Sherwood Inn Landing on Lake Champlain

Vintage postcard of Rosslyn. Caption reads: Sherwood Inn, Landing, on Lake Champlain.
Vintage postcard of Rosslyn. Caption reads: Sherwood Inn, Landing, on Lake Champlain.
Rear of vintage Rosslyn postcard addressed to Mrs. Ethel Alvey.
Rear of vintage Rosslyn postcard addressed to Mrs. Ethel Alvey.

This morning I share with you a seasonally in-sync Rosslyn artifact that I acquired last week on eBay. This vintage postcard postmarked July 24, 1959 depicts the waterfront in front of Rosslyn and Sunnyside. The caption reads: Sherwood Inn, Landing, on Lake Champlain.

Although I remain somewhat conflicted whether or not it’s appropriate to share the messages from vintage and antique postcards, I tend toward a quasi-archeological justification (unless the content is obviously sensitive or inappropriate). And I am always happy to remove anything if requested by a family member, etc.

In the case of this postcard addressed to Mrs. Ethel Alvey on Muncie, Indiana from Edith, I consider the message quirky and innocuous enough to share, though it hasn’t anything at all to do with Rosslyn!

We drove to Keene, N.Y. yesterday after making a phone call. We are paid guests of Mrs. Walter Beesmeyer at Mt. House. She, her husband (now deceased) & small son came to U.S. 20 years ago from Germany. We are on top of Mt. surrounded by Mts. I wish you & Herman had a million $ so you could fly here and enjoy N.Y. State. I’m writing on a ferry crossing Lake Champlain going to a museum in Vermont.

I’m fascinated with how a simple artifact can offer a bridge across time.

I suspect that Edith was referring to Marion Biesemeyer who passed away three years ago.

Marion Hempel Biesemeyer, 101, of Keene, was born in Berlin, Germany, Feb. 22, 1911. She died peacefully at the Meadowbrook Healthcare facility on Thursday, May 31, 2012 (Source: Lake Placid News)

As World War II engulfed their country and continent, Marion and her husband Walter emigrated to the United States. They worked as caretakers for Putnam Camp and then moved to Keene where they established Mountain House.

Originally built in 1890, the Mountain House is located on top of East Hill with spectacular views of the Adirondack’s highest peaks. The Biesemeyer Family has offered guests food and lodging since 1945. (Source: Welcome to The Mountain House)

I’m fascinated with how a simple artifact can offer a bridge across time. When Edith penned her postcard to Ethel, Walter had been dead for about six years and Marion was operating Mountain House on her own. She continued to receive guests as sole proprietor until 2000. And today Mountain House is owned and operated by Bob Biesemeyer, a curious tidbit that filtered across my radar recently when my bride and I learned about Hamilton College’s soon-to-launch Academic Program in the Adirondack Program.

Nestled in the heart of the Adirondacks, the beautiful, historic Mountain House in Keene, NY is the site of our program. The Main House, and the adjacent Gulf Brook Lodge and Alpine Lodge house students, professors in residence, and serve as the academic home base for a semester of hands-on, experiential study. It was the family home of owner Bob Biesemeyer, who also owns and operates the contracting company of Biesmeyer’s Adirondack Building, Inc. (Source: Hamilton College)

Uncanny, right? And if you’ve read this far, and you’re still not totally flummoxed, then you just might want to learn about Hamilton’s Academic Program in the Adirondack Program.

The Academic Program in the Adirondacks at Hamilton College is a place-based, semester long learning experience that combines rigorous academic study with the skills and understanding gained through field experience in the Adirondack Park with local organizations and in wilderness contexts. The focus is on local, interdisciplinary environmental issues with global implications. (Source: Hamilton College)

As a Hamilton alumna and evangelist, my bride is thrilled that her alma mater is introducing a program in our neck of the woods. She visited the Biesemeyer’s Mountain House with the program’s founder and director, Professor Janelle A Schwartz. Glowing review!

Now for that museum in Vermont…

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Protecting Strawberries from Squirrels

Of all the ways that gardeners try protecting strawberries from birds, bird netting offers the best solution. Learn how to safely protect your strawberries. (Source: Bonnie Plants)

I mentioned to Catherine recently that strawberry bandits persistently steal/damage our ripe strawberries. The first couple of years after we established our strawberry patch, we produced an excess of strawberries.

No; correction. There’s no such thing as “an excess of strawberries”.

But we literally had to give strawberries away to keep up with the volume of delicious, ever-ripening strawberries. We couldn’t eat them all, even when our two still-tiny-but-strawberry-loving nieces visited. In hindsight, that was our “strawberry honeymoon”. Bliss. Worry-free. Decadent…

Abundance philosophy: grow enough strawberries that people and critters can feast.

And then the squirrels (and chipmunks and birds) discovered our strawberry patch. They eat the ripest fruit. And, honestly, I’m okay with that. Abundance philosophy: grow enough strawberries that people and critters can feast. Everyone’s happy.

Except that it doesn’t work out that way. The squirrels take a bite out of a ripe strawberry and move onto the next one. From fruit to fruit, taking a toothy swipe and then moving on,  spoiling far more strawberries than they could ever manage to eat. The result is lots of rotten strawberries, and fewer and fewer fruit for us to eat.

Catherine suggested row covers and sent me a link to “Protecting Strawberries from Birds“.

Undoubtedly the most effective way to protect strawberries from birds is to drape the strawberry patch with bird netting… Supported on a frame like a floating row cover… (Source: Bonnie Plants)

I’ve ordered 100′ of Reemay Garden Blanket that should arrive later this week. Now I just need to figure out what I’m going to use for hoops…

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Mid-May Grafting Update

Almost a month after grafting three of Rosslyn's old apple trees, none of the grafted buds/scions look like they have taken.
Almost a month after grafting three of Rosslyn’s old apple trees, none of the grafted buds/scions look like they have taken.

Some discouraging grafting news this morning: all three apple trees that I grafted with my father a little less than a month ago appear to be rejecting the grafts. No, that’s a bit presumptuous. The trees probably aren’t responsible for the failed grafts, I am.

I found no indication that any of our grafts have taken. Most of the grafted scions/buds look desiccated. Not a single hint of life…

I’ll check again in another week or two. Until then I’ll cultivate a positive mindset since optimism can’t hurt.

Here are a few more photos from today’s inspection.

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Frozen Lake Photos of Essex

Photograph of Essex artist Bill Amadon (and his dog) walking/photographing on frozen Lake Champlain.
Photograph of Essex artist Bill Amadon (and his dog) walking/photographing on frozen Lake Champlain.

I spied Bill Amadon,( an Essex artist and good friend, walking around on the frozen lake in front of our boathouse a few days ago. The lighting and distance made identification a little dodgy but the dog was hint #1 and a conversation with Bill the day prior (at the Essex Post Office where so many mid-winter encounters occur) was hint #2.

Bill mentioned that he was working on a series of three commissioned paintings, and that he was hoping to make it out onto Lake Champlain early the following morning to capture the waterfront in early morning light. He needed the photos to research the third and final painting in the series.

My suspicions were confirmed when a short while later Bill Amadon posted the following images to his Facebook page. He generously permitted me to showcase the photographs here. Enjoy!

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De-Icing the Duck Pond

Let me start by saying that we don’t have a duck pond. We have a lake. Lake Champlain.

And although it pains me slightly to say it, we also don’t have any ducks. Not personally, at least. Lake Champlain, on the other hand, has plenty of ducks. And when the lake freezes and the ducks run out of water to swim and eat, we offer them a small “duck pond” in front of Rosslyn boathouse to tide them over until spring. Or at least that’s our current practice.

In the Beginning…

The origin of our “duck pond” is less duck-centric. When we purchased Rosslyn in the summer of 2006 the boathouse perilously teetering on a failing timber and stone crib. The whole peninsular folly was one ice flow away from the grave. In fact, all four buildings were suffering the advanced stages of disrepair. We had to prioritize our attentions that first winter, and the house won out. In the hopes of preserving the boathouse until we could begin rehabilitation, we purchased an Ice Eater to reduce ice damage. It was a long shot. But it worked. The Ice Eater agitated the water at the end of Rosslyn boathouse, preventing ice from forming. It also created a perfect refugee for the ducks. (And the hawks and eagles, but that story for another day…)

The following winter my bride (and many of our new neighbors) insisted that we install the Ice Eater again to ensure that the ducks would have open water. I obliged. Despite the fact that the boathouse now how a solid foundation and is [hopefully] less likely to succumb to ice damage, we continue to maintain a winter “duck pond” each year.

2015 Ice Eater Foibles

Unfortunately in late January pack ice was blown into shore clogging the Ice Eater and eventually sheering both of the propeller blades that agitate the water to prevent freezing. Temperatures were bitterly cold and the lake froze sans “duck pond”. My bride and I were out of town at the time, but concerned messages began to fill my email account.

“Since George has not installed his bubbler this year the Essex ducks are cooperating to keep a pond churned with 100 constantly circling webbed feet. Their pond is a few hundred feet north of George’s boathouse…” ~ S. B.

“Greetings from ‘cool’ Essex. All those mallards are hoping you will turn on your bubbler as the ice is closing in on them and they really don’t want to leave. I was surprised to find them in my yard under the oak tree eating acorns a couple of afternoons. Never knew that could be part of their diet…” ~ D. L.

Reopening the Duck Pond

2015 Duck Pond
2015 Duck Pond

I ordered a replacement propeller for the Ice Eater and hustled home to make repairs. By the time I arrived the lake had tightened up (regional expression for frozen solidly) except for the ferry channel where the ducks were congregating, flying up with the comings and goings of the ferry, and then settling back down into the frigid water.

Doug assisted me in repairing the Ice Eater and breaking a small hole in the ice, not much larger than those used by ice fishermen. We suspended the Ice Eater in the hole and plugged it it. It whirred to life, pumping a steady stream of warmer water from the bottom up onto the ice. Within hours the hole had grown large enough to attract some of the ducks. Over the next few days the churning water swelled the hole larger and larger, finally expanding the open water enough to once again qualify as our “duck pond”. As I write this post, literally hundreds of ducks are bobbing wing to wing, beaks into the wind.

That’s the good news.

Can you anticipate the bad news?

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December 2014

Lake Champlain, December 2014
Lake Champlain, December 2014

In recent years December has given us our first real blast of winter. A premature blast usually because early December snows have usually melted by Christmas…

December 2014 Raptors

Early in December 2014 I walked Rosslyn’s woods and meadows to make sure our cross-country ski trails were clear of trees and brush. The good news was that with a little maintenance everything was ready for our first snowfall.

Perhaps you can help identify the hawk and owl species?

The even better news was that I encountered two handsome raptors at close range. Near the beginning of my walk a hawk allowed me to approach and photograph him from directly beneath the limb where he sat. Later in the afternoon an owl was no more than fifteen feet from me when I spied him. He too sat patiently and allowed me to snap photos. Unfortunately the camera in my mobile phone offers only a hint of the grandeur of this birds of prey.

Perhaps you can help identify the hawk and owl species?

December 2014 Snow

And then the snow arrived. On the 10th of December 2014 we had our first real taste of collecting snow (as opposed to flurries that melt once they land.)

Another curious happening. The Essex-Charlotte ferry seemed to have stalled in front of Rosslyn boathouse. (Can you spot it in the photos?) It drifted for an eerily long time, so close to the boathouse that I grew concerned. At last it managed to rumble off to the Essex ferry dock.

Once the snowflakes ceased to fall Rosslyn had been blanketed in over a foot of beautiful snow. Beautiful but super moist and heavy. Unfortunately what looks picturesque in the black and white photo below turned out to be bad news for many of our trees.

Winter started out with a deep, heavy, wet snowfall in early December 2014.
Winter started out with a deep, heavy, wet snowfall in early December 2014.

The photographs below tell the less picturesque story of what happens when lots of heavy, wet snow collects. Pretty. But potentially devastating.

But no sense closing on a down note. Instead I’ll wrap up with this wonderful snapshot of Griffin saying goodbye to his snowy home before setting off on a Christmas road trip. Griffin loves snow!

Griffin's up early and ready for a road trip.
Griffin’s up early and ready for a road trip.
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Aftermath: Winter Storm Damage

Winter storm damage throughout Rosslyn's woods and meadows.
Winter storm damage throughout Rosslyn’s woods and meadows.

My enthusiasm for an early season blizzard was rewarded (punished?) severalfold. Be careful what you wish for! Remember the section about potential winter storm damage in my last post?

Impacts Travel conditions will remain difficult to hazardous due to snow covered roads and visibilities occasionally dropping below one half mile. In addition the weight of the snow and light ice accumulations may lead to additional scattered power outages… (via National Weather Service, Alert: Winter Storm Warning)

The weight of the snow was significant not only because of how much snow fell, but also because of how unbelievably wet and dense the snow was. It reminded me of spring snow. Heavy!

The good news is that it looks beautiful. Postcard perfect. Except when you notice the destruction wrought by the weight of the wet snow. That’s the bad news. So many trees were overwhelmed by the snow load. Massive limbs snapped off of numerous white pines. The majority of the birch trees are doubled over. Some will recover. Others will remain bowed forever. And, sadly, a few will snap.

Swinger of Birches

I can’t help but draw upon one of my favorite poems, “Birches” by Robert Frost, albeit with a shadow of sadness. Here are a couple of the most relevant lines. First, this chummy setup.

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do… (The Poetry Foundation)

And then Frost’s melancholic realization that the trees will never reach for the stars again.

They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun. (The Poetry Foundation)

Surveying the Winter Storm Damage

My wish for a x-country ski outing before departing for the holidays was granted, though I might have thought it through more thoroughly before hurling my pipe dream into the falling flakes.

But as we glided into the first wooded area we realized how many trees were broken.

Susan and I enjoyed the first leg of our ski, from house past the barns and through the orchard. Proceeding through the gates in across the first meadow we were still excited about the fresh snow which so completely blanketed everything.

But as we glided into the first wooded area we realized how many trees were broken. We skied all around the perimeter, and I even attempted a few inner loops. Everywhere devastation. At one point I even had to remove my skies to climb through twisted limbs completely obstructing the trail. Susan waged a valiant war against the limbs still laden but not yet snapped, poking and prodding with her pole to release the snow so the branches could spring up. But there were so many trees and there was so much snow. As darkness fell we glided back to the house with spirits sagging.

I’ll revisit this in a couple of days, perhaps in more detail. Or perhaps just with additional photos. For now I must hustle to get packed…

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Alert: Winter Storm Warning

Essex, NY weather December 10, 2014
Essex, NY weather December 10, 2014

In this age of mobile connectivity we’re never far from up-to-the-moment weather advisories and alerts. This winter storm warning interrupted me this morning.

Alert: Winter Storm Warning Winter storm warning now in effect until 11 pm EST this evening. The national weather service in Burlington has extended the winter storm warning for heavy snow and mixed precipitation until 11 pm EST this evening.

Locations The northern Adirondacks of New York as well as central and southern portions of Vermont.

Hazard Types Heavy wet snow and mixed wintry precipitation.

Accumulations Total storm snow accumulation of 8 to 16 inches of heavy dense snow along with around a trace of ice. Locally higher accumulations possible across the higher elevations.

Maximum Snowfall Rate Up to 1 inch per hour mainly this afternoon through evening.

Timing Light snows and occasional light mixed precipitation this morning will become steadier and heavier by this afternoon into this evening.

Impacts Travel conditions will remain difficult to hazardous due to snow covered roads and visibilities occasionally dropping below one half mile. In addition the weight of the snow and light ice accumulations may lead to additional scattered power outages. Snow amounts will vary by elevation with temperatures near freezing and road conditions will be highly variable.

Winds North 5 to 15 mph with gusts up to 30 mph.

Temperatures Steady from the upper 20s to the mid 30s.

The winter storm warning is abbreviated here to avoid the doomsday implications regarding “Precautionary/Preparedness Actions”. An early season heavy snow can be exciting. It might even offer us an opportunity to x-country ski before heading off to Santa Fe in a couple of days. (I’m feeling excitement tempered with the hope that this winter storm warning doesn’t delay our departure… Fingers crossed for the good without the bad!)

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Essex Ferry to Vermont

Essex Ferry to Vermont (Photo: Ray and Linda Faville)
Essex Ferry to Vermont (Photo: Ray and Linda Faville)

Great photograph! That “Essex Ferry to Vermont” sign is posted at the entrance to the Essex-Charlotte ferry dock located two houses and one library south of Rosslyn. That’s our boathouse in the center of the image.

I came across this charming Essex image on the Essex Shipyard‘s website, so it was most likely photographed by Linda or Ray Faville who run the marina and restaurant. We’ve enjoyed many memorable (and tasty!) evenings at Chez Lin & Rays over the last couple of summers, and Errant – my Catalina 310 – is in the marina’s “home fleet”.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Faville’s welcoming waterside establishment, here’s a better introduction.

Essex Shipyard was recently renovated to provide boaters with safe, modern and convenient services. The bulkheads and harbor walls were raised and rebuilt after the historic floods in 2011. New  floating docks, electric & water services have been installed. Boaters staying at the Essex Shipyard for the season or for a day or two, enjoy calm water (no matter how rough the Lake gets), comfortable slips, modern amenities and spectacular views of the Green Mountains, Adirondacks and Lake Champlain. (Essex Shipyard)

Essex Ferry to Vermont

For a great many travelers passing through town that sign just about sums up Essex, New York. Ever since the early 1800s Essex has been vital as a gateway to Lake Champlain. Long ago it was an important port for shipbuilding, and later for the North-South transport of raw materials and merchants’ goods. Nowadays the ferry East-West across the lake is the vital link that draws many visitor to our otherwise quiet streets.

Ever since the early 1800s Essex has been vital as a gateway to Lake Champlain.

It’s a common refrain among residents. “I discovered Essex when I was taking the ferry.” While it’s not our personal connection to the area, there is something appealing to me about passers-through becoming enchanted with the historic architecture, the gentle rhythms, the magnificent outdoor recreation opportunities, the views. Often while traveling the globe my bride and I muse about what it would be like to settle a while in one beguiling spot or another. We recently returned from a pair of weeks in France and Sicily. There were many such moments. Daydreams. “What if?” scenarios teased out verbally, half serious, imagining, wondering…

The Essex Ferry to Vermont delivers a steady stream of curious drivers. They stop and wander, snap photographs, shop or eat a meal. Sometimes they wonder what it would be like to live here. A few return to find out.

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Demolition: Rosslyn Dedux

Rosslyn Demolition
Rosslyn Demolition, autumn 2006

When it was built it was just right for the times. But it didn’t adapt… Rooms were shut off and fell out of use. Neglect left the paint chipped, with bare wood and brick showing through… rehabilitation fails with no sustainable plan for use. ~ Stef Noble (

I don’t recollect how I came across Demolition, a blog post by Stef Noble (@stefnoble). I don’t know her. I don’t even know about her. But somehow I stumbled across her reflection on what happens at the end of a building’s life. She ponders demolition, debris, salvage, sensitivity to neighbors and environment. And she wanders into wonders about the transition, preparedness, shelter…

Like an enigmatic poem that continues to resonate long after that first encounter… Stef’s words have hooked me, drawn me back again and again.

The post moves from conviction and resolve to questions. From “sometimes you find that there is nothing left to save” and “It must be a salvage process” to “What does your shelter look like now?”

It’s a poignant, provocative post despite its brevity and abstraction. I have no idea what or where the building is or even whether the building is a metaphor for something else that’s beyond rehabilitation, something else that must be dismantled sensitively and responsibly before moving on. But like an enigmatic poem that continues to resonate long after that first encounter, inspiring rereading upon rereading, Stef’s words have hooked me, drawn me back again and again.

Noble Demolition & Rosslyn Rehabilitation

At the risk of misappropriation (Sorry!) I have transposed Stef’s wonder to Rosslyn’s endless rehabilitation. Inadvertently. Inevitably.

There are obvious differences. Rosslyn was repeatedly adapted across almost two centuries. From year-round residence to seasonal residence to inn, restaurant and tavern. From Georgian to Federal to Greek Revival to Victorian and back to Greek Revival/Georgian. From stately home and outbuildings to dilapidated, structurally failing buildings more readily, easily, and cost effectively demolished than rehabilitated. Rosslyn adapted.

But rooms fell out of use, and rooms were shut off. A large portion of the rear ell (wing) was removed half a century ago. In fact the rear ell has undergone four or five, maybe even six significant rebuilds and alterations since the 1820s. And the front facade was dramatically altered early in the 1900s when a vast Victorian wraparound porch was added. This lake overlook was removed several decades before Rosslyn became our home.

In short, Rosslyn’s story is first and foremost one of adaption. Repeat adaption. Her perseverance has been at least partly due to her perennial adaptability.

Rosslyn Boathouse, circa 2006
Rosslyn Boathouse, circa 2006

Nevertheless when we were in the final pre-purchase days, the inspector opined that the boathouse and icehouse were probably unrecoverable. Use them while we could or demolish and replace them. There were other eleventh hour surprises that jeopardized the sale too, but demolition as a recommendation was unnerving.

Rosslyn’s boathouse was precisely what I’d fallen for. Tear it down? No chance. And the ice house promised to be the perfect office/studio/playhouse. Think desk, aisle, pool table, bar!

In both cases we forged ahead, prevailing upon the planning board, engineers, contractors (and detractors) that these buildings should be, could be, would be preserved. Underpinning our confidence and our persistence was the conviction articulated so well by Stef Noble:

rehabilitation fails with no sustainable plan for use

In order to ensure that Rosslyn’s iconic boathouse/dock house would continue to welcome ferry passengers to Essex long into the future, it needed to be more than an historic artifact. It needed to be relevant and useful. It needed to adapt. No longer serving the Kestrel as a boathouse and coal storage facility, the boathouse needed to adapt to our waterfront and boating needs, and then eventually to Rosslyn’s future stewards. We windsurf. We waterski. We sail. We entertain nieces and nephews and friends who enjoy fishing and playing on the beach and barbecuing… The sustainable plan for Rosslyn’s boathouse involved adapting the precarious building into a safe, inviting and attractive place of waterfront activity once again. And despite the odds, we prevailed. The boathouse remains the heart and soul of our Rosslyn lifestyle.

Rosslyn Ice House 2006
Rosslyn Ice House 2006

The ice house is another story. We stabilized the failing structure, replaced the failed roof, repaired the crumbling stone foundation and upgraded the mechanicals. But then we mothballed the project, deferring the next phase indefinitely until circumstances warranted moving forward. For several years we’ve used the ice house as a storage and maintenance annex for the carriage barn, but recently we’ve begun to address a sustainable plan for use. I hope to address this in more depth over the course of the next year. But for now, I’ll just say that we understand that simply stabilizing the building is not enough. Successful rehab demands a sustainable plan for use. And we’re working on it!

The carriage barn and house have been rehabilitated and are serving the modern iteration of the original purposes for which they were built. The house is a home. We live and work and entertain at Rosslyn. I genuinely hope that the future is bright for this structure remaining a year-round residence for a long time. And while horses and carriages no longer come and go, the carriage barn is a handsome but utilitarian space for cars and tractors and a colorful parade of property maintenance equipment. There are bicycles and winter storage for kayaks and windsurfers. In a real sense the building has been rehabilitated into a modern “carriage barn”.

If you’re still with me, I apologize for getting carried away. My mind was wandered. And I’ve still fallen short of conveying why exactly Stef Noble’s post continues to resonate for me. I suppose I’m still not 100% certain. But it seems to share some DNA with the adventure my bride and I undertook in the summer of 2006 when we pulled up roots in Manhattan and set down roots in the Adirondacks with the dream of rehabilitating Rosslyn…

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