From the Office and Backyard to the Road, Boat, or Plane–Backstories and
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Archive for the ‘Maine days’ Category

02.07

2014

NORDIC WINTER

Great to see some excerpts from “NORDIC WINTER,” our latest feature for Maine magazine… love the serene images and layout.

This part of vast Aroostook County can quickly turn into a winter wonderland—especially at a Swedish-style lodge and trails situated more northerly than Montreal, and practically due east of Quebec City.

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A blizzard hit last weekend and another is on its way. It’s mid-winter, and in a four-wheel-drive wagon we’ve made it to what looks to me like a mythical Norland—the great white North. In Aroostook County today, the landscape is the stuff of snowy dreams. Except where powerful trucks are pushing angled plows across roadways, a froth of white stretches across the rural scenery, barely disturbed. On Route 167, the color palette includes a cool white edged in blues, the deep green of spruce pine, and every shade of gray. Huge flakes are blowing down on Presque Isle, and we soon turn onto a white-blanketed lane to the cross-country ski destination I’ve read about in winter news reports of Olympic-level athletes in training.

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LATITUDE 46 NORTH

I notice some things right away up in “The County.” (At 6,453 square miles, Aroostook spans an area greater than the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island, combined.) Here, inside and on top of many of the trucks and cars are snowshoes and skis—particularly since we took the exit from I-95 toward Presque Isle. Instead of a graphic of a bicycle, the yellow, diamond-shaped “share the road” signs here show a figure on skate skis. Winter sports definitely dominate. When we park at the Nordic Heritage Center and start exploring, the wood-paneled sauna is plenty hot downstairs, and upstairs, the large stone fireplace is stacked with wood and crackling with fire. An after-work crowd is gathering, hanging up their parkas and saying hello to each other—singles, couples, families. The flurries have started and stopped most of the afternoon.

Built on a hill, the Nordic Heritage Center is structurally impressive. The architecture of the red, wooden lodge building and waxing sheds  nods to the influence of Swedish immigrants who settled in nearby New Sweden and Stockholm. Old photographs, long wooden skis, and news clippings at the Center help tell the story, which begins in the 1870s when 21 families from Sweden were enticed to live in the northern reaches of Maine by officials sent by then-governor Joshua Chamberlain. The hardy immigrants are credited with bringing along Swedish traditions of food and culture, and for being the first to introduce Nordic skiing to America.

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NEW SWEDEN and STOCKHOLM

Near the Caribou Country Club, a sunny, snow-covered hillside is filled with sledders on toboggans. Here and there, the Swedish flag is flying or is painted on signs, the off-center yellow cross on a field of blue standing out against the snow. Among the farmhouses and cottages of rural New Sweden (population 650), the simple white-painted buildings of the New Sweden Historical Museum and Scandinavian Gift Shop are closed for winter.  Even though the official population of Stockholm numbers only about 250 people, the town center has a couple of downtown businesses that are lively. Originally settled by French-Canadian and Swedish residents, Stockholm has a century-old general store, Anderson’s Grocery, with wooden floors and Swedish sill (herring) in quart jars in the deli case. On the walls is memorabilia from the town, including runner sleds and posters from early-1960s Winter Carnivals, other fare includes aisles of basic pantry stock, hot coffee, Danish pastries, sandwiches, and Goteborg (dry Swedish sausage) sold by the pound. Residents gather at the couple of tables in front for conversation and newspaper reading.

Not far from the store, we park at the Stockholm Town Hall and click into our own skis. I’d heard that this double-looping trail is a good one. Ours is the only car in the lot when we start, and find the groomed trailhead that leads into the woods. After several minutes of passing no one else, we come upon a man on a snowmobile pulling the grooming equipment. He has aluminum snowshoes lashed to his sled and he suggests we also try Jack’s Trail in Stockholm “near the big red barns” on Donworth Road. I’m content with where we are, though. The sunlight is getting lower and slanting through the trees on the skating and grooved tracks. All is hushed. On these trails and at the snow-blanketed grounds around the New Sweden museum, I believe we’ve discovered some of winter’s most peaceful places.

On the return drive, we stop at Eureka Hall, also in Stockholm. Nearing sunset, its vintage lighted sign is a round, glowing beacon on a tall post. As we park, headlights from snowmobiles flash across the road and pull in, one after another. The large building that I learn once housed a basketball court and a bowling alley is now home to the casual Side Track Tavern downstairs, with a dining room upstairs arranged with Formica and chrome kitchen tables near large picture windows. In the tavern are more people than I’ve seen all afternoon. The ceilings are low, many customers speak French, and sledders’ helmets are lined up on tables and ledges under snowmobile trail maps. Several people order hot chocolates—spiked and not—that are served in tall, parfait-style glasses with straws and gobs of whipped cream. We settle in for awhile, especially when I find that the menu upstairs and down includes all kinds of hearty meals just right for travelers just in from the cold—stuffed quahogs on the half-shell, German rouladen, Hungarian goulash, Wiener schnitzel, Thai curry with haddock and shrimp, and even fried zeppole for dessert.

My head and heart are filled with winter now. Later that night, as we’re safely tucked in at our hotel in Presque Isle, the snowstorm blows fiercely. By morning, a new blanket of white covers everything, and we decide to begin early for our return drive. Hot cocoa visions dance in my head as we slowly make our way. (Somehow, I missed ordering one last night.) The blizzard has left the northernmost miles of I-95 looking like little more than a ski trail waiting to be groomed. At times, it’s almost impossible to see the interstate highway’s path, but we make our way. What an interesting, exciting winter interlude it’s been. When we finally arrive at our own midcoast cabin, one of the first things I do is heat up a saucepan of milk. I’m ready for that mug of hot chocolate now, complete with piled-on whipped cream that reminds me of the days just past, drifted like snow.

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– Sandy Lang for Maine, January 2014 (photographs by Peter Frank Edwards)

Love the cover image of the women of Uproot Pie Co., taken during our road trip to small towns with optimistic-sounding names. We met so many terrific people, and I wrote a feature story for this month’s issue of Maine.

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The clouds are puffed out like dandelion fuzz across a blue sky and the sun is shining. It’s a brilliant day for clear-headed thinking. That’s good, because at the hilltop intersection of Route 220 and Route 137 a choice must be made. Are you looking for Freedom or Liberty?

by SANDY LANG | Photographs by PETER FRANK EDWARDS

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LIBERTY an excerpt
“You better hurry. I got the last blueberry,” advises a woman who’s making her way down Main Street. It’s a Saturday morning in Liberty (population 927) and the library is holding one of its pie sale fundraisers. I pick up the pace and feel lucky to grab a strawberry-rhubarb from the thinned-out tables of home-made pies.

Sure, you can go to a chain hardware store to buy a screwdriver. But here it’s as if you’ve gained access to the old garages, barns, and sheds you see around Maine –the ones filled with tool that manufacturers just don’t make anymore. At Liberty Tool, customers freely plunder through one, two, three floors of clamps and crowbars, boxes of wrenches, and barrels of saws with carved wooden handles. The volume of inventory is fascinating, always changing (every Saturday, new finds are added), and encourages creative thinking about what each object is and how it could be used again. In the air hung with rust, dust, and whiffs of mothballs, I overhear one man ask another, “Have you found it?” He answers, “Not yet, but I’m sure I will.”
Across the street in another wooden building with a front porch is Liberty Graphics, a T-shirt printshop founded in the 1970s that uses water-based inks on organic cotton shirts. Here, bins of tees are printed with designs from local artists, nature, the night sky, and graphics inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright. (When I visited many shirts were on sale, and the serve-yourself coffee was only 47 cents a cup!) On the floors above is the Davistown Museum of tools, history and art. The collection was established by Liberty Tool owner H.G. “Skip” Brack, and is housed in several rooms. One room with a high ceiling feels like a sanctuary or a sacred place—maybe it’s the recorded music that plays, a rhythmic chant—or the circular arrangement of chairs and objects. Everything is obviously wrought by hand, and signs let visitors know you’re allowed to touch the axes, hatchets, hammers, and even the whale harpoon. This part of Maine shows true reverence for the makers of the world.

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– Sandy Lang, October 2013  (images by PFE)

02.20

2013

Hardwater fishing

Took off for February adventure with PFE for our latest feature for Maine magazine. Thank you to friends from South Carolina who came along, and to everyone we met in the shacks and on the ice at Baker’s Smelt Camps.

The full story runs six pages in the Jan. 2013 issue. Excerpts from the fish tales:

KENNEBEC ON ICE. Trying for smelt before the ice melts.

Even in February, the ice conditions are iffy. We’re driving through the Kennebec River towns north of Merrymeeting Bay, looking for fishing camps. Catching a bucket of smelt is our goal. But the frozen surfaces are thinner than usual this year, where there’s ice at all. Photographer Peter Frank Edwards and I drive north from Bowdoinham through Dresden, Pittston, and Randolph. Thin, silvery-pink fish often not much longer than an outstretched hand, rainbow smelt are known to live primarily in saltwater bays, but spawn in fresh water—famously, under the ice of the Kennebec River.

By chance—and because we could see actual ice—we choose Baker’s from more than a half-dozen smelt camps that pop up each year on frozen stretches of the Kennebec River and its tributaries. “This is a sweet spot,” claims Cindy Lougee. The Pittston site is situated at a bend in the Kennebec that creates an eddy; the spawning fish like to feed in the calmer water, she says. Lougee helps owner Mike Baker, a logger, to coordinate the ice fishing at Baker’s Smelt Camps. In a lined notebook, she keeps a handwritten record of the shack reservations. “People book them for a tide, and stay six or seven hours,” she explains. While we talk, guests come in to the wood-paneled office to buy beef jerky or homemade cookies, or just to soak in the heat and conversation. Lougee suggests we go down on the ice and choose which shack we’d like to reserve. She shows us what I think at first is a pizza box, but then she opens it to reveal a bed of seaweed and tangles of long red sandworms.  These, she says, are hand-collected on the Maine coast; some people cut them up into small pieces to use for bait.

To get to the ice, we descend the bank and step onto a narrow wooden boardwalk. The surface is slushy on either side of the planks, but no one seems concerned. I can hear several radios playing from different shacks. We peek inside a few that are empty and see similar layouts inside of each: a plank floor down the center, a woodstove at the rear, and a trough of open water along the length of each side, where the ice has been cut.

A few of the teenagers who work at the camp, delivering firewood and keeping things tidy, catch up with us. One of the young laborers, Steve Potter, is pulling a load of firewood on a sled and says his job on the frozen river has its odd moments. He says, “Earlier, I saw a four-wheeler go by on the river pulling a La-Z-Boy with a guy strapped to the seat for the ride.” Two other workers, Airyn Jewett and Katie Baker, are both from Gardiner. They say they’ve been coming to the camps for years, and that their fathers helped to clear the snow for an ice-skating oval a few yards from the shacks. The teenagers tell us most people hang bait lines from a horizontal post, but they’ve had good luck catching fish on handheld “jigger” poles with a short, heavy line, using the poles to jiggle bait in the water and then hook the fish. It doesn’t look like there’s room inside the shacks for jiggling or much of anything else, but I’m told some of the structures can hold up to six people who are actively fishing. We reserve number 35, a smaller shack with a decent-looking woodstove…

– Sandy Lang, February 2013 (images by Peter Frank Edwards)


11.27

2012

Fall color, No. 1

On a fall day at the cabin a few weeks ago, hardwoods across the water blazed red-orange and gold. I paddled the kayak to the summer swim platform (my last dive there around Labor Day). No swimming this time. It was the weekend for annual, end-of-season chores. To pull in the wooden dock, we wear wading boots and get in the water to float the wet frame to a spot where we can heave it to shore. Sometimes friends come by to help with the hoisting, or a light skin of ice already tops the water. This time, the day was sunny and the water flat-calm. I wasn’t cold at all.

– Sandy Lang, November 2012

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Maine days

Love the Maine and South Carolina connections of this project for Portland General Store (PGS). Last summer, I had the chance to write copy for the company’s first look-book and its line of “handsomely addictive, sea-and-forest based products for the shaving regiment, and beyond.”

Peter Frank Edwards Photographs did the photography on location shoots over a couple of summer days in Old Orchard Beach and Portland. I got to assist with shoot production, and it was a terrific experience working with the founders of PGS, Troy Tyler and Lisa Brodar, who each have wonderful personal style and energy–Troy is a former NYC marketing exec and Lisa formulates the scents and concoctions.

In other nods to the South, PGS chose our friends at STITCH Design Co. in Charleston to create the look-book’s over-sized, 16-page design, and Garden & Gun has just taken note of the company on its website. Some favorite spreads…

– Sandy Lang, July 2012

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FISH CAMP REMOTE

When you have to get to a place by floatplane, you’re either going somewhere, or nowhere. We collect their annual mailings. The last two are still stuck to the fridge by a single, tiny magnet—cards printed with lakeside musings and season’s greetings from Karen and Igor Sikorsky of the Bradford Camps “in the heart of the North Maine Woods.” One year, we tried to book a stay, but couldn’t find dates to mesh with our work schedule. Ever since, a new card arrives yearly to tease us with pictures of rustic log cabins, trout, and forests best reached by floatplane. Finally, we carve out another block of time and lock in on a plan for a stay over four late summer days.

To get there, we drive a few miles north of Millinocket to meet Jim Strang, a pilot at Katahdin Air Service, which shuttles mail, supplies, and people to and from many of the historic sporting camps. Hopping on his plane will save us from more than a half-day’s drive and the possibility of a few blown tires on unpaved logging roads. Once airborne, it’s easy to see that we’ve traded a rough and rutted route for easy and expansive views.  Through the headphones, we hear Jim talk of the millions of acres of undeveloped land below us. As far as we can see is Maine’s great northern treasure.

Within 25 minutes, the plane flies over a four-mile-long a lake called Munsungan. Suddenly, there it is—on a stretch of the forested shoreline, the cabins and grounds of the Bradford Camps come into view. From a few dozen yards above the treetops, I see a large dog bound out into the water (that would be Moxie, a chocolate-colored retriever with a head like a brown bear), and then a man and a woman walk out from the porch of the lodge, and I surmise they must be Karen and Igor. The plane circles back and touches down on the water, and the engine putters like a motorboat as Jim guides it to park at the dock. We don’t have to imagine any more. We’ve arrived.

No laptops or mobile phones to fool with here—our two-room, lakeside log cabin for the next several nights is equipped with running water (cold and hot) and propane wall lamps, but no electricity. Igor and Karen give us a tour and encourage us to follow a trail into the woods for a walk before dinner. Not long after the floatplane disappears in the distance, I realize the gift of time and space we’ve just gotten. We follow the narrow path past a stream that gushes over stones to form what looks like a natural waterslide. A tremendous amount of mushrooms have sprouted, and we come back to the cabin with handfuls of chanterelles and few big lobster mushrooms that look just like claws. Without high-tech diversions, I find a pencil and start jotting observations in my paper notebook.

When the dinner bell rings we walk over to the lodge, along with the only other guests, a dozen men from New Jersey who’ve come as a group. They mostly keep to themselves and sit together at one long table in the dining room. Ours is a table by the window overlooking the lake, and I soon notice the mounted deer head in the dining room has a nonchalant look—there’s something carefree about the buck’s sleepy eyes. I look up at him between courses prepared by Matthew Mills, the camp chef who hails from New Hampshire and says he’s been here all summer, and cooks at a game preserve in South Carolina in wintertime. We’d wandered through the garden rows just yards from the kitchen door earlier, and saw beans, corn, greens, tomatoes, herbs, and more. Matthew makes good use of the harvest. Along with fresh bread, he cooks up dishes of haddock with a butter sauce, zucchini and squash, roasted prime rib, corn chowder, cubed watermelon with fresh mint, and more.

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Naturally, we fall into the rhythm of this place. I go to the small wooden ice house behind the lodge and use one of the ice picks—Igor shows us how—to stab a gin-clear block until I’ve got enough shards and chunks to fill a small bucket to tote back to our cabin. Igor says he comes up to the camp by snowmobile every January with a group of friends to cut ice from the lake, and together they bury it under sawdust in the icehouse. Over the course of a summer, they’ve never run out, he says. I love this ice—the idea of it, and the taste. The first night after dinner, a group of us sit on the porch of the lodge after the generator has been turned off for the day. The only light is from the moon. We’re all talking, and at some point, Moxie laps up the melted ice and splash of whiskey in someone’s glass. Everyone’s laughing and then Karen and Igor recount the time Moxie picked up a lit cigar, and appeared to try to smoke it. My glasses of ice and water (and a cocktail or two), never tasted so sweet. A few of us wonder aloud if there’s a way to market these crystal clear cubes of lake.

We take turns looking at the silvery-white full moon through a telescope, and Igor starts a bonfire at the very edge of Munsungan in a firepit protected from the lake’s winds and water by a huge stone and the upright blade of a steel backhoe. (In a feat of man and equipment a few years ago, Igor says he moved the whole thing into place.) The pyre reflects in the water and sparks crackle and rise into the coal-black sky. I look back at the circle of men around the flame from a distance as we walk back to the cabin, and the scene looks historic, even pre-historic. Later I read in the propane lamplight until we fall asleep under quilts. Well past midnight I sit upright in bed, suddenly wide-awake and listening. At first I can’t process what I’m hearing, and I think the ruckus is the men’s group whooping it up at their card games in the cabins near ours. But soon I realize that it’s actually coyotes yelping—sounds like a roundup of pups very excited about something. A hunt? Someone had said that coyotes are supposed to be on the opposite shore of Munsungan Lake, but they sound much closer. I’m excited to be in a place so wild. But in the morning, some of the other guests say they heard nothing. “Good sleeping weather,” one man says, stretching his arms over his head. “I slept ten hours last night.”

The second afternoon, two loons are on the flat, calm lake in the hour before dinner. Sunlight is falling fast, and I see Karen is on the dock near where Igor’s plane is tethered and floating, as if it were a boat at a marina. I pull on my bathing suit, grab a towel and hurry down to the water. Karen says, “Let’s jump from the plane.” She shows me how to step around the propeller and get a foothold on one of the floats. She’s standing on one and I’m on the other, and like kids in a schoolyard, we decide to jump together at the count of three into the chilled water. Thunder is rumbling in the distance and I look at the ancient mountains across the water once more, before we both jump as high and far as we can. The lake feels so cold it must be on its way to becoming ice again, I think, and I gasp when I come up for air. After some splashing around, I dash back up to the cabin. I’ve got just enough time to change into a turtleneck and jeans before the dinner bell.

We hatch a plan to catch a native brook trout while there, and Igor and Karen know just the place, a nearby pond with an undeveloped shore. Even better, they suggest that we all go in Igor’s floatplane the next day to get there—taking along fishing poles, gear, and a cooler of sandwiches and drinks from the lodge kitchen. It’s our third day at the Bradford Camps, and in a few minutes we land on the pond—the name and location of this fishing honey hole is a secret—and Igor cuts the engine and uses a paddle to guide the plane over to a spot on the bank where he keeps canoes. The pond is restricted to fly fishing only, and we each take turns casting. All’s quiet for an hour, and then Karen is the one to get a hit, and she reels in a brookie of keeping size—its gold and red spots gleaming on an olive brown body. We land one more, but wrap only one fish in a red bandana to bring back to Matthew at the camp’s kitchen. The trout is a beautiful treasure, and we carry it carefully.

The next day is when we’re scheduled to leave the camp. We pack and then meet Matthew, where he’s already frying the whole trout for us in a skillet. I don’t think guests typically go into the kitchen, but we’re comfortable amid the shelves of plates and cups, the loaves of rising bread, and the big pot of squash soup that’s already simmering on the stove for the day’s lunch. We’ve waited so long to get here, and we’re still taking in as much of the Bradford Camps as we can. When the fish is plated and ready, we don’t go to the dining room. Instead, we all find forks—Karen and Igor, too—and taste the wild-caught trout that’s pink-fleshed and incredibly delicate and delicious. We talk of the prior day’s fishing and of other happenings in the several days since we’ve arrived, stopping when Karen turns up the volume of a radio for the daily “Writer’s Almanac” segment on NPR—listening to this is apparently a ritual at the camp. Everyone in the kitchen goes quiet and still for these moments as announcer Garrison Keillor reads a poem by Hayden Caruth. It’s a thoughtful verse, something to mull over and discuss, but through the screen door, we already hear the distant buzz of Jim Strang’s plane. Too soon, he’s coming to return us to the everyday world—where time for such things as poetry, fishing, and jumping from float planes is simply too damn rare.

– Sandy Lang for Maine magazine, June 2012 issue

04.26

2012

Schooner sunset

“Everyone is washed over in the end-of-the-day amber sunlight.”

Check out the latest cover of Maine magazine (May 2012)… a Peter Frank Edwards‘ shot on the Schooner Olad out of Camden. We’d gone out on a sunset sail with Captain Aaron Lincoln and some great people from Alabama and Texas. Wine + cheese + salt air… not sure how PFE caught me without a glass in hand. Our story in this issue is about bicycling in midcoast Maine. Several of the friends we made from Summer Feet Cycling are in the schooner photo, above.

– Sandy Lang, April 2012

After a snowy night in Portland we’re up early, and soon we’re onto ME-26 and driving north on a route that passes Gray, Bryant Pond, and Paris. “Everywhere, the landscape is buried, and branches of the spruce and pines droop downward with the white weight of snow… Not far from the white steeples of Bethel, we come upon a curved orange vision at the roadside. It’s the vintage camper on Route 2 that’s been converted into a barbecue stand. Smoke is rising through the snowflakes from a hulking back smoker… in the car, the little containers of extra BBQ sauce get lined up on the dashboard and before we’re out of the parking lot, we’re tasting the pulled pork, baked beans, cornbread and slaw.”

That’s an excerpt from our feature “The S-Factor” in the new issue of Maine magazine with PFE‘s dreamy, drifted image on the cover. We had some terrific days of ski time, fireplace-warming, and an outdoor swim in a heated pool as the flurries flew.

Here‘s more of the account of our road trip to Sunday River, Saddleback and Sugarloaf, with “slope-side stories of epic snows, fireside proposals, and smoky barbecue for the ski and snowboard set.”

– Sandy Lang, January 2012

I’m so excited to see this in print. Below is the opener for our first piece for Maine magazine, “Oyster Drive,” a 9-page feature in the March issue. (Yes, that’s an oysterman collecting oysters in the snow – Adam Campbell of North Haven.) Photography is by Peter Frank Edwards, and the staff did a beautiful layout.

Take a flight into Portland, and power directly north on some combination of Route 1 and I-95 to the cabin near Bucksport. That’s what we typically do—but not this time. It was a mid-December morning, snow was coming, and it was just days before many of the oystermen would be hauling in their boats and gear for the season. (Some harvest year-round. Others are typically back out on the water in March or April.) That’s how our “Oyster Drive” was born.

Weather and season made it suddenly more than a fleeting idea. Finding oysters was elevated to a personal mission—something necessary, even urgent. As winter crept up from the floorboards of the rented Toyota, every oyster we could find would be that much more precious. We mapped out a plan to skip I-95 and stick to the coast, seeking roadside views of the tidal beds and washes where the oysters grow, and making stops along the way at towns, coves, rivers, islands. We wanted to taste again the salt and quiver of the Maine oyster, and get our fill as close as possible to the chilled tides. The gas tank was full, we had the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer by our side, and we had a starter list of oyster destinations in hand. Check. Check. Check. Off we went…


– Sandy Lang, March 2011

12.08

2009

Farm fog

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On that November Maine trip, I played with an old plastic Diana camera. Here are two favorites – of belted cows and a barn on State Route 46, and of the foggy harbor between Bucksport and Prospect. That’s the mid-1800s Fort Knox in the distance.

– Sandy Lang, December 2009

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