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Redwing blackbirds waiting for a dinner of birdseed at Mitchell cabin maintain proper social distancing (relative to size).

They say the Covid-19 pandemic is especially bad for older people. As a 76 year old, I can vouch for that. Like a lot of others my age and older, I wear hearing aids. Unfortunately, part of each aid sits outside the ear, and anti-virus masks are usually secured around the ears. As a result, our hearing aids sometimes get pulled off when we remove our safety masks. Goddamn virus.

Jackrabbit behind Mitchell cabin last Saturday.

“Jackrabbits are actually hares, not rabbits,” according to National Geographic. “Hares are larger than rabbits, and they typically have taller hind legs and longer ears. Jackrabbits were named for their ears, which initially caused some people to refer to them as ‘jackass rabbits.’ The writer Mark Twain brought this name to fame by using it in his book of western adventure, Roughing It. The name was later shortened to jackrabbit.”

A fence lizard with part of its tail missing.

Most of us are aware that lizards can lose a big piece of their tails and survive. To quote a Washington State University online explanation: “Lizards have a series of small bones that run down their back… called vertebrae. Along the tail are several weak spots called fracture planes… They are the places the tail can detach.

“The main reason a lizard loses its tail is to defend itself [and not only if a predator has seized its tail. A detached tail can also distract the predator]. When a lizard detaches its tail, the tail whips around and wiggles on the ground… Sometimes the tail will keep moving for upwards of half an hour.”

Lizards can regrow their tails in three to five weeks, but the new tail is usually shorter, has a different pattern of scales, and is made with cartilage rather than bone.

Another fence lizard, also warming itself  this week on our railroad-tie front steps has regrown most of its original tail. The dark section where it broke off can easily be seen. It’s important to male lizards to get their tails back. Female lizards aren’t interested in them until they do.

—    —    —

I’ll close with a couple of my favorite poems, both set in pre-shelter-in-place times. They’re by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Alan Dugan (1923-2003).

 

On a Seven-Day Diary

Oh, I got up and went to work/ and worked and came back home/ and ate and talked and went to sleep./ Then I got up and went to work/ and worked and came back home/ from work and ate and slept./ Then I got up and went to work/ and worked and came back home/ and ate steak and went to sleep./ They I got up and went to work/ and worked and came back home/ and ate and fucked and went to sleep./ Then it was Saturday, Saturday, Saturday!/ Love must be the reason for the week!/ We went shopping! I saw clouds!/ The children explained everything!/ I could talk about the main thing!/ What did I drink on Saturday night/ that lost the first, best half of Sunday?/ The last half wasn’t worth this “word.”/ Then I got up and went to work/ and worked and came back home/ from work and ate and went to sleep,/ refreshed but tired by the weekend.

Tribute to Kafka for Someone Taken

The party is going strong,/ The doorbell rings. It’s/ for someone named me./ I’m coming. I take/ a last drink,/ a last puff on a cigarette,/ a last kiss at a girl,/ and step into the hall,/ bang,/ shutting out the laughter. “Is/ your name you?'” “Yes.”/ “Well come along then.”/ “See here. See here. See here.”

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Stray cat. Does anyone around Point Reyes Station recognize this small, black cat? It started showing up at Mitchell cabin three days ago. I assume the owner lives somewhere in the vicinity of Highway 1 north of the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road. It seemed weak from hunger when we first saw it, and Lynn gave it some tuna.

Geraniums on our deck. Lynn and I spent a couple of hours yesterday rearranging pots of flowers, succulents, and a small tree on our deck to give some of them more sunlight. Three large pots of geraniums were part of the mix, and that brought to mind a poem by the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Theodore Roethke (1908-1963).

The Geranium

When I put her out, once, by the garbage pail,/ She looked so limp and bedraggled,/ So foolish and trusting, like a sick poodle,/ Or a wizened aster in late September,/ I brought her back in again/ For a new routine — / Vitamins, water, and whatever/ Sustenance seemed sensible/ At the time; she’d lived/ So long on gin, bobbie pins, half-smoked cigars, dead beer/ Her shriveled petals falling/ On the faded carpet, the stale/ Steak grease stuck to her fuzzy leaves./ (Dried-out, she creaked like a tulip.)

The things she endured! — / The dumb dames shrieking half the night/ Or the two of us, alone, both seedy,/ Me breathing booze at her,/ She leaning out of her pot toward the window.

Near the end, she seemed almost to hear me — / And that was scary — /So when that snuffling cretin of a maid/ Threw her, pot and all, into the trash-can,/ I said nothing.

But I sacked the presumptuous hag the next week,/ I was that lonely.

—   —   —

As we get into summer, I’m seeing more and more young wildlife around the cabin.

A black-tailed doe leading her two young fawns, all three of them on full alert, across a field downhill from us last Friday.

A blackbird feeds two of her young as they noisily compete with mouths wide open for seeds she’s pecked up. This repast yesterday was enjoyed in a pine tree just outside our window.

A flock of hungry red-winged blackbirds began flying in yesterday when they saw Lynn and me spread birdseed on the railing of our deck while right below them….

two does, each with a fawn, grazed where the grass was a tad greener.

I’ll sign off with  a whimsical poem by the 1970 US poet laureate William Stafford (1914-1993). It provides a bit of humor to brighten these sad times.

Adults Only

Animals own a fur world:/ people own worlds that are variously, pleasingly, bare./ And the way these worlds are once arrived for us kids with a jolt,/ that night when the wild woman danced/ in the giant cage we found we were all in/ at the state fair.

Better women exist, no doubt, than that one,/ and occasions more edifying, too, I suppose. But we have to witness for ourselves what comes for us,/ nor be distracted by barkers of irrelevant ware;/ and a pretty good world, I say, arrived that night/ when that woman came farming right out of her clothes, by God,/ At the state fair.

 

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Six buzzards landed on the hill above Mitchell cabin last Saturday, immediately letting Lynn and me know that something had died.

We could see one buzzard tearing away at a carcass. But of what?

(Before going further, I should acknowledge the “buzzard” v. “vulture” dispute I occasionally get into with a few readers who apparently prefer British English to American English. For them, vulture is the only correct name for the species, and buzzard means only Buteo hawk. I disagree, and my authority is The American Heritage Dictionary. It defines the word buzzard as: “1. Any of various North American vultures, such as the turkey vulture. 2. Chiefly British. A hawk of the genus Buteo, having broad wings and a broad tail. 3. An avaricious or otherwise unpleasant person.”)

Upon closer inspection (despite the stench) I could see the deceased was a skunk. My guess is that it was killed by one of the great horned owls on this hill. Because of the likelihood of getting sprayed, coyotes and foxes reluctantly hunt skunks only when no other prey is available. Great horned owls — whose weak sense of smell is limited to supplementing their sense of taste — like to hunt skunks.

A great horned owl. (Missouri Department of Conservation photo)

Female skunks typically raise four to six kittens in a season, with the males leaving the females before the young are born. Skunks were once widely hunted for their pelts, but they now have far more to worry about from motor vehicles; skunks are so near-sighted they can’t see things clearly that are more than 10 feet away.

This buzzard arrived a day late for Saturday’s feast but still found enough skunk flesh to nibble on. Buzzards are fond of dead skunks, but they leave the skunks’ scent pouches intact.

Raccoons, like dogs, identify each other by sniffing bottoms, and (as seen here before) they also sniff skunk bottoms but for some reason don’t get sprayed. Two nights ago I saw a very young kit repeatedly sniff a skunk’s rear end. The skunk didn’t like it and kept moving away, but the kit persisted in nosing around back there until the skunk finally walked away.

At least it didn’t get killed and partially eaten by an owl with most of the leftovers consumed by a flock of buzzards.

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“Do you see that blonde over there?” a friend asked me in town today. “She’s a little hottie.”

“A little haughty?” I replied in confusion. “That’s too bad.” Then it was my friend’s turn to be confused.

—        —         —

 A livestock-feeder bowl on the railing of Mitchell cabin’s deck is used as a birdbath where numerous birds both bathe and drink. Here a towhee takes a bath.

Other critters also use the birdbath, including raccoons such as these yesterday. Almost every evening, a mother raccoon and her four kits try to squeeze into it together. And like the birds, they’re not at all squeamish about drinking their own bathwater.

The kits’ struggles for space in the bowl sometimes worry me a bit, for one side of the bowl is about 20 feet off the ground. Ironically, another side is above Mitchell cabin’s hot tub, and more than once while in the tub, I’ve been surprised by sprinklings of cold water that turned out to be splashes from a bird taking a bath.

A skunk or two also show up on our deck virtually evening to eat any kibble the raccoons leave behind. This one showed up Wednesday. They raise their tails when disturbed but never spray, at least while on the deck.

A lonely peacock, which mostly hangs out near Highway 1 a quarter mile away, occasionally wanders over to our yard, but we’re mostly aware it’s in the vicinity because of its cries at night. During the breeding season, peacocks scream to attract peahens and sometimes merely because they hear other peacocks.

Got him. Two weeks ago this blog published photos of a young great blue heron hunting gophers near our cabin, and a few days later neighbor Dan Huntsman snapped this great shot of the heron holding a gopher it had just caught.

A bobcat made one of its periodic visits to Mitchell cabin this week. Like the heron, bobcats like to hunt gophers here.

—        —        —

As has been in the news a lot lately, some police actions warrant special scrutiny — both in the US and abroad. Here’s a incident reported in the June 17 San Francisco Chronicle:

A man in Vienna was fined $565 for breaking wind loudly in front of a group of policemen on June 5. The man had behaved provocatively during an encounter with officers, according to police, and when he got up from a bench, he “let go a massive intestinal wind apparently with full intent.” The man was cited for offending public decency. Police later commented online, “Of course no one is reported for accidentally letting one go,” but “our colleagues don’t like to be farted at so much.” The Chronicle headlined its account: “Farting fine,” which it clearly wasn’t.

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The rainbow-striped LGBTQ pride flag was created in 1978, and three years ago in Philadelphia, a black stripe and a brown stripe were added. The flag initially symbolized support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people, who are often discriminated against. The black stripe and the brown stripe were added to explicitly support brown and black LGBTQ people.

Three weeks ago, our board of supervisors voted to fly the Philadelphia flag at county buildings throughout Marin during national Pride Month, which is June. I first saw it last week flying in front of the firehouse and sheriff’s substation in Point Reyes Station. Few other people seem to have noticed; today while I was doing my “essential business” at the Palace Market, the post office, the gas station, and the pharmacy, I didn’t encounter anyone who was aware of the flag flying in town. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

A flock of Brown Pelicans over Mitchell cabin Sunday evening, probably headed for Drakes Estero.

A family of quail in our field Sunday. Perhaps because quail once had a reputation for being particularly amorous, “quail” in times past also was a word for “harlot.” In “Troilus and Cressida,” for example, Shakespeare wrote that Agamemnon is “an honest fellow and one who loves quails.”

A female wild turkey landed on the railing of our deck Friday to partake of seeds we’d scattered there for other, smaller birds.

It would be hard to imagine an uglier neck than a wild turkey’s — unless you’re another wild turkey. “When the male turkey gets to courting the hens,” the Audubon Society reports, “extra blood rushes in, and the wattle glows bright scarlet for maximum visual impact.”

The wattle consists of a “wrinkly mass of bumpy, warty-looking red skin,” Audubon notes. “On a hot day, with the sun bearing down, the bare skin of neck and wattle helps release excess heat. Birds don’t sweat.”

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While sheltering at home, Lynn and I are taking even more photos than usual of the creatures around the cabin. Here are a few new shots.

Seen out our front window. A blackbird feeds birdseed to her chick as a Band-tailed Pigeon watches and a crow shows up to share in the birdseed.

A female Brewers Blackbird looks up from pecking birdseed off the railing of our deck to find a large, dark creature looming over her.

The creature turned out to be a Band-tailed Pigeon, one of the many who started showing up in numbers near Mitchell cabin in the past year.

A young Scrub Jay scans the hillside from a bamboo stick being used to prop up a young pine. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Probably the most-interesting bird hanging around Mitchell cabin this past week has been an immature Great Blue Heron, who has repeatedly shown up to hunt gophers. (Coincidentally, the previous posting here features an egret likewise hunting nearby.)

After standing poised above a gopher mound for several minutes, the young heron suddenly speared a gopher the moment it stuck its head up to look around. The alignment of a heron’s neck allows it to shoot its beak forward in a split second.

A Blacktail doe yesterday led her fawn on a walk around the cabin.

The fawn appeared to thoroughly enjoy the adventure, but when it got even a short distance ahead of the doe, it would look back to make sure its mother was close behind.

A moth caterpillar on our deck railing approaches an unrecognizable fellow insect. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

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With Covid-19 regulations causing everyone to stay at home most of the time, we who have the good fortune to live in rural small towns at least have nature to keep our days interesting. Along with all the raccoons, deer, skunks, rabbits, and coyotes (which we hear most nights) around Mitchell cabin, Lynn and I also have an immense variety of birdlife to entertain us.

An egret walking at the edge of Mitchell cabin’s parking area last week.

We sometimes don’t see egrets near the cabin during the winter, but in springtime, they usually start showing up.  Around the end of the 19th Century, it became popular to use egret feathers to adorn hats, and in North America, egrets were hunted for their feathers almost to the point of extinction. Thankfully, they were saved by passage of the federal Migratory Bird Act of 1918. Each spring, colonies of egrets and great blue herons, can now be seen nesting high in evergreens at Audubon Canyon Ranch beside Bolinas Lagoon.

The strike. After standing motionless for a brief time, the egret suddenly spears a frog in the grass.

Holding a dark green frog (barely visible) with the end of its beak, the hunter contentedly walks off.

The beauty of an egret taking flight.

High flyer. On Sunday, I spotted a heron sitting near the top of a tall pine tree on which ravens frequently perch to survey their kingdom.

A blacktail doe running lightly along the edge of our driveway on Monday. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Her fawn meanwhile had to bound through the grass to keep up with her. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Just like national affairs, West Marin’s sunsets have been dramatic of recent — but the drama’s been happier here. This is how Sunday ended. Yea for nature.

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The  previously announced closing of the Station House Café this coming Monday has been postponed until after July 4, owner Sheryl Cahill said this week. It could stay open through September if revenue is  keeping up with costs. Cahill dismayed West Marin three weeks ago when she said she would close at the end of May because new landlords planned to raise her $100,000 per year rent to $252,000, which she couldn’t afford.

For the next three months, however, her rent is frozen. Once she does close, Cahill hopes to find a new site, and landlord John Hural hopes to find a new restaurateur to rent his building.

This New York Times headline from 10 years ago still amuses me, for it implied that the Palestinian Authority considers indoor plumbing unacceptable in a Muslim country. As it turned out, Hamas was actually upset with women smoking hookahs.

A mother raccoon, who shows up outside our kitchen door every evening begging for kibble, brought four new kits with her the past two nights. They’re very cute and often climb the lattice to the railing but then have trouble climbing back down. They do it headfirst, so it’s a challenge.

Even more of a surprise was this blacktail doe who showed up on our lower deck two mornings ago and then went down some stairs to a still-lower level to inspect our hot tub. My wife Lynn already suspected that a deer had been venturing onto the lower deck at night because some buds in a flowerpot there were getting eaten. I was skeptical, but I guess she’s right.

A male red-winged blackbird repeatedly buzzes a raven drinking from our birdbath and eventually drives him away. Since ravens sometimes eat baby birds, the blackbirds don’t like ’em.

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The closure of the Station House Café scheduled for the end of this month will be the closing of not only a restaurant but also of the meeting ground for many West Marin residents. Last week, I republished Jack Mason’s column set in 1966 when he owned the restaurant while also contributing to The Baywood Press, as The Point Reyes Light was then called.

Pat Healy once told me that before she added the “Station House Café, Wine-Bar” sign, the only identification on the building was the word “HAMBURGER.”

Mason eventually sold the restaurant to Claudia Woodward, who in 1974 sold it to Pat Healy, a former nightclub singer who had moved to Point Reyes Station in 1972. The café quickly became popular, and in 1980, California Living (a magazine that came with the Sunday San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle) noted the Station House is “the heart of the West Marin community, and an institution known as Table 6 is the heart of the Station House.” I remember that table well.

The piece written by George Nevin added that Table 6 “is actually two burlap-and-acrylic tables pushed together between the piano and the reach-in refrigerator. Here of a morning can be found the damndest bunch of regulars to be seen anywhere.

Table 6 with Nevin’s article lacquered onto it moved, along with the rest of the restaurant, from the building where Osteria Stellina is today to its present location in 1988-89.

“It’s the same crew, day after day, fog or shine, six days a week,” wrote Nevin. “It would be seven days, but the Station House is closed Tuesdays. Regulars include the following: Dave Mitchell, who copped both a Pulitzer Prize and Publisher of the Year award last year for his Synanon coverage; Art Disterheft, West Marin’s beloved sheriff’s lieutenant, who is a prizewinning cook, holds a law degree, and is building his own house out of salvaged lumber; Allan Ruder, the town pharmacist who peddles T-shirts that say, ‘I Get My Drugs at West Marin Pharmacy’; Art Rogers, the town’s photographer laureate, who somehow has become an artistic success that reaches far beyond this cow town; Elizabeth Whitney, who once challenged publisher Mitchell with a rival weekly, The Tomales Bay Times, and who is likely to fly off to the ends of the earth in search of a good solar eclipse (she just got back from an eclipse trip to Kenya).

“That’s not all Table 6 has to offer. There are many others of perhaps less renown but no less important to the town: the hippie mechanic who has visions of opening a Mercedes dealership in Point Reyes and easing into semi-retirement; the man with a PhD in psychology who now pounds nails for a living; a fellow who drives possibly the most beat-up Volkswagen in West Marin, who lives in what appears to be genteel poverty but who, they say, has storage bins of exotica like antiques and espresso machines throughout the Bay Area; the skilled workers in stained glass, cabinetry, and windows.

Table 6 regulars, café staff, and friends on a Monday morning in April 1980. The Point Reyes Light last week published this Art Rogers photo in announcing the upcoming closure. Pat Healy is third from the left. This is the same photo that California Living had published with Nevin’s article 40 years earlier.

“The conversation of a morning covers an astounding range, from financial matters to science, politics, religion, computers, military matters, education and law. There’s nothing they won’t touch, nothing sacred, hardly anything so esoteric that someone doesn’t have some intimate knowledge of it. And when breakfast is over, they scatter to their jobs making useful things, creating, contributing to what photographer Rogers calls the Point Reyes Nation.”

In 2005, Healy sold the restaurant to its manager, Sheryl Cahill, but retained ownership of the building. Healy died on  Dec 8 at the age of 92 and left the building to her stepsister, Melinda Benedict, and two stepchildren, Kirsten and John Hural. The new owners now want to raise the rent from $100,000 per year to $252,000 per year. Cahill says that’s more than the restaurant can afford, which is why it will close. However, she hopes to reopen somewhere in the area. Anyone who knows a suitable building ought to contact her. The Station House has long had good food and drinks, as well as having good music in the bar on Sunday evenings, but its role as a community meeting place is just as important.

 

News that the Station House Café in Point Reyes Station will close at the end of this month has shocked many of us in West Marin and has generated newspaper and TV attention throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Owner Sheryl Cahill says the new owner of the restaurant building wants to up the rent to approximately $700 per day, which she can’t afford. She hopes she can eventually reopen somewhere else.

For years while I edited and published The Point Reyes Light, I ate breakfast there almost daily and often used my mealtime to also pick up news tips, so I’m particularly chagrined by the upcoming closure. In fact, the newspaper and the restaurant have been associated in various ways for more than 50 years, beginning when the paper was published by Don DeWolfe and called The Baywood Press. Back then, the restaurant, which was located where Osteria Stellina is today, was operated by historian Jack Mason of Inverness, a retired Oakland Tribune editor.

Mason, who bought the restaurant in 1966, also wrote Funny Old World for DeWolfe’s paper, and years later in the same column, he described what the restaurant and DeWolfe were like back then. The column was reprinted in our 2013 book, The Light on the Coast. In case you missed it, here it is again:

By Jack Mason

“I’ve got an idea,” Don DeWolfe said.

I laid his medium-rare hamburger on the counter in front of him. “If so, it’s the first time,” I said, in the kidding tone one uses with an old friend, even if he is the local editor.

He didn’t bother to parry the thrust, but handed me a mustard container he had been fiddling with. “This one’s empty,” he said.

I gave him another from under the counter.

“What’s your idea?” I said. My interest was only lukewarm. Certainly I was not flattered that he would ask me for my opinion. Editors do that — ask everybody in the place what they think, then do their own thing regardless. It’s the way Great Battles have been fought and lost since the dawn of time.

He squeezed some of the brown stuff onto his hamburger patty, then pressed down hard on the bun as if afraid the meat might get away. Those were quarter-pound hamburgers I served at the Station House in 1966 — and the buns all had sesame seeds on top.

Jack Mason as owner of the Station House Café in 1967.

“The coffee will be ready in a minute,” I said. “We had a couple of customers in here awhile back, and they drank it like it was going out of style.”

“You mean you have other customers?” Don exclaimed. He dug into his burger, reaching for a napkin. “This napkin holder is empty,” he said.

I pushed one towards him from further down the counter, just as the phone rang. “Probably Willi Reinhardt,” I said. “The toilets are plugged up. That ought to take care of your crack about other customers!”

But it was Bob Vilas at the bank. “Jack,” he said, “these checks you wrote Farmer Brothers and Schwartz’ Meat Company last week. What do you expect me to do with them?”

In red-faced confusion, I told Bob it was good of him to call, and said I would be right over to take care of it, as soon as I got rid of my customer.

“You have a customer?”

“Yeah, Don DeWolfe.”

Standing beside his printing press, DeWolfe in 1967 looks over his recently renamed newspaper. Back then the newspaper was produced in the building where Rob Janes Tax Service, Coastal Marin Real Estate, and Epicenter clothing boutique are today.

“Well, tell Don for me, will you, that I think his new idea is great!”

I was really taken aback. “You mean he’s tried the idea out on you? What is it?”

“You don’t know?” Bob cried. “I thought everybody on the street was in on it.”

I hung up, stung, and stood there for a moment letting my anger cool. Here I’d been writing a column for DeWolfe — free. Writing editorials in my spare time, absolutely free of charge! And I’m the last one on the street to know about this great, world-shaking idea of his!

“What is it — I mean, your idea?” I demanded.

He was wiping his hands on four paper napkins at once. Finally he rolled them up into one big ball and dropped them in the green hamburger basket.

“Oh,” he said. “The idea.”

“Yeah, you’ve told everybody else. How about telling old Jack?”

He worked his way off the stool, and pulled some small change out of his pocket — and I mean small. “How much is a hamburger?”

“Did you have cheese on it?”

“No, I can’t eat cheese.”

“Fifty cents. And don’t bother to leave a tip.” I dropped his five dimes and three pennies in the cash drawer. The spring was broken, so we always left the drawer open.

“My idea,” he said, “is to change the name of the paper.”

I felt let down. “What’s wrong with The Baywood Press. It’s been called that for 16 years. It has tradition behind it. People are used to it. Why change it?”

“I thought Point Reyes Light would tie in better with the area,” he said. He inspected me momentarily for my reaction. “I’ll think it over,” I said.

He had to bring all his weight to bear against the door before he could let himself out — the pneumatic catch was stuck. Then he stood there a moment screwing his mouth into an odd shape.

“This is the only hamburger joint I was ever in,” he said, “that didn’t have toothpicks by the cash register.”

The name Baywood Press was changed to Point Reyes Light with the issue of September 8, 1966.

— March 2, 1978

The next posting on SparselySageAndTimely.com will reminisce about the restaurant in more recent times.

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