Category Archives: Pagosa Springs

The Upright Log and the Sun

An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.

After the fall harvest and before the big snows, Grandfather directed the men of the village to find a long straight log and hundreds of stones as large as a man could carry. For weeks, they worked and sang and laughed. Children played among them and women kept them well fed and watered.

Grandfather had them erect the log on a spot he had chosen with great care, all the stones stacked in a cone at its base to hold it upright.

A week before the winter solstice, he pointed to the Mesa Ridge to the West. “Natwani,” he said, and a short man with massive shoulders and chest stepped forward. He grew the best crops each year and served as captain of the archers. “Take three men and cross to the mesa top there.” He made Natwani site from the log to the crest of the cliff opposite to precisely find his spot.

Natwani memorized the features of the place, then turned and looked at the horizon in the opposite direction, imagining what the pointing-up log would have as its eastern backdrop. Then he nodded to Grandfather.

“On the morning of the standstill of the sun,” which is when the sunrise moves no further south at the winter solstice, “mark the spot where the sunrise and this log line up. Make a place where only one man can stand between cairns of stone we can easily find next year. I will light a signal fire here the night before the solstice sunrise — but you can count it as the seventh sunrise starting tomorrow.”

Natwani nodded again. He understood what the old man wanted, and he wanted it too. From the time of the winter standstill of the sun, they could count days and watch the movement of the sun to know when they must plant the year’s crop. They lived in a place with a tight growing season, barely long enough most years for one good harvest of corn. Planting a week early or late could cost them dearly.

Fat flakes of snow fell the next morning when he set off with another man and his son, Choovio, who had grown nearly as strong as his father.

“Why does that crazy old man make us do these things?” Choovio asked as they crunched through the new snowfall.

“What makes the corn grow?” asked Natwani.

“What does that have to do with it?”

Natwani said nothing. They waded across the small river at a shallow place, the rippling near-freezing water stinging them to their thighs. They dried their feet and pulled on their foot coverings and leggings they had carried on their shoulders across the water, then began ascending the mesa, which warmed them.

“Sunlight and warmth and water,” answered Choovio.

“Yes,” said Natwani. “And more. You know. Go on.”

Choovio sighed. His father wanted him to answer like a child reciting after his teacher. “And the spirit of the sun must touch the spirit of the earth and then each go back to their separate places and the corn grows between.” Every child and villager knew this. But it didn’t explain why they had to go spend a week on a cold ridge top.

“When the winter sun stands still, when the sun rises in the same place for days in a row, that is when the sun and the earth come together. Grandfather wants us to see it more clearly so that we can better thank the sun and the earth when they are closest together, and they will not be offended, and so our crops will grow.”

“Couldn’t we just do that from the village?”

At the top of the ridge, Natwani found the place he wanted to be, the standing stick near Grandfather’s sky-watching platform pointing to the cleft in the eastern mountains where he expected the sun to rise seven mornings hence.

They gathered enough stones before nightfall to build a low wall that blocked the cold wind, and they huddled for warmth. The next morning, they watched the sun come up near the cleft.

“Just watch and learn, my son,” said Natwani to Choovio. “Someday soon the wisdom of manhood will come to you, and you will understand.”

Choovio felt too cold to care whether he understood anything ever again, but the following mornings he noticed how slowly the sun crept into the cleft until it seemed to stand still. The morning after they saw Grandfather’s signal fire, the whole world seemed to come to a halt, the wind died and the little river stopped rushing, and the only signs of movement came from The People in the village.

Natwani lined the upright log with the first appearance of the sun and marked the spot carefully, then he raised his hands in welcome and Choovio, feeling a strange rush of power, joined him.

# # #

On the sharp ridge due west of Chimney Rock, Colorado (the northeasternmost outlier of the Anasazi culture near Pagosa Springs) are many sites that appear to have been used by the ancient ones to use the twin columns of Chimney Rock like a gun sight to view celestial events with precision. When they couldn’t look through the twin columns, perhaps they raised logs upright to use as sighting guides.

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The Matron of the Spring

An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.

The matron of the hot spring inspected new people as they arrived and assigned them a reed mat, a cloth of cotton, and a robe of cotton or animal skins, depending on their rank. When an arrival impressed her, she bestowed the buffalo robe to them.

When the latest old man came to soak in the hot water, she watched to see if he behaved as if a crazy spirit had replaced him, or if he carried himself with lucid wisdom. This one seemed aloof to the physical things going on around him, yet completely aware.

She handed the buffalo robe to him.

“I’m not worthy of a top robe,” he said. “I just wish to lie in the warmth and watch the sky for a few days.” He coughed and cleared his throat and struggled with his next words. “And wait for my grandson to return.”

The matron offered the robe to the old man’s companions, an unusual albino woman and a boy. The albino woman took it with a grateful nod. The boy turned and gazed at the highest mountain north of the hot spring.

The matron had seen this before. Old men from all the surrounding clans would bring their sons or grandsons to climb the peak of the mother of hot water, while they suspended their bodies and spirits in the fragrant waters and mud of the springs.

“He’s older than he looks,” the albino woman, called Nuva for “snow,” told the matron. They watched the boy, Tuwa, set off for the mountain in the first dim light of the next morning.

“I’ve seen smaller boys go to the mountain,” said the matron.

“Do they all return?”

“Most,” she said. “Very few fail. It is more difficult than dangerous. I myself have been close to the top.” She didn’t want to alarm this odd white woman who tended the regal old man. People who became panicked because their sons and grandsons did not return invariably failed to pay her, which meant less food and meat and clothing for her family.

When she learned they were from the Village of the Twin War Gods, and that Grandfather was its famous Sky Chief, she quietly made the other soakers leave the big pool to Grandfather alone. He lay in the heat with his head propped on folded animal skins and watched the sky without speaking.

Finally, the boy returned, staggering and babbling wildly, and the matron tried to appear to leave them in private while staying close enough to overhear. His story had more profound meaning than most, and she shrank from the blasphemy Grandfather spoke against Másaw, the great spirit preferred by the High Priest of Totec Canyon. Glad that no warriors were here from the canyon, she helped clean the mud from the old sky watcher and dry him off to prepare for their return walk to the Twin War Gods. She felt no personal allegiance to Totec Canyon and its new religion, but trouble would hurt her trade.

The Sky Chief approached the matron with a self-effacing bow. “You have helped the bones of this old man,” he said, and handed her a small plain pouch.

When they were on their way and out of sight, she shook the contents of the pouch into her hand: fifty well-worked turquoise beads. She quickly poured them back into the pouch and hid it between her breasts. She’d never received a richer payment.

She looked around, but no one watched her with any particular attention, and she thought about the boy’s story and the interpretation by his grandfather. Someday, she thought, this will become a problem. But she also felt obliged to the old sky watcher, his grandson, and the albino woman. Their generosity demanded it. She squinted in the bright sunlight to watch three new people approach her spring. People will always come here, she told herself. Regardless of changing leaders and religion and the unspeakable acts of warriors she heard whispered by her visitors. She just hoped that all of it left her spring and her people alone.

When the new visitors arrived, a skinny-legged old man, a woman, and a boy who said, “This place smells funny,” she handed the old man a worn cotton robe.

# # #

These are the hot springs of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, and the Village of the Twin War Gods is the nearby Chimney Rock archaeological area. The peak climbed by the boy is Pagosa Peak, north of Pagosa Springs. “Pah-gosa” is Ute for “water boiling.”

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The Hoona Alliance

An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.

When the sun dagger pointed its blade of light at the mid-summer’s mark, the village chiefs from the Southern Alliance met with the village chiefs from the Northern and Western alliances. For a month, workers from the clans within the alliances scent stonemasons to build their ceremonial kivas in the foundation block of the Totec Canyon great house, which had been under construction for a generation.

Three days before the feasting began, each alliance responsible for one day, the Northern Alliance last, in honor of The People’s origins from the north.

But the true power discussions began hidden in a dim but cool back room of the great house, where the top chiefs and their top advisers smoked dried hoona plant supplied by the southerners. The first day they laughed uncontrollably and got nothing done. The second day they mastered their laughter but consumed all the sweet corn dumplings that had been prepared for the last day of the feast. The last day, they mastered their hunger and gave themselves new names.

Southern Horizon claimed he should rise to the top seat of power, and after a whispered conversation between Northern Star and Western Glow, they agreed, under the condition that special runners be sent to them during the snow-free months to keep them supplied with hoona plant.

“It will be so,” said Southern Horizon, standing to emphasize his rank over the others. “In exchange for hoona, those from the west will supply timbers for constructing this great house and those from the north will supply game and labor.”

Western Glow, his eyes glassy, said, “We will fell the timber, but you northerners must carry it.”

Northern Star, who had drunk a considerable quantity of corn beer in additional smoking several large bowls of hoona, said, “The clouds are dark,” and passed out.

Western Glow and Southern Horizon looked at him with envy and power-quaffed corn beer and kept bowls of hoona glowing until they, too, passed out. The advisers followed suit, save for one, a straight thin man with a crude tattoo on his forehead showing a full moon rising between two columns of stone. He stood as still as a column of stone until the light faded with evening and Southern Horizon woke with a start and sat up. He blinked his eyes at the standing man.

“Who are you to be standing over us?”

“I am Kwa, sky watcher from the Village of the Twin War Gods.”

“Sit down before you embarrass yourself.”

“I stand.”

“Sit down!” Southern Horizon bellowed with such volume that it woke the others except for a couple of advisers.

“What?” asked Western Glow. Northern Star glared at Kwa, but said nothing.

“This inferior sky watcher has the nerve to stand over us,” said Southern Horizon.

Western Glow rubbed his eyes and looked at Kwa. “What is the meaning of this?”

“I have something to tell you,” said Kwa.

“We discussed this,” said Northern Star. “Now is not the time.”

“Now is the time,” said Kwa. “I am leaving now. I have more important duties back at the Twin War Gods.”

Northern Star made a slashing gesture, indicating he cut himself off from anything Kwa might do.

“Supplicants must come to us on their knees,” said Southern Horizon, his voice as rough as gravel.

“Through the cliffs of the Twin War Gods,” said Kwa, “I have recorded the movement of the moon over eighteen-and-one-half years, when it repeats its cycle.” Kwa spoke with his chin up and did not make eye contact with anyone. “Falcons, messengers to the stars, nest on the cliff faces of the Twin War Gods. There is more there to see and learn of the spirits in the sky. In lieu of logs and labor, we will offer knowledge of what we know of the sky spirits.”

Southern Horizon shook his head. “We have the light daggers on Sun Mesa. We need no more knowledge.”

“As you wish,” said Kwa. He turned to go.

“Wait,” said Northern Star. “He is wrong to be so brash, but what he says is important.”

Southern Horizon made a hawk-and-spit sound.

“I will trade labor for your knowledge,” said Northern Star.

Western Glow looked from Northern Star to Southern Horizon, and finally nodded. “I will trade logs for your sky spirit knowledge.”

“And I will not trade hoona for your insolence,” said Southern Horizon.

Kwa looked them each in the eye then and held their gaze. Southern Horizon looked away quickly and pouted. Northern Star narrowed his eyes, but finally nodded. Western Glow held his look only a moment before nodding and looking away.

“We will build a bonfire when anything of significance happens,” said Kwa. “If you are interested, send runners.” With that he left their presence and did not look back.

# # #

I use Twin War Gods a lot in these stories. Do you realize this means a pair of twin cliffs or spires, known in the present day as Chimney Rock, Colorado (see the picture at the top of my blog)? Or am I losing people by this reference?

Note: Hoona is derived from the Hopi word for “intoxicate,” hoonaqtoyna. Kwa is derived from kwa(’at), in which the ’ indicates a glottal stop, and which means “Grandfather.” Kwa is the father of the main character of my novel, called “Grandfather.”

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Albino Promenade

An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.

Grandfather introduced the albino woman, Nuva, by slow-step promenade through the village, the infant Tuwa clutched in the arms of his new surrogate mother. There being no ceremony for such a thing, Grandfather improvised.

He proceeded from his house nearest the dual sandstone spires that rose like steeples from the northeastern edge of the mesa, and wound his way along every pathway past every dwelling.

At the house of the top farmer lived the eldest woman, Wooti, grandmother to the farmer. She’d heard the twitter of the children as they ran and hid and peeped to watch Grandfather and the strange white woman.

Wooti studied Nuva’s red eyes and her hands and legs, and then turned her back. Grandfather stopped.

“Wooti,” Grandfather said.

“You bring us a witch?” she asked without facing Grandfather.

“I bring a mother for my grandson.”

“You bring us a witch.” A statement this time.

“I would not and have not brought anything to this village that will do us harm. Do you doubt my judgment?”

Wooti’s hands dropped to her side. “I have never until now.”

“Nuva is no witch!” Grandfather’s voice rose in anger.

Wooti turned to Grandfather. “Do not shout at me, old man. I have as much sense as you do, and your white woman is infected with … something not good.” She glanced at Nuva, then turned her back again, arms across her chest.

Grandfather stood, the village quiet but for the gargling calls of turkeys and the barking of a dog in the woods below. The infant fussed and Nuva comforted him. Grandfather stood until Wooti uncrossed her arms and her shoulders sagged.

“The something that is not good isn’t here among us,” Grandfather said so low he might have been speaking only to himself. Wooti turned her head to point her right ear toward him. “It is down there,” he said with a single nod to the south, “and it is growing.”

Grandfather began again his slow walk and all the women in the circle of Wooti, her family clan and her friends, turned their backs on Nuva, but Grandfather did not stop and said not another word.

# # #

Did any words pull you out of the setting or time of the story?

Note: The name Wooti is derived from the Hopi word wuyòoti, which means “get old.”  The dual sandstone spires are those of Chimney Rock, Colorado, the northeasternmost outlier of the Anasazi culture centered in Chaco Canyon.

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Anasazi Runner

An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.

Note: This is a sketch made in preparation for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). My working title is “Anasazi Runner.” Synopsis: Native American boy abandoned at birth and raised by white parents is inspired when he visits Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, and becomes, in his mind, an Anasazi runner who completes the world’s first sub-two-hour marathon.

# # #

“Kira thinks I’m Navajo like her.”

“Do you think you’re Navajo like her?”

Sean leaned across the table so others wouldn’t hear and mumbled, “No, I don’t.”

I looked around the restaurant. All white people but for one toothless guy of uncertain ancestry in the corner. I knew the Elkhorn cook was Navajo. The waitress, Jicarilla Apache. And the owner had a Ute grandfather. Always made me laugh to think of the cultural tangle inside that place.

Sean obviously didn’t want to be overheard, so I piped down to his level. “You tell her you think that?”

His eye went out the window and he half-shrugged. He shook his head.

“Why not?”

“I think she wants me to be Navajo. I think maybe she thinks she can make me into a Navajo.”

“You could be Navajo, I guess. Nobody knows.”

He tensed and pulled his cheeks back as if in pain. “I just don’t feel like it.”

I scratched my neck and blinked. I didn’t really know how to empathize with that kind of deep identity feeling. Generations of white-trash ancestors had bred all that out of me. “You show her your mamma’s disk?”

When his birth mother had died in the car wreck, she’d been wearing some kind of ceramic disk on her stomach, held in place by a leather thong. His adoptive parents gave it to him when he turned eighteen. It was the only thing he had that connected him to his mother.

Spirit-Puller

Spirit-Puller

He nodded. Good, I thought. Hiding things from your girlfriend isn’t a good sign. “She said I should put it back,” he said.

That shocked me, but the Jicarilla waitress brought us cups and coffee just then. I watched how she eyed Sean, but she didn’t do anything unusual. I always tried to notice how other Native Americans treated him. We ordered the usual, a half-dozen scrambled eggs with dry wheat toast for Sean, and a bowl of oatmeal and raisins for me.

I leaned closer to him when she left. “What does that mean, ‘put it back’?”

“She thinks it’s some kind of spirit-puller from the ancestral enemies.”

“Ancestral enemies? That’s what Anasazi means in Navajo. She thinks it’s Anasazi?”

He nodded. We drank coffee, not looking at each other. I didn’t expect that. I thought that disk had a modern usage and meaning. It looked old, but not ancient.

“Do you ever feel like it’s pulling something to you?”

Sean looked out the window at tourists taking pictures of the glistening mineral mound of one of the hot springs. “Kind of,” he said. “When I run. I feel this lightness in my chest. Like something is pulling me faster than I’m going.”

He drifted into silence, but I needed more than that. “Only when you’re running? Like a vision?”

Softly, almost to himself, he said, “Like I’m a runner for the king or top priest or whatever they had.”

“An Anasazi Runner.”

He nodded for a long time.

# # #

This is my last National Novel Writing Month piece. Thanks for hanging in here with me as I shifted from historical fiction to present-day fiction. It’s been a fun ride.

A note about the image of the spirit-puller: It’s actually an Inuit carving in a piece of mammoth ivory that became exposed from the melting permafrost. It’s not ancient at all.

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Money for Running

An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Note: This is a sketch made in preparation for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). My working title is “Anasazi Runner.” Synopsis: Modern-day Native American boy abandoned at birth and raised by white parents is inspired when he visits Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, and becomes, in his mind, an Anasazi runner who completes the world’s first sub-two-hour marathon.

# # #

Things changed after Sean won the Denver marathon, breaking the course record by more than a minute. Suddenly, people knew him, he became an elite runner, and the press started hounding him and me too.

“How can we get away from them?” he asked.

I had an idea. “Remember the cookie jar I kept in my history classroom?”

He nodded, clearly with no idea where I was going.

“If I left the lid on, you kids would go nuts trying to get a cookie or to convince me to pass some out.”

“I remember that.”

“But when I opened it up and let you guys have all you wanted, somehow cookies just didn’t interest you so much anymore.”

“I remember that, too.”

“So let’s give these reporters all they want and maybe they’ll grow tired of you.”

That turned into a mistake. At least it didn’t work like the cookies. The more we talked to reporters, the more reporters wanted to talk to us. The story of an orphan Native American boy, raised by white parents, and calling himself the “Anasazi Runner,” got so big it dominated sports news and broke into general news at times.

But it really blew up when Sean got too comfortable with a New York Times reporter. This quote electrified the world: “Yeah, we’ve got it pretty well timed out — break the world record at New York by a minute or so, then another minute in Boston, then sub-two-hour in Berlin next year. Then I’m done. You guys won’t be able to find me anymore.”

That made it to primetime mainstream news and it brought out all the talking heads with opinions, all but a few calling Sean and me idiots for even uttering the Holy Grail phrase “sub-two-hour” out loud. You’d think Sean had said we intended to highjack a couple airliners and crash them into the twin towers of the World Marathon Center, if there were such a thing.

But here’s the interesting thing — money. We’d been eking by on my retirement income. But after the media frenzy, sponsors and agents from all over the world tried to get us to sign contracts, some of them for millions of dollars, and all involving becoming a puppet to the sponsor.

“What do you want to do?” I asked Sean.

“You’re my coach. You decide.”

“Nope. If you got no opinion in the matter, I’m going home to Pagosa Springs, and you should give up the whole idea.” No way I’d let the boy abdicate and not even have a preference. Not my job to babysit him.

“I’d like to have some money,” he finally said. “But I don’t want to do all this crap they want me to do. I’ll sell my soul to running, but not to a company.”

I nodded. I’d like to have some money, too. “Okay, let me think about it. We’ll come up with something. You just keep your mind on running away from that moon guy who wants to eat you in your dream. If you don’t run, we got nothing.”

So I set up a  deal with a contest that made all the sponsors and agents squeal like we’d live-trapped them. We offered what I thought of as lottery tickets for $50,000 a pop. After he broke the world record, we’d randomly pick three winners and he’d do limited spokesmanlike things for a million bucks each. I’d find an attorney somewhere to work up the details. Then after he broke the world record again at Boston, we’d randomly pick one of the three for five million bucks, and then if he broke the sub-two-hour mark in Berlin, they’d kick in another fifteen million. I gave a deadline of a week for sponsors to buy into the lottery.

The press went wild. The TV show “60 Minutes” said it sounded like a deal that Jed Clampitt of The Beverly Hillbillies might come up with. But it worked. At the end of the week, we’d banked nearly three million dollars.

And it also sort of didn’t work, because then we had film crews following us everywhere.

“You sorry you’re doing this yet?” I asked him one day.

He shook his head. “I can do this. I have to do this. Then I’ll be, well, I’ll be somebody.”

“You’re already somebody.”

“You know what I mean.” He grew surly. He didn’t like it when I probed too much into this identity thing of his. I wondered if he’d ever truly be done with that. Only one way to know for sure, I guess. That’s to do it. It certainly had become an interesting show to watch.

# # #

Is this even plausible? Or is it too farfetched to believe?

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Too Skinny

An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.

Note: This is a sketch made in preparation for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). My working title is “Anasazi Runner.” Synopsis: Modern-day Native American boy abandoned at birth and raised by white parents is inspired when he visits Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, and becomes, in his mind, an Anasazi runner who completes the world’s first sub-two-hour marathon.

# # #

“You’re too skinny,” I told him.

“All the Africans that have been winning marathons are skinny. Look at Haile Gebreslassie.”

“I do look at him and I think he could be a little faster if he carried more leg muscle.”

“Where’d you get that theory?”

“From my head.”

I handed him a ten-pound belt I had devised from a couple ankle weights and had him strap it around his waist. “Don’t take it off until just before the race. And I mean you wear it everywhere except in the shower. And to bed.”

That extra ten pounds really slowed his times. I rode behind him on my three-wheel bike like usual and watched the little computer screen. When we got to the top of the run, he stopped.

“This thing’s killing me,” he said, cocking his thumb at the weight belt.

“Good. Fear of death might make you run faster.”

We kept working every day and after the first week of wearing the weight belt his times began to nudge back up again.

“How far am I off my top times?” he asked.

“Before the belt?”

He nodded.

“I don’t know. Twenty percent, maybe.”

He shook his head.

Still three months before the race, I decided we had time for a test. And it’d be good for his head. He seemed to be getting down.

“How you feel today?” I asked before our usual run up Fourmile Road.

He shrugged. “Left ankle’s still sore, but it works out. I didn’t sleep so good last night. Had a nightmare about the man in the moon swallowing me, and then I fell down a mountain.”

“How’d your Indian buddies interpret that?”

“Didn’t tell ’em yet.”

“When you do, let me know what they say, and it’d better be that you’re the fastest running in the world. Now take off that belt.”

He looked at me like he would argue, but I cocked my head and gave him the stern coach look. He took it off and I dropped it into the basket on my bike.

“Now see what you can do. No splits. All the way to the trailhead.

His lips pulled into a crooked smile. “You’re using psychology on me.”

“I’m proving to you that this ten-pound belt is good for you. Now run.” Truth be told, I wanted proof myself. I just made this running coach stuff up. I didn’t have a clue how the professionals did it. Didn’t want to know. Preferred my own common sense.

He ran. He stepped up onto the balls of his feet and leaped from foot to foot. I had to work extra hard to keep up with him on the bike, and that extra ten pounds of the belt didn’t help. At the top, we were both pooped. After we blew a bit, I looked at the computer on the bike. I turned the screen for him to see. He broke into a huge grin.

“Wow!” he said. “I didn’t think I was anywhere near that pace.”

“Nearly three minutes,” I said, grinning back.

“Give me that belt,” he said. “I’m never taking this thing off.”

“Until right before the race.”

He nodded. “Then I’ll run it like the Moon Man is chasing me.”

“Is he?”

He nodded again, with more seriousness than I’d expected. This dream stuff had gotten to him. “They told me it means the moon spirit is chasing me.”

“Why?”

He shrugged.

“Is that supposed to motivate you?”

“I guess so.”

“Does it?”

“Not really. But getting rid of this weight belt sure does.”

# # #

I ended up not using anything similar to this in the novel. This flash exercise helped me get a feel for when the dialogue density is too high. What do you think?

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