Instead of Sea Shells and Agates, I Find . . . Plastic

It was getting late, but it was the first dry day on the Oregon coast after weeks of hard rain and king tides, and the beach was calling.

A dead sea lion lay at the bottom of the steep ramp from Don Davis Park to Nye Beach. It was already starting to disintegrate, its face gone, guts exposed, tufts of brown fur here and there. Sad.

But I was more upset by the litter. I had been reading a long essay about plastic waste titled “Moby-Duck.” First published in Harper’s Magazine in 2007 and in the Best Creative Nonfiction in 2008, it was later expanded into a book, also titled Moby-Duck.

Author Donovan Hohn’s story begins with a 1992 spill of bath toys from a container ship traveling from Hong Kong to Tacoma, Washington. Little plastic ducks, beavers, turtles, and frogs started turning up on beaches far from the spill. The author became fascinated and met with experts who study the things that drift up onto the beach.  He researched the evolution of plastic products, particularly toy ducks, and the effects of plastic breaking down in the sea. He explored the working conditions in Chinese factories where workers were expected to turn out thousands of these things an hour for less than $4 a day.

What starts as an amusing story about toys quickly becomes alarming. Our ocean is so full of plastic we will never get rid of it. It breaks down over time into pieces, then shards, then dust, but it never disappears. Sea animals are eating it, and we’re eating the sea animals. It’s getting inside of everything, including us, and the ingredients are toxic.

Plastic was considered a godsend when it was invented in 1907. Now, that innocent toy bobbing in your child’s bathtub could be a death bomb for your great-grandchildren.

I was reading this essay at the hospital while waiting for my annual exam, getting more and more steamed about long waits and Medicare limitations. I flashed on those plastic gloves that hospital workers wear. Sitting at my father’s bedside when he was dying, I watched the nurses put on a new pair and throw them away every time they changed patients. How many thousands of pairs of gloves did they use in just one day? Where would we put all this waste?

Back to the beach. Instead of shells and rocks, I found trash. Just past the sea lion carcass, where the waves had washed up near the cliffs, blue, white, red, and green plastic litter sparkled in the sun. Embedded in grass and seaweed, most of it was too small to pick up.

The beach wasn’t crowded, but most of the people walking the wave-compacted sand brought their dogs. Those dogs would surely be drawn to the trash. I know mine would. I have caught her eating pens, rubber balls, Frisbees, and paper clips. I find the brightly colored pieces in her feces. I try to keep such things away from her, but people toss them along the roadsides where we walk, and sometimes she swallows the plastic before I can stop her. I worry that one of these thingswill kill her.

In his essay, Hohn tells of albatrosses who eat plastic items and shit them out. Dead birds have been found with cigarette lighters, bottle caps, toys, and other plastic items in their guts. He writes, “Albatross chicks have been known to starve to death on the plastic their parents regurgitate into their mouths, and the intestines of the adult birds can handle only so much before a fatal case of indigestion sets in.”

In the future, will we be able to find water or food that doesn’t sparkle with bits of plastic? Will this invention destroy its creators in the end?

The sky and the ocean were gorgeous, beautiful shades of pale blue. The sand, rocks, and Easter egg-colored buildings along the shore were beautiful. It felt good to get out on the beach and walk, to hear the seagulls laugh and watch a young father run toward the surf with his two-year-old son. But what about all that plastic?

I want to discard every piece of plastic in my house, but I use so much of it, including this computer, every day. Besides, we can’t get rid of it. It will not biodegrade, and most of it is not recyclable.

The plastics industry stresses the usefulness of its products AND their recyclability. Yes, there are those numbers stamped on the bottom which in theory mean they can be recycled. But where I live, the garbage company says no to plastic bags, styrofoam, plastic cutlery, toys, large plastic items, and anything stamped numbers 3 through 7 because they have nowhere to take them. We are instructed to throw them in the regular trash. I’m sure the same is true in many places.

Even with the plastic that can be recycled—mostly bottles—the quantity being discarded far outpaces the ability to remake them into something else. All we can do is try not to buy any more plastic. What we need is a magic wand to make it disappear. It would probably be made of plastic.

More reading:  (pro-plastic) (anti-plastic)

“What are Plastics and Rubbers?”

“Plastic Pollution: Facts and Figures”

“Tops Items from Beach Cleanups: Plastics, Plastics, and More Plastics”

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Why Not Run Away to Mary’s Peak?

DSCN4147After listening all day Thursday to the Senate Judiciary Committee testimony about sexual abuse, I needed a getaway day. So on Friday I ran away to Mary’s Peak.

It was so foggy on the coast I wondered if this would be another opportunity to drive for two hours to see nothing, but by the time I stopped in Alsea, population 164, about 30 miles up narrow, winding Highway 34, it was clear and hot. Since I hadn’t planned ahead, I was worried about running out of gas. How far was this dang mountain? When I saw the big GAS sign at a no-name station with one line of pumps, I pulled in. Honk or walk across to John Boy’s Mercantile to fetch the attendant, said a sign. I honked. Two people resting on a bench out front of the store looked up, and I suppose they alerted the lanky white-haired man who ambled across to fill my tank. We chatted about the weather—yep, warm here–and the need for a runaway day. He agreed it was a good idea. He reminded me of the handsome actor Sam Elliott. I wondered whether he was John Boy and whether he was single. Probably not.

DSCN4141$3.60 a gallon? Whatever. I was off on my adventure. Just before Milepost 48, I turned left at the Mary’s Peak sign and drove an even narrower, windier road for about nine miles. At the top, just past a campground, I turned into the parking lot, my jaw dropping in amazement. No, not at the view, at the cars. The parking lot was full, including two busloads of kids. So much for sitting quietly staring into the distance.

At 4,097 feet, Mary’s Peak is the highest point in Oregon’s Coast Range and the most prominent peak to the west of Corvallis. On a clear day, you can see both the Pacific Ocean to the west and many of the Cascade peaks to the east across the Willamette Valley. Unfortunately, on Friday, the view to the west was all foggy goo, and the rest was a bit hazy, but it was much better than the one time I came up with Fred and couldn’t see anything.

DSCN4132There’s not much up there at the top. No real shelter from heat or rain, no food or water, a couple picnic tables, a self-pay fee station ($5), pit toilets, and several trails.

I picked one of the shorter, shadier trails clinging to the steep mountainside. Man, it was a long way down from there. The trail went up and up, merging with a switchback trail that emerged into dry grass and looped back to the parking lot. My legs got a workout after two months of slow easy walks with Annie, who is still recovering from knee surgery. I saw crickets and yellow jackets, dusty little birds, deciduous trees coming into full fall color, and hikers in couples, groups, and packs. Many sported fancy walking poles, which might have been helpful. A hat would have been good, too. By the time I saw the yellow buses in the distance, I was hot, and my own gimpy knee ordered me to sit down. So I did.

DSCN4146I considered eating the healthy snacks I had brought, then decided I would rather sit in an air-conditioned restaurant sipping iced tea, eating French fries, and reading my library book. So I did. Taphouse, Philomath, good grub. Close to Highway 20, which offered a much easier ride home into the cool fog and a suspicious dog who sniffed me all over, wondering where I went without her.

The upper road to Mary’s Peak is closed during the winter, although the park is still open to cross country skiing and other non-motorized sports. For more information about trails, camping, etc., visit the website.

Eclipse: Sky Show Doesn’t Disappoint

12887800 - full eclipse of the sunI woke up Monday to fog. Great, I thought. I won’t see the eclipse, only the darkening and lightening as the moon passes over the sun. The naysayers were right.

“Come on, Lord,” I prayed.

He heard me. He heard lots of us. The sun burned it off just as the moon started taking bigger and bigger bites out of the sun. By 9:55, it was getting darker every second. As the shadows dimmed, I felt a physical thrill high in my chest that I can’t accurately describe. I wished my late husband Fred were here. I wished my neighbors were outside with me. I wished I were at a party with lots of people. But my plan had always been to stay home, and my back, out of whack again, seconded the motion.

As the moon slid over the sun, I walked down my street, seeking other people to watch with. I found only a flock of chickens and a black cat, all huddling in place. I noticed the fog hung very close, ready to cover our houses again. I went home, feeling like the last person on earth. No one here! Later I would learn that my neighbors had gone east to escape the fog.

So it was just me, standing in my driveway with my eclipse glasses. It got darker and darker till the sun was just an orange sliver around the moon. The street light came on, a slightly lighter orange. Cold, I pulled the red blanket out of my car and wrapped it around my shoulders. The chickens cackled then hushed. And suddenly . . .

The moon lay right across the sun, a black disk with a silver halo. I heard people shouting. I shouted back. I grabbed for my phone to take a picture, although what I saw in the viewfinder was just a round glow. After my second shot, a blast of sun burst through. More shouts. It started getting light. The street light turned off. The sun began to show on the right side of the moon. The fog crept eastward. A plane flew over. Standing in my garage huddled in my blanket, I cried.

I went in to warm up for a minute. The dog followed me around, nervous.

“Come on.” By now the sun was above the trees, so we could see the rest of the show from the back yard. Little by little, the sun reappeared. I watched until the edges of the orange ball were completely round again. I felt the sun’s warmth on my shoulders. Reluctantly, I took off my cardboard eclipse glasses. Annie sniffed them and tried to eat them. “No!” I hid them in my pocket.

I will never see anything like this again. I wish I had remembered to look for Jupiter and Venus and for the weird shadows that were expected. But totality came and went so quickly.

Afterward, I look around at the trees and the grass and the sky. Nothing seemed the same.

While I watched the total eclipse in South Beach, Oregon, my father and my aunt were just arriving at Kaiser Hospital in Santa Clara, California, for an appointment with his orthopedic surgeon. (Some healing of his broken leg, but it’s very slow). Traffic had stopped completely. People got out of their cars. Doctors, nurses and patients were gathered in the parking lot with their eclipse glasses, looking at the sky. One of them handed Dad his glasses. He took a look. He was interested but not impressed. Ah, but he didn’t see the “totality,” that moment when the moon completely blocked the sun. That’s what I won’t forget. The rest was a lot like the lunar eclipses I have seen, but totality, oh my God.

The eclipse entered the United States on the Oregon Coast just a few miles north of where I live. As I wrote last week, thousands of visitors were expected. Stores stocked up on eclipse T-shirts and other souvenirs. Some asked their employees to stay overnight and work extra shifts. Police and fire departments called everybody in, and the National Guard was on standby. Signs went up: no beach access, no camping here, no fires anywhere. Stay off the roads, we were told. Traffic will be stuck in total gridlock. The Lincoln County commissioners declared a state of emergency in advance.

But it didn’t happen. The crowds did not come here. For us, it was another y2k, the disaster that didn’t occur as 1999 transitioned into 2000. The streets of Newport, Depoe Bay, and Lincoln City were deserted. Hotels suffered mass cancellations. Businesses saw fewer customers than they would on a normal day in August.

Now everyone is debating over why people didn’t come, why they went to places like Prineville and Madras in Central Oregon. Were they scared away by overblown predictions of horrible crowds and ridiculously high prices? Or did they simply decide not to take a chance on the coast’s ever-changing weather, the one thing no one can control?

We could easily have missed it. The day after the eclipse, we were fogged in all day. The rest of the week was a mixed bag, some fog, some sun, some clouds. Now when the sun is out, I keep wanting to look at it. I want another show. But it just sits there, glowing, while the moon finds its own place in the sky and the waves roll in and out as usual.

Besides the glasses, I have another souvenir. No, it’s not a T-shirt. As the world darkened, I walked through my garage and ran into my big steel dolly, leaving a cut and a bruise just below my right knee. I’m kind of proud of it.

Text copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2017

Photo Copyright: johanswan / 123RF Stock Photo

Photo excursion up Beaver Creek

beaver-creek-122116mI have been scouting with my cameras for covers for my upcoming novel currently titled “Up Beaver Creek.” I’m not sure I’ve got the right shot yet–next time I should avoid shooting in early afternoon on a rare sunny day–but in this week between the holidays, I thought I’d share a few pictures with you.

beaver-creek-122116fThere are numerous Beaver creeks in Oregon and in other states. This one is just north of Seal Rock about the middle of the Oregon Coast. From Ona Beach, it travels east through marshes, farms, and hills. Sometimes it’s a wide river, and sometimes it divides up into trickling fingers that meet again later.

beaver-creek-122116bbMore on the book to come.



All images copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2016



Exploring what man and nature leave behind

IMG_20150302_155117047[1]Most of us see stuff on the beach and either walk on by or put it in our pockets to take home, but that’s the end of it. Oregon author Bonnie Henderson took it a step farther, actually a lot of steps farther. In her book Strand: An Odyssey of Pacific Ocean Debris (OSU Press, 2008) she follows the stories of six items found on an Oregon beach: a glass float, a dead bird, one size 11 athletic shoe, a minke whale, the charred remains of a fishing boat, and a sea animal’s egg case. One by one, she follows the trail of these items, traveling to their origin, including trips to China, Japan and Washington, talking to the experts. In the case of the shoe, for example, she traced it back to where it was made in China, found the container ship bearing that shipment of shoes, which lost part of its cargo in a storm, and tracked the ocean currents to see how it wound up on Mile 157 of the Oregon coast.

Henderson’s stories are packed with science, but they are also about people and animals. She tells them in such a way that even the most unscientific among us can enjoy it. I was also pleased to recognize some of the coastal folks she interviewed including my neighbors Bob and Shirley Loeffel. It’s a good book, as is the next book she published, The Next Tsunami: Living on a Restless Coast.

Henderson’s book made me think about what Annie and I find on our walks. Most of our discoveries don’t have such interesting stories behind them. The most common sights are coffee containers from Dutch Brothers, Starbucks, and the other local caffeine stations, of which we have at least five between here and the north end of Newport. Plastic cup, plastic lid, plastic straw, all of which are supposed to be recyclable, just tossed into the brush. Annie tends to grab them and lick as much of the beverage as she can get while I chant, “Drop it, drop it, damn it Annie, drop it.” Thanks to the litterbugs, my dog has a taste for coffee, especially with whipped cream. She will also eat plastic if I let her.

We find beer cans, Coors Light mostly, which I grab up, wash and recycle, along with discarded half-eaten McDonald’s meals—Annie likes burgers and fries, too—potato chips, cookies, orange peels, snuff, cigarette packs and cigarette butts, socks, underwear, shopping receipts, CDs, and Watchtower pamphlets. None of this is good for dogs and other animals. What’s sad is that often there’s a garbage can nearby. Every few days, I bag it all up and throw it away, but there’s always more.

Because our walks take us down roads and paths through the coastal forest, nature leave its share of flotsam, too: dead newts, dead garter snakes, dead robins and Stellar’s jays, dead rabbits, a dead possum that has been deteriorating into dust for months, mysterious bones, feathers, once feet cut off of a deer, and once a massacred chicken, probably killed by one of the hawks or vultures that often circle above us. We find tracks from all kinds of animals. We also find branches knocked down in the latest windstorm, mushrooms in the fall and wildflowers in the spring. In other words, we find what’s supposed to be there, along with what’s not.

We rarely run into wild animals or other people while we’re on our walks, but clearly a lot goes on when we’re not around.

We can’t all research to the extent that Bonnie Henderson does, but go for a walk. See what you find and think about where it came from. If it’s garbage, put it where it belongs.

Barks in the Night

1:30 a.m. Deep sleep for the first time in a week. Barking. Barking. Barking. As I gradually swim back to consciousness, I realize this is not just making-noise barking. There’s something out in the yard. Fresh from our recent bear sighting, I peel myself off the sheets and hurry barefoot to the door.
I can’t see Annie, but I hear her doing her fiercest I’m-going-to-kill-you bark. Oh, Lord.
It’s dark, clouds obscuring any moon or stars. I can’t see anything, but Annie is under the table at the west end of the deck. Between barks, I hear something else, something growling. “Annie,” I say, “we’re not alone out here.” Bark.
I run back in to get the big flashlight and shine it around. Finally, I see something moving through the deck railing. I grab Annie and drag her into the house, then come back out to take a closer look. A raccoon stares at me, its eyes shining in the flashlight. It appears to be caught between the deck and the chain link fence of the dog pen. These days, weeds and berries have grown so thick that nothing can move in there. If it can’t get out on its own, I don’t know what to do.
I go back in, telling Annie to sleep on the sofa where she dozes most of the time. But no, she wants to share my bed. It’s like having an elephant in the bed, a panting, stinky-breathed, sharp-clawed elephant who wants to lie on top of you with its feet in your face. Pretty soon I kick her out and take another look in the backyard.
My flashlight catches the raccoon hanging off the fence, its feet clinging to the chain link, its head facing downward. Swell. I go back to bed, ordering the dog to sleep on the couch, shutting my door so I can go peacefully back to dreamland. I hear Annie pacing outside my door and decide to ignore her until daylight.
My dreams are a blend of raccoons in the yard and The Bachelorette TV show for which I just watched the three-hour finale. She chose J.P., broke Ben’s heart, walked hand in hand into the sunset.
6:30 a.m. Daylight. Cloudy and still. Annie is waiting at the door. No way am I keeping her in now. We both hurry to where we last saw the raccoon.
It’s gone. Whew. Nothing but weeds in there. Annie sniffs at the fence and deck, then jumps down to the grass and sniffs the whole yard while I go back to bed and try to sleep. No go.I’m awake.
Time for orange juice for me and Kibbles and Bits for the dog. As she does her breakfast dance, I see that she has two shallow scratches on her nose. We didn’t imagine it; the raccoon was here. For both our sakes, I hope it doesn’t come back.
Thank God it wasn’t the bear.
More Oregon adventures can be found in Shoes Full of Sand, my new book, available in paperback and ebook form. Click here for details.

A special Christmas gift: sight

It’s three days before Christmas. The rain has stopped, replaced by blue sky and white clouds. Small branches litter the lawn, and my beloved blue hydrangea is nearly naked, its leaves blackened and shriveled from last month’s snow and blown off by recent windstorms. It’s cold and wintry, but it’s still so pretty here I could just look at the view out my window forever. One of the great blessings of living here on the Oregon coast is that we have four distinct seasons, and they are all beautiful.

Earlier this month, I had surgery on my left eye to deal with a cataract and remove a growth that had sat on the edge of my iris for ages. It went well, with some pain afterward but nothing dramatic. After two weeks of dealing with unmatched eyes–the fixed left one and the nearsighted right one– I picked up my new glasses yesterday. I can see better than I remember ever seeing before. Last night, as I looked up at the bright moon and the trees silhouetted against the sky, I saw my first stars since the surgery. What a blessing. I felt like I could just stand around looking at things forever.

Out my window, a tiny brown bird perches at the tip of a leafless alder branch then zips across the yard and over the roof. From the next block, I hear a neighbor hammering. Across the street, another neighbor has hung out his orange slicker to dry.

Today, the day after the winter solstice, we will have slightly more daylight than we had yesterday. As dusk falls, Christmas lights will appear all around. I have lights on my little tree and around my windows. I can look out at the neighbor’s multi-colored lights wrapped around his roof and bushes. Down the road, two families have gone all out, with inflated snowmen and Santas and sheets of lights everywhere. When I make my treks down Highway 20 to visit my husband in Albany, I see lights hanging from mansions and rustic cabins, brightening the way through the rain and snow.

A sad note: My husband is not doing well this Christmas. He has had several worrisome events lately. He is pulling more and more inward as his abilities fail. Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease. Unfortunately, most of us seem to have someone in our family with this illness. They may forget you, but don’t forget them or their loved ones this holiday season.

Meanwhile, as I sit here typing, the clouds have thinned, revealing more blue sky. Two bright blue Stellar’s jays soar from my Sitka spruce to the Douglas fir next door. My dog Annie sits gazing out, eager to go for her walk.

There is so much to see!

Whatever your situation, look up. Find the blessings and be thankful. I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and a blessed new year.

Don’t forget your raincoat

“Does it always rain like this,” a tourist asked me last week. “No,” I said. I wasn’t lying. Sometimes it rains sideways, sometimes it rains softly, sometimes it rains needles, sometimes it rains ice pellets . . . Okay, and sometimes it actually does not rain for a day or two. In fact, in August and September, it may not rain at all.

I feel for those folks who come to the Oregon Coast looking for sun. All those travel articles and brochures make it look as if we all frolic on the warm beach all day long. Well, not so much.

We did have sun a few days ago. I remember it. Due to the rarity of this phenomenon, I blew off work and took my dog Annie to the beach. The wet sand lay hard and crunchy, water rained down from the cliffs, and moss grew on the rocks, but it was not raining. We actually played in the water. Annie, being half Lab, will jump into any puddle, ditch or rivulet, but it’s rare for me to take off my shoes and walk in the surf. And my toes did not freeze. When we got back in the car, I actually had to turn the air conditioning on to cool down.

The next morning, a wet one, I had to turn the heat back on, along with the windshield wipers and the lights. Rain is always possible here in June, but this is more than usual. One Facebook friend called it “June-vember.” We had a light winter, so now we’re paying with a wet spring. I just hope it’s dry on Fourth of July.

Our plants are ecstatic over all this alternating sun and rain. My poppies and roses are blooming, and the lawn grows six inches a week. Whenever we get a sunny Saturday, we hear the roar of lawnmowers and weed-eaters all over Western Oregon. On the days in-between,it’s more of a squoosh, squoosh, squoosh.

When you see people walking through uptown Newport wearing shorts,tank tops and goose bumps,you know they’re not from around here. The natives are the ones in raincoats, long pants and boots.

But we don’t want to discourage the tourists. So if they ask if it always rains like this, just smile and say, “No, it doesn’t.”

Simple gifts

It’s raining sideways on the Oregon Coast today. Fierce winds sailed the cover off my hot tub across the grass last night and mangled the rack on which it rests when in use. The exposed water steams and churns like an angry ocean. Deck chairs went flying like toys, and fallen branches cover the lawn. Annie the dog and I are both feeling a little put out by the weather, but we do have some things to be thankful for.

Yesterday a friend used his only day off to clean out my gutters. They were jammed with dirt, pine needles and unidentifiable smelly junk. When he couldn’t reach it all by ladder, he climbed up on my mossy roof, working in the rain. I kept saying, “You don’t have to do that,” but he insisted. So now, the rain pours smoothly into the gutters and through the downspouts to the ground.

A few days ago, after another grueling visit to my husband in the nursing home in Albany, I received another gift. I was watching TV, all wrapped up in a blanket, with Annie on my lap, when I heard what sounded like gunshots. Now, I live out in the forest, and it’s not unusual to hear one or two shots, but this was continuous. Pop, pop, pop. I jumped up, spilling Annie onto the floor. Holding her back, I stepped cautiously into the moonlight. Oh my gosh. To the southwest, I saw fireworks through the trees. Red, green and gold firebursts sparkled against the black sky, falling gently to the ground.

It was like Fourth of July, but it was March 27, and I didn’t have to leave home or fight crowds. I advanced to a clearer view and stood there marveling. I assume someone was celebrating a wedding, anniversary or something else on the beach. I can’t see the shore through the trees. But it felt like such a gift, like those dreams where a parade comes down your street, only it was real. Thank you, God.

Now if somebody would materialize to help me get the cover on the spa . . .

What’s a Califoregonian?

That’s what I am: a California native turned Oregonian. I have roots in both states, but after 44 years in the Golden State, I moved to the Beaver State, specifically the central Oregon coast near Newport. Many others have made the same move. In any gathering where I ask how many came from California, at least half the people raise their hands.

Well, you can take a woman out of California, but you can’t take California out of the woman. They say we change cells completely every seven years. Having been here 12 1/2 years, I should be completely Oregonian by now, but I don’t think that will ever happen. Except for a dear stepson who lives in Portland, my family is still in California, mostly in the Bay Area. I miss them terribly and have traveled back and forth far more times than I ever expected to do. But when I’m there, I miss Oregon. When I’m here, I miss California. I talked on the phone the other day to someone from San Francisco and thought, “Oh, San Francisco.” But I was in Portland last night and thought, “Oh, I love this place.” And I do. When my plane lands at PDX, I feel as if I can breathe again.

Why did we move here? Quality of life, lower cost of living, affordable homes near the beach, clean air, and no traffic. Also, we discovered, no nearby shopping malls, medical specialists, major airports or universities. Jobs are scarce. What we do have is weather, lots of it, tsunami warning signs all over the place, and gigantic slugs.

But I have not started this blog to complain about what the Oregon coast has or doesn’t have. It’s to share the discoveries I make here every day. That’s the exciting thing about exploring a new territory. I look forward to telling tales, publishing photos and perhaps offering an occasional poem.

I look forward to starting a new conversation with readers who will keep coming back to see what else I’ve discovered.

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