventure. I am thinking the PCT in Oregon deserves much more of our attention!
Curt knew I would be nervous without detailed planning of trails, mileage, rendezvous points, and alternatives. With 50 years of backpacking experience including planning, organizing and leading backpack treks for 30, he is something of an expert on the subject. Having a GPS/Spot Gen 3 tracker along was a new experience for him, however. He could upload his location each night via satellite and I could track his progress on my maps. He could also use Spot to signal for emergency help if needed and carried a cell phone, which he could use in the rare times he had cell service or if he had to hike out for some reason.
Then there was the unexpected— lack of water, smoke, fire, and possible injuries on the trail plus my challenges on the road of finding campgrounds and spaces near trailheads, power outages, limited cell service, and RV repair issues.
The first part of the trek introduced us to water shortages! Following mountain ridges over much of its length, the PCT is noted for its limited supply. The mild winter of 2017-18 with its lack of snow fall in the Siskiyous, Cascades and Sierras made it worse. Streams that would normally have been running through July were dry. Springs were sometimes a mere trickle. Even though we had downloaded the most recent information from the PCT site on water sources, the situation was changing rapidly. Our first day on the trail from Mt. Ashland proved the point.
We had planned a 10-mile day since it was our first day out. There had been sufficient water over the first seven miles. It wasn’t the case when we came to our planned camp site. Curt parked me in a pleasant location and took our water bottles down into the canyon where a stream was located. And came back empty. The stream was dry. “The map shows that there’s a spring in about a quarter of a mile off on a side road,” he announced. “We can camp there.” I loaded my pack and away we went. The spring was also dry. Have I mentioned that I was getting grumpy? Our options now appeared to be hiking three miles back or three miles ahead on the trail. “Let’s try farther down the canyon,” he suggested as a third alternative. I dutifully followed along. Fortunately, we hit water in a half mile. Curt’s experience with all-things-woodsy had paid off. The creek, by the way, was the headwaters of the Applegate River, which runs past our front yard.
We had just set up our tent when crashing thunder announced a deluge. I made it inside dry. Curt came in soaked. Mother Nature was having fun at our expense!
The greatest surprise and challenge was fire and smoke. The thought of making a fast exit ahead of a fire was always on our minds, but smoke was the main problem. Curt’s many years of working with the American Lung Association had educated him to the danger. “Wildfire smoke can be extremely harmful to the lungs, especially for children, older adults and those with asthma, COPD and bronchitis or a chronic heart disease or diabetes,” ALA warns. “I resemble one of those categories,” Curt said. Older people are to stay inside and avoid strenuous exercise. Ha!
Fires started to impact the plan as soon as Castle Crags and smoke changed the trail plan totally in Chester when we couldn’t see a hundred yards into the forest. As Curt has shared on his blog, he had to alter his journey to avoid the worst of smoke and fire. Was I worried? Yes! The most difficult situation encountered was at Sonora Pass. I awoke the morning I was to meet him there to learn that a new fire had started on the far side of the pass. As I waited, I watched the smoke billowing from the fire grow larger and larger. When Curt hadn’t arrived several hours after I expected him, I became quite concerned. Fortunately, a long skinny fellow with the trail name of Bone came hiking up to our RV.
“You must be Peggy,” he said. When I responded yes, he told me that he had passed my missing buddy on the trail. Curt had asked him to pass on the information that he was fine and should be along in an hour or two. Much relieved, I settled in to wait and invited Bone to charge his cell phone in our van and have a cold beer. After Curt’s safe arrival (he tells the story in his blog), we drove to an RV campground for the night and learned that the pass and the PCT trail had been closed after we left!
While Curt was facing challenges out on the trail, I also had my share doing back up. As I mentioned earlier, I’d had lots of experience in camping with the RV. But I was a newbie at camping alone. Fires and lightning caused outages at campgrounds and RV parks, cell phone service was often spotty, And Quivera, our RV, demanded attention. Internal lights, the awning, and the air conditioning unit all had issues.
Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem. We’d just find a shop that serviced RVs. But the local shops had a common response: “If you have a problem, call 30 days in advance for a reservation.” Does anyone else see a problem here? Repairs were up to me. Fine. The awning jammed, my solution? U-tube! I fixed it. Internal lights out? I read the manual, rewired the one I needed to read by and decided to let the other three go. AC servicing: well, other than pumping out playa dust from Burning Man— a forever problem— it was still working. Why worry?
There was a good ending to my efforts to find an RV service shop. I stopped by Camping World in Rockland near Sacramento and talked with the service staff. One of them walked out with me, confirmed that I would need to replace the awning eventually but told me bungee cords were a great temporary solution. He then replaced all the lights for me. Last but not least, he told me how to flush the AC with a hose. There was no charge for his good advice and help!
Next up: I will talk about the help that was generously offered to me along the way and a unique way of communicating with Curt: The Trekker Telegraph. Bone was a good example.
When Curt first shared that he wanted to celebrate his 75thbirthday hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail, I was not surprised. He has 50 years of backpacking experience and loves wandering in the woods. Then he added the 1000-mile goal. That surprised me! There were so many questions. Reading about the challenges faced by Bill Bryson in A Walk in the Woodsand Cheryl Strayed in Wildadded more. Their combined ages when they started their adventures was less than Curt’s. The conversations and planning began.
The first question was, can we (yes, we) physically do this? I had every intention of joining Curt on the trail whenever possible. He had introduced me to backpacking in 1980 and I, too, had fallen in love with the sport. But there was this age thing— for both of us. I’m 68, a child bride perhaps from Curt’s perspective, but not in the reality of miles traveled in life. Off we went for a week’s backpacking trial run on the 40-mile Rogue River Trail. Other than Curt falling down a cliff (well, only 20 feet head first) after his trekking pole collapsed, suffering minimal damage to his arm, and bouncing back on the trail, it was a beautiful adventure and a confirmation that we could still backpack longer distances with a bit of practice and preparation.
The next question was how much could I backpack with Curt and still provide support along the way? I was to be his ‘trail angel’ in PCT lingo. I’d be driving our 22’ Pleasure Way RV/van as the support vehicle. We had been traveling in it for years sharing driving responsibilities, so I was confident I could manage. It was to be my first solo trip, however! My job included carrying three months of food and other backpacking necessities and resupplying Curt between trail segments. There was the fine print of course— and other duties as required (grin).One was that I’d greet Curt with a big smile, a hug, and a cold beer when he came off each segment. Given that my young/old husband had survived another 70 to 100 miles of backpacking through the wilderness over challenging terrain, the smiles and hugs were really easy! My presence would also offer a comfortable break from the trail and provide the flexibility of changing mileage, timelines, and length of breaks if needed. It was an advantage that few PCT hikers have. Curt is spoiled rotten, what can I say.
Realistically, I would not be able to backpack much of the way without someone moving the van from Point A to Point B. However, we could backpack the first segment together from Mt. Ashland to Seiad Valley which would be a great confidence builder for both of us. The rest we would figure out on the run! Once we hiked into Seiad Valley, 6 days and 60 miles later, I was assured Curt could do anything he put his mind to! (So could I.) Still, waving goodbye to him as he left Seiad Valley on his first solo segment up through the Marble Mountains was hard. “If you don’t come out, Curt, I am coming in after you,” I told him and meant it. He had looked nervous and said, “Call Tony first.” I am geographically challenged when it comes to finding my way around in the woods. Tony is our Coast Guard pilot son who has participated in numerous rescue operations.
NEXT POST: When the unexpected happens along the PCT. Peggy’s perspective: Part 2.
Duane Flatmo lives in Eureka California, a short 3 plus hours away from where I live and a million miles away in imagination. Wanting to create a new creature, he struggled with a concept that would live up to his fantastic El Pulpo Mechanico.
Rabid Transit was his answer. Like El Pulpo, Rabid Transit was created from items gathered at a local junk yard in Eureka. Note El Pulpo’s legs made out of abandoned barrels.
Never Was Haul comes as a Victorian home on wheels with a cow catcher on the front. (Cow catchers are what trains use to put on the front of their engines to remove cattle, moose and buffalo from the tracks.) Born in Berkeley as part of the steam punk art movement, Never Was Haul has been to Burning Man many times.
For sheer fun, I’d have to list the large vase mutant vehicle shown below as a top candidate. I was even more entertained when I discovered it changed colors at night.
Several trains have appeared at Burning Man. There has even been a caboose, the Dust Bus, which proudly claims it is part of the Nor Cal Black Rock Railroad..
Before trains, people got across the US in Conestoga wagons. The Oregon Trail passes through the Black Rock Desert not too far from Burning Man and would have seen many of these wagons carrying pioneers west, among them, my Great, Great Grandmother.
I’ll finish today’s post with four individual mutant vehicles:
NEXT POST: Peggy’s perspective on our hike on the PCT this past summer.
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