Thinking About – Where the Seasons Begin and End

I thought I’d open a can of worms today. Throw a hot potato in. You know, stir it up a bit. I don’t normally go there but I think, in truth, there is no one correct answer to this so it really doesn’t matter in the end – it’s all about how you personally relate to the seasons and the land around you. So what is this contentious topic…?

Seasons

But more to the point where they begin and end.

BOOM!

Ok, I’ll begin with my own relationship. For me the seasons have always begun on the Solstices and Equinoxes. I know, I know, before you frantically type “but it’s called Midsummer!” into the comments section hold off. I realise it’s called Midsummer and it seems that is because:

  1. The name came from a time when there were only two recognised seasons – Summer and Winter. Apparently Spring and Autumn were not early Anglo Saxon terms. Now I’m no linguistic scholar so that might be ‘fake news’, but it seems to be a thing.
  2. Steve Pollington, the well known Anglo Saxon scholar during one of his talks I heard said that the Anglo Saxons had a 12 day festival around the Solstices, the mid point of which were called the mid point of the festival. Hence ‘mid’ Summer and Winter.
  3. The seasons actually start on the days of the Fire festivals. So Summer begins at Beltane, the Summer Solstice is its mid point, and the Autumn begins at Lughnasadh with its height being the Autumn Equinox. Winter begins at Samhain and thus Midwinter is the Winter Solstice. Spring begins at Imbolc with the height of Spring being the Spring Equinox.
  4. I’m sure there are more but I’ll leave it there…

But none of these actually work for me. When I look around at Lughnasadh the only thing I see nearing the end of it’s cycle is are the grass crops on the fields. The rest of Nature seems to be thoroughly enjoying the sunshine and heat. Imbolc may bring with it one flower, the snowdrop, thus announcing the beginning of Spring, but that gorgeous flower, and symbol of Imbolc apparently only arrived in Britain in 1597 and it was only noted in the wild in 1778. Imbolc is probably the coldest festival of the year. I simply have never been able to square the beginning of Spring on the 1st February and believe me I’ve tried. I’d like nothing more than that to be true, but the land, weather, plants just don’t tell me that’s true. The vast majority are completely asleep. Samhain the start of Winter. Oh please no. That’s way too early for this Sun worshipper. And I was always told that ‘Samhain’ meant ‘Summer’s End’, but according to the seasons starting on the Fire festival days Summer ended at Lughnasadh, unless you only have two seasons, Summer and Winter, then it makes total sense – Summer begins at Beltane and ends at Samhain, but no Spring or Autumn.

So it seems to me that Britain is carrying with it countless cultural seasonal traditions, and trying to make them fit together, and they don’t, but that’s ok. We are also blending two very different ways of looking at the Solstices and Equinoxes particularly. The meteorological, and the astrological.

Northern Meteorological Seasons

According to the meteorological definition, the seasons begin on the first day of the months that include the equinoxes and solstices:

  • Spring runs from March 1 to May 31;
  • Summer runs from June 1 to August 31;
  • Fall (autumn) runs from September 1 to November 30; and
  • Winter runs from December 1 to February 28

Astronomical Seasons

The astronomical definition uses the dates of equinoxes and solstices to mark the beginning and end of the seasons:

  • Spring begins on the spring equinox;
  • Summer begins on the summer solstice;
  • Autumn begins on the autumn equinox; and
  • Winter begins on the winter solstice.

The beginning of each season marks the end of the last.

Is it any wonder hardly any of us can agree?

We had a long chat on our Grove about the seasons and there were some who follow point three above. I’ve tried for the past two years to see the changing seasons in that way – to see the changes through that lens, but to also compare it to how I’ve always related to the seasons before, ie, the Astronomical Seasons. I failed miserably and now will just go back to how I was before.

Which is:

Spring begins on the Spring Equinox – after the cold of Winter this is the point of the year when I see plants and trees really begin to wake up. But it’s still slow, even in March, but then April arrives, and that often breaks the cold, and suddenly there is that amazing Spring green, and the larger trees begin to join in as we approach the height of Spring, Beltane. Now the countryside is awash with green and blossoms, the birds are calling, the land is an explosion of activity. The weather is still changeable and not always exceptionally warm, but for me Beltane mark the height of Spring.

Summer begins at the Summer Solstice – the green between Beltane and the Summer Solstice is a green that only stays for those few weeks. Once the Solstice arrives it begins to darken, and the warmth of Summer truly arrives. The days are long, the nights hot, yup, that’s Summer to me, and it reaches it’s peak at Lughnasadh. After 18 years of regular open rituals at the Long Man I can categorically say that Lughnasadh is the hottest, driest, most Summer festival of the year. There is nowhere to hide from the Sun up on the hill below the Long Man. The sunshine and heat continue, the trees are still in their Summer clothes, and the hedgerows are filling with Summer fruits.

Autumn begins at the Autumn Equinox – The arrival of the Autumn Equinox brings with it a change in the quality of light, and brings those amazing Autumnal mists. It goes from a silver light, to a light with a golden tinge. The leaves of the trees now start to turn, the days begin to feel much shorter, but there is still warmth in that there ball on the sky. The height of Autumn to me is Samhain, when we are right in the depths of the season. The leaves are now really falling, but still many oaks and ash trees are holding on to theirs. We have had a number of Samhain rituals at the Long Man where we are still standing there in our T shirts, but after, the Cailleach’s breath arrives with the November winds, and soon the trees are bare, and the cold has arrived.

Winter begins on the Winter Solstice – the trees stand bare, the mornings are crisp, and the land rests. January and February are always the coldest months here in Sussex. The hardest time of the year for me as a person who has S.A.D. I’m looking for signs of rebirth, and love the snowdrop when she appears. It reminds me that Springs is not too far away, but by Imbolc, the height of Winter, the land is icy, muddy, wet, and cold. The trees sleep, the land sleeps, but soon the buds of the Elder, Hawthorn, Willow will open, with the arrival of the Equinox.

So I’ve tried my friends. I’ve tried to see things through another lens, but it just doesn’t work for me. As with all things Pagan it comes down to personal experience and connection. So please don’t ever think I’m telling you you’re wrong for seeing the changing seasons in a way that differs from mine – I’m not at all. I’m not even trying to ‘sell’ my way. It just works for me.

So how do you relate to the seasons? Are you a ‘two seasons a year’ person? Do you feel happier with the meteorological approach? The astronomical approach? The Fire Festivals beginning the seasons? A blend of a number of ways?

 

29 Comments

  1. Amber October 5, 2018 at 11:59 am - Reply

    I live in the southern united states. Here, our seasons are hot, hot, hot, and cold rain. We are lucky to see a flurry of snow once every few years. I just try to enjoy myself and get my kids excited by the spirit of things. Kids make it easy. I don’t think it matters how you feel the changing of the seasons, as long as you feel them.

    • Damh the Bard October 5, 2018 at 12:00 pm - Reply

      Absolutely Amber. Our relationship with the turning seasons totally depends upon where we live. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Elizabeth Fison October 5, 2018 at 12:13 pm - Reply

    Yes I agree that i it is confusing. For me July is the end of summer as in Welsh it’s called Gorffenaf – which translates as end of Summer. Winter starts on Oct 31st for the same reason as it is called Calan Gaeaf. Calan being start of and Gaeaf being winter. Where Autumn and Spring begin and end and Summer begins I have absolutely no idea. I may be odd but I think the Air smells differently when the seasons change so I go with that.

    • Damh the Bard October 5, 2018 at 2:10 pm - Reply

      I agree Elizabeth! It’s not just the difference in the quality of light, there is a real change in the way the air smells, particularly walking through a deciduous woodland, or over countryside.

  3. Petra October 5, 2018 at 12:16 pm - Reply

    I never had an other few on the seasons as you described.
    Maybe that’s because we learned that in school: spring starts at the equinox and so on.
    I‘d say it feels natural to me, too.

    Blessings

  4. Robert Messier October 5, 2018 at 12:17 pm - Reply

    I grew up in New England where the seasonal changes are similar to Britain and now live in Florida where there are only to two seasons, wet and dry. Still stay in tune to the Wheel of the Year in spirit (inner calendar), though only SOMETIMES on the exact dates of the calendar. I simply do it when it feels right to me.

  5. Elaine Moxon October 5, 2018 at 12:17 pm - Reply

    I celebrate the sabbats as festival days ‘within’ seasons. As far as I am concerned, regardless of dates and festivities, the seasons (however many there are) show themselves in the plants and animals around us. It’s important to remember that over vast periods of time, weather and seasons shift around the world. Neolithic ancestors would have followed the celestial objects and landscape around them for signs of seasons’ changes. And the calendars we follow now were designated by the Roman emperor Julian and are entirely different to pre-Roman methods used by early Britons. Old Celtic calendars talk of the ‘time of winds’ around March, which is when we do often have high winds; or the time of horses (July) when stallions may have bred with mares in their harems. If the leaves fall from the trees, the wind whips up and I need a hat…it’s Autumn!

  6. Astrid October 5, 2018 at 12:31 pm - Reply

    I agree with Elizabeth, it’s the smell!! That first day when you can actually smell the arrival of the new season There is nothing that can beat that, meteorological or astronomical 😉

  7. Denise October 5, 2018 at 12:47 pm - Reply

    I live in the mid-Atlantic US so our seasons are somewhat similar. My seasonal indicators are what the plants and animals are doing though. When the snowdrops and hellebore begin to stir, spring is beginning. When the fireflies are dancing at dusk, summer has arrived. When the winterberries start to color up and the hummingbirds depart, autumn has come. Wnter announces herself with the arrival of the white-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos, and so it goes. The exact dates don’t really matter.

  8. Chris October 5, 2018 at 1:19 pm - Reply

    I think season start when nature tells us, at a different time every year. It’s 5th October and like a summer’s day. So I think it is when it is, humans don’t get to decide.

  9. George Fear October 5, 2018 at 1:41 pm - Reply

    I’m an OBOD member and member of other groups as well. Have been most of my life. And I have never felt a need to be bound to dates. I’m sure my ancestors had their communal days and probably more for convenience and tradition. Meanwhile they were free to offer devotions and their own offerings as the mood fit. Im a Pagan fitting that mold. I celebrate whenever the urge hits. Sometimes that happens to be on the solstices or equnoxes. But usually the only one I celebrate regularly….religiously…is Samhuin. Otherwise, the calendar doesnt mean a whole lot to me and never has. And when I do celebrate those dates its usually due to a sense of community. Everyone else is doing it

  10. John Davis October 5, 2018 at 1:46 pm - Reply

    Hi Damh….you know how to stir the pot 🙂 I tend to use the Fire Festival dates as the starting points for the seasons. The reason for this is that for the first 58 years of my life, I didn’t really spend much time thinking about the seasons because my calendar revolved around the Christian year, but that’s another story. However, as I made the transition into a Druid spirituality, I found that I needed some regular fixed points to act as anchors for times of ritual. I had come across Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional and these were the dates provided there.

    Of course, I know that the climate up here doesn’t always reflect the season; we tend to be at least 3 weeks behind those of you in the balmy, southern climes of Sussex….but, for me, it is the intention that matters. I have to agree, though, that acknowledging the start of Spring this year in the teeth of the so-called “Beast from the East” was stretching things a bit! Up in East Yorkshire (UK), near the North Sea coast, we tend to have our own micro-climate anyway. Maybe, too, back in the times of our ancestors, the climate might have been rather different to what we experience now. As you infer though….each to his/her own.

    Blessings

  11. The Fabled Hare October 5, 2018 at 1:48 pm - Reply

    I think I’m with most of the other posters here, in that the seasons don’t necessarily start and end on the same day every year. Like Elaine, I have always considered the Sabbats as days within a season, rather than its boundaries. They express the energies typically present at that part of the year. Whatever the weather here at the time, Beltane always has the energy of late spring, and Samhain is distinctly late-autumnal, even if the seasons have shifted slightly that year. As for actually defining the seasons, I just look at what the animals and plants are doing as my guide. Cheshire is a relatively sheltered county with little dramatic weather, but, I find that there is normally a distinct moment in the year when I know a season has definitely arrived. As Elizabeth says, the air smells different during each season; I would also add that wood smoke in particular has a special character for each season, possibly due to the differing moisture content and temperature of the wood and air, which also provides a good clue for me. Also, there is generally a single morning or moment where I go outside and the air suddenly bites with that distinctive chill of autum, or the icy grip of winter. We might get fluctuations such as the occasional bright, warm day, but once that initial “1st day of the season” has arrived, you know it’s an isolated exception and that the wheel has turned a quarter. Then, of course, as the wheel turns further, there’s that special day where all of a sudden it’s bright and sunny, and a new warmth has entered the air, and we know that the Earth is stirring from its slumber once more. I love it. Whilst I struggle with the energy-sapping heat of even just a UK summer, I love the turning of the wheel in general. It’s the changes of the seasons I look forward to and enjoy, more than the presence of any individual season itself. It’s magickal.

    • Damh the Bard October 5, 2018 at 2:14 pm - Reply

      Yes! A couple of people have mentioned the idea of the Fire Festivals being held ‘within’ the season. It doesn’t seem to matter whether we have the Beast from the East at the Spring Equinox, by the time Beltane arrives, it’s always visibly Spring. Likewise for Samhain and the Autumn, Imbolc for Winter and Lughnasadh for Summer. I like that.

  12. Ann Beirne October 5, 2018 at 2:08 pm - Reply

    I too tell the seasons by their scents snow in the air has a smell which I could never describe really except it smells clean and cold to me and I can tell when it is going to snow by this scent. I believe that we don’t actually have recognisable seasons anymore due to the weird weather patterns that are developing in this country due to global warming I have known different seasons of weather in one day, which is really confusing as you don’t know what to wear on these occasions. Nature is our guide mainly I tend to watch out for certain behaviour in birds, trees and plants and this is what I now use with the scents as my guide.

  13. Linda October 5, 2018 at 2:14 pm - Reply

    I celebrate the 8 festivals but feel the seasons turn round about the meteorological calendar times.

  14. Lynda Ryder October 5, 2018 at 3:02 pm - Reply

    I’m a bit of a S.A.D. person too, which is why I do mark Imbolc as the very beginning of Spring – makes me feel a whole lot better psychologically! Also, I walk to work every day and see lots of early spring life happening – but no snowdrops. You don’t tend to find them growing at the side of roads in our town, they’ve been muscled out by dandelions… But, after sitting here and actually thinking about it, to me Spring Equinox heralds ‘proper’ Spring, the Autumn Equinox starts my Autumn, and my winter kicks in on Bonfire Night! I don’t really bother with ‘New Year’s Eve’ anymore either. Winter Solstice is the beginning of my new year. And summer to me is the end of May to when the leaves start falling again. That’s just something that has gradually evolved over the years of me being pagan and now feels right to me personally. 🙂

  15. Boardman Rebecca October 5, 2018 at 3:38 pm - Reply

    I am exactly as you Damh. Except in Texas, the seasons change a bit sooner and later, but close enough to the ones you observe that they more or less match. Winter comes sooner than the Solstice here though. December is cold. And the cold and bitter will last all the way through March most years. People think just because we are Texas we don’t get winter. In North Texas, I can assure you that is NOT the case. While some winter’s are mild with only some weeks of bitterly cold weather (-6 C), others can be downright brutal with temps that get down to -14 C with winds of up to 40mph with a windchill of -28 C. You might wonder why I harp on that – well… because when you have livestock to feed in that weather, it is challenging to say the least. And then we swing to 43 C in summer, with a heat index of 48 C. Spring is wild with our storms and tornadoes, so it is no wonder that besides Autumn just being my favorite season in general, it is also the calmest. It doesn’t flip out like the other seasons here. Autumn comes in like an old friend, pulls up a seat and stays awhile. And it is the loveliest, most spiritual time of the year, in my opinion.

  16. Kevin Thompson October 5, 2018 at 4:05 pm - Reply

    Here in Michigan we have two seasons, winter and road construction. Even though our winters start early and stay late, I like to keep the seasonal festivals at the traditional times because I like the feeling of connecting with others doing the same around the world. However, I do pay close attention to the weather conditions and do a special meditation when I feel the seasons changing in my area.

  17. roselle October 5, 2018 at 5:19 pm - Reply

    Well, I have a different experience of the cross-quarter dates.

    Down here in Devon, we do start our own early harvest at Lughnasadh, roughly, so I see that date as not being ‘end of the summer’ but ‘early (or first) harvest’.

    Samhain: truly going into the dark, with the deepest dark still to come but the promise that we are now in a new year, as we let go of loves and losses (Allhallows etc).

    Imbolc: there are plenty of sheep here in the Westcountry who birth in late January/early February (barbaric practise, I always think, lambing so early), so – as you’ll know, as Imbolc tells us, there are ewes coming into milk now. We do tend to have all our snowdrops out, also catkins and primroses; tree sap stirring; birds becoming active in the search for a mate. Yes, first stirrings of spring.

    Beltane – Mayday – full of juice and verve. All the bridal may blossom! It’s not for nothing that in my homeland, Cornwall (ah – you’re Cornish too, Damh, yes? – I’m from Penwith) both May Day and the Floral Dance are celebrations of midsummer and high fertility!

    So I guess it depends where we live, what we see, our own experience of the cycles of light and dark, fecundity and fallowness within and in the land around us.

    And yes, as you and others have said, there are no set ‘rules’. Personally, I like the extremes of the solstices, and the harmony of the equinoxes, but I see them as being midway points between one season and another, myself.

    (Later) harvest blessings to you and yours!

  18. terri October 5, 2018 at 6:50 pm - Reply

    i tend to go with the astronomical seasons. but i also pay attention to what nature is telling me. i am always looking at her cues. there is always a certain feeling, scent or quality to the air for each seasonal change and i enjoy detecting them all. the solstices and equinoxes are more of a cue for me to look for nature’s signs of change.

  19. Much Miller October 5, 2018 at 7:13 pm - Reply

    Interesting thoughts Damh, for me the seasons can vary but I love all of them, each has its taste, smell and magic and from year to year they vary, this year summer has lingered on but there was a distinct shift after the autumn equinox, a chill in the air and the leaves starting to turn, When the leaves turn autumn is upon us. Personally I spent around 15 years living in a tropical climate where the sun comes up and goes down at the same time every day… In 2015 I returned to the UK in mid winter and I was surprised to find that having not lived a winter in Albion for 15 years I really enjoyed it like never before and I realized more profoundly the magic of winter when all withdraws and nature seems to hold herself in silence. When you don’t get that break that winter gives it doesn’t give you the time to reflect so much. I found that I relished the cold and the winds and the long dark nights round the fireside. Nowadays we often live in centrally heated houses, for me the fire is what makes winter bearable so I can’t live in houses where there isn’t a hearth — so I want to give a thumbs up to the magic of winter!!!!

  20. Chris LaFond October 5, 2018 at 7:29 pm - Reply

    As an astrologer (and pagan), I consider the seasons to begin on the dates of the equinoxes and the solstices. There are a few reasons for this.
    The equinoxes and solstices are specific moments when the Sun ingresses to the cardinal signs (formerly known as ‘movable’ signs): Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn. Mundane astrology (the astrology of world events, including politics and natural phenomena) uses these moments to predict what may occur in any given season at a particular location. The word ‘cardinal’ comes from ‘cardine’, which means ‘pivot’ or ‘hinge’. It’s the time when there is a noticeable turning. Cardinal/movable signs represent *beginnings*.
    The signs following on these are the fixed signs: Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius. Fixed signs are about being fixed, not moving, being stuck. Each of these represents the height of the season, when the most representative things of the season are evident. So Beltaine falls exactly in the middle of Taurus, Lughnassadh in the middle of Leo, Samhain in the middle of Scorpio, and Imbolc when the winter is coldest, right in the middle of Aquarius. The season has its grip on its surroundings.
    These are all followed by the mutable signs: Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces. During each of these, the grip of the season starts to loosen, and changes slowly start to happen, before they finally give over to the next cardinal sign and the new season. So in late May-early June, for example, the strong grip of spring (Taurus) loosens as the heat really starts to take over, and by the Summer Solstice, the days are routinely hot. A few weeks after Samhain, the autumn starts to let go, the final leaves fall off the trees, and Sagittarius starts to give us a taste of the real cold that is to come; this gives on to Winter Solstice at the beginning of cardinal Capricorn. This same pattern follows in each season.
    Now, when I *celebrate* each season may differ depending on the landscape around me. I might observe a season begin at the cardinal signs, but until plants start blooming, even a little, I’m not likely to celebrate Beltaine.

  21. Mary Frampton October 5, 2018 at 7:39 pm - Reply

    I’ve lived in Wisconsin all my life, which I believe has similar season changes as the U.K. We’re taught in elementary school that the seasons “officially” change names at the equinoxes and solstices. I often hear my kiddos argue over when it’s “technically” a season 🙂 Within my Pagan practices, I really haven’t heard much argument over when they change “spiritually”. For me, the solstices and equinoxes are the celebratory “Yay! It’s ! Time to revel in it!”. The crosspoints seem to be “action” holidays, a proverbial kick in the hinnie that it’s time to start getting ready for the next season. Imbolc, which is usually the coldest holiday of the year, is usually a kick in the backside that says “Hey, you know all that thinking and reflecting you’ve been doing over the winter months? Well, you better get crackin’ with some real plannin’ because the season is gonna be here before you know it!”. Similar concept with Lughnasadh “Hey, that harvest is right on top of you! Better get ready to reap what you’ve sewn!”. Beltane is the “Hey, it’s gonna be steamy hot out there soon! Better be ready to do the labor to keep that harvest flourish.”. And for Samhain, “Hey, you know now the fruits of your labor, time to get ready to hunker down and put all that knowledge to work (any maybe get a little shuteye while you’re at it, you deserve it).” 🙂

  22. Shirley Deasy October 5, 2018 at 9:00 pm - Reply

    I have thought for years that Imbolc is the promise of spring but it’s not spring until the spring equinox. Likewise, I love Lughnasadh is the promise of fall (my favorite season) with fall starting on the Autumn equinox. Thank you for your thoughts on this

  23. Philip October 6, 2018 at 9:47 am - Reply

    For me, working outside as a forester for many years, the seasons began and ended on my decisions, when to start planting and when to end being the most critical and I believe that our ancestors would have utilised a similar system using the celestial backdrop as a guidance and the record and memory of the elders (druid) to formulate the plans for planting and harvesting. Still planting for food today I know a crop failure will not lead me to starve but it would have done them. I try to use a two fold system whereby I have four fixed point (solar festivals) and 4 mutable (Earth festivals). I believe if I had records of the times these were used in the past and observations going back years that even today I could be more efficient and self sufficient. I think our ancestors survived because they could better predict the changes necessary for the survival of their peoples.

  24. Kevin Rowan-Drewitt October 6, 2018 at 12:42 pm - Reply

    As an astrologer as well as a witch I follow the astronomical seasons as dictated by the equinoxes and solstices and I think Chris above has explained it all very well so I wont repeat it all over again but what I would say is that the 12 signs or the zodiac dovetail exactly with the Wheel of the Year. The four fixed festivals are in the 4 fixed signs of the zodiac and the solstices and equinoxes mark the transitions from one of the other 8 signs to another. A good example is the Autumn Equinox where the Sun changes sign from Virgo to Libra. Virgo is associated with the harvest. The brightest star in the constellation of the Virgin is Spica which the maiden holds in her right hand. Spica means ‘seed wheat’ and there is another star Vindemiatrix which represents a grapevine. Libra is of course the Scales which are all about balance and at the equinox day and night are equal, i.e. balanced – equinox means ‘equal night’.

  25. Brian October 7, 2018 at 7:10 pm - Reply

    My two favourite seasons are spring and the fall, when the colours of the countryside give beautiful colours and outside our door in the garden; a reminder that we are but transient being. The mention of the faith festivals is a reminder of how in the present world, our festivals are under threat from the secular, momentary pleasure seeking type. I have had the unpleasant experience here in Norfolk of trying to defend the faith importance of Yule against the women in the office who state openly that Xmas is nothing to do with religion, the period is now secular and those with faith should have no priority for time off to celebrate because the secular should take priority. I have no doubt that the managing director of this train operating company will support that outlook. Such thinking in turn threatens the seasons and our very environment, for these types have no empathy with the countryside or the importance of nature.

  26. Ryan October 11, 2018 at 10:12 am - Reply

    To be honest, the “cross quarter” festivals have never really resonated with me, especially when what the festival “means” (on a specific calendar date) is so often not what I see around me in nature. This year, the first snowdrops were up in early January, and it still feels summery on some days now. Also, I like celebrating the real – and the solstices and equinoxes are real, observable events, so I tend to go with those, and with the astronomical start of each season.

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