- 1. Describe the customs of two or three Indo-European cultures regarding the land and natural resources, and compare and contrast these practices with the prevailing modern attitudes. (minimum 300 words)
It seems clear that, generally speaking, the Indo-Europeans held a belief that space for human use needed to be set apart from the natural world and that the separation needed to be vigilantly maintained. Fox’s Fire Lore research has pulled examples of our Ancestors doing this through the use of fire and certain hearth establishment and maintenance practices. We know from the Landnamabok that the Norse would sometimes carry a torch or other type of flame, around a piece of land in order to claim it. It was Irish Druid custom that they had the sovereignty of the land while their Fire burned at its center. When St. Patrick lit his own fire, the Druids were cast out of Ireland. Once the land was claimed, those who had claimed it could use it for their own purposes and claim its wealth as their own and felt free to use any resources on that land in whatever way they saw fit.
With rare exception, modern attitudes are only slightly different. Instead of kindling a fire to indicate ownership, we exchange money. Instead of maintaining the fire, we hold a deed or some other document of ownership. I would posit that modern attitudes toward land are more conservative than that of the ancients. While the precincts of one’s hearth were inviolate to Indo-Europeans, today society has a great deal of control over what one may or may not do on their land and by their own hearth. Even land held in common by an entire community is not at the disposal of that community. For example, I can not harvest plants or hunt animals on the Blue Ridge Parkway even though it is publically held land. We have, in however flawed a manner, realized the need to limit what people may do on land they have claimed.
2. Describe your understanding of the term "nature spirits"? Discuss this concept in relation to both ancient Indo-European and modern ADF practices. (minimum 300 words)
The Spirits of Nature encompass the wights of the land ( Old Norse landvættir), including all manner of huldrafolk (hidden folk, common to most of Scandinavian folklore); wights of water; and wights of the house or farm. They are those beings and entities that inhabit, and sometimes infest, the world around us and are our constant companions and brethren in this realm. That is a ridiculously broad definition; it is a ridiculously large grouping of beings.
In Scandinavian traditions the tomte (Swedish. Finnish: tonttu. Norwegian: nisse) inhabit human dwellings, often farmsteads, and assist with household or trade-related chores and act as guardians during the night if they are in a happy relationship with their mortal roommates. If an unhappy relationship exists or they feel generally neglected they may hide things or cause minor disruptions in daily life. This group of Nature Spirits gets little attention in ADF practice, though I know many individual Druids actively pursue relationships with their house spirits.
Generally in ADF when we speak of Nature Spirits, we are referring to what, in Scandinavian hearths, are known as landvættir. The Book of Settlements, Landnámabók, tells us it is possible to enter into partnerships with land wights to mutual benefit. The word used for such a partnership between man and land wights in the story of Buck-Bjőrn (bukkr meaning he-goat) is félag which is used to refer to business relationships. Bjőrn, in a dream or trance state, accepts a partnership with the spirits of his land after which his goats flourish and the folk claim to see the landvætir follow him at the Althing. Sadly, the details of the partnership are not given.
In our modern practice we attempt to make connections among the Nature Spirits by regularly addressing ourselves to them in the general Kindred offerings section of ritual. The Dedicant work asks for the student to outline a general understanding of this Kindred as well as devote some thought to the Dedicant's impact on the natural world. However, this Kindred receives far less attention than the others in Our Druidry which strikes me as odd.
The Gods and Ancestors, while accessible to us, are generally understood to dwell in other realms. Yet the Spirits of Nature are right here, surrounding us in the realm we inhabit. While many may not wish to have close connections with us, it is possible to commune with them and forge meaningful alliances and partnerships.
3. Describe the park or patch of untended nature closest to your home and what kind of park it is. (minimum 100 words)
The closest piece of untended nature to my home would be Zone 5 of my yard. In Permaculture, Zone 5 is defined on the PC Wiki page as “The wilderness. There is no human intervention in zone 5 apart from the observation of natural eco-systems and cycles. Here is where we learn the most important lessons of the first permaculture principle of working with nature, not against.” Granted, on my small urban lot, this is a small area, less than 50 sq. feet. Nevertheless, it is untended and allowed to go wild. It is home to choke cherries, American privet, sweet gum, redbud, mulberry, blackberry, poison ivy, Virginia creeper, numerous birds, suspected rabbits, and a fox. Though small, and in the center of the city, this tiny wild area has become habitat to many species, both flora and fauna. When I moved into my house, there was precious little wildlife to observe in the neighborhood. Since my time there, allowing the edges of my property to go wild and other wildlife accommodating measures taken across the property, I have observed a significant increase in animal and insect diversification (did I mention there is a fox now?)
4. Explain where your household water comes from; what waterway is nearest to your home, and where its source is; where it drains; if there are any large bodies of water (lakes, ocean) near your home; what you know about the quality of water in your region; and what the major concerns in your area regarding your water supply are. (minimum 300 words)
The water for Lynchburg City comes primarily from the Pedlar River Reservoir in Amherst County, VA. The Reservoir is created by a gravity dam. In times of severe drought, when the reservoir is too low, water is collected from the James River. During those times one can taste the difference in the water. The Pedlar is a tributary of the James River, which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay, the largest water feature nearby, excepting the Atlantic Ocean. Incidentally, the James is the largest river in the United States contained entirely within a single state. Other nearby bodies of water include the Reservoir, College Lake within the city limits, the Blackwater Creek watershed, and man-made Smith Mountain Lake in Bedford County, VA.
The waterway closest to my home is Blackwater Creek, a tributary to the James River. Its sources are Burton, Tomahawk and Dreaming Creeks and its watershed includes Lynchburg City as well as parts of Bedford and Campbell Counties. Blackwater Creek flows through College Lake then joins with Ivy Creek before entering the James River.
While the Lynchburg City website includes a link to a recent water quality report, the link is broken and has been for some time. The last report I recall seeing was in 2005 when our water quality was quite high. The drought of the last 5 years has significantly impacted the level of Pedlar Reservoir and the City has drawn water from the James River during the height of Summer for the last several years.
The primary concerns about water quality stem from increased urbanization, urban and agricultural runoff, and erosion--as is the case with surface water globally. Central Virginia is largely agricultural. The runoff from livestock and fertilizers are certainly a concern, though no more or less than in most parts of the nation.
5. Explain where your household garbage ends up and what recycling is available in your area? (minimum 100 words)
All of the garbage collected by the City of Lynchburg ends up in the city landfill; an unlined fill on the flood plain of the James River. It was very poorly planned out. There are recycling centers in several parking lots in town. These centers include all the usual bins for plastics, aluminum, cardboard, and newspapers (no glass). According to a 2011 study, about 5% of the city’s collected recycling is too contaminated for the buyers and goes to the landfill. Lynchburg does boast a few metal recycling companies who offer money in return for metal.
Neighboring counties do have more effective recycling programs. That being the case, we save our glass recyclables and a Grove member carts them to his county for us. Most of our kitchen waste goes to the chickens. Lawn waste and paper products end up in the compost or under cardboard as sheet mulch in our yard. We do not get the newspaper, but I take all the old newspapers taken out of circulation at a nearby college library. As an aspiring permaculturist, I'll take compostable biomass wherever I can get it!
6. Briefly describe the major sources of air and water pollution in your area, what the biggest source of pollution in your area is, and what impact it has. (minimum 100 words)
The primary source of pollution in Lynchburg is Griffin Pipe, commonly referred to simply as, The Foundry. Located right between the banks of the James River and the railroad tracks, Griffin Pipe produces galvanized pipe, mostly out of scrapped automobiles. In 2005 the company, settled for $25857 for violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. They were cited for releasing “dust containing lead and cadmium, ignitable aerosol paint cans, crushed fluorescent bulbs and waste paint.”
Generally, Griffin Pipe’s impact is minimal. However, it spews white smoke and steam almost constantly. I remember when I was little girl the smoke was black, and smelled rank. In comparison, I suppose they are trying.
7. Describe the basic climate of your region, the primary influences on your weather patterns, major economic resources of your region (for example, crops, minerals, ranching, tourism, manufacturing) and how are these affected by climate and weather conditions. (minimum 300 words)
Virginia has almost any kind of weather one could want. We have five distinct regions, each with their own climate: the Tidewater, Piedmont, Northern Virginia, Western Mountain and Southwestern Mountain. I live on the boundary between the Piedmont and the Western Mountain region. We are ranked as hardiness Zone 7b (upgraded a few years ago from 7a since our climate remained an average 5 degrees higher annually for more than a decade). Our winter temperatures will dip to freezing, we enjoy minimal-moderate snowfall. Summers are warm, occasionally cracking 100 degrees though that is not normal. We have very high humidity caused by the coastal regions, the Chesapeake Bay, and the multiple river systems (Potomac, Rappahannock, York, and James rivers and their tributaries).
Generally speaking Virginia is not troubled by many natural disasters; the mountainous landscape keeps tornadoes at bay, we only have earthquakes every decade or less (though we did experience a large one in 2012 in Richmond near one of our nuclear facilities). Storms coming up the Atlantic coast pose the most serious threat--mainly to the Tidewater region.
Historically, Virginia has been an agricultural economy. It was the fertility of the land that prompted colonization. Once it was determined that tobacco could be grown here, Virginia began to thrive. Tobacco quickly became such a cornerstone of Virginia’s prosperity that, for a time, it was used as currency!
My hometown of Lynchburg had a booming tobacco market in the 18th century, and tobacco traffic clogged the James river between here and Richmond. Virginia’s clay soil and long, humid growing season are ideal for tobacco. Our deep branching river systems made transportation relatively simple.
To date, agriculture remains a staple of our economy. The rise in average temperature has not been drastic enough to negatively impact the growing season. The most significant problem we have had has been an 8 year drought. many farmers have struggled with irrigation and folks up in the mountain who rely largely on springs and wells have frequently run out of water.
8. Name and provide the following information for each of three species of animals (birds, mammals, insects, fish, etc.) and three species of plants native to and currently found in your area:
Redbud (Cercis Canadensis)
a. Its status (endangered, threatened, thriving, overpopulated): Thriving.
b. A brief physical description of the species, noting if you have seen it, and where: it is impossible to drive through Virginia in early Spring without noticing the shocks of pinky-purple shining from the edge of the forest. The Redbud is cultivated in lawns, and grows wild throughout the edges of our woodlands. Its bark is gray-toned and the tree grows to about 20 feet. In Spring, bright flower buds pop ut all along the trunk and branches of the redbud, followed in a couple weeks by the smooth, heart-shaped leaves. In summer, seed pods develop. In every place I’ve lived in Virginia, there has been a redbud in the yard.
c. Describe at least one of the following:
i. a way it is or has been used by humans (for example, as food source, medicinal use, raw materials for tools, clothing, housing, etc.): Native American brewed a remedy for whooping cough from the bark of the redbud and the roots and inner bark were used as a treatment for nausea and fever. The flowers are edible and are a common addition to salads in my house.
Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
a. Its status (endangered, threatened, thriving, overpopulated): Thriving.
b. A brief physical description of the species, noting if you have seen it, and where: Another one that can be seen right in my yard! Virginia Creeper is a deciduous vine. The leaves, which a serrated and grow in clusters of five, are a glossy greey through the summer and turn a glorious copper-red in Autumn. This vigorous, fast-growing vine offers up toxic berries at the end of teh summer.
c. Describe at least one of the following:
ii. a way it is or has been used by humans (for example, as food source, medicinal use, raw materials for tools, clothing, housing, etc.): It is grown as an ornamental most commonly because of the shade it offers and, unlike other ivies, it will not damage the masonry on which it grows. According to the Monacan liason at the Lynchburg Museum, Virginia Creeper was historically used to treat lockjaw.
Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
a. Its status (endangered, threatened, thriving, overpopulated): Thriving. Classified as a weed in most states.
b. A brief physical description of the species, noting if you have seen it, and where: Can you guess where I might have seen Common Yarrow? You got it, in my yard! Despite the Extension Agencies assertion that this is a weed, I have intentionally planted it. It sports delicate, fern-like, finely dissected leaves with tall stalks of flat-topped white flowers. It has a spicy scent when crushed between one’s fingers. I plant it around my fruit trees as a green mulch.
c. Describe at least one of the following:
iii. a way it is or has been used by humans (for example, as food source, medicinal use, raw materials for tools, clothing, housing, etc.): Before the prevalence of hops, yarrow was used for bittering beer. It has also been used to staunch the flow of blood from wounds and as an astringent.
Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana virginiana)
d. Its status (endangered, threatened, thriving, overpopulated): Thriving. common and wide-spread. Population increasing.
e. A brief physical description of the species, noting if you have seen it, and where: The Opossum looks a bit like a sideways, pointy pear, with a naked pink tail. Typically covered in a coarse, gray fur, these black-eyed mammals can be seen all over Virginia, usually at twilight or at night. With years of camping under my belt, I’ve seen many opossum; on the Blue Ridge Parkway, in my backyard, and squished on our roadways.
f. Describe at least one of the following:
i. a way it is or has been used by humans (for example, as food source, medicinal use, raw materials for tools, clothing, housing, etc.): opossum fur has been and still is used in some parts of its territory, though not often. And they are still hunted as food in parts of Appalachia.
ii. a way in which it has been affected by human presence or development: The opossum has adapted incredibly well to human development. its opportunistic feeding habits have helped it adapt beautifully to urban encroachment into its natural territories. Mainly they just get hit by cars a lot.
iii. a way in which it has adapted to or entered into an ecological relationship with human presence or human development: Without the extensive presence of humans, and our garbage cans, it is likely the opossum population would not be as prolific. Opossum, like raccoons, have jumped headlong into a garbage-eating niche.
Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)
a. Its status (endangered, threatened, thriving, overpopulated): Thriving. Population increasing.
b. A brief physical description of the species, noting if you have seen it, and where: The Black Vulture is an impressively large bird often seen soaring in graceful circles high overhead, the white patches on the undersides of their wings visible. When one catches a close view of them, perhaps sitting by the side of the road snacking on a vehicularly tenderized Didelphis virginiana virginiana, one is shocked by their size--often nearing two feet tall. I wish this question encouraged the student to go into some detail about what makes the Black Vulture (or any of the chosen species) so interesting. Just a physical description is fairly superficial, don’t you think?
c. Describe at least one of the following:
iv. a way in which it has adapted to or entered into an ecological relationship with human presence or human development: The Black Vulture, like all carrion-eaters, fills an important ecological niche by clearing away carcasses that would otherwise become breeding grounds for filth and contamination. With the mass slaughter of wildlife engendered by human roadways, one shudders at the thought of all those carcasses rotting along the highways or filling up the landfills.
Eastern Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta picta)
a. Its status (endangered, threatened, thriving, overpopulated): common and wide-spread. Population increasing.
b. A brief physical description of the species, noting if you have seen it, and where: The eastern Painted Turtle is common across Virginia, except for the western Mountain Region in which it is rarely seen. Its name, Chrysemys comes from the Greek chrysos which means gold. The turtle boasts two showy yellow patches behind its eyes, a largely black/dark green carapace or shell, and a plain yellow plastron. I have seen this turtle along Blackwater Creek. it also hapens to be one of my otherworld guides.
c. Describe at least one of the following:
v. a way it is or has been used by humans (for example, as food source, medicinal use, raw materials for tools, clothing, housing, etc.): The Monacan, a Central VA native tribe, include the painted turtle as one of their traditional foods. Nevertheless, one sees the painted turtle most often as a pet. Despite the state’s discouragement of keeping turtles as pets, there is no law against selling small turtles (as “specimens”).
9. Identify one species of plant or animal in your local area which is threatened, endangered, or locally endangered, or which became extinct in historic times. Explain what destroyed or threatens this species locally, how does or might the absence of this species affect your locality, and what, if any, steps were taken or are being taken to preserve the species. (minimum 100 words)
The Shenandoah Salamander (Plethodon shenandoah) is found only on three mountains within the Shenandoah State park and was added to the endangered species list in August of 1989. Its breeding season is late Spring/Summer and it prefers wooded and rocky habitats. It is a member of a group of “lungless” salamanders who all breathe through their skin which must remain moist to allow for respiration. Lungless salamanders are considered a generally successful group that originated in the Appalachian Mountains. Threats to this nocturnal Salamander include competition from the Red-back Salamander and defoliation of trees by the Gypsy Moth. There is a pathogen, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, that may be responsible for
Since the entire habitat of the Shenandoah Salamander is encompassed by a state park, the loss of its habitat is unlikely to be a problem in the future. Other than not selling off the Shenandoah Mountain Range, no other steps are being taken to preserve the Shenandoah Salamander.
10. Identify one plant or animal species which was introduced to your area and explain how its introduction and continued presence has affected the local ecology and what, if any, steps are being taken to mitigate those effects. (minimum 100 words)
From www.Invasive.org Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health
Pueraria montana var. lobata (Willd.) Maesen & S. Almeida Taxonomic Rank: Magnoliopsida: Fabales: Fabaceae (Leguminosae)
Kudzu is a climbing, deciduous vine capable of reaching lengths of over 100 ft. (30.5 m). Leaves are alternate, compound (with three, usually lobed, leaflets), hairy and up to 5.4 in. (15 cm) long. Flowering occurs in midsummer, when 0.5 in. (1.3 cm) long, purple, fragrant flowers hang, in clusters, in the axils of the leaves. Fruit are brown, hairy, flat, 3 in. (7.6 cm) long, 0.3 in. (0.8 cm) wide seed pods. Preferred habitat includes open, disturbed areas such as roadsides, right-of-ways, forest edges and old fields. Kudzu often grows over, smothers and kills all other vegetation, including trees. Kudzu is native to Asia and was first introduced into the United States in 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. It was widely planted throughout the eastern United States in an attempt to control erosion.
And it truly is everywhere. In Virginia there is an old joke that you shouldn't stand still too long in the summer or the kudzu will kill you. Along every highway and side road kudzu grows, choking out native trees and shrubs, smothering flowers, herbs, groundcover and even grasses. Very few animals eat it, not even our over-populated deer.
At present, no steps are being taken to curb the spread of kudzu other than simply not planting it anymore. Sadly, many parts of the kudzu are edible by humans—leaves, buds, even the roots are rich in nutrients and could be utilized as a wild-foraged food stuff. I even went so far as to mention that when proposing to the local WIC department that they might consider offering classes in native and wild food identification and preparation. They looked at me as if I were nuts.
11. Based on your experiences, meditations, and research, describe what, in your opinion, makes a place seem "natural." (minimum 100 words)
What makes a place seem natural? This is a bit of an odd, subjective question. Personally, I like to see things growing wild and unchecked. I like a bit of chaos to make me feel like I am in the presence of the spirits of the place. The places where I feel closest to nature are those places where one can witness nature reclaiming what was once manicured or constructed by man. A mulberry pushing bits of sidewalk up and out of its way. Sumac colonizing a crumbling brick wall. Moss enshrouding a bench. In these places we can see the indomitable force of the natural world; feel the tenacious, yet patient will of the land wights. That makes a place seem natural.
On the other hand, I have had the privilege of standing in old growth forests, of hiking over lava flows, of peering into canyons--all of these places also felt natural. Perhaps because there was no hint of man’s hand. So, in characteristic contrariness--to feel a place is natural I like to see man’s influence undone, or alternately, completely absent.
12. Based on your research for Questions 1 above, describe what sort of offering would be appropriate to make to the Nature Spirits in your area, and what would be an appropriate way to make such an offering and why. Discuss the potential ecological consequences of making this offering and ways to modify the offering in order to minimize any negative environmental impact. (minimum 100 words)
Since Question 1 dealt with IE vs. modern attitudes about the land and natural resources and did not specifically address offerings or Nature Spirits, I think this question, or possibly the first one, begs some revision. Nevertheless, I think I understand what we’re looking for here.
When I first looked at the property I now own, I knew I wanted to live here. To that end, I arrived early the day I was to meet my realtor with a pocket full of oats and corn meal and some coins. I walked around the perimeter sprinkling the cornmeal and oats. When I got to a mound on the East fenceline of the property I addressed myself to the Spirits of the Land. I asked them to accept my gifts and asked that if they thought I would be a good caretaker for them to ease the process for me to purchase the land. I then offered the coins and met the realtor. I moved in 1 month later.
The oak tree at the bottom of the property where our Grove holds ritual seemed, when we first began to work with him, grumpy. In addition to regular Grove-based offerings of water, and asperging, I endeavored to make additional offerings (mulching around the trunk, burying rocks, crystals, and silver trinkets), to spend time in meditation at his trunk, and to generally form a connection. Over the course of a year and a half his energy perceptibly changed. I believe that the oak had felt neglected and took some winning over.
I believe that many offerings are appropriate for the Spirits in my area. Most appropriate are those things that will break down over time without poisoning the land, that will nourish local wildlife, or will remain intact over time without a negative impact on the environment. For instance, a piece of silver will not make the soil toxic like a buried battery would. A piece of bread will feed the birds and animals and possible other decomposers while a can of coke would put unnatural sugars and chemicals into the soil. Flowers from an organic garden or yard make sense while commercially grown flowers from a florist or supermarket could well be covered with pesticides and herbicides that could poison area insect or damage the soil web when they begin to decompose. A little foresight goes a long way when dealing with the Nature Spirits and, in my experience, it can take some determined effort to convince them of our sincerity and to prove our ongoing commitment.
- 13. Based on the research and conclusions you have drawn from question 1 through 12, describe how you might further extend your personal and/or group spiritual practices to include the Nature Spirits and other natural elements. (minimum 300 words)
In general in my own practice I find myself struggling to include Kindreds other than the Nature Spirits for it is to the Land Spirits I feel most drawn. It is a tenet of my personal cosmology that we are ourselves Spirits of this land and that it is in our nature to commune with our more ephemeral brethren that share this realm with us. Nevertheless, ADF would like to know how I plan to extend my personal and/or group practice to include the Nature Spirits.
Recently, inspired by Shining Lakes Grove, I encouraged my Grove to begin the work of connecting with our local river entity. We spent an afternoon on the banks of the James River collecting trash. After a few hours of cleaning up we sat on the rocky bank, built a cairn of sorts, and addressed the spirit of the water. We made offerings (silver, locks of hair, bits of bread, and pointed out our trash collecting efforts) and asked how the river spirit/s wanted to be addressed. Then we sat and listened. As we left, we collected water in a bottle to be incorporated into the waters in our Well. We will continue to incorporate the river spirit/s into our work; honoring her/them in ritual when we honor the Well.
In my yard I continue my efforts in permaculture and do daily work with the spirits within the land. Every time I wield my trowel I am mindful of the beings around me, of the spirit in the roots I dig and the magical life-web of the soil in which I work. I maintain a 9’x9’ garden shrine to the Nature Spirits where libations can be poured and physical offering left by me and by grove members, but truly, one does not need a shrine to connect with the Landvaettir for they are around us always.
It strikes me that much of ADF is god-focused, and we boast a strong Ancestor-worship aspect, yet, as Druid organizations go, we are pretty behind-the-times in our work with the energies and beings in nature. Even within the Clergy Council we have utterly failed to follow through on any of our stated intentions to work with the Nature Spirits (save for a few paltry and unenthusiastically received attempts to connect with some clouds and wind spirits). As a Druid who works almost exclusively with Land Spirits, I would ask how ADF intends to extend its practice to include the Nature Spirits? I think it is time to stop talking about it and actually start doing the work!
Adelmann, John "Fox". "To Grasp at Radiance: The Magic and Myth of Sacred Fire." Trillium Gathering. Grove of the Seven Hills & CedarLight Grove, ADF. Virginia, Cross Junction. 20 Apr 2013. Lecture.
Brennan, Shannon. "Firm Settles Allegations of Pollution Violations at Lynchburg, Va., Pipe Plant." Environmental News Network. N.p., 15 Jan 2005. Web. 15 Mar 2013. <www.enn.com>.
"eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta picta)." Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries n.pag. Web. 18 Jun 2013. <http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/information/?s=030060>.
Edwards, Paul (trans) and Hermann Palsson (trans). The Book of Settlements: Landnamabok. Manitoba, Canada: University of Manitoba Press, 2007. Print.
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"Shenandoah Salamander." Shenandoah State Park. National Park Service, 24 May 2013. Web. 18 Jun 2013. <http://www.nps.gov/shen/naturescience/shenandoah_salamander.htm>.
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