Things About Adventures

So I am doing this THING, for work, which leaves me with lots of free time on my hands and my bosses say they like it when I am bored. That’s great, except usually when I am bored, I write, and my bosses apparently don’t like it when I write. Last time I was doing this THING and I wrote, I nearly got fired, so I am gonna try to be more careful. In fact I have been told that I can’t write about the THING I do for work, when I am at work, in case I say something BAD. Words like “inappropriate”, “representation” and “make us look bad” have been thrown around, so to be safe, I am not going to say where I am or what I am doing. Just in case. And I am not going to tell you all of the funny things that happen, or that people say, or that come in my lunches, or anything. In case.

Instead I am going to write about things that are not here, wherever it is that I am, that may or may not be right next to an ocean and some poison oak. Instead, I am going to tell you a story.

Once upon a time, for that is the exact space in history where all true adventures begin, we planned a quiet weekend. The weekend had completely nothing in it, except for beautiful couches and some TV and maybe a pizza or two. It was perfect. Saturday morning dawned sunny and beautiful, with no Obligations or Responsibilities. Then the phone rang. A certain set of parentals were stranded. It seems that an aged Cadillac, which was in Very Good Condition Otherwise, had given up the ghost somewhere around that place on I-90 where Noone lives. You know the spot? Well the parentals luckily knew someone who lived not far from Noone and they caught a ride to civilization, towing the Good Condition but otherwise dead Cadillac with them, and then they called us.

We, being good, caring offspring, always willing to help and having no other plans that day, decided (with some hesitation) to go rescue the parentals as good, caring children do. It all started off OK. A planless weekend had just morphed accidentally into a road trip weekend, as the parentals needed a ride to the Land of Ports, where they would get a rental car to use until their flight home to Florida a few days later.

Being always up for adventure and also Very Accommodating, I was especially excited for this unplanned road trip because it was my first time meeting the parentals of Someone that I like Awfulmuch. The Someone might have been a little less enthusiastic, because for one thing, he already knows his parents and it’s not nearly as exciting as meeting new ones, and for another thing, couches are Very Nice. But me, being such a good shoulder-whisperer that alternates a little carelessly between angel and devil, I talked him into how much fun a road trip would be.

We picked up the ‘rents in Ritzville where they said goodbye fondly to the Cadillac in Otherwise Good Condition, and headed south and then west toward Portland, talking of other road trips and cars and trucks and things that you talk about with parents you’ve just met, like the weather and what kind of jelly you like. The trip was fine, even though it was hotter than the gorge has been in memorable history and we hadn’t packed any ice cream.

After dropping the parents off at the airport, and then re-dropping them off at the airport when someone realized that someone else needed something else from someone’s wallet, we, just The Two of Us, went on our merry way into the Big City to stay in a Big City Hotel and eat some Big City Food. Or we would have, if suddenly the Jeep we were riding in hadn’t decided it needed an immediate and unarguable break to cool down. Somehow we got off the freeway and onto a side street in downtown Portland, where we hemmed and hawed about what was broken, how to fix it and whether or not someone could send a helicopter to take us home. No helicopter came, but an ambulance did deliver some pizza to us while we waited for a tow truck to find us. Turns out that downtown Portland is a long way from any tow trucks.

Deciding that whateveritwas that was broken was not going to be easily fixed on a downtown sidestreet in Portland on Saturday night after everything was closed, or Sunday morning when everyone was at church, we opted for a tow out to Astoria, where the parentals had headed in their cheery red rental car just moments before. We figured that fixing the problem with some help, another car for the inevitable running around that it would require, and a place to stay, made more sense than sharing a room with the guy in the cardboard house on the street where we were parked.

I wish I could remember the tow truck driver’s name, but I am not sure he ever gave it to us, although I can tell you that he has three daughters, all redheads, he works lots of overtime and he is a proficient sleep driver. It took us at least a zillion hours to get from Portland to Astoria in the tow truck - hours which were punctuated either by awkward conversations with the tow truck driver about his red headed daughters or watching his head nod sporadically toward his chest in little narcoleptic fits when we weren’t asking him questions. The worst part was that when he was sleep-driving, he would go the speed limit or slightly over, getting us more quickly to our destination, but the minute we would ask him a question and he would start responding, his foot would come off the gas pedal and the rusty, whale-like truck would slow to 22 MPH for the entirety of the conversation. It was completely impossible to decide which scenario was worse, but I was snuggled up next to Someone I Like Very Much on the World’s Most Uncomfortable Bench Seat with my feet up on a tool box that wouldn’t close all the way until 2 in the morning, and I didn’t even mind.  

We finally got to Astoria, and a beautiful hotel room (with a pull out bed, of course) overlooking a beautiful bridge and biscuits and gravy for breakfast and a Dutch Bros right up the road. It turns out that the fix wasn’t too hard, once we figured out the problem with some parental help (what goes around, comes around?) and before long, we were back on the road toward home, only a few hours behind our original unplanned plan.

They say that Adventure is merely lack of planning, which can be kind of exciting, especially for Someone who is a Planner. I think that Adventure is more like a plan with a question mark at the end, or one of those choose-your-own-ending books that leave a few pages blank, just in case. I like question marks and blank pages a lot, and I also like Someone who is a Planner a lot, and even though our do-nothing weekend turned into late nights and troubleshooting and problem solving and miles and miles, it was a good adventure, and I wouldn’t have undone it, even if it meant that the Cadillac in Otherwise Good Condition would still be alive. Which is fine, since the parentals have recently replaced it with an aged Pearl White Cadillac that is also in Otherwise Very Good Condition.

Things About Beauty

“I want to know how I can have acne AND gray hair at the same time?” the new fireline paramedic echoed my own internal conversation. It was ironic, since I had noticed earlier that morning what a beautiful rosy complexion she had, and I was jealous. This was only hours before she caught me plucking gray hairs in my rear view mirror. Not that beauty is the most important thing out here on the fireline. Far from it. The most important thing is, of course, food. Then sleep. Then safety (Safety 3rd!). And maybe after all of those, beauty falls in rank.

I have never been much of a beauty expert, as evidenced in my make-up application skill level (or lack thereof) and generally unkempt hair. But according to three real aestheticians I know, and one self-proclaimed one, John Tesh, the Beauty Experts at Cosmopolitan Magazine and the back of my Lip Smackers package, there are a lot of really easy tips and tricks for staying beautiful even under the harshest of conditions. Like say, photographer’s lighting systems and long Metro Rides, or air that is filled with both smoke and dust particulates in clearly visible but immeasurable quantities for days at a time.

(For the record, until about six years ago I assumed an aesthetician was somebody who taught people how to have good taste [as in aesthetics], like a dietician teaches people to eat good[?] food.)

I read once, or maybe heard it on John Tesh (if you can’t tell, I a major fan), that we tend to have acne breakouts on the side of our face that we sleep on since our pillowcases harbor bacteria and dirt from… well, Iife, I guess. That makes sense since at this moment my own pillow is nestled between a Very Dirty Transverse Rescue System that has seen the back of too many fire pickups, my hardhat and a combi-tool (a shovel/pick combination that I carry on the line).

This probably explains the residual break out on my right cheek because I can’t really sleep on my left side with a torn labrum in my left hip and an undiagnosed pain in my left shoulder. Sleeping on my right side isn’t a whole lot better since I have a torn labrum in my right shoulder and an undiagnosed pain in my right hip, but it is some better. I read in Cosmo that sleeping on your back is the best for facial skin since gravity pulls it all backwards and toward your scalp, minimizing the development of wrinkles like the ones by my nose where my cheeks are squishing it all night long, mashed up against my dirty pillow.

Sleeping on my back poses a whole new set of issues though as that same gravitational pull seems to work on all of my body fat, which I suspect are culpable in the compression of my spinal cord in Just The Right Places so that my hands and feel fall asleep within about 45 seconds of lying supine (on my back, for you laypeople). I tried to mitigate this last night by propping my left leg up on the same dirty TRS that my pillow is snuggling with now and elevating my right foot on the hardhat. That resulted in about two hours of sleepless evaluation of tingly hands and the gravitational pull on my facial skin.

So back to the right side I went, and resigned myself to a dirty pillowcase and more zits. Sleep before beauty, I told myself. Which makes acceptance of the definite lack of beauty a little bit easier. It is more concerning to me of late since I have established certain goals which include improving my attention to physical appearance, since, “Havin’ no natural beauty” of my own like Sonora in Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken (favorite movie alert!), I probably need to - help myself. Not that, once again, beauty is the ultimate goal, but there is no denying that with beauty comes influence, and people are happier to work with and respond better to someone who is attractive. It’s just the way it is. People, monkeys, peacocks… we’re all wired to be more receptive to the Hot Ones, whether it’s tan legs, swollen purple butts or fantastic feathery shows . So in order to make the power plays I am looking forward to in the future, I need to up my hotness factor, and probably wash my pillowcase.

Things About Light

I learned something today about gratitude. I try, for the most part, to operate out of a spirit of love and gratefulness and humility. Sometimes I suck at this, because, like all y’all, I am human and I am not always all of those things. Sometimes I am not even any of those things. Earlier this week I was really fighting ungratefulness and a mean spirit. I am not sure why. It would be easy to blame hormones or lack of good sleep or being homesick or whatnot, but whatever the cause, I had a hard time being nice.

I didn’t really feel like writing, but all the Writing People are adamant that writing is a discipline, not a whimsical option. So I made myself write. The writing that came out of me, being in a bad place was, in a word, bad. I mean it was funny, don’t get me wrong. But maybe it was funny at the expense of people I didn’t really know… based on outside observation. Maybe it was prejudiced. Maybe it was unkind.

If my words don’t come out of a place of gratitude and love, they have no business being. It doesn’t matter if they are true. It doesn’t matter if they are funny as hell. I get this. Part of me bucks against censorship and feels like I have some inalienable right to say whatever the heck I want. Nothing that I said was SO HORRIBLE or illegal or even totally wrong, but I KNOW BETTER. I know better than to let loose words of mine that come from a place of darkness. They do nobody any good.

When the sun disappeared behind the shadow of the moon for a few brief minutes yesterday morning, it brought into startling clarity, just how much I take for granted. The world was cold. Much colder than it had been only minutes before in the light of the sun. It was dark and colorless, like the light of the sun took out every hue of green and yellow and blue and red when it left. It was the dusky colorless of the last light in the evening, when the road and the trees and the herds of whitetail deer roving dangerously among it all are the same color. This is the difference between words that come out of darkness and words that come out of light. Color and warmth are in the light. It’s just how it is.

It’s not that I shouldn’t ever be able to laugh and make light of where I am and the TRULY ridiculous things going on around me, but I know when my voice is kind and when it is not. In reality, I work with a lot of great people, in amazing places, and I feel very blessed for the years that I have done this crazy cool job.

Here is what I learned: When I am where I am supposed to be (which I try to be, most of the time), I need to be grateful and kind and humble, and if I cannot be those things, then I need to be still and quiet. I learned that I don’t like a sunless, lightless world. I want to live in the sun, in the color and the warmth. I want others to live there with me.

If the moon were a little closer to the earth, we would lose the sunlight more often. It really is an amazing thing, this astronomical system we live in. It overwhelms me to think about the infinite minutia that dictate our survival. The tiny changes in temperature, atmosphere, angles and rotations that determine how we live or die on this planet are, in a word, epic. It’s like the little changes in mood, in motivation, in voice that determine the effect of a word on the world that it lands on.

All change is facilitated either through love or through hate. Real love is born from gratitude, accepting your worth and giving it back to those around you. Hate creeps in to fill up the absence of gratitude, the ugly insecurity of the lie that you are worthless. A lie I know like the back of my hand. We are such small, insignificant parts of this giant miracle of a world. I want the change that I bring to my tiny space to be rooted in the warmth and color of love and light. I want to speak love without flattery, truth without unkindness and hope without dishonesty. I want to make people smile, and laugh, and love more.

Photo Credit: Collin Andrew

Things I Can't Say

Last week I was on a fire as a Public Information Officer, trying to juggle all of those duties AND get my writing done for my two other jobs - it was a push, but I’ve discovered I definitely prefer having TOO much to do to having NOTHING I can do, except read. And eat. And read. And eat some more. Oh yeah, and write… sounds like heaven, right? Except I find the lack of external stimulus unmotivating for the same reason that I never want to fold the laundry at home during the boring winter months… There’s always tomorrow. And the tomorrows here are very long. Only five more tomorrows til they let me come back in to civilization and be human again.

Last night the Branch Director informed us that a certain Hotsprings Resort (where we are all camped) is hosting their annual “Fairy Fest” this weekend. I got pretty excited because this terrain out here with shoulder high ferns and deep, pillowy moss reminds me of the woods along the Columbia River Gorge where my Grandma Schiffman used to tell me that the fairies lived near the waterfalls. My excitement was shot down pretty fast when Branch explained that the clothing-optional celebration is predominantly adult males. The Task Force Leader sitting next to me started giggling uncontrollably and leaned over to tell me that he had been sitting at a drop point all day applying body paint for the festival, and as soon as we were done briefing, all that would be left of him was a pile of discarded nomex. I think he was kidding… I just hope that none of the revelling “fairies” come flopping through my campsite in their glitter encrusted wings at 2 AM - it might be the first time I didn’t do the whole “do believe in fairies” chant or clap my hands to save a fairy life. Just saying.

Today they ran out of lunches before I got mine which means I will have to avail myself of the 375lbs of snack foods that I have been hoarding. Or eat the Frosted Mini Wheats that I stole from the breakfast line (don’t worry, I stole milk too). It’s only 10:00 and I am already thinking about lunch which is good indicator of a bad day.

BUT - Good news! I found a scratchy FM radio station today that plays nothing but classic rock. George Thoroughgood, Rod Stewart, Pink Floyd - all the greats. If you know me, you know how excited I am about this. There aren’t even news updates on this station. I keep checking to make sure and for the off chance that I might hear another human voice over the airwaves.

I didn’t sleep well since I forgot to turn my radio off and it was ALL THE WAY up in the front console of the Expedition that I am sleeping/working in and it was too far away to crawl forward to shut off. So every hour I was awakened by the crackle-hiss of “NONAMEFIRE COMMUNICATIONS HOTSPRINGS ROAD GUARD STATUS CHECK OPERATIONS NORMAL.” from at least fifteen overnight road guards. That was pretty rad.  I really can’t complain since I could’ve turned the damn thing off at any time but I just kept hoping they would go away and leave me alone. My 31st day on fire this season is starting to exhibit itself mentally, I guess. I must have slept some though, because I woke up with a knot the size of a softball directly underneath my right shoulder blade. I keep rolling it against the center console of the car to try to loosen it up, but no dice.

I was so bored today that after I finished a book, two movies, three naps and wrote most of this blog post, I rearranged my rig so that I can’t reach the cooler from the driver’s seat and I am required to get out of the vehicle and walk around to the passenger side for cold water, or more importantly, cheese. Because you know, exercise. But I outsmarted myself and started pulling non-cold water bottles from the case on the floor behind my seat. Until that became to much work, then I just quit drinking water. The cheese posed a bigger problem, however, so my solution was to just eat it ALL in one sitting and not have to face the dilemma any more. That worked out pretty well.

All of this joy was enhanced by a young kid from one of the contract crews who needed me to trim down an overgrown, torn toenail from a foot that hasn’t been showered in many, many days. He could probably tell by my cheerful demeanor and the unrepressed gagging how thrilled I was to take care of him. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. Five more sleeps.

Things About Security

So I am on this fire. The fire happens to be lying directly in the Path of Totality for the upcoming Great American Solar Eclipse on Monday. In anticipation of the large numbers of ridiculous tourists thronging into the area for the event, fire managers decided to contract out road security to an outside agency. The agency that got the contract, either by lowest bid or by Knowing Someone, is a rag-tag bunch of 19 year old kids that I suspect are all members of the same LARPing (Live Action Role Playing) group, probably out of Portland. Based on the information gleaned from several conversations, along with my own powers of observation, these kids were apparently recruited by the company owner for $11 an hour to take a two hour “unarmed security” course and sent out into the forest in knock-off black 5-11 pants to guard roads into the fire area.

Additionally, the Powers That Be thought it would a good idea to give these guys radios. Radios that are cloned to all of the fire frequencies. Ones they can talk on. In addition to 27 guys in fake BDUs calling in “SITUATION NORMAL” every hour, on the hour, they also have radio conversations that go something like this:

“NONAMEFIRE ROAD GUARD SECURITY HOTSPRINGS ROAD GUARD SECURITY ROGER HOW COPY?!?!!” (in all caps to denote drill-sergeantesque yelling - also please note lack of punctuation, emphasis or any way to determine whom is yelling out from whomelse, but somehow, they all know [I should probably take that radio class])

“NONAMEFIRE ROAD GUARD SECURITY! YOU ARE A GO!” (I guess this means he can talk?)







It goes on like this for hours. I don’t really mind since I have been stationed 10 minutes out of cell range for the last 5 days where there isn’t even FM radio reception and it’s the only entertainment or human interaction I get. It’s more fun when I am sitting close enough to watch them in action though, stopping carloads of nice hippies that are just trying to get to the nudist colony at the hotsprings for their eclipse orgy.

One of the guards has something that looks suspiciously like a ninja sword sticking out of his utility pants. One of them has a “Don’t Tread On Me” flag draped ceremoniously across the back trunk of his 1997 Honda Civic. One of them is wearing a bullet proof vest. One of them stands guard with a can of Deep Woods Off™ Bug Repellant in his hand like bear spray, ready for action, during every encounter.

They take their new, $11/hr job VERY seriously. We have absolutely no fear of any Pacific Crest Trail hikers accidentally penetrating our fire perimeter as the poor bastards follow the more than 100 mile detour along narrow, winding roads past at least 8 of these guys. I am sure the guards are also giving all of the Japanese tourists who are visiting the area for their Eclipse Fertility Rites an excellent taste of ‘MERICA.

Perhaps the funniest part about all of this is that none of the roads that they are guarding are technically closed, so the guards can’t actually stop anybody from driving down them. They’re mostly here for an “educate and orient” the public kind of role, which they are totally NAILING.
Me, on the other hand, I will be out here, riding out the Eclipocolypse near the boundary of the wilderness, isolated and cut off from civilization for 14 hours a day. We tried giving a ride to some of the PCT hikers the other day (way back when I had a partner for the day) who were totally over the whole 100 mile detour thing, but it took us out of our division and WAAAYYY up this road that may have doubled as a creek bed in the recent past. The hikers were nice though, and from Germany. Why someone would travel across the world to carry a backpack through the mountains is beyond me. Haven’t they heard of Disneyworld, air conditioning and NASCAR? I am sure our security guards could set them straight.

I am trying to alleviate my boredom by little fits of yoga and pretending to not have dozed off when the Division Supervisor drives by. I only have eight hours left to go today and I have already had second breakfast, a brunch and two lunches, so you could say that my life is on point, for a Hobbit.

I would just like to point out that every other EMT on this assignment is staged in full cellular coverage. I even went out and bought a second phone with a Verizon line to complement my AT&T coverage so I could avoid this. Instead, I get squirreled away at a remote camp to keep me “safe” from eclipse crazies (because the Dungeons & Dragons Security Forces and dirty firefighters are WAY better), with no shower for nine days and only one bar of cell service when I go down to the gravel pit for breakfast and dinner. How do I rate? What is the universe telling me? All I know is that it’s going to be one epic shower beer.

They're decorating trail signs to coordinate with the tinfoil hats the visitors are wearing. 

Things About Life.. and how it ends ❤️

Some days it feels like death is everywhere we turn. My Facebook feed this morning was like a heart wrenching funeral procession. Detective Elise Ybarra, killed in an accident outside of Abilene. Brent Witham, the 29 year old Vista Grande Hotshot who was killed by a tree last week. Sergeant Jonathan M. Hunter and Specialist Christopher M. Harris, cut down in Afghanistan by a vehicle borne IED. I sit at my little station of insignificance and fight back the tears.

Young, strong, beautiful, all four of them. The best of the best. Our protectors. Full of life and passion and courage. And now gone. I feel desperate to somehow make it stop - to beg the universe to spare these ones, our future. But it is, and always has been, the way of our human world. We are born, we create, we destroy and we die. Some of those deaths are untimely, like these four. Some are far too late.

And then, at the other end of the pendulum swing, I listen to my friend talk about her husband of 44 years, now in his early 70s, diagnosed last year with dementia. She is walking through a reverse dating process with him as he gradually forgets the woman that he pursued relentlessly over four decades ago until she took his hand. Their plans for travel together after they retired have evolved to a quiet life near the beach. But she says they've had a good life, a good time together, and she will be strong. Her friends ask her why she isn't freaking out and she says because somebody has to make sure he knows it's ok. Everything is ok, even as he loses touch with what is real and lives in a world of long-acquainted strangers. She is a rock.

Life is so beautifully short and fragile. I want to gather the ones I love up close to me and never let them out of my sight, but then that short life would be lost in worry and false and ineffective control. So I will let them live, bigly and beautifully, the lives they want, to find joy in the time they are given and I will be grateful for the moments and days and years that I am a part of that joy.

Love your people. Love your life. Chase joy hard because soon enough, one way or another you won't have that option. And that is a good thing, since if it went on forever it would lose its rarity and value. Maybe time running out is a gift...

Things About Guidelines

You guys, I suck. As a general rule, I am kind of terrible at hearing/following/adhering to guidelines. Which is to say, I am not good at general rules. I happen to be working in a capacity at this time that is largely about guidelines and general rules. You can imagine how well that is going. I am learning a lot about rewriting and redoing and relistening and revisiting and pretty much re-everything in this role. Here is a working list of the guidelines I have broken on this fire assignment so far:

1) no open toed shoes in fire camp
2) remain at least 10 feet from open water without a personal flotation device
3) don't use the word "monitor"
4) don't use the word "watch"
5) don't use the words f*** s*** d*** or b*****
6) sleep within fire camp perimeter
7) don't take food out of the kitchen area
8) don't throw food scraps into the bushes
9) don't feed the animals
10) don't scare the public
11) practice good hygiene
12) be nice to people

We're not gonna talk about which rules I am breaking out here...

I would like to say how sorry I am for my transgressions and offer proliferating regret, but since I am working on self-love and self-acceptance, Ima just roll with it and accept the occasional hand slap and look of profound exasperation from my immediate supervisors.

Not following guidelines has garnished me a whole collection of rejections from several places where I submitted writing samples in the hopes of a payoff. Part of me wants to blame my homeschooled renegade background, but really, I am just more excited about what I have to say than I am about instructions. It could be that I am resisting the hardcore overdose of rules that I grew up under, but even then I was pretty intolerant of being corralled between the lines, as my parents will attest.

Maybe guideline follower is one of those things that I have never been and I should work on, but sometimes then I feel like I would just be like all of the other lemmings marching toward the cliff of conformity without ever asking why.

Guidelines are created by and for a litigious world, where individuals refuse to take responsibility for the consequences of their own actions, i.e. wearing flip flops in fire camp. Everybody wants somebody else to pay the price for their poor choices. But if there are rules, then nobody else can be blamed, right? I don't see that working very well. Humans are messy animals that will find a rule that has not been made yet, break it, and cost others so much that it will demand the recourse of a new guideline the rest of us are stuck with. Too many rules are just a symptom of a much bigger problem, I think Ima keep bucking them, and working to solve it.

Marcus Squirrelius likes Skinny Pop. 

Things I've Never Been

I have never been much of a morning person. I usually don't like the way that I feel when I wake up, all disoriented about life with puffy eyes and low expectations for another day just like the last 7,864. Lately, for a variety of reasons, and people, this is changing. Suddenly, early morning walks with good coffee and the sunrise seem like a great reason to wake up. Especially if they are with Somebody.

I realize that there are a lot of things that I have never been that I would like to be, and a morning person is just one of them. I've never been rich, for instance, but I would like to give it a whirl and see how it feels. I have never been with One Person for the Rest of My Life, but I fully intend to. I have never been to Turkey, but that's gonna happen someday (maybe once they get some things sorted out...). I have never been floating in the Dead Sea, I have never been in such good shape that I was proud of myself. I have never been published - like for REAL. I have never been the owner of a Jaguar, or the Mother of Dragons. (Ok, that last one is disputable, right Hal?)

"Never Been" is one of our great excuses. I've "never been" a runner. I've "never been" good at art. I've "never been" good at relationships. I've "never been" into reading. I've "never been" good with money, or organized, or on time. I don't want to "never be" anything, really - I want to always be something, and to be a lot of things at least once in my life, including a runner, and good at relationships, and definitely rich. I hope that if there is one example that I set for my kids it's that we can be the things we've never been as soon as we decide that we want to (KIZZIE!!!). There are so many things that I have never been and so many things that I have every intention of being someday, and now seems like the perfect time to start being.

puffy eyes sunrise

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