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Life on the prairie...

Honored Guest Yvonne Hollenbeck first captivated us with her poetry, and then with her accounts of life on her South Dakota ranch and the tales of her pioneering family and women of the west, and her travels to gatherings around the country. We're pleased that Yvonne will now share some of her writing with all of our visitors in an "irregular" column.

While helping her husband Glen tend to the cattle or registered quarter horses they raise, Yvonne often finds humor in the everyday duties of being a rancher's wife and quite often writes poetry or stories about this subject matter. She also has a few extracurricular activities, as being the daughter of a National Champion Old-Time Fiddler, she grew up in an environment that nourished her to become an accomplished musician. Another hobby, in which she has won many awards, both State and National, is designing and making beautiful hand-made quilts. Her favorite hobby, however, is writing and performing poetry.

A native of Gordon, Nebraska, she likes calling South Dakota cattle country her home and feels very much a part of the state as she is the great-granddaughter of Ben Arnold, a well publicized old-time Dakota Cowhand who came to the State with the Texas trail herds and led quite an adventuresome life as a South Dakota Pioneer.

Yvonne is the winner of the AWA's 2005 Will Rogers Award for Top Female Poet. She has been a featured poet at many gatherings, including the 2001, 2003, and 2006 National Cowboy Poetry Gatherings at Elko, Nevada, and keeps a busy schedule. She has poetry in several anthologies, has written three poetry books: From My Window and other poems, Blossoms Beneath The Snow, a Tribute to the Pioneer Ranchwomen, and Where Prairie Flowers Bloom, which received the Will Rogers Medallion Award. She has three CDs, My Home on the Range, Prairie Patchwork, and Winter on the Range. Read about all of these books and recordings, more about Yvonne, and enjoy some of her poetry right here.

We've invited Yvonne to write what she'd like to write, whenever she'd like to write it.

Below you'll find Yvonne's words from ....




Late October
Early May
Mid May

Always more to come...


February, 2006

After much persuasion and arm-twisting, I finally got Jean Prescott to agree to come home with me after Elko for a few days of R & R.  (Little did she know that R & R means "Ranch work and other Rigorous activities").  The morning after we arrived we loaned her a good ol' Carhartt chore coat and other outer gear and introduced her to our good old rough-riding feed truck, which was loaded with ear corn to be fed to some hungry cows.  

Glen was going to do the driving, so I eagerly jumped in the middle, therefore...

...you guessed it!  Jean got to get the gates.

You cannot see the scoop shovel in Jean's possession, however, she was quite skilled in running it.   Glen drove the truck, Jean scooped corn, and I had the hard duty of trying to take a few photographs.

here is the "chow line" after Jean had unloaded the corn.

She finally got to sit down, and was elated to find someone else from Texas!  I distinctly heard her mumbling something to this friendly Longhorn about wishing they were both back where they belong.

After the appetizer of corn was fed, the haying began.  Fourteen big round bales was served for the main course, but before each one goes into the hopper, the twine has to be pulled from each bale.  She's a fast learner.

Glen showed Jean how to break ice and she also caught on to that chore in record time.

You can tell by the smile on her face that she enjoyed her visit . . . or perhaps she's smiling because we were ready to head back to the house.

Jean was a great sport and as Glen said:  "She's the real deal.  She can put on some Carhartts and run a scoop shovel with the best of 'em."  Did I mention she can also drive a stick shift and never slip the clutch?

In any event, we had a great time with Jean visiting and we welcome anyone who would like to come for a spell.  By the way, we start calving March 10 and would welcome anyone, especially those of you who are the "real deal."


Editor's note:  Here's a photo of Jean Prescott in her other life:

photo: Shelly Kay Studios

November, 2005

On November 28, 2005 the Dakotas and surround areas were hit with a blizzard, which South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds called, "the worst storm to hit eastern and central South Dakota in nearly a decade."  Yvonne shares some words and pictures that give a look at how the Hollenbeck ranch was affected by the storm.

I've been out helping Glen dig out gates and feed and check on livestock. It was really hard on them, but we didn't have any death loss that we've seen.

Cattle coming in for feed

Some of the neighbors haven't fared so well and have cattle strewn all over the country that drifted with the storm. 

We had 4 neighbor cows, two with calves, walk in while we were feeding. As you can see by the Angus bull walking through the snow, they really got pelted. 

You can also see that we have massive shelter-belts and good protection, which is probably why our cattle fared as well as they did. 

These shelter belts are rows and rows deep and we plant little cedars in them every spring. They really help when a storm like this hits.

The picture of the windmill on the hill is up behind our barn. There is a big corral back there and up by the windmill is a windbreak fence made out of steel that is 10 foot high. You can see that the snow is drifted well overtop that windbreak. 

Glen is digging out the dozer with his loader tractor and when he gets it dug out will come and get me to help him get it on a tractor. We are fortunate to have good equipment and 4-wheel drive tractors or we'd be scooping a lot more than we have already. 

Anyway, this sorta gives you a picture of what we faced this morning. It's cold out and a little windy, but yesterday the winds were up to 60 mph! The snow blew in every little crack in shed doors, and everywhere.

Wild turkeys came in for feed, too

June, 2004


The roundup crew the morning of our branding, April 2004

The topic of "Do you have to be a Cowboy to write Cowboy Poetry?" often comes up, and after taking part in a discussion about that, Yvonne wrote down some of her thoughts on the matter.  We twisted her arm and got her to expand a bit on the subject, to also tell us more about her great grandfather, and to let us share it all with our readers:

Lately there's been a lot of discussion of whether you "have to be a cowboy" to write Cowboy Poetry and Western songs. If you want to get down to the nitty gritty, I really am of the opinion that there aren't many cowboys left.

My great-grandfather, Ben Arnold, wrote a poem that has been put into a song (Don Edwards does it a lot) called "His Campfire Has Gone Out."   In the poem, Ben tells about how progress and railroads have caused their occupation to be gone.  He was an old cowboy that came up with cattle herds via the Texas trails.  When I read and research about the pioneer ranchers / ranchwives/ cattlemen I realize that the life they led is far different than that of ours today.

Ben Arnold, an old tintype taken at Dodge City. He was a young cowboy at that time 
and had just come up with a herd from Texas

I am probably married to a cowboy, as Glen was born and raised on a ranch and has been horseback nearly every day of his life since he was a baby.  He raises, breaks and trains horses, and is an excellent cattleman and horseman.  

This calf roping picture is of Glen last summer (2003). The rope horse is one he trained
and is the subject of my poem "The Horse Nobody'd Want" (Incidentally, I had some nasty
 laundry to do when he got home)

Yet we have had hired men that don't want to do any work on a tractor because "they only hired on to cowboy" and that's a good way to get your walking papers.  You have to put up hay, especially in this country, and also raise feed such as alfalfa and millet, for the cattle to survive Dakota winters, and apparently that disqualifies you are being a "cowboy." Glen is also in a tractor practically every day and heaven forbid, he is out there right now wearing a baseball cap!

Then Glen says:  "I don't think I could ever be an old cowboy, as I couldn't stand to sleep on the ground and go through what they did."  In other words, being a cowboy today is about like being a golfer.  You like to golf but being a golfer is not your title.  Some folks ride horses, or have a few cows, or live in the country, or dress the part, but that does not put them in the same category as the real ol' cowboy.

But I don't think it matters whether you are a "street person" or a school teacher.  If you want to write songs, books, poems, or stories about cowboys, that should be just fine.  I think we should all get past the myth that you have to be one to promote one. Take me for an example.  I'm billed as a "Cowboy Poet."  I am not a cowboy, I am not a boy, but I do cowboy poetry.  I do think that to be considered a poet, you should write poetry; otherwise you are just a reciter.

There, now you have my feeble opinion.  I think one's poetry reflects how much you actually know about the life, but to qualify folks because they do or do not live the life is wrong.

I have a lot of fun with my poem "The Class Reunion" and always start out by telling folks that there is a lot of disagreement nowadays as to just what a cowboy is, and the poem will clear it all up for them.

The Class Reunion

Last year I got invited
   to the reunion of my class;
been years since graduation,
   my, don't the time go fast?
They said we'd have a real good time
   and to bring our spouses too'
we would all get reacquainted
   and we'd find out what they do.

Well I hadn't seen those folks in years,
   so I felt that I should go,
but my spouse declined..
   he could not miss the White River Rodeo.
He said that's where he'd meet old friends
   and I fully understood
'cause for him to meet those City Guys
   would not be very good;

you see he's just an old Cowhand
   he was born here on this ranch'
with no formal education,
   and he would not have much chance
of fitting in their social whirl,
   and he would not understand
their talk of stocks and Wall Street
   'cause he's just an old Ranch Hand.

Oh, I'm sure his clothes would not fit in...
   ...his faded hat and boots;
'cause city guys wear "Ralph Lauren"
   and costly, tailored suits.
But enough about my husband,
   we went out separate ways;
he loaded up his rope horse
   and went to White River's Frontier Days,

I went back home to see those folks
   I hadn't seen in a long, long time;
first we were to have a social hour
   then together, we would dine.
I bought myself a brand new dress
   and I curled up my hair;
and soon was in the parking lot
   and I headed right in there.

At first I thought I'd made an error
   and got in the wrong place
'cause I did not see a soul I knew,
   not one familiar face.
The men were mostly fat and bald,
   the women...old and gray'
I thought perhaps I best just leave,
   when I head this lady say:

"Just come over here and register
   and wear this little tag;
so folks will know just who you are,"
   and then she began to brag.
She said:  "Don't you remember me?
   why, I'm the class homecoming queen."
Now folks, this gal had changed a lot
   and I don't want to sound mean,

but she'd put on probably a hundred pounds;
   boy, she'd lost her "school-girl" frame.
Am I the only one in class
   who never really changed?
Then she wanted me to meet her man
   she'd met some time ago;
She said "He's just the greatest!"
   she thought I'd like to know.

She said she met this feller
   a-line dancin' in a pub;
Then said "The latest thing now-days
   is to join a hot Dance Club."
Then she wanted me to meet him
   so she hollered at this guy,
and I stood there flabbergasted
   now, I'll tell you the reason why:

He wore this high-crowned western hat
   with a big, thick feather band;
it had pins stuck all over the crown of it
   that matched the rinds on his white pudgy hands.
He wore about the wildest shirt
   I think I'd ever seen;
and he had his name embroidered
   on his polyester jeans!

His jeans were neatly tucked inside
   these high-topped, high-heeled boots;
He looked like Johnny Russell
   poured into Porter Waggoner's suit;
There was something shining brightly
   beneath his belly-fat...
...a great big shiny buckle,
   like he'd made from a new hub cap!

But the thing that really got me
   as I chatted with this pair;
was when she told me what he did,
   as if I really cared.
She said: "My man's a COWBOY,
   I guess it really shows;"
then she asked me what my husband does,
   I just answered: "I don't know!"

But I know now what a COWBOY is:
   and as I look out there,
I see a bunch of imposters,
   you fellers in those chairs.
'cause you dress just like my husband does.
   and I know some of you are ranchers, too;
I know that you're not COWBOYS
   'cause you don't dress the way they do!

Yvonne Hollenbeck from Blossoms in the Snow
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



The picture of the three guys was taken after they had been practicing roping in our indoor arena. Glen is in the center, and his two sons, Shawn on the left and Jay on the right. Between the three of them they have won a large amount of saddles, buckles and championships in the rodeo arena.


Perhaps what bothers folks the most is when some entertainers blow about what a cowboy they are and you know full well they aren't, but that is something that goes on all the time in every walk of life.  Usually when someone blows about how smart they are, they aren't; when they blow about how wealthy they are, they aren't; and so on.  Same thing here.  Those who really are don't have to promote it.

I think Ben Arnold was correct: the "real" cowboy's campfire has gone out, and we are just here to remember them and to honor them in our poetry, music and stories.

Click for Amazon

The Exploits of Ben Arnold
See the Amazon description and the U. of Oklahoma description

In the book, "Rekindling Camp Fires" by Lewis F. Crawford, copyright 1926 (and recently republished under the name "The Exploits of Ben Arnold" by the University of Oklahoma Press), there's a chapter entitled "Arnold's Death - Author's Comments" that includes his poem "His Campfire Has Gone Out" and in which it states:

Arnold lived at a time when he could see the whole procession of the Old West...the fur trader, the soldier, the prospector, the miner, the big rancher, the squatter, the homesteader, and the farmer...come; and most of them go.

Arnold always liked the live stock business, and he said that the years spent as a cowboy were the happiest of his life.  Around the round-up wagon and the campfire were formed friendships in which there was no shadow of turning.  He wrote a poem of some merit which has suggested the name for this volume, and I can do no better than to quote it:

  Through progress of the railroads,
  our occupation's gone;
  we'll get our ideas into words,
  our words into a song,
  first comes the cowboy -
  he's the spirit of the West;
  of all the pioneers I claim
  the cowboys are the best.
  We'll miss him in the round-up,
  it's gone, his merry shout,
  the cowboy has left the country,
  his camp fire has gone out.

  You freighters, our companions,
  you've got to leave this land;
  can't drag your loads for nothing
  through the gumbo and the sand;
  the railroads are bound to beat you -
  so do your level best,
  give it up to the granger
  and strike out farther west.
  Big them all adieu
  and give the merry shout,
  "The cowboy has left the country
  and his camp fire has gone out."

  When I think of those good old days
  my eyes with tears will fill;
  when I think of the tin can by the fire
  and the coyote on the hill.
  I'll tell you, boys, in those days
  Old-timers stood a show,
  our pockets full of money,
  not a sorrow did we know;
  But, how times have changed since then,
  we're poorly clothes and fed,
  our wagons are all broken down
  and horses most all dead.
  Soon we'll leave this country,
  then you'll hear the angels shout:
  "Oh, here they come to Heaven,
  their camp fire has gone out."

Grandpa Arnold freighted for Ft. Niobrara in the Nebraska Sandhills and later near the Missouri River in the Dakotas, hence "you can't drag your loads for nothing through the gumbo and the sand."

I have a copy of the poem, with some words being a little different, that my grandmother had.  At the bottom she wrote:  "This poem was written by my father, Ben Arnold, at Valentine, Nebraska, in 1878.  At that time, he was no longer a cowboy for the Bosler Brothers bringing cattle North from Texas, but was freighting for Ft. Niobrara near Valentine, hauling wood.  A man named John Sutler (he called him "Happy John") from Kentucky was working for him.  John was a good musician and singer.  When my father left for supplies he told John to have a tune for his poem by the time he got back, and he did."

That tune, as has been passed down through the generations, is quite similar to the tune Don Edwards uses when he sings the song.  (It is on his Saddle Songs and Last of the Troubadours recordings.)

Ben Arnold was a cowboy.

Ben Arnold-Connor 


April, 2004

About Dennis Morgan

Spring has arrived to the Dakotas and is evident by the green grass starting appear on the prairie; the pasque flowers blooming on the hillsides; great migrations of Canadian geese and Sandhill cranes heading North; and daily brandings being held on the area ranches.    Spring is "harvest time," as this is the time of the year when most ranchers are calving.

We are planning our branding next Tuesday, and approximately 40 men, young and old, will join my husband, son, and hired men for a day of branding our baby calves.  Some of these men are area ranchers who exchange their roping and branding skills with our men, while others are friends and
relatives who volunteer to help, as well as young, athletic high school boys who hire out to help with branding to earn some spending money.  One such boy, Dennis Morgan, who has helped at our ranch as well as several other area ranches, was killed this past week in Iraq.  He was a member of the
Winner National Guard, a local unit, which also includes several other boys that have helped us in the past.

I know his mother, Diane, and like her very much.  I did not know his father, nor did Dennis.   His father-figure was his grandfather, Art Morgan, a rancher a few miles to the West of us.  Only two years ago, Dennis had a brother and a cousin killed tragically.  They were helping Grandpa Art in the hay field, and while heading in for dinner, the jeep they were driving had a tire blow causing them to roll.  Another grandson basically crawled, with a broken leg, for assistance.  If any of you have ever held a grandchild, you know what love is all about.  The Art Morgans have now lost three grandsons, tragically, in less than three years.  Diane has lost two sons, tragically, in less than three years.  These folks need our prayers.

Dennis attended the Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo a year ago last February and met Cassie Hockenberry, the daughter of  Larry & Tara Hockenberry  of Valentine, another family with deep cowboy and ranching roots.  They were married last winter just before he was deployed to Iraq.

As you can imagine, the rural community I live in is reeling from this latest event.  These are tough people.  Art Morgan is a tough old cowboy but I don't know if anyone is tough enough to withstand all of this.

The spring work in this area will go on as usual, but you can bet spirits will be drained as thoughts will be on the families of Dennis Morgan, who just a couple years ago, was one of the young men wrestling calves at all of our brandings.

March, 2004

There are plenty of humorous stories and poems about prolapses, but here's an account of how it really is:

Early this morning when I went to check cows (so my husband could sleep in, as he had been up a lot last night with the calvers) just when I thought I was ready to return to the house I found her:

The calf is still partly in the sack and she had prolapsed (meaning that she threw everything
out as pertains to the calf bed. Of course, it is inside out, sorta like if you took a plastic bag and put your fist on the bottom of it and shoved it inside out...only lots messier as you can see. Fortunately the calf and cow were still alive - sometimes you aren't that lucky. I went to the house and got Glen and the hired man, (and supplies) so this is their pre-breakfast project.

Above is a shot of me holding the needle and thread (called umbilical thread) which is like cloth about 1/4 inch wide, and real strong) that will be used to sew her shut if and when they get all this put back in.

Above, Glen has deadened the tail area so she doesn't feel any pain. They have pulled away remaining pieces of the placenta (after-birth) as you don't want any of that put back in with the calf bed, as it rots and causes infection. Then they washed it off with warm soapy water that we brought with us. She is straining the whole time they are trying to push it in. (She is trying to push it back out and usually does.) Both men are almost exhausted as they have worked on this mess for a good 15 minutes or more and are soaked with blood and manure.

Above, Mother and calf are in a pen in the calving shed and both are doing fine.

Both men had to strip, take baths, and I am still re-washing Glen's clothes. I had to wash out the inside of the pickup too. It's a heck of a mess.

It's 10:51 and we just had breakfast awhile ago. This has the makings of a L-O-N-G day during calving season on a ranch.

January, 2004

It was a typical day on the ranch, I guess.  First of all, Glen and his son, Jay, are both excellent horsemen and cattlemen, but mechanics is not a good subject with them.  I'm in the living room, and hear them come in and immediately Jay is on the telephone calling their mechanic, Trent.  

It goes like this:  "Trent!  This is Jay Hollenbeck!  Trent, we have a problem and don't know what to do.  There's this cat that got up in the motor of the tractor and he's wrapped in the belt that runs the alternator and we can't get him out..."  (I'm beginning to laugh, unable to contain myself).  Glen is standing there in a stupor letting Jay do the talking.  Jay is going into the fine-tuned details about the dilemma as I am just losing it.  

I go into the kitchen and asked Glen -- amongst my laughter -- about it.  He gives me a dirty look, like it's not too funny, then tells me that yesterday he started the tractor and of course, turned on the heater.  The tractor has a cab and is pretty nice in there.  He said he smelled an awful odor, so opened a window, but the odor was still bad.  Then he said the motor didn't sound right, so he shut it off, got out and opened the hood and there was hair and fur, and guts and four cat legs all wrapped up in belts, etc.  Apparently he went into shock and didn't mention the situation until he had his support group (Jay) out there this morning.  It gets worse.

When Jay got off the phone, I keep laughing and quizzing them.  Come to find out, they apparently made a lariat out of twine and got it around the cat's head and Jay pulled it for all he was worth and the dead cat did not budge. He said the head came around and looked at him; eyes bugged out and tongue hanging out and "ohhhhh" -- then he shuddered.  Then they tried the little lariat on the feet and still no go.  I am visualizing these two cowboy/calf ropers with the championship belt buckles, trying to rope and maneuver a dead cat out from a tractor motor!  Did I mention, they both looked simple through it all.

Glen finally says:  "You think its so funny, what would you have done?"

I answered:  "I'da called the mechanic and said Trent, something's wrong with the tractor.  Can you come fix it?"

Then they tried to get me, through all kinds of coaxing, to come out and help 'em because "my hands are smaller" -- I've got into some situations before with that line (like pulling lambs, etc) and I smartened up a long time ago. 

The mechanic told them how to use a ratchet wrench and release some items to release the belts.  Apparently they got the problem solved because Glen came in a little while ago with two pairs of gloves and wondered if I could wash them.  I made him put them in the washer, dumped in some Clorox and they are now clean...at least smelling.

Late October, 2003


Remember my last report, way last spring, that covered our branding? Well, the cattle were then taken to various summer pastures and now it is time to bring them home. On Monday, October 27, we brought home the first bunch which were 12 miles from our winter range. My husband Glen, our son Jay, and I gathered 120 pair out of the pasture and drove them, which took five hours. 

In the first picture, Jay is following them on the last stretch, and in the second picture, they are headed into the pasture where they will be kept while we keep adding more cattle from other summer pastures. Today (October 28) four other cowboys will help Glen and Jay and they will round up 220 pair, and tomorrow another 200, out of two different pastures on the Rosebud Indian Reservation about 70 miles West of our ranch. These cattle will all be loaded onto trucks and brought home. By week's end, they will gather the rest that are closer, then wean the calves off and most of the
calves will be sold in November.

Incidentally, the horse Jay is riding is a 3 year old filly we raised that has just recently been broke. Using these young horses for ranch work is part of the breaking process and they will either be further trained for performance horses or sold as saddle horses.

Mid May, 2003

On Thursday, May 15, 2003, I took a much needed break from the ranch and headed to beautiful Black Hills in Western South Dakota where I attended the Heritage of the American West Show at the High Plains Heritage Center in Spearfish.  This show is held once a month, on the 3rd Thursday evening, in the Bruce Miller Theatre on the Heritage Compound.  If you ever go to the Black Hills, be sure and pay this place a visit.  It is a wonderful complex that is dedicated entirely to displays and art of the Old West and the life that we try to preserve through our music and poetry.

This program is hosted monthly by a very popular radio and rodeo personality, Jim Thompson, together with his partner, Kay Jorgensen, and the staff of Creative Broadcast Services.  Each program consists of talent, both of local and national prominence, that is of the Western influence.
This month's show featured Brenn Hill on his first visit to this part of the West.  The theater was full of many people who were seeing Brenn Hill entertain for the first time and who left that night as his fans forever.

This is Brenn on stage.  Incidentally, the song he was
singing at the time was "The Smell of Burning Hair" which he had dedicated
to my husband and other men unable to attend that night due to the many
spring brandings being held throughout cattle country.

Brenn performed a wonderful program and will forever be remembered as providing one of the best concerts in the 97 concert history of the Heritage of the American West series.  The program was broadcast live over approximately 50 radio stations as well as the internet and can be heard in the archive at Live With Jim Thompson.

Jim Thompson and Brenn during a station break.

The show ended with a standing ovation, and after the "thunderous" applause died down inside,  Brenn and his father left in a thunderstorm outside, heading home to Utah where they were to attend his maternal grandmother's funeral on Friday.  He was also anxious to go home, after a lengthy tour, to see once again, his wife and little boy.

After the concert, Brenn was greeted by many fans wanting autographs and
thanking him for a wonderful evening.


Early May, 2003

It was this communication of May 5, 2003 that led us to ask Yvonne to send us periodic reports and writings:

Here are some shots I took yesterday at the Hollenbeck Ranch branding.  I'm not the best photographer, and only snuck away for a few minutes as I was quite busy at the house.  We branded in three different pastures. These were taken in the first one. Ten men started early in the morning and rounded up the cows and calves and sorted the calves off into portable corrals.  In the afternoon, the big crew came, which included a group of young football and wrestling boys from nearby Winner High School.  This is sorta how it goes:

1.  Brad Adamson of the Broken Box Ranch, Cody, Nebraska, rides in to heel a calf

2.  Brad drags out the calf while a couple boys remove the rope and stretch the calf out for

3.  Ooch - PRCA Rodeo Judge and Steer Wrestler, Jim Whiting of Mission, SD, applies the brand while

4.  Calf Roper Corey Palmer of Springview, Nebraska, does the castrating

5.  Bill Cox of Cox Cattle Company, Valentine, Nebraska, and Glen Hollenbeck (hubby) watch for a calf that might need vaccinated,

6.  Another shot of Brad Adamson bringing forth another calf  (there were a group of cowboys that did the roping)

7.  There is a circular drive centering the houses and outbuildings and this is what it looked like that evening as tired horses were being put away and the branding was complete. 

8.  37 tired and hungry fellows were fed afterwards (plus a group of women and children) 



Always more to come...









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