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Fall Arrives

October 5, 2017 by Eric Frydenlund

The fall season arrived officially on September 22, but fall colors arrive on their own time.  I am out on the Kickapoo River to survey for a deadfall removal project.  I am in the front of the canoe, mapping and fidgeting with my GPS locator.  Then I look up and realize I’m smack in the middle of paradise.  The leaves are just beginning to change on the bluffs, spread like dust from the fairy’s wand.  Sunlight sets them aflame.

The Kickapoo River Bluffs

Descending into the Kickapoo Valley from the ridge road, you feel as though you are entering a lost world. Another world, where herons take flight from the river’s edge and eagles float on air currents swirling above the valley. The river itself seems lost, wandering from one bluff to the other, as if looking for a way out.  Finding none, the river turns sharply and cuts a path through tranquil pastureland.

The Kickapoo Valley tucks into the hills of Driftless Wisconsin like the secret hiding place we had as children.  Amish children still walk barefoot along Driftless Wisconsin roads, their calloused feet impervious to stones or other cares. Their wide smiles betray an innocence where simple pleasures rule the day. They recall my own childhood, when a day spent exploring the Mississippi River bluffs left all my cares at the front door.

Walking is still the best way to experience Driftless Wisconsin. My dog and I hike La Riviere Park near Prairie du Chien.  Fargo finds sticks to carry around like prized steak bones. I find the scenery more to my liking. The trail explores the park and its topography in ways that photos can only approximate. You feel the Driftless landscape rise and fall below your feet. You look down into bottomless ravines; too steep to walk and too deep to ignore. The spectacle pulls you in like gravity. You wonder how such a mountainous slope arrived here in Southwest Wisconsin.

Whether by canoe or by foot, you can explore the enchanted world of Driftless Wisconsin. It’s not too late to schedule that canoe or kayak trip on the Kickapoo.  Outfitters in Ontario are open through the end of October, providing you transportation and the essentials to make your day on the river memorable. Best to call ahead for reservations. The lower Kickapoo River is now more accessible if you have your own canoe or kayak. New landings await your arrival at County B above Gays Mills, and County S, just off Highway 131 on the way to Steuben.

If you prefer walking to paddling, explore one of the many parks or natural areas that populate Driftless Wisconsin.  Wildcat Mountain State Park near Ontario overlooks the Kickapoo Valley.  Wyalusing State Park near Prairie du Chien oversees the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. And the Kickapoo Valley Reserve near La Farge explores 3600 acres of plants, birds, and animals of the Kickapoo Valley.  All have excellent hiking trails to explore the Driftless landscape.

Just remember to look up from the trail occasionally.  You’ll find yourself smack in the middle of paradise.

 

Spring arrives as a state of mind in Driftless Wisconsin

February 2, 2017 by Eric Frydenlund

If you’re like me, spring arrives first as a state of mind rather than a season. With two months still to go on the calendar, my mind wandered into the boating season with a trip to Cabela’s in Prairie du Chien to look at depth finders for my boat.  Ice on the Mississippi River presents no obstacle to my imagination. And Cabela’s will most certainly get you thinking about spring.

Along those lines, you can hasten the arrival of spring and summer through film and presentations at our State and National Parks. Just across the Mississippi River at Effigy Mounds National Monument, you can stir your imagination at their 54th annual film festival held each weekend from January through March. My wife and I launched our idea to visit the National Parks out west after watching a film on the National Parks.

Likewise, the Kickapoo Valley Reserve near La Farge hosts the Ralph Nuzum Lecture Series that bring the natural world into focus. “The Turkey Vulture: Profit of our Time,” will be the topic on February 15.  Mike Mossman, Retired DNR Ecologist; and Lisa Hartman: Wildlife Educator, will talk about “This tough species that enjoys the largest breeding range of any bird in the New World, thanks to fascinating adaptations that allow it to thrive in almost every habitat from forest to coast, farmland, desert and city.”

For the more adventuresome, Driftless Wisconsin offers plenty of activities for both spectators and participants alike without waiting for spring. On February 3 and 4, the Snowflake Ski Club near Westby will hold its annual Ski Jump Tournament featuring international competition. This event, thankfully, is of the spectator variety.  No need for you to jump off the scaffold at speeds exceeding 50 mph to appreciate the courage and grace of some of the world’s best jumpers as they leap into the crisp air of Timber Coulee.

On February 18 and 25, experience the beauty of Driftless Wisconsin winters yourself at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve on an Ice Cave Hike. “Visit several spectacular ice caves and frozen waterfalls. Participants will also have the chance to try traditional and modern snowshoes. There will be lots of outdoor discoveries.”

Whatever state of mind that February finds you in, Driftless Wisconsin will satisfy your curiosity and sense of adventure. Just need to change your state of mind and begin planning your trip. You can start here for lodging, dining, and shopping options.

Christmas Traditions in Driftless Wisconsin

December 2, 2015 by Eric Frydenlund

My memories of Christmas begin with lutefisk and lefse, the Norwegian feast my mother made each year to celebrate my father’s Scandinavian heritage.  The smell of lutefisk – a cod cured in lye – wafting through the house on Christmas Eve sent me in the opposite direction in full retreat. While the rest of the family endured the smell of boiled fish with the consistency of pudding, my sister and I sat in the living room enjoying a holiday meal of hotdogs, which at least were chewable.

For those of you who enjoy lutefisk – and there are many of you – rest assured I have not entirely abandoned my Norwegian heritage.  I do love lefse, a potato flatbread rolled to a thin layer and cooked on a large griddle. Served only with butter – I consider the addition of brown sugar to be blasphemy – I have been known to consume lefse as fast as it comes off the griddle. After my wife made it clear that if I wanted the tradition to continue, I would be supplying the labor, I have learned to make a decent batch of lefse.  Never mind the dough stuck to the kitchen counter and the cloud of flour draping my shirt.

The history of our Christmas traditions is rooted in our ethnic customs. Explored by the French and settled by Scandinavians, Bohemians, Irish, and other nationalities; Driftless Wisconsin offers a variety of ethnic traditions to honor our diverse heritage.  In communities across the Driftless Wisconsin region, the Christmas season inspires us to carry forward our traditions to the next generation.

ofc_horsesOn December 5 – 6 the good folks at Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center will help us celebrate an Old-Fashioned Christmas.  Norskedalen, which means Norwegian Valley, “is a nature and heritage center dedicated to preserving, interpreting and sharing the natural environment and cultural heritage of the area surrounding Coon Valley in southwest Wisconsin.”

The Old-Fashioned Christmas offers visitors the opportunity to explore that heritage through the lens of the Christmas holiday, complete with horse-drawn carriage rides, Christmas caroling, a buffet of Norwegian delicacies, and a bake sale – including lefse!  Craft demonstrations in spinning, wood-stove cookery, and kid’s crafts will keep you grounded in the spirit of Christmas. And you’ll have the chance to make your own holiday decorations.

Also on December 5, La Farge will hold its Old-Fashioned Small Town Christmas Celebration.  The community, located near the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, will take you back to your small-town childhood memories with a huge craft fair at the school, a cookie walk at the Reserve, and a soup luncheon.

On December 4 – 6 and 11 – 13, The Villa Louis Historic Site in Prairie du Chien will celebrate Victorian Home for the Holidays.  Held at the Villa Louis, the opulent estate of Hercules Dousman restored to its 1890s splendor, the event recreates the holiday traditions of a Victorian family.  Enter the Dousman parlor for a recital on a restored 1879 Steinway piano.  Visit the kitchen, where the Dousman cook prepares the holiday menu.  Sample some desserts and apple cider.

No holiday would be complete without witnessing the Droppin’ of the Carp in Prairie du Chien on December 31.  Culminating the week-long Carp Fest, the evening includes a bonfire, entertainment, and the countdown starting at 11:40.  Inspired by New York City’s dropping of the Time Square Ball at midnight, this celebration ends with the ‘Droppin’ of a carp taken from the Mississippi River and preserved for this special occasion.

Tradition has it that the Carp King and Queen kiss “Lucky” the fish for good luck in the New Year.  Well, at least they don’t have to eat it.

Getting ready for winter and the holidays in Driftless Wisconsin

November 4, 2015 by Eric Frydenlund

“Hey John, how ya doing?” I asked a friend we met along the hiking trail out at the park. “I just bought my LP gas for 60 cents cheaper than last year,” he offered. In these parts, “how you doing?” means how are things stacking up for the winter. As in firewood, LP gas, milk house heaters, road salt, wool socks, and other tools of winter survival.

I have my own to-do list of getting ready for winter. It starts with pulling my pontoon out of the river, a job I relish about as much as getting out the snow shovels. But October and early November days have been kind with temperatures in the 60s, making any day on the Mississippi River – even to retrieve the boat – a good one.

I also took my last canoe ride on the Kickapoo River – with less grace than I’d hoped. Entering the canoe from the river bank, I fell forward towards the opposite gunwale, twisting at the last second and landing in the bottom of the canoe like a sack of potatoes. “Nice recovery,” said my canoeing partner. I’ll take “nice recovery” over “clumsy oaf” any day.

geese-in-v-formation bYet end of season does not mean you shut the door and curl up in front of the fire for the rest of the winter. There’s sights and sounds reserved for this time of year alone. The sight of the Driftless Wisconsin landscape, absent its cloak of summer foliage, which takes on a beauty all its own. The sound of geese migrating south; a hypnotic, seasonal sound that marks time like a clock chiming midnight.

And yes, still lots of things to do. Speaking of migration, Ferryville will celebrate its annual Fall Migration Day on Saturday, November 7. Birding experts from the Audubon Society will help visitors find migrating geese, pelicans, white swans, and ducks of many breeds through spotting scopes. Then on Tuesday, November 10, Ferryville will host a commemoration of the Armistice Day Storm of 1940, when many duck hunters were caught on the river as temperatures plummeted 40 degrees in a matter of hours.

The Driftless Folks School, a regional center for the preservation, promotion and training of traditional crafts; has many classes available during November and the holiday season. Learn spoon carving, storytelling, Grain-free holiday baking, home cheese making, and many more crafts that will reconnect you with your own creativity.

On Saturday, December 5, La Farge will hold its annual Small Town Christmas Celebration. The community will celebrate the traditional side of Christmas with a craft fair, “cookie walk” at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, and soup luncheon. La Farge is near the Reserve and will serve as base camp for that walk in the woods to enjoy the late fall landscape.

So how is your winter stacking up? Getting ready for winter and the holidays needn’t be a chore if you mix in the sights and sounds and holiday festivities in Driftless Wisconsin.

New Experiences in Driftless Wisconsin

December 31, 2014 by Eric Frydenlund

Our new golden retriever, Fargo, has a tail-wagging enthusiasm for all things new.  Which for a 12-week-old puppy, amounts to just about anything appearing before his nose.   This includes Christmas tree ornaments, house plants, shoe laces – especially those attached to moving feet – fallen leaves, sticks, and stairways.

Going outdoors presents boundless possibilities, requiring Fargo to navigate a flight of stairs down to our front door; which he usually takes two steps at a time, complete with a belly flop at the bottom. Undaunted, he then leaps outside like a jailbird on parole.

We should all have such passion for life.  Given the opportunity to shed our daily routines, we just might find a new experience we can take two steps at a time.  Driftless Wisconsin offers us such opportunities.

Have you ever toured an ice cave?  On alternate Saturdays from January 31 to March 7, experienced guides will take you on such a journey at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve near La Farge.  On the afternoon hike you will see “rarely visited” ice caves and frozen waterfalls.  Along the way, you might learn about winter wildlife, the ecology of the Kickapoo Valley, or the fascinating history behind the formation of the Reserve.  You can experience the hike on snow shoes, a great way to navigate the Driftless Wisconsin landscape during the winter.

Have you ever watched a ski jump?  I say watch, since you are not required to abandon your good senses and take the leap yourself.  The 92nd Annual Snowflake Ski Jumping Tournament will be held outside Westby on January 30 – 31, attracting top talent from around the world.  Growing up in Norwegian household with a father who jumped as a young man, I attended many Snowflake Tournaments as a boy.  I watched in awe as highly trained athletes took their “leap of faith” into the abyss of beautiful Timber Coulee.

Ever go fishing through a hole in the ice?  One of the area’s most popular winter activities might be a new experience for you.  On February 7 – 8, the Annual Fisheree on the backwaters of the Mississippi River north of Prairie du Chien will give you the chance to test your ice-fishing skills or try something new.  Mostly, it’s an excuse to get together with friends and tell fishing jokes that can be seen riding your breath into the crisp February air.

Check our outdoor activities and event calendar, and you will find experiences that will slay the winter doldrums. Whether a new experience or an old habit, Driftless Wisconsin offers you the chance to see it for the first time amid this stunning landscape.  Like Fargo, you’ll find a new enthusiasm for everything in front of your nose.

Summer trout fishing in Driftless Wisconsin

July 26, 2014 by Greg Hoffmann

Fishing often becomes more challenging in the dog days of summer in Driftless Area streams.

Driftless 085webThe heat, and in some years shallow water depths, often make it necessary to hunt for the deeper holes and areas of streams where trees and other growth along the stream provide some shade.

This year, with the moist spring and early summer, depths on most streams are good. That’s a break for fishers who come from elsewhere in hopes of finding good fishing.

Terrestrials — flies that look like grasshoppers, crickets and other land loving insects — often work best in mid-summer. They mimic one of those critters who has fallen into the water, and trout love to surface to eat a treat.

Summer fishing is best from dawn into the early morning and late afternoons until dusk. Your shadows aren’t as likely to spook fishing during that time. The majority of the hatches also take place during those times.

The Driftless Angler, a great fly shop in Viroqua, says this about the insects during the summer days: “The major insect available in the summer time is the tiny olive (formerly Pseudocoleon) with some Cahills, Tan Caddis and Midges as well. Later on in the season, some Coulee region streams get a heavy hatch of Tricos; these tiny mayflies can provide some great fishing on summer mornings. Ants, beetles, crickets and hoppers are also very important and readily available sources of food in the summer, and can provide some excellent fishing even when trout do not seem to be interested in anything else.”

Two star streams in Vernon County — Timber Coulee and the West Fork — can be productive in summer. Trout often can be found tucked up against the higher banks and in shaded areas of Timber.

The authors of the second edition of Wisconsin Trout Streams write this about Timber: “Timber Coulee Creek might just be the crown jewel among Wisconsin spring creeks.”

After describing some of the management projects that have been dobe on the creek, Jeff Mayers, Steve Born, Andy Morton and Bill Sonzogni write: “No wonder Trout Unlimited named it one of the top 100 streams in the country.”

When you’re done fishing, try some of the pubs and restaurants in nearby Coon Valley. There also are places to stay near Timber, perhaps most notably Coulee Cabins right across the road from the stream.

The West Fork serves more or less as the “home field stream’ for this blogger. On its north ends, near Bloomingdale, you can find shadier areas that provide good summer fishing. Farther south, in the more popular areas of the stream near Avalanche, you can find some deeper holes.

After fishing the West Fork, you can go to Westby or La Farge to eat. There also is the Rockton Bar, a hangout for outdoors enthusiasts, not far away.

While Timber and the West Fork attract the most attention, and fishers, there are plentiful smaller streams in Vernon and Crawford counties. Matt at the Driftless Angler can help you with these, and even guide you for a fee.

Later in summer, and in September, when the temperatures start to cool down, fishing often picks up. Standing in a stream, surrounded by early autumn colors, and catching trout is an experience that can’t be beat.

For more information on the streams in Vernon and Crawford counties, go to  http://www.driftlessangler.com. For the Wisconsin Trout Streams guidebook, which includes streams around the state, go to http://www.uwpress.wisc.edu.

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Gregg Hoffmann is a semi-retired journalist and avid fly fisherman. He publishes www.driftlessimagesinpixelsandprose.com.

 

 

 

Many ways to experience Driftless Wisconsin

September 1, 2012 by Driftless Wisconsin

8So we headed up the hill under a twilighted sky, summiting around dusk and descending in the dark.  I know this trail well.  Each deadfall, tree root, and protruding rock fixed in my mind. But in the dark, things get misplaced.  As two weeks ago when I tripped over a freshly fallen tree and planted my nose in the horse trail.

As my eyes adjusted to the dark on this night, I could faintly pick out the black earth of the hoof-worn trail that lay like a ribbon against the lighter background. I felt the steep slope fall away from my next step.  Riley’s shapeless form moved ahead of me, leading me home. During the day, this bluff cuts an imposing line against the horizon.  During the night, the land weaves its way into your senses.

So it is with Driftless Wisconsin.  Take a look around you at the stunning photos on this website, and you will only know part of the story.  It’s one thing to see Driftless Wisconsin in photos.  It’s quite another to experience it with your senses.

There are many ways to experience Driftless Wisconsin.

You can ride it on a bike.  The Kickapoo Brave Ride on September 15 begins in Gays Mills and takes you on a rolling tour of the back roads, visiting quaint villages and rural farmland along the way.  Along the 60-mile route, visit Ferryville for their Fall Fest and Market in the Park on the Mississippi River.  A Harvest Dinner with locally grown food awaits you back at Riverside Park on the Kickapoo River.

You can ride it on a horse. The 9th Annual Fall Trail Ride at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve near La Farge on September 28 – 30 takes you along equestrian trails that will visit the fall colors.  Enjoy the special equestrian campsite with Saturday evening dinner and Sunday morning coffee and rolls. Registration is limited and required by September 16.

You can experience it through art.  The Driftless Area Art Festival on September 15 – 16 in Soldiers Grove will take you on a tour of the artist’s imagination.  Discover Driftless creativity through wood, ceramics, fiber, painting, photography, jewelry, sculpture, food, and music.

You can live it through history.  The Norskedalen Threshing Bee on September 22 at the Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center near Coon Valley relives the pioneer spirit.  See demonstrations in threshing, corn shelling, rope making, blacksmithing, butter churning, lumber cutting and all the skills that tamed the land for our ancestors.

See it in the light; feel it in the dark; take it all in through any means possible.  There are so many ways to experience Driftless Wisconsin.

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New Year’s Winter

December 26, 2011 by Driftless Wisconsin

In Driftless Wisconsin, the New Year ushers in more than college football bowl games, New Year’s resolutions, and a new calendar on the wall. It welcomes winter.  Winter arrived officially on December 22, yet with holiday shopping, giving, and celebrating, no one really took notice.  Awaiting colder weather, even the Mississippi River has not frozen completely, causing restless days for ice fishermen itching to get out on the ice. 

On a recent trip up the Great River Road, the warmer river fought with the cooling air, throwing a blanket of fog over its surface. Trees from hidden islands poked up through the mist like a forest in a mystical landscape.  January will not be so subtle.  Winter’s unofficial arrival lays the groundwork for some serious frosty fun.   But not before we welcome the New Year’s arrival. 

Few events will mark the year as uniquely as the Droppin’ of the Carp in Prairie du Chien.  To welcome midnight, the good people of Prairie du Chien have discovered that gravity works just as well on a 25-pound carp in Lucky Park as it does on the crystal ball in New York’s Time Square.  The Droppin’ of Lucky the Carp also marks the culmination of a week-long celebration of Carp Fest.  

In the days leading up to Lucky’s plunge, the community will host swim and walking contests, arts and crafts activities, and a torchlight ski and hike at La Riviere Park on December 30.  New Year’s Eve day features the Carp Run Walk, the annual Carp Bowl Football Game, hot air balloon rides, concluding with the Carp Drop and pyrotechnics show at midnight.  

The Kickapoo Valley Reserve near La Farge welcomes the New Year season with Winter Fest on Saturday, January 7.  The all-day family event offers plenty of winter fun.  The scenic nature area located in the scenic Kickapoo River Valley serves as the perfect setting to host a celebration of winter. 

Activities include skating, sledding, skiing, archery, snow sculpture, chain saw carving, birds of prey demos, and horse-drawn bobsled rides. The Tristate Alaskan Malamute Club will host a Sled Dog Race & Weight Pull between 10 am and 4 pm.  You can also tour the pristine Kickapoo Reserve on the Natural Ice Caves Guided Hike at 10:30 am. 

The New Year is upon us.  Grab the kids – and the grandkids too – and come celebrates winter’s offerings with us in Driftless Wisconsin. 

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Wildlife Sightings

November 1, 2011 by

A fox dashes through the underbrush with his nose down, apparently late for a dinner appointment.  A coyote stands perk-eared, listening for her next meal.  A flock of turkeys parades across the frame like a crowd exiting a theater. And a doe and her yearling pose for several shots, nuzzling and hamming it up for a family portrait.  

With trees stripped of leafy concealments, late fall offers one of the best times to view wildlife in Driftless Wisconsin.  In fact, decaying leaves on the ground are more likely to warn you of approaching critters.  Just sit quietly on a trail and listen for the telltale rattle of leaves.  Or drive slowly through Wildcat Mountain State Park near Ontario or Wyalusing State Park near Prairie du Chien and scan the forest for deer on the move. 

If birds are your focus, Mississippi Explorer Cruises will host Fall Migration Cruises on November 5 & 6 and 12 & 13.  The cruises depart from Lansing, Iowa, right across the river from Ferryville and De Soto.  The excursions will tour the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, where you can view the migration of Tundra Swans, Bald Eagles, and numerous species of waterfowl. Naturalists and birders are on board to narrate the cruise and answer your questions. 

The Kickapoo Valley Reserve near La Farge is another great place to observe wildlife in its natural habitat. Numerous animals and over 100 species of nesting birds make the reserve their home.  My wife and I recently enjoyed a 3-mile hike that loops above the Kickapoo River through standing pines, rust-colored oak trees, and open prairies.  Hunters were combing the fields for pheasant, which can be hunted in the reserve by permit.  Judging by their wagging tails, I think the hunting dogs were having more fun than their masters.  

One of my favorite sights is watching Bald Eagles soar over the river valley, which can be seen along both the Mississippi and Kickapoo Rivers.  Scouting for fish and rodents below, the eagles can hang on a breeze or slide windward on a graceful glide over one of the many overlooks available for viewing.  

Whether watching through the lens of a camera or your own eyes, the excitement of wildlife sightings awaits you.  It only takes time and patience, which are also in plentiful supply in Driftless Wisconsin.

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Happy Trails

July 12, 2011 by

Three baby raccoons hung from a nearby tree, clinging like ripe fruit from the branches.  Riley never saw them.  Momma had performed a “bait and switch” to protect her babies and Riley had taken the bait and missed the switch.  

Riley and I never lack for discovery on the trails in Driftless Wisconsin.  He discovered his new-found passion for chasing raccoons on the horse trails that run by our house. 

Horse trails are in abundance in Driftless Wisconsin.  The topography lends to an unforgettable equestrian experience that matches developed trails with unmatched scenery.  The trail system near Prairie du Chien meanders through the bluffs and backcountry and connects with a horse camping area near La Riviere Park

In the northern reaches of Driftless Wisconsin near Lafarge and Ontario, the Kickapoo Valley Reserve offers horse trails, as does Wildcat Mountain State Park.  Several miles of developed trails explore the Kickapoo Valley and the ridge lines above the river.  

Hiking trails are also in abundance. Wyalusing Park near Prairie du Chien, and both Pikes Peak and Effigy Mounds across the Mississippi River provide unrivaled vistas from the bluff tops. The best birds-eye view of Driftless Wisconsin comes from the summit of the Iowa bluffs overlooking the valley.  

Discovery awaits you along the trail. I once “discovered” the Kickapoo River while hiking the trails of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, stumbling upon the river that wanders aimlessly through the valley.  If you find a quiet spot to sit, perhaps you’ll discover some wildlife scurrying through the underbrush. 

On the horse trail, Riley sits by my side taking in the sights and smells.  The silence is broken by blue jays quarreling, squirrels foraging, and insects buzzing.  Above us, Virginia Creeper wraps around the trunk of a basswood tree, shooting skyward like the contrail of an errant rocket.  The woods are alive and the trail is your guide. 

Whether you’re a horseman or a hiker, pick a trail and let the exploration begin.  As Dale Evens Rogers once crooned, “Happy trails to you, until we meet again.”

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