Also See: Endorsements and Purchase Information
TABLE OF CONTENTS
IN THE BEGINNING
BIRTH OF A FOREST
SCIENTIFIC AND COMMON NAMES OF PLANT AND ANIMALS CITED IN TEXT
INDEX (Return to Top of Page)
If you want to hear me discuss this book, you may have to click "Google Search" on the first image that comes up, and then click "Focus-Will" after you click here
One of two books cited by School Library Journal as "Best Science and Technical
books of 1989."
"An estimable piece of work.... Juxtaposes a significant forest happening
and a familiar event in human history ... with a redemptive wit sometimes
lacking in such works."
The Boston Globe
"Scientific observations with a historical chronology ... helps to highlight
the urgency of environmental concerns.... Maser not only writes with
understanding, he writes with purpose."
Rocky Mountain Nature Association
"From the early human inhabitants to elk to salamanders to truffles and into the
microscopic realm, Maser writes of the many creatures with a great intimacy and
respect, bringing to life a miraculous story of evolution, biodiversity, and
"Maser describes a single forest and its many dwellers, from flying squirrels to fungi, from massive Douglas fir trees to tiny tree-eating mites.... His portrayal of forest Fire, mixed with historical tidbits, builds a strong case for conservation."
Rocky Mountain News
"The interaction between the plant and animal world is intricately portrayed in Maser's expert depiction of the forest's amazing renewal, while current threats posed by the clear-cutting techniques of the timber industry end the book on a foreboding note."
"Forest Primeval gives the reader a sense of the process, slow and arabesque, by which scattered seedlings develop into massive stands of millennium-old trees."
"When he was a child growing up in Western Oregon, Chris Maser's mother had to harness him to a wire clothesline to keep him from heading off into the woods behind his house. But by the 1970s, Maser found the destruction of the forests of his youth by the timber industry so painful that he hung up his hiking boots and retreated into the laboratory. Maser has spent more than 25 years since then studying the ancient forest, motivated by the belief that 'understanding the ancient forest is the key to unlocking the mystery of how to sustain the temperate coniferous forests, and, in time, the forests of the world.'
"The sum of Maser's studies is found in 'Forest Primeval: The Natural History of an Ancient Forest,' which traces the evolution of a forest in the Oregon Cascade Mountains from a fiery birth in the year 987 through a 1,000-year journey to the year 1987. Maser develops his portraiture of the ancient forest on the Earth's forever-metamorphosing canvas, with detailed descriptions of the diverse plants, animals, and microorganisms that are threads in the complex fabric of its ecosystems, each essential to the success of the whole.
"Similar to the way a fable drives its lesson home using images accessible to a child, Maser regularly refers to familiar events in the history of mankind to orient the reader along the 1,000-year lifetime of a single Douglas fir. Told on the eternal timeline of a universe in constant creation, the book leads the reader to a renewed astonishment at the damage that Western civilization has inflicted on the natural world in its brief existence.
"Maser reiterates that 'Forest Primeval' is not intended to be a 'litany of human blunders' or a book about the future of forestry—Maser's book on the latter topic is 'Sustainable Forestry: Philosophy, Science, and Economics.' Here his goal is to help people understand that our history and spiritual roots are the same as that of the ancient forest, so as we damage the forest, we damage ourselves."
The Sunday Oregonian
"Chris Maser knows more than most about the fragility and resilience of ancient forest. Maser had been a public land agency research scientist for 30 years when his book, Forest Primeval: The Natural History of an Ancient Forest, was first published by the Sierra Club in 1989. Maser re-released the book last year  with a new Introduction and Epilogue, at OSU Press.
"Forest Primeval is a unique and unprecedented field guide, offering the purest sense of the term natural history.
"Maser displays his thorough knowledge of every component of an ancient forest's ecology, tracing the life of a distinct place in the Oregon Cascades, from the emergence of Douglas fir seedlings following a fire in 987 AD through 1200 years of forest growth, death, disease and fire. In an eye-opening twist on traditional field studies, Maser also explores parallel themes in human history, cursorily at first in Europe, and in greater depth when European settlers finally encounter the forested Oregon Territory of the young United States.
"When describing the engrossing details of the interrelated web of life in an ancient forest, from red tree voles and mountain beavers, to mycorrhical fungi and wood-boring beetles, Maser is clearly in his element, and he maintains a temporal framework, weaving together natural and human history in a sometimes awkward, but still intriguing manner:
"As Hitler and Mussolini guide the world toward war in Europe, small, brilliant, silvery flashes dart back and forth through a May sunbeam penetrating the shadows of the forest canopy along the edge of the marshy area near the 941-year old forest by the spring.
"The narrative form that Maser has chosen is indeed an extremely effective way of coiling together his long research career with the research of many others (noted in a lengthy bibliography).
"Maser also explores the presence of native humans in the forest, as a long line of hunters returning over centuries to this favorite and sacred ground. Where Maser describes European history as a linear progression of names, dates and events, his words have a new rhythm when he describes life for native forebears, hoping to express to the reader the mystically deep connection that indigenous peoples felt with the land.
"Here, Maser's language sometimes lapses into New Age spirituality unexpectedly. One understands his passion without needing incongruous phrases such as 'he is the Spirit and the Spirit is he'. A full transcript of Chief Sealth's famous speech and a description of the Iroquois influences on the US Constitution serve as powerful enough reminders of the strength of native bonds to the land.
"Clearly, with a rigid editor, Maser's book could be an even more concise and powerful work—and in this reviewer's opinion, would also make an excellent children's book if adapted appropriately.
"… Forest Primeval is a beautiful, heartfelt song for the vanished playground of Chris Maser's youth—he tells us he could not hike in his beloved Western Oregon woods for years, as 'the majestic forest that once had spanned both space and time lay ripped asunder everywhere the timber industry went.'"
Living with the land when I was twenty.
"The only way we today will ever see an ancient forest is through the eyes and words of someone who was there ahead of the logging industry.
"Such a person is Chris Maser....
"He looks at all of human history and concludes: 'We have forgotten who we are. We have lost our identity and our sense of place in and of Creation.'
"He asks questions: 'Has humanity already exceeded the carrying capacity of its forests?' The book is written as much from the viewpoints of a poet, an artist, a philosopher, and a scientist.
"'As we journey through the forest of a thousand years, keep in mind that as the forest is growing and changing, so is humanity, and they will ultimately converge at a time and in a way that will forever change them both.' Maser says.
"He is concerned that 'We have inherited a myth of human superiority over Creation.'"
Spearfishing in a tributary of Spirit Lake, Washington, in January 1961.
"I have added to my list of heros Chris Maser, a gentle, kind, unpretentious man endowed with a gift—rare, but much needed in our time—the ability to teach. In his books, articles, lectures, and field trips, this man unselfishly gives of himself, articulately and effectively passing knowledge from his mind to yours or mine or anyone willing to learn. A walk through the woods with Chris is a learning experience second to none. Every step is the equivalent of reading a chapter in a book of mastering a complex concept, cracking a difficult code.... In the preface to his book [Forest Primeval], this great naturalist says, 'So, I offer you my hand. Take it and come back in time with me that I may paint for you with words the beauty and dignity of the land as I have seen it.' ... As I said earlier, the heroes on my list, including Chris Maser, are much more than naturalists; some are prophets."
"Forest Primeval ... is an elegiac book that defies easy categorization. Maser has written a natural history of the evolution of the forest that once covered the west slope of the Cascades. It is also a field guide, providing concise life histories of the plants and animals that populate the forest. It is a text on ecology that explores the web of interactions that tie these plants and animals together. And finally, the book offers a context of human history in brief snapshots. Beginning with the rebirth of the forest following a major fire in 987, Maser weaves these various strands into a book that resonates.
"If you want to know the difference between a tree farm and a forest, this is a book you will want to read."
University of Idaho Law School,
Journal of the West
"It has become almost a cliché that in the web of life all things are inseparably interconnected, and that if you change one element all the other elements are affected. Seldom is this so clearly illustrated as in Maser's 1,000 year history of the evolution of a forest in Oregon. All goes well with the plants and animals surviving severe periodic fires until the last 150 years. Then Europeans arrive on the scene and 1,000 year old trees are seen as resources to be harvested for personal wealth.
"This is not a new story, certainly not in Alberta, where the government has been eager to sell off the boreal forest ecosystem. What is special about Maser's book is his ability to provide vast amounts of detail to show how the bacterial life below the ground is spread by the small animals that eat truffles, how these allow the roots of the giant firs to provide nutrients to the new seedlings, how the water is conserved in the decaying logs, how the snags function to sustain an enormous variety of plant and animal species, how 400 year old logs on the forest floor provide food and shelter to a multitude of other species, all taking place over centuries and millennia. Maser is a biologist who has spent most of his 50 years studying these things, and has a clear appreciation of the ancient forest's web of life. Like Rachel Carson's books on the sea, this book brings the complexity of the interplay of time, space, climate, and life to compelling clarity. Only someone with the rare combination of extensive knowledge, deep appreciation of an ecosystem, and the ability to clearly communicate this complexity to the layman is able to write books like 'The Sea around Us' and 'Forest Primeval.'
"Maser also insinuates himself into the book, so the last 50 years of the story tell much of how he comes to perceive the ancient forest from his boyhood tramps in the woods to his scientific study of mycorrhizal fungi, flying squirrels, cougars, woody debris, fungal-small mammal relationships, and finally the changes to a forest over 1000 years. His own views become clear as he quotes the native Duwamish chief Sealth: 'What is man without the beasts' If all the beasts were gone, men would die from great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beast also happens to man. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth.' And again, in Maser's own words, telling of a weasel killing a rabbit, 'The rabbit is no longer a rabbit. Just as a venison steak is no longer a deer, so the rabbit has suddenly become a meal. And though the essence of the rabbit's mortal being has fled with the snap of jaws and the ensuing silence, it will, in some ageless way, live on in the weasel and in the weasel's weasel. This particular rabbit will influence the lives of all animals that come into contact with this weasel and the generations of weasels to come from the consummation of this life and this death. Thus, from the first breath of life until the last, all living things are part of one another.' Maser does not allow readers to miss the point of his book. One must not miss the forest for the trees, he might say.
"The ten page glossary, the 20 page bibliography, the numerous photos, the list of common and Latin names of species all make the book more easily understood and more credible. John Muir would be proud to see his Sierra Club publish a book of this quality."
News Of The Sierra Club Prairie Chapter
"Most of the press coverage of our destruction of the world's forests has focused on Brazil, Africa and Southeast Asia, virtually ignoring what the First World is doing to its own woods. In Forest Primeval, Chris Maser cries out against the ravaging of the magnificent 'old growth' forests of the American Pacific Northwest, where the chainsaws of profit and progress are just as effective as those in the tropics, and not much slower.
"But Forest Primeval is no tract; there are few gloom-and-doom statistics about logging, and no shocking descriptions of the rape of the woods. Instead, Maser has written what he calls alternately a 'biography' and a 'natural history' of a single patch of woods in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon. He begins his story in the summer of 987, when a fire, ignited by lightning, rages through a forest of Douglas fir and hemlock, killing many of the trees, leaving bare, blackened soil in its wake where it burnt most fiercely. Within a few weeks, rains soak the charred ground, and long-dormant seeds, released by the heat of the fire, begin to sprout.
"Mice and chipmunks roam the burnt area searching for seeds and truffles, the fruits of the fungus growing underground on tree roots. When these rodents eat the fungus, they consume its spores as well, and these are excreted whenever the animals defecate. The mice leave fecal pellets all over the burnt area, so that many of the Douglas fir seeds sprout near a pellet. If a seedling's root encounters a pellet, it will get an inoculum of fungus, yeast and nitrogen-fixing bacteria—all necessary to the tree's successful growth. The process that will culminate in the restoration of a forest of firs and hemlocks has begun, although for several years the dominant plants will be grasses and shrubs.
"Maser traces the development of this patch of woods from 987 to today, making use of his training as a vertebrate zoologist, his 13 years of experience working for the US Bureau of Land Management (which comes to control the woods), and his research in forests around the world. He demonstrates how the forest is an interdependent collection of organisms: the fungus needs the tree for sugars, and the tree needs the fungus for nitrogen, while the mice are vital to the fungus because they spread it to virgin areas such as the burnt soil. The mice, in turn, are eaten by weasels, and an owl catches an injured weasel and makes a meal of it.
"He weaves the life histories of dozens of species of animals and plants into his story as new fires remold the forest over the centuries. Maser introduces each species with its Latin name, and many are pictured in the 50 (regrettably) black-and-white photos scattered through the book. He brings the first humans into his history in 1020, when Native American hunters camp in a burnt clearing searching for elk. Indians will return to the area every generation, hunting and building simple shelters, having almost no impact on the forest as taller trees shade out shrubs and the fauna of the clearing varies with the changing stand of trees.
"Soon after he portrays the arrival of hunters in the forest, Maser starts to mention events in first Jerusalem, then Spain and Italy in the 11th and 12th centuries. Initially, these snippets of human history are bewildering interruptions, and the book quickly returns to the forest and its trees. Maser's aim becomes clear, however, when Columbus lands in the New World and the Pilgrim Fathers establish Plymouth Plantation.
"Europeans arrived with a set of myths radically different from those of the Indians, who lived in harmony with a land they regard as sacred. Europeans see land as property, and forests as wilderness to be cleared and made fit for human habitation. Just 200 years after the Pilgrim Fathers arrived, their descendants are busy in Oregon, establishing farms, straightening rivers, and pressing inexorably closer and closer to Maser's forest.
"Forest Primeval ends with Maser camped in his little spot of forest, turning 50 and deciding not to return lest he would find it had fallen victim to the chainsaws that are clearing the Old Growth woods around it. In a brief epilogue, he makes a plea for restoration forestry where we have destroyed our woods, and sustainable forestry where they still survive.
"There are some weak points in this book; almost all come when Maser deals with human affairs: his Indians seem exalted, his European and American history pedestrian, although accurate. As an introduction to forest ecology, however, I found Forest Primeval hard to fault. Maser brings every animal into his story from beetles burrowing through the soil to eagles soaring above the treetops, as well as plants from mosses to towering firs. He also emphasizes the web of interconnections between species, and across the two kingdoms effectively. The dynamic nature of this ecosystem is especially well described.
"Curiously, perhaps the most moving part of Forest Primeval was not written by Maser. In 1855, Chief Sealth (later corrupted to Seattle) of the Duwamish Indians wrote to President Franklin Pierce, replying to a government offer to buy the tribe's lands: 'The whites too shall pass—perhaps sooner than other tribes. Continue to contaminate your bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste. When the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses all tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with the scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires, where is the thicket? Gone.'"
New Scientist Magazine
"Forest Primeval: The Natural History of an Ancient Forest. A very interesting book, tracing the growth of a forest in the Cascades from a fire in 987 A.D. Until the present. Occasionally Maser ties in events in human history that happen at the same time. An impressive 1989 book."
Oregon Library Association
"The more we begin to understand how forest function as ecological systems, the clearer it becomes that modern forestry is akin to mining, not resource management, and precludes any hope of sustainability. In the forefront of scientists doing the fieldwork to back up these kinds of assertions is Chris Maser. He writes books in a style equivalent to an ecological food web—a careful look at process via a tangential combination of hard science, history, and humanistic psychology.
"The Redesigned Forest contrast the ecological needs of a forest with current short-rotation forestry practices. If you want to understand his basic argument, start here. Forest Primeval is a biography of an ancient forest in Oregon, from its beginnings in the year 988 up to the present. From the Forest to the Sea is an example of the fieldwork Maser was doing at the Bureau of Land Management before he left to become a private consultant. It examines what happens to the biomass of fallen trees, in the forest, in the watershed, and even on the seabed miles off the Oregon coastline.
"'When we think of Nature's forest as a commodity, we treat it like one. Because we treat it like a commodity, we are trying to redesign it to become one. We take a system designed by Nature to run in 400-to 1,200-year cycles and attempt to replace it with recurring cycles of only the first 80 to 120 years. We do not see the forest. We are so obsessed with our small goals that we ... redesigned the forest with an instability that cannot be repaired with fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides.'"
Whole Earth Review
"Maser describes the growth and development of a stretch of Oregon forest through a number of chronological steps. Interspersed within the biological development of the forest are the various impacts on the forest through human intervention. Within the text are sections that look briefly into the lives of many species of animals and plants common to that type of environment. Readers will find much biological and natural history information woven into a hypothetical account of a piece of old-growth forest. The author enriches this accounting by his own personal experiences and scientific background."
Choice Magazine Review by
A. Ewert, U. S. Forest Service
"In this classic work of ecology, Chris Maser traces the growth of an ancient forest in Oregon's Cascade Mountains from its fiery birth in the year 987 to present. A unique 'biography' of an ecosystem, Forest Primeval portrays a diverse fabric of plants, animals, and microorganisms working in unison.
"Maser offers precise yet evocative accounts of the lives and events within the burgeoning forest: the habits of deer mice who help reseed the burned earth, the seemingly accidental but vitally necessary symbiotic associations between fungus and tree root tips that stimulate growth, the constant predation among wildlife. He revels how over the course of a millennium, 'microbes and fungi change a forest just as surely as a raging fire, only inconspicuously and more slowly.'
"As the life cycles of the forest progress, Maser's minute scientific observations unfold against the backdrop of history, a chronology of 'humans struggle and suffering that is paralleled in the life of . . . a single 1000-year-old Douglas fir.' In taking this millennial view, Maser shows how the forest represents our spiritual and historical roots as human beings. Arguing that our survival is as intertwined with the forests as are the myriad interlocking life cycles that created them, Maser makes a plea for the immediate global implementation of restoration forestry."
Oregon State University Press
"Forest Primeval by Chris Maser—gave me a new understanding for forest ecology."
"What is the next best thing to hanging out in the trees? Reading about trees, of course. In between excursions to the forest I like to absorb as much information about trees as I can. And there is a lot of great information out there.
"I just finished reading Chris Maser's fantastic book, Forest Primeval: The Natural History of an Ancient Forest. In it he describes a small patch of forest in the Pacific Northwest as it grows from its birth (after a lightning strike fire) in 988 to the beautiful old growth forest that he has known and loved since childhood.
"Over the thousand years of this small grove, Maser describes many of the creatures and processes that work together to create one of the most diverse and majestic ecosystems in the world.
"The author knows the forest in intricate detail, and we are introduced to a long list of characters, each one of them performing a small, but necessary task in the web of life.
"From fungus in the soil that grows on the roots of Douglas-fir, to voles, cougar, wildflowers and massive 900-year-old trees, the author makes the small grove he is describing leap off the page with a green fecundity. But catastrophic changes are coming to the ancient grove.
"Along with describing the characters and changes in the forest, the book also describes the characters and changes in the human world. In the 17th century, as the small grove grows into old age, one thing is certain—invaders are coming, and they view the earth and its resources quite differently than the native people that lived with the forest for about as long as it existed.
"Of his own people, Chief Seattle said, 'Every part of all this soil is sacred to my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove has been hollowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished.' He warned that what we do to the earth, we do to ourselves.
"The prescient Chief had the newcomers pegged, and was saddened by what he saw. 'We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of the land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs. The earth is not his brother, but his enemy—and when he has conquered it, he moves on. He leaves his fathers' graves, and his children's birthright is forgotten.'
"Forest Primeval is written equally as much from the viewpoints of a poet, an artist, a philosopher, and a scientist. Maser knows the ancient forest and its denizens well, and he has a deep respect and love for each and every one of them.
"He invites us to consider, and says, 'As we journey through the forest of a thousand years, keep in mind that as the forest is growing and changing, so is humanity, and they will ultimately converge at a time and in a way that will forever change them both.'
"Maser concludes by asking whether we can overcome our inherited myth of human superiority over Nature in time to halt the destruction, and begin the healing.
"We haven't been able to so far, and time is running out. The primeval forest is almost gone."
Vancouver Island Big Trees
"This is a wonderful, lovely book. All creatures that make up the complex life of a forest are described, from pumas down to beetles, from gigantic trees to root mycorrhizae—there is a whole other forest under the ground. The writing is clear and straightforward. To give you a sense of time, the forest timeline is linked to human events that are familiar to us. After reading this book, your next trip into the forest will be the richer and more rewarding for it."
on Google Books
"Written more like a biography than a regular natural history book, I loved it. You get lots of the info on the natural history of a typical Pacific Northwest forest, but in a very readable format."
on Google Books
"A fascinating approach, going back millions of years in history to describe a Northwest US forest. I was overwhelmed by the detail and by the author's environmental Romanticism, but I'm glad I read it, because it was an entirely different experience."
"This is a wonderful description of the natural history of the Pacific Northwest coniferous forests.
"My father taught biology at Pacific Lutheran University for about forty years. I accompanied him on many a field trip and teaching expedition as a youngster. In the sixties we didn't know much about mycology affecting the forests the way it does and I know he would have been terribly excited by these findings. Still, reading Forest Primeval was like going home. The plants and animals discussed were like long lost friends.
"Dad and I trapped mice wherever we went. We pursued mice and chipmunks with pink bones and found them. It was a wonderful boyhood and adolescence.
"I recognized two names in the work cited at the back of the book, Chris Smith and Don Pattie, both of whom I met and with whom I discussed various ecological phenomena.
"I chose medical school over the life my father led. I will not say I am sorry, but I still miss the natural history.
"Thank you for this book. "
John A. Leraas , MD
"Brilliantly written by an expert scientist to help folks like me begin to understand a very complex system. Life itself!"
Paul A. Miller
"This book was recommended to me by a friend who is a photographer of our beautiful Opal Creek area in Oregon. I have, in turn, recommended this to many people. You will be changed by reading this. I learned a great deal, and I was moved by this author's beautiful description of natural forces over time. Excellent for anyone, high school and older."
"I love this book. It changed how I'll look at forests for the rest of my life."
Kelly J. Pederson Hoskins
"To study a thing in great depth and detail does not eliminate the possibility of being aware of the larger picture, as Chris Maser's book, , abundantly reveals. Sometimes I felt I was slogging through too much esoterica, which a person with a more scientific background would have relished, but his story of the life in the forest was always connected to some human epoch and experience, so that my attention was, fortunately, not lost because, as I approached the last chapter in his book, I began to understand.
"The last line in the chapter, 'Ancient Forest', was one that seems to speak to all of us and shows us all to be in need of absolution. He writes this, '…for surely we are crucifying the Earth that sustains us, and all I can say is, Mother Earth, forgive us, for we know not what we do'. In the 'Epilogue', Maser offers hope with the idea of a 'restoration forestry'. Restoration forestry includes learning what a sustainable use of our forests may be as we consider what the gifts of the Earth that we are leaving to the next generations will be.
"The last page of his book should be read at a Woman's Day conference of some kind because his words are a call to action: '… my fervent hope that women will come forward and bring their healing vision to the task of repairing the damage we have done [for] to heal the land will require the wise and gentle touch of women…' My hope is that women everywhere will have the opportunity to be well educated and to be inspired to use their knowledge in the service of all humankind."
"Thanks again, "
"Laurel, your reaction to your reading of Forest Primeval was a mirror of my own. To be valued, read and used in whatever way we can."
Executive Director of the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice
"This is a fascinating, slightly irritating book. The author starts with a clean slate, conjuring up a fire in the Pacific Northwest to prepare an area for colonization. After birth of the forest (37 pages), he considers the young forest (28) pages and its mature phase (19 pages). Most space is devoted to the ancient forest (117 pages), which toward the end has some autobiographical interaction with the writer. A glossary, list of common and scientific names, superb bibliography, and index complete the work. The author weaves in events from western history to provide a time line, but in my judgment the device is not very effective. What is irritating is a quick summary of millions of years at the start and an emotional appeal at the end. Emotion did not influence the Romans who burned the library at Alexandria or the Vandals who sacked Rome, nor do I think it will save forests.
"Beyond that, the book is a balanced and detailed study of the complex ecological net. It is as much about moles, voles, and mountain beaver "baseballs," as sit is about trees. Particularly fascinating was the description of stages in the decomposition of a snag and the uses made of it by various organisms. A host of life forms—vertebrates from birds to salamanders, invertebrates, fungi, and others—are placed in proper perspective against the towering trees. The book has utility both as a story and a reference and should appeal to the educated layman as well as the scientist. Historians who are weekend backpackers will enjoy it."
Ellis L. Yochelson. 1991.
Forest & Conservation History, 35(3):143.
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