More Knitting Lessons-Learned

I am making a cute little hoodie for my grandson’s third birthday, adorned with construction trucks. (He loves trucks.) I zoomed through the picture portion of the project, eager to see how it would look. In the process, I made a zillion mistakes and ran into innumerable mysteries regarding why everything was not working out as it should.

I ripped out, re-knitted, ripped out again, and finally took it to the local knit shop for advice. It seems that if you skip the crucial step of checking your gauge, in other words how many stitches and rows per inch, things just may not come together right. I was excited and lazy and forged ahead without worrying about it. Surprise, it matters!

I had to start all over, probably losing about 15 hours of effort, with smaller needles and hard-earned wisdom. The smaller version of the “digger” is in the right gauge. The larger one is going to be unraveled and the yarn used to do other pieces over.

Another goal with this project is to make all the yarn from my goats’ mohair, dying and spinning it all to fit the requirements. I am getting better at spinning, but still have some lessons to learn about dying it. I needed the light green in the picture, so I took several batts of white that I’d carded months ago and threw it into the dye pot.  I loved the color! Then I fished it out and put it into my washer to rinse and spin. It turned into big lumps of felt!  I did not throw it away, but it took a good deal of effort to brush it back into a soft pile that I could spin. I developed some muscles, if not blisters!



I’ve joined a knitting race sponsored by a knitting website called “Ravelry”. The goal is to complete a project from start to finish during the Winter Olympics, and so it is called the “Ravellenic Winter Games”. I haven’t double-checked to see how much longer I have to get this done because I was sure I could do it. That was before I began that repetitive process of knitting, unraveling, knitting, unraveling, swearing, knitting, ….I think the moral to the story of my life is “Haste Makes Waste.”


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Ta Da!

I just finished my first mohair sweater, for myself. I was really worried that all that work might be for naught and it wouldn’t fit. I did extend the pattern three inches on the length of the body and sleeves. When I tried it on, the sleeves were still four inches too short so I had to cut them and insert about 25 more rows. In the end, though, I am happy. It is warm and fuzzy and soft, just as you’d imagine mohair to be. Thank you, angora goats!

Now, I have learned a lot about what works best in spinning mohair yarn and will start playing around with mixing colors and keeping out the short little pieces that make it even fuzzier than necessary and have to be pulled out. Live and learn. On to a birthday sweater for my little grandson.


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From Scratch – Goats to Sweater

A friend nudged me to get back in the habit of blogging. It is so easy to slip out of one habit and into another and before you know it, you are off on a new quest and forget all about the old ones. I wonder if that is only me and my 62-year-old highly distractable nature?

Here is what is going on at the farm this January. I visit my animals at least twice a day for feeding, petting, and those dirty chores required to keep their homes from smelling to high heaven. The bitter cold weather causes them to stay close to home and it is my job to see that their water is not ice, that they have food that generates heat as they digest overnight, and that they know they are loved. A periodic thaw like today, with that rare winter sunshine brings everybody out to explore and play with their friends, and lifts my spirits as well.

In the mean time, I’ve been spending my time trying to stay rested and healthy in the midst of swirling cold and flu viruses. I have focused my productive time on creating things with my goats’ mohair. I did a lot of knitting for family on the lead up to Christmas, and now I am indulging in making something just for myself.

Here is a photo of a mohair sweater I want to make. I figured out how much yarn of each color I will need and discovered that I did not have enough purple to make it as it is in the photo. I tried dying some yarn I’d made earlier but it came out a dark teal instead of purple. I sat down to debate with myself how to proceed.

Here is my plan. I picked out colors from my stash that I dyed in the fall, and I will spin just a ball or two of each to cover the requirements in the yoke. I have enough of the teal to do the bulk of the sweater. Today, I start spinning the yellow and the bright blue. The navy is already done and is lustrous and soft. Picking and spinning the materials and the anticipation of how it will all look together is really fun. The scary part is waiting to see if it actually comes together into a piece of clothing that fits me. Hats, scarves, and mittens are very little risk. A sweater, however, could mean a month of effort and a big chunk of my materials all wasted on an item that doesn’t really look good on me or anyone else.

So, drum roll… Weeks from now, we shall see.

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Snow Comes Again

I am fond of snow this time of the year. (Ask me in March and you’ll hear a different story.) We finally got our first couple inches this week and all the animals are remembering what it’s like and what to do with it.

Goats 12-2017The dogs came in flinging little snowballs from their feet all over the house. The chickens did not wander the yard as much as usual and the three “babies” did not venture out at all. The goats’ curly foreheads were crusted with ice and snow, although I’m not sure why. I looked around for their tracks and it looked like they’d slept in their shed, out of the cold. They were out in the pasture nibbling whatever green stuff they could still find. Maybe they’d rubbed their faces in the snow in the process.

I found cat paw prints all up and down the driveway, so one or both of them have been out exploring.  Their prints were intermingled with rabbit, mouse, and deer tracks. Emmie’s silky black coat stands out starkly against the snow so if I look out the window it is easy to spot her. Mickey seems to prefer staying in the barn but I have found him outside a couple times so I know he has figured out the cat door.  This may be the first snow that either of them have experienced.

My game camera broke so I don’t know if we are still getting visits from foreign cats at night. I’m curious whether the cat door discouraged the visits. Yesterday, I broke down and ordered a new camera from a more reputable company. I am nosy and just want to know what’s going on out there when I’m not around.

For me, I am spending most of my time indoors, creating things. I’m really getting into the joys of knitting, especially for Christmas gifts. Once the gifting season is over, I’m going to focus in on spinning more mohair yarn. Now that I know more about what I’ll do with it, I am excited to start experimenting with different weights, colors, and textures.

Even so, it is good for me to have the barnyard visits to get me out of the house and into the fresh air a couple times a day.

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Both my barn cats have finally been to the vet for checkups and vaccinations. The vet thinks Mickey is about seven months old, which would explain his crazy kitten behavior. Emmie finds him soooo annoying. He has gotten bolder with her and sometimes I worry that she’ll run away just to avoid his irritating antics. At first, a hiss and glistening cat fangs were enough to keep him at bay but now he is relentless.


I think I have solved the problem, though. I leaned a long plank of scrap lumber up into the hay loft from the workbench and stapled burlap on top to make it easy to grip. Emmie caught on immediately and gingerly balanced her way up into the new territory. Micky has gone up there as well, but I saw Emmie slash at him and scare him back down the ramp so he’d leave her alone.

I couldn’t find Emmie when I went out to feed the gang this morning. I called out to her, “Meow!” and she popped her head up from her new perch on top of a bale of hay. Quite happy, here, thank you very much.

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returnWe’ve had a hard couple of months. My mother-in-law was suffering from a terminal illness and was in and out of the hospital with increasing frequency, until the doctor suggested it was time to call Hospice. We spent a good deal of time sleeping on her couch and floor while we got a schedule worked out for 24-hour caregivers and then returning to be by her side for her final week.

In between, we came home to the farm and furiously worked at the chores and projects that had to be finished up before the snow arrived. The long lists got a flurry of check marks and then had to be left to gather dust each time we had to drive back across the state lines to help out. Then, there was the funeral, and now, all the legal steps to tie up loose ends of a life.

It surprises me how my comforting, familiar routine at home can be abandoned abruptly and slip out of my vision with no feeling of loss until, bit by bit, it begins to creep back into place. That’s where I am now. I haven’t looked at any blogs for a month. I got out of the habit of following the news and lost track of the story lines of my favorite shows. I am sure I missed out on some important things, but none of it seemed relevant anymore.

So anyway, here I am, back in the world. During breaks from catching up on bills, chores, and commitments, I will see what I missed in the blogosphere.

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The Spare Kitty

My farming friends have advised me that you need more than one barn cat. This was following a scare in which we found Emmie’s twin lying in a roadkill heap out on the highway in front of the farm. It was not her, though, and I’ve felt that much closer to Emmie ever since thinking we’d lost her.

Still, things happen. I am gradually learning to accept that living on a farm with free-ranging animals that we will lose some of them to predators, accidents, and maybe someday running away from home. My littlest hen, Scooter, disappeared last week and we’ll never know why.  This points to the farm wisdom that you plan for losses by bringing in more animals than you think you need.

So, this weekend when the local shelter had a free adoption event, my husband went over and picked out a sweet little male kitty named Micky. I believe he is not full grown yet, as he acts playful and curious like a kitten and is smaller than Emmie. Micky loves to be held and snuggles up around my neck with his little purr motor rumbling under my hands.

The two cats have not yet become friends. It took no time at all to hear the back-of-the-throat hiss as Emmie faced off with this intruder. I am hoping it will gradually settle out and they will learn to enjoy each other’s company. Currently, Micky comes bouncing out from hiding when I come into the barn and begs me to pick him up for a cuddle. Emmie then sidles out and gives him the evil eye, putting him on fearful alert. I am trying to give them both lots of one-on-one attention so they learn that I don’t play favorites.

It’s surprising to me how quickly we have adapted to loving cats. My husband is terribly allergic and, as I have said, I am firmly a “dog person.” Still, the cat experience in the barn is just as sweet as sitting on the sofa with my beloved dogs. Who knew?


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Our First Grape Harvest

This is the third summer since planting our little vineyard and this year we allowed the Concord grapes to form. Last week, I scrambled under a tight time window to get the first batch of ripe grapes turned into juice and jam. Boy, is it delicious!

Picking the grapes was simple. I just snipped the stems and let them drop into a tub. I picked about a third of them, just the darkest purple bunches. Then I swished them around with water from the hose and took the rinsed grapes into the house for a final cleaning and picking them off their stems.

We’d purchased a juicer, which is like a three-piece double boiler. The grapes go into the top pot with a sieve at the bottom. The lowest pot is for boiling water into steam. The middle pot has an opening in the middle for the steam to rise into the top pot and then catches the juice that leaks out  from the grapes above it. The juice can’t leak back down the steam hole. Got that? There is a tube coming from the middle pot with a clamp that allows you to release the juice into another container as it builds up.

This was an interesting experience. I made several batches of jam, learning the tricks as I went along. Strangely, they did not all come out the same. I’ve had plenty of chemistry lab experience so I would have thought I was quite careful but I must have done things slightly differently from one time to the next. With the juice that didn’t add up enough for the jam recipe, I added a smaller amount of sugar to make juice. I always loved grape juice, but this is the really good stuff! Thick and substantial.

Last night I went back out to check the remaining fruit. Oh oh. These grapes were super ripe and were crawling with yellow jacket wasps. I backed carefully away and slept on it, dreaming how I might get my share of the harvest without getting stung. This morning, I tucked my jeans into tall rubber boots and suited up with my honey bee jacket, veil, and gloves. Armored for war, I snipped the clusters right off into the tub and dragged it away with swarming wasps all over it.

I thought I was pretty clever. I filled the tub with water from the hose and the wasps floated up and over the edge along with the tired, wrinkled grapes that were past their prime, and I just swished them all out with a stick. Now, the final, sweetest grapes of all are on the back porch with a towel to keep the bees away. One more session with the juicer and we’ll have saved the bounty of the vineyard for year number one.

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Dyed in the Wool

Technically, angora goats produce mohair, not wool, but I dug in and did the shearing, washing, and dying all in this one labor-intensive week and created some pretty flamboyant piles of colorful fiber. I am quite proud of myself.

I will roll this backwards and show what it took go do the job. Here is a picture of the protective coverings I had to put all over the stove to prevent splashes of dye from getting into the grout and countertops of my kitchen. I only had one splash and the paper coverings captured it all.

I did have some trouble remembering to put on my rubber gloves as I worked with the dye powders, but the stains on my fingers have already faded away.

Before I could process the mohair, I had to soak it all overnight in a special detergent solution and rinse it a million times until the water finally came out fairly clear.

Here it is divided into eight sections  of Eddy’s white hair and Ely’s silver-gray locks.

Of course, the step before that was actually hauling my two boys into the barn stall for their haircuts. I have really struggled to find a regular shearer, so I gave up and decided to bite the bullet and learn to do it myself. A faithful friend came to help hold the goats still while I buzzed them with the big black monster of a shearing tool. After a while, I got fairly comfortable with it and by the time I was done with the second goat I did a pretty decent job. I brought Eddy back in to neaten him up a little and the motor died, so that was the end of that. I’ll have to figure out how to repair the machine.

Here is a picture of Eddy and Ely munching their dinner. Eddy was already sheared and Ely was still weighed down with his full six-month growth of hair. I think we have turned the corner in my farmer-hood. I can do this!



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Goodbye, Old Isa

I knew when I got chickens that they have a shorter lifespan than dogs, and worried a bit what I’d do when their time came. Well, it looks like I know now.

My first generation of chickens is now three and a half years old.  They rarely lay eggs anymore, and move more slowly around the chicken yard, reveling in their status at the top of the pecking order. I feel bad when I witness some of my old favorites angrily lashing out at the young ones with their beaks to put them in their places. What cranky old ladies they have become.

Isa as a teenager

Yesterday, I noticed old Isa was sitting alone on the roost in the morning. By late afternoon I peeked in and she was still there. I picked her up and petted her, checking to see that she was not injured. I set her gently on the floor and she stood up and looked at me. When I went to close up the gates in the evening, she was still in her spot on the floor so I picked her up and placed her back on the roost so she could stay warm with the flock overnight. This morning, she had passed away.

I guess that is the way to go, warm among your flock and in a safe place. Hopefully she died in her sleep. I dug a hole in the field where the chicken graveyard has gradually formed. Now, I look at my other older hens and my dear rooster, Cooper, and think sadly that their months are numbered as well. I know this is just farm life and the cycle moves on.  I have learned to introduce a new generation of chicks each year and will look at them as “the class of 2016”, “2017”, etc. as we move through the years. The class of 2014 will probably always be my favorite, though, as we learned together how to live on the farm.

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Re-engineering the Chicken Run

20170828_080915I got an idea this month, as I walked out through the chicken run to feed the goats and as usual, the hens all rushed past me out into the pasture. What if we had an inner wall with a door so that I could control when they were able to slip out? I put my inventive husband onto the task and this week we created the new wall.

This is working great, and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before! I moved the chicks’ box to the inside of the enclosed area and now I have a two-stage process for bringing everyone safely in at night. Before, when one or two stray hens came late and I had to open the door to herd them in, there was always the risk that someone else would then slip back out and I’d have to go chasing them around the yard. I don’t like my chickens making me look foolish.

When we’d finished up and I was walking about picking up loose tools, I shooed a hen off the straw bales we store along the wall. Under her, I was shocked to find that some of the hens had taken to laying eggs in a secret nest they’d made in the straw. I had noticed that production had slowed lately, but this clutch contained 20 eggs! 20170826_155341

Those stinkers. I rearranged the straw bales so they no longer have a nice hiding place, and now I know enough to go searching now and then for a secret cache. I’d like to retrain them to go back to laying in the convenient nest boxes, but I’m not sure how to do it. Now, they are laying on the floor in the corner of the coop so I have to walk inside to fetch them

Do you chicken experts out there have any good ideas?

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Are They Old Enough?

20170818_081205This year’s chicks have had a rough go of it. They are seven weeks old now, and I am trying to decide if it is safe for them to be running free. You may remember that I set them up with a door in their cage that would allow them to do this, a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, it was too soon.

One day, I couldn’t find them. I normally could hear the “Peep peep peep” as they clustered around each other running from here to there. I tiptoed carefully around all the places I’d seen them before, to no avail. I’d almost given up when I noticed one step further and I’d have stepped on them, hiding under the weeds in the pasture. They were keeping very quiet and still.

I suspect they’d been witness to a murder. One of them was missing, and my guess is that a hawk had spotted them and picked the first one off, planning to come back for another snack whenever it got hungry again.  I herded them back into their safe haven and closed up their door so they’d be unable to wander into danger again. That is where they have remained except for the few times the enclosure was breached for one reason or another and we’ve had to hunt them down and tuck them away in safety again.

20170824_081722In the mean time, they are growing fast and the largest is too big to slip through the fence anymore. The smallest is still quite little and looks like a baby but she is quick as a shot so if she is alert she should be able to dash out of the way of danger. Her sister was not.

We have four left, out of the eight we brought home this summer. Three died of injuries when they were tiny, and the fourth was the one who was whisked away. I grieve for each one, but all I can do is learn from the experience and figure out how to protect the others from a similar fate. I guess the next time I should buy twice as many as I really need. I am not yet enough of a farmer to look at little creatures as commodities.

As it is, today I decided to give them some freedom and hope they learn to come back to the fenced chicken run at night so they can be locked in safely like their brethren. I hope they all make it.

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Harvest in Full Swing

Here we go again! I know I publish a photo of our veggie harvest every year, but it always catches me by surprise. I thought I’d do a quick check for ripe tomatoes or squash before I came in from the morning greet and feed at the barn. Next thing I knew, I’d had to go back for a bigger tray and then a whole bushel basket because there were way more ripe items than I’d anticipated. By the time I was done, I was dripping wet and my sweaty glasses were sliding off my face into the tomato plants.

I guess it’s time to get down to business and start canning and drying those tomatoes. We have lots of onions too, but rather than dry them out to store for the winter I’m just going to be using them as needed in the kitchen. My huge efforts at hanging them to dry in the barn a couple years ago yielded a bunch of soft rotting onions in the basement by mid-winter. Very disappointing.

I stopped long enough to snap a shot of one of the many butterflies who have taken up residence in our pollinator-friendly fields. It’s a little hard to spot her, but I blew it up and did an ID with the help of Google. I think it is some variety of the Tiger Swallowtail.

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Emmie’s Visitor

It is so interesting having a game camera to let me in on what goes on at night in the barn. I have seen mice sneaking around, Emmie learning to hunt, and evidence that she has slipped outside now and then.

Cat in the doorway

The biggest surprise was when I saw apparent overexposure from the flash in which Emmie came out all white, peeking under the doorway and passing in front of the camera. Further pictures proved that it was not the flash, it was an actual white cat dropping by to visit! The camera records the date and time, so I see this visitor comes by between midnight and 4:00 am every night and they don’t seem to be friends. In one shot, Emmie has her back arched in a defensive posture.

Cats facing off (See Emmie’s eyes)

So now what do I do? Is it okay to have a foreign cat visiting? I imagine she is eating Emmie’s food, but that’s not a crisis. Emmie has been spayed so we won’t be getting multi-colored kittens. I guess I will have to get her immunized for the diseases cats tend to share with one another.

Emmie is getting better at hunting down mice. I captured a video of her chasing a mouse up the wall next to the garage door late at night, but it got away. This morning, she was chasing a baby mouse back and forth in the goat stall, seeming to find it quite entertaining. On my way back to the house from feeding the animals, I found a large dead mouse in the driveway that I didn’t see on the way out. My husband said he’d spied Emmie hunting out in the driveway while I was working in the barn, so I believe it was a very recent kill.

Emmie has come to like my company and now comes meowing out from her hiding places every time I enter the barn, calling out for a bit of petting. Who knew this relationship would progress so quickly? I’m starting to look into cat doors so we won’t have to keep the garage door ajar all winter. I’d like to make a ramp so she can nestle in the hay loft, but I don’t think she’s done any climbing yet.

This is all very interesting and entertaining to me. Just one more member of the family to fall in love with.


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Chicken Necklace

20170731_171356I noticed something strange as I walked out to check on the animals, recently. One chicken seemed to be dressed up with a white necklace around her neck. As I got closer, I discovered she had pecked through the center of a half a cantaloupe I’d put out into the compost heap and was now wearing the dried rind as she ran about the yard.

The height of fashion for a hen!

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Glorious Summertime

20170805_073609-EFFECTSAs we slide into August and begin to feel the cooler nights that hint at September, I become aware of the impending loss of yet another summer and to appreciate more what we still have around us. Sure, it is hot and humid a lot of the time, but the vegetable garden is beginning to produce the beans, tomatoes, squash and corn that will keep me busy harvesting for the next two months. I love this season with all its excitement and the rush of activity.

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Baby Chicks in a Big Chicken World

Cutting a doorThis was the week to introduce our five baby chicks to the flock. I wanted them to still have a safe haven to rest and eat without being abused by the adults, but to be able to begin mingling and exploring the world.

We cut a hole in the side of their brood box and made a hinged door that could double as a ramp out of the box, and then attached a bit of screen to allow only immature chickens to run in and out. It also gave me a chance to clean out and refresh their bedding for their second month of life on the farm.

I stood and watched for a while, as the curious adults listened and peered into the new entrance. The babies were too timid to approach and stayed under the heat lamp and in their familiar territory, but once or twice dared to peek out and see those huge chickens looking back in.

This morning, I was eager to see how they’d fared overnight and if  the indoor/outdoor balance had changed. Surprise, while the adults were still penned in and waiting to be released for the day, the babies were all outside the fence, peeping away and looking at the big wide world around them.

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Rabbits, Rabbits, Everywhere!


The bunny population has really exploded around here this summer. All I can guess is that the roaming coyotes have not gotten hungry enough to come onto the farm looking for dinner. There are little babies everywhere we turn, and they are not clever enough to duck into the weeds when they hear people approaching. I keep coming across brown fuzzy mounds with long ears, frozen in place and guessing that they cannot be spotted. I can sometimes get within a yard or two before they bolt.

Tonight, one was surprised as she was hopping into the barn and she scampered from corner to corner, skidding on the smooth cement floor and growing more panicked and unable to think straight. She finally found her way out and I wondered why the cat wasn’t on duty. Emmie came slinking out from her hiding place, stretching and extending her claws as she pinned her eyes on the place the rabbit escaped, but she is still too nervous to go running after something with me in the room.

Goat drinkingThe goats don’t seem to mind rabbits sharing their pasture, and pay no attention. The chickens share their water pail and on a hot day the water level sinks pretty fast by the late afternoon. Ely is always afraid he might get squirted by the hose but was so eager to get some cold fresh water he dunked his lips right in there while I was filling it up.

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A Brief Cuddle

Emmie, the barn cat, has clearly come to see her barn as home. We have an established routine now and maybe once a week she deigns to call out and solicit a visit. Surprisingly, I was the recipient one day last week.


I heard the little “Mew” coming from one of her hiding places and I sat down to call back to her. What followed was at least five minutes of my rubbing her ears and back while she slinked back and forth under my hand showing me what she wanted.

I held my phone in the other hand and tried to get one good shot to prove we’d had this brief friendly relationship. She did not make it easy, but here is a little documentation of “my” cat and me.

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Angry Birds, For Real

We wage an ongoing battle at our house.  Our love of animals fights on one side, facing off against our irritation with the muddy, poopy mess left when we allow little birds to raise a family on our front porch columns. We allowed a family of finches and another of barn swallows, and then cleaned up the mess and thought we were done with it. Then the swallows came back to start the next generation.

Enough is enough. My husband splurged on plastic spikes to super-glue to the ledges and we sat back to watch. Those swallows are flummoxed. They keep swooping through the porch, landing on the side of their ledges and trying to reason out in their little bird brains how the world changed and what they should do about it.


When they tire from hanging on sideways, they swoop up onto the roof and sit there to think about their next move. We are keeping out of the way and only watching through the windows, because they are the real “angry birds.”

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