Tag Archives: Winter

The roots of belonging

I even love the cold, especially when the sun is shining. Photo: Lone 2015.

I even love the cold, especially when the sun is shining. Photo: Lone 2015.

The plan to come to Copenhagen for a year did not come to me in a flash – it evolved slowly from that feeling of not quite belonging where I was. A tiredness from being a just little bit out of place, a little bit different. A feeling of being surrounded by truths a little bit – or sometimes a lot – different from what I knew to be true when I was much younger than today.

We have now been in Denmark for eight weeks and in our flat for five. It is four weeks since our older son left to go back home to Brisbane, Queensland, Australia – home to our younger son who did not want to come. Thankfully, they report that they are both doing well.

In that time we have been exploring our new place. And: I love Copenhagen. There are so many things to see, to do, to enjoy. I love hearing Danish language around me. I even love the cold, especially on a sunny day when every spot of sunshine on the street walks fills up with people catching just a bit of that sun. I love seeing my family and my friends. And I love that my husband is so completely on the journey with me. But it is too soon to say if I belong here.

It is hard to come home when you don’t belong writes Maren Uthaug in her debut novel Og sådan blev det (And so it was) from 2013. Like the main character, Kirsten, Uthaug lives in Denmark, but her parents are Sami and Norwegian. The story is about going back to ones roots to discover identity. Kirsten is born as Risten in Northern Norway into a Sami community. When she is seven years old, her parents separate and with her Norwegian father she moves into the home of a well-meaning Danish woman. In all her well-meaningless and desire for minimum conflict and otherness in her midst, the woman changes the girl’s beautiful Sami name to a Danish one. She also changes the name of the Vietnamese orphan who came to live with her when Vietnamese boat refugees came to Denmark in numbers so large that authorities had to billet them with private individuals.

Kirsten’s plan to reconnect with her Sami family also does not come in a flash and when she finally visits her mother in Northern Norway, her sense of belonging to the country and community in which she was born is blurred by years of absence, growing up in a different country, community and culture.  Even the belief system for keeping evil away that she learnt from her grandma; the silver, the chants in an old Finnish language, Kvensk, the warning to never look at the northern light; are foreign to the Sami community to which she returns.

I have always wondered how people in the arctic circle managed to survive and have children. The exhibition Fur - life or death? at the National Museum gave me some insight. Photo: Mick 2015.

I have always wondered how people in the arctic circle managed to survive and raise children. The exhibition Fur – life or death? at the National Museum gave me some insight. Photo: Mick 2015.

Just before she leaves with her father for Denmark, young Risten commences a massive project to draw a fantastic tree covering numerous taped together pieces of A4 paper. She wants to draw the roots, the crown, the branches. The roots of this tree – of this girl – are clearly deeply buried in the northern country near the arctic circle. When she returns she probes to discover just how deeply her roots are buried – they are so well covered up by an alternative truth that they are nearly impossible to discover.

This is a touching and moving story, well written and beautifully told. Being out of place in a well-meaning, but much misguided ‘civilisation’ parallels stories of first nations people across the world. And I am happy to say, it is a far cry from my own experience: my struggle for belonging are nothing on a scared little girl far away from home, clutching her grandma’s silver ring and chanting to keep evil spirits at bay and holding tight to cultural truths that no-one surrounding her has any possibility of understanding.

My story has none of that drama at all. I deeply respect the genuine struggle of all people who are displaced, especially to those who did not – and cannot – themselves chose to be where they are.

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Lost in ancient foot prints

Farum Gård from the south side of Farum Sø. Photo: Mick. 2014.

Farum Gård from the south side of Farum Sø. Photo: Mick. 2014.

With bright sunshine and 5 degrees, we set out for a morning walk down to the lake, Farum Sø.

Farum lies on the northern shore of Farum Sø. In old Norse ‘far’ means place of passage and ‘rum’ means place or home. So a place to cross the bog without getting wet. These shores have been inhabited for 6000 years and the passages have been important connector roads across northern Sjælland and perhaps even between Europe and Sweden. West of the lake, Kong Volmers Vej refers to King Valdemar 4. Atterdag (1340-1375) but the road was flooded when 14th century progress saw water mills built that required dams to function. The passage was then moved to the east of the lake, where Fiskebækken runs between Farum Sø and the much larger Furesø.

A milestone on the King's road. Photo: Mick. 2014

A milestone on the King’s road. Photo: Mick. 2014

Our route started out following the path of Kong Volmers Vej right into Sortemose (black bog). It was not so much boggy as confusing. Almost immediately, we got lost. I had walked this way before with my sister-in-law, but we must have missed a left turn early on the path. Yet, there were plenty of other walkers and people on bikes on the sticky paths. So we just kept walking.

After three additional turns we were starting to wonder if we were walking in the right direction or completely away from the lake. Then at Præsteskovvej we found one of the stands that usually hold maps from the environment department. It was out of the walking trail maps, but offered up a map for dog owners. It was better than nothing. It confirmed that I had been completely confused by the low sun to the south – rather than to the north as I am accustomed to in the Antipodes. We were not yet lost. So we just kept walking.

And finally we got to the lake. Photo: Mick. 2014.

And finally we got to the lake. Photo: Mick. 2014.

At Sækkevejen we chose to go right instead of left. We were still looking for signs that we were walking round Farum Sø, and this path took us down to the lake and the look out. It was a dead end though, but we had seen a desire path a bit back. Why not? We could still just turn around and go back. So we just kept walking.

This desire path met up with a more defined one, though very boggy and muddy in places. But it was worth walking down toward Sækken this way. The forest offered up sightings of wrens, jays, great tits and even a couple of wood peckers. And cyclists passed us both ways – we could not be too far off the beaten path. So we just kept walking.

Up the hill we ended up at the remains of a stone age settlement. We were unsure if the boulders placed to make a low cover and the ring of big rocks around it were a recent addition. Later we learnt that they are the last remains of a stone age grave, dated between 3950 and 2801 B.C. We were on sacred land so accessible and everyday it was almost impossible to spot it. So we just kept walking.

The remains of a stone age grave, runddysse. Photo: Lone. 2014.

The remains of a stone age grave, runddysse. Photo: Lone. 2014.

We came back out into the open and turned left, both confident this was reasonably right, judging by the dog map and the position of the sun. But down the bottom of the hill was another cross road, with one path going right and one left. I felt tired and tense in my shoulders and felt going right was, well, right. But left was the way we went. Both ways would have got us to the eastern end of the lake, but the left route took us right down to the waters edge again. It was very picturesque, though a gale was blowing. So we just kept walking.

Finally we came out at the very eastern edge of the walk and we were in familiar territory and it was an easy walk through the old part of Farum and Farum Gård’s grounds. We had not really been lost, just a bit unsure about the way. In fact, we had not really set out to circumnavigate the lake; it just turned out that way when we realised how far we had already gone. Sometimes you get so far that you might as well just keep walking.

This map would have been useful along the way. Photo: Mick. 2014.

This map would have been useful along the way. Photo: Mick. 2014.

We walked some 10 to 12 kilometres, and thanks to http://oldtidsstier.dk/farumsoe.html we now know a bit more about the history of Farum.

‘Hygge’ and December

Candle light is ubiquitous in Denmark at xmas. Photo: Lone. 2014.

Candle light is ubiquitous in Denmark at xmas, in window sills and on the tree. Photo: Lone. 2014.

I love December. It heralds time with family and ‘hygge’. ‘Hygge’ is that Danish concept that escapes English translation: ‘cosiness’ simply does not capture the feeling of warmth, friendship and good conversation associated with the Danish concept. From old Norse, its etymology denotes comfort and encouragement (as in comforting and encouraging someone). In my mind, ‘hygge’ conjures up images of candlelight against dark windows, a big pot of tea and rustic ceramic mugs, held tightly to warm the hands, while sitting with a friend in a deep soft couch, the legs drawn up under us, absorbed in gossip and secrets with laughter ringing. “Oh is that the time? I better go. It has been so ‘hyggeligt’!”

But hygge can also be outdoors, during long light summer nights, gathered with friends on a patio, the grill cold again after the slightly burned sausages and steaks have come off – dirty dishes still in front of us and plentiful red wine in our goblets. And the lark singing as the sun refuses to be completely overwhelmed by the night and the children have fallen asleep on the couch in front of the tv inside. “Thank you for the other night. We really enjoyed it. It was so ‘hyggeligt'”

The ‘hygge’ I associate with December is both indoors and out. The outdoor markets in Tivoli, plentiful with food stalls and merchendise, snow and darkness by 4 o’clock. Long walks in newly fallen snow and coming back inside with red cheeks and that fresh feeling in the entire body.

Making marzipan confectionary is part of 'hyggen'. Photo: Mick. 2014.

Making marzipan confectionary is part of ‘hyggen’. Photo: Mick. 2014.

But best are the indoor pursuits leading up to the evening of 24 December. Here in my brother’s house we have been drinking a lot of tea and coffee, while sitting around the long dining table making confectionary. With marzipan, nuts, melted chocolate and hazelnut nougat, hands sticky with the sweet almond mass, yet some amazing and delicious creations achieved. And with bellies full of nuts, figs and marzipan, we made decorations. The woven hearts and 3D stars are particular favourites, though both can be challenging for the smaller children, who prefer to just cut shapes and glue them together. With plenty of glue.

‘Lille juleaften’ – the 23 December – the old box with decorations was retrieved and its contents combined with newly made ones on the recently erected fir tree. Plus the live candles. Candles on a tree may seem foolish to firefighters, Australians with plastic trees and anyone else who fear a fast xmas fire. But here it is unthinkable not to have live candles everywhere, including on the tree. They add so much to ‘hyggen’ on ‘juleaften’ on 24 December.

The xmas tree comes in on 23 December, 'Lillejuleaften' and is decorated with home-made hearts and stars. The live candles may seem foolhardy, but there are very few serious xmas fires in spite of them. Photo: Lone. 2014

The xmas tree comes in on 23 December, ‘Lillejuleaften’ and is decorated with home-made hearts and stars. Photo: Lone. 2014

When I grew up, we almost always held ‘juleaften’ in my father’s childhood home, often with another clan of cousins. Our ritual was of piling presents and children into the station wagon in the afternoon, my father driving carefully on 20 kms of small, slippery roads to be welcomed by my grandmother – Farmor – at the farm. She had been busy in the kitchen with the feast to be devoured – roast pork, caramelised potatoes, red cabbage and ris-á-la-mande – before the tree would be lit.

After the feast my grandfather – Farfar – ushered everyone into the kitchen, while he and a chosen child lit all the candles on the tree, complete with hearts, angels, stars and fairy hair, glittering up and down the tree. When he finally opened the low kitchen door and let us into the living room, all of the electical lights were off and the tree lit up the room in warm golden light. We would link hands and walk – dance – around the tree, singing the familiar songs, with Farmor sitting in a seat with a small songbook to lead the singing, with her high voice which gradually degraded over the years. After the last loud and fast song that we knew all the words to, even my English speaking cousins – ‘Nu er det jul igen’ – the lights would come back on and the gift orgie commenced with its soundtrack of ripping paper and excited screams. Then, exhausted from the anxious wait and the adrenalin rush from singing and dancing and opening presents, we would pile back into the car, now with the presents in an unopened state and distributed to the right child, to drive back home through the dark night. It was nothing, if not ‘hyggeligt’.

In my childhood we often went to my father's childhood home for xmas. Plenty of children and presents - and of course the tree with plenty of live candles. Photo: Andreas. 2014.

In my childhood we often went to my father’s childhood home for xmas. Plenty of children and presents – and of course the tree with plenty of live candles. Photo: Andreas. 2014.

‘Juleaften’ on 24 December is the night of celebration in Denmark rather than xmas day. The following holidays are just that: days off with family and doing things together. ‘Hyggelige’ things, always involving too much food.

I love being with my Danish family during these days. And I love being in Denmark, where Christmas makes sense in ways that Australian marketeers could only dream of, what with their fake snow on shop windows, polar bears and warmly dressed Santa Claus, all in 30 degrees of humid, sweltering antipodian heat. The holiday season is still ‘hyggelig’ in Australia – and with my Australian family we have created our own traditions and rituals to make it so. Yet to me real xmas is what I recall from my childhood memories in cold wintery Denmark. Thank you to my family for making it happen this year.

Beauty and blue

October provides purple paths all over Brisbane. Photo: Mick 2014

October provides purple paths all over Brisbane. Photo: Mick 2014

As I walked over the purple carpet of spent jacaranda flowers I thought about the fleeting nature of beauty. Jacaranda trees are a hallmark of Brisbane in spring. They dot the urban landscape with bright purple crowns, like lanterns, and look beautiful against the high blue Queensland sky in October. deciduous as they are, their tiny compound bi-pinnate leaflets turn yellow and drop in winter, before the tree smothers its twigs with trumpet-shaped purple flowers in October that beckon the insects and critters for help with fertilisation. Only then does the bright green foliage return, providing great shade in this sunburnt country that is curiously low on good native shade trees. Once spent, the flowers fall, like droplets of purple rain, and are then followed by round, flat woody seed pods, about 5 cm in diameter, from which flat, winged seeds float when they open, ready to generate new trees.

R. Godfrey Rivers' Under the jacaranda from 1903 was purchased by Queensland Art Gallery - Godfrey Rivers was instrumental in establishing the Queensland National Art Gallery in Brisbane in 1895 and his painting features on the cover of the Gallery's publication about its survey of Australian Art from 1850 to 1965 shown n 1998.

R. Godfrey Rivers’ Under the jacaranda from 1903 was purchased by Queensland Art Gallery – Godfrey Rivers was instrumental in establishing the Queensland National Art Gallery in Brisbane in 1895 and his painting features on the cover of the Gallery’s publication about its survey of Australian Art from 1850 to 1965 shown n 1998.

Jacaranda trees are prolific in Brisbane and important to the Brisbane identity. But the jacaranda is not native to Brisbane or even to Australia. It is an invasive species that easily germinates near our rivers and creeks, crowding out more fragile native species. Jacaranda is listed as a ‘low priority pest species’ in the Brisbane Weed Management Plan 2013-17 and as an ‘invasive naturalised species’ in a paper published by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foresty. The very first jacaranda was brought in deliberately from Brazil and planted in Brisbane’s Botanical Gardens near Parliament House in 1864. It is the very same tree that Godfrey Rivers immortalised in his painting Under the Jacaranda in 1903 that was acquired by the Queensland Art Gallery. I love this painting of the artist and his wife taking tea underneath the shade of the giant purple crown with her bright red parasol shining like an illuminated button. Later destroyed by a storm, this tree is thought to be the mother of all jacarandas in Australia and so lives on in its seedling trees.

Jacarandas dot the Brisbane suburban landscape when it is time to study for end of year exams. Photo: Mick 2014

Jacarandas dot the Brisbane suburban landscape when it is time to study for end of year exams. Photo: Mick 2014

It is easy to see why the jacaranda has become a much-loved – and beautiful – symbol of Brisbane. When I was an overseas student in 1990, one university lecturer said to me that if you haven’t started studying when the jacarandas flower, you are likely to fail your exams. This was good advice for someone who was wondering how you knew spring from summer and autumn from winter in this great southern land.

One of the things I miss about Denmark is the dramatic transition of the seasons. From winter’s sometimes white, but mostly just wet, cold sparse landscape to spring’s affirmation of fresh new life and bright colourful flowers from bulbs awoken by the warmer weather. From the pale green foliage of spring to summer’s dark green crowns teeming with life, insects humming and blackbirds singing for their growing children, when even the dead of the night fails to eradicate the light of the sun entirely. From the holiday sun tan of summer to autumn’s golden fields and heavy fruit trees, ready for harvesting under the blue sky of September, before the cold and rain set in, ready for winter. These seasons are all beautiful in their own way – and the regularity of their passing is so different from the way Australian seasons seem tied more closely to the randomness of drought and wet.

From winter's white over early spring's budding green life to late spring's bright green leaves on a birch tree in my back yard in Aalborg. Photo: Lone 1991.

From winter’s white over early spring’s budding green life to late spring’s bright green leaves on a birch tree in my back yard in Aalborg. Photo: Lone 1991.

Next year in Copenhagen, I will experience the cycle of the northern European seasons again, for the first time since 1989. I look forward to that, though when October comes around, I might just find myself missing the beauty of the jacaranda blue and the mild weather of spring.

On eucalypts and identity

Eucalypts, tall trees and understorey. Bunya. 2010.

Eucalypts, tall trees and understorey. Bunya. 2010.

The Australian landscape is so unlike what I grew up with. The land is so vast with properties as large as all of Jutland and red dessert running the depth and breath of the continent with sparse populations of people, sheep and cattle. The population density is 2.9 people per km2. Comparatively, 131.3 people live on each Danish square kilometer and every bit seems cultivated and tamed.

The Australian fauna is like something out of a magical picture book: kangaroos and wallabies get around by bouncing, koalas look like cuddly teddy bears from a toy shop, mammals lay eggs and colourful parrots and lorikeets screech rather than sing, drunk on the concentrated nectar of native flora.

Koala clutching gum tree. Bunya. Mick 2010.

Koala clutching gum tree. Bunya. Mick 2010.

The flora is also uniquely evolved, none better than the eucalypt, tall timber with sparse crowns, providing at best speckled shade to those seeking its protection, risking the dropping of massive branches at no particular notice. They have learnt to suck every bit of moisture out of the ground that surrounds its roots and provide just enough nutrition in the leaves for sleepy koalas living in the fork of their trunks. Red gum, blue gum, scribble gum, rose gum, ghost gum – there are more species of gum tree than can be counted. The smell of eucalypt in my nose, clearing the sinusses in dry winter, is so different from earthy dank smell of the beech, oak and pine forests of my wet childhood winters.

When we lived in Bunya, on the Samford Range, dry schlerophyl forrest surrounded us. Tall gums towered over us and young saplings crowding the understorey, observing our transformation of the landscape as we built our home and gardens, knowingly nodding to the kookaburras’ laugh ringing from their brances. Our hopes to live gently and sustainably on our land were challenged by the years of drought, the hard baked soil of clay and shale and water-stealing gum trees. We later learnt that the land was cleared in the late 1800s to build Brisbane’s wharves and public buildings and then abandoned when farmers found it too poor for a sheep run. So it regenerated to its natural state until subdivided into 2 hectare blocks in the late 1900s. We bought our land in 2000 and lived in our self-designed house from 2002 to 2010. We loved our time in Bunya: it was a time of Australian dreams, plans and optimism; but eventually we were beaten back to comfortable suburban Brisbane.

In his award winning novel, Eucalyptus, Murray Bail touches on the myth of Australian identity. It is a timeless story about a widower landowner, who loves two things: his carefully cultivated eucalypt collection on his vast rural property and his beautiful daughter, Ellen. Like in a fairy tale, he announces he will give his daugther away to the first man who can complete the challenge: naming all the eucalypts on his property. Strangely resigned to her fate, his daughter gradually fades away. Two suitors are on the scene – Mr Cave who walks the land with her father to identify each tree, and a stranger, who turns out not so strange, meeting Ellen in the forrest and on her sick bed to tell her stories that sustain her. The closer Mr Cave gets to name all the trees on the property, the sicker Ellen gets, and the more compelling become the stranger’s stories.

Each chapter is named after a spieces of eucalypt. As I read the story in my suburban home, I am reminded of the selfishness of eucalypts and the harshness of the Australian landscape that we felt when we lived in Bunya, just 22 km from the capital city centre. How much harsher would that landscape be away from the sea board in the red centre?

Bail seems to poke fun of that most enduring Australian self-identity: that of the bushman living in the outback, the brave pioneer of new frontiers. Even when the myth was developed in the 1800s by ‘bush’ poets like Henry Lawson and Banjo Patterson, people predominantly lived close to the sea, as did those writers themselves. But the idea of Australians as conquerours of the landscape still prevails today – perhaps most accurately depicted by open cut mines scarring the landscape – when really the majority of people live in safe, unchallenging and comfortable suburbia on the seaboard, rather than in the bush.

Screeching rainbow lorrikeets telling white cockatoo off. Bunya. Mick 2010.

Screeching rainbow lorrikeets telling white cockatoo off. Bunya. Mick 2010.

Australia is still a harsh landscape. It invites you in with its raw beauty and its potential, but offers little in return for hard work and spits you out when you have been defeated. We feel it perhaps not often, in our urbane homes with manicured palm tree gardens, where we have been able to cultivate and control the land to suit ourselves. Nonetheless, in 2011, Mother Nature demonstrated our limited security so devastatingly, when Brisbane River broke its banks and flooded the once swampy plains of its delta, where Brisbane now stands. Flood water sweept our status symbols and security out into the bay, leaving a trail of stinking mud and devastation.

Just like Ellen’s relationship with gum trees was one of ambivalence, so is my relationship with my adopted country: I love this country for its breath-taking beauty and I despise for its harshness and unreasonableness which reminds me constantly of my own insignificance and indeed that of our entire species.

Under my skin

The church in Gjellerup, Herning Kommune, Denmark. Photo Ch1ptune at da.wikipedia, 2007.

The church in Gjellerup, Herning Kommune, Denmark. Photo Ch1ptune at da.wikipedia, 2007.

‘One can never leave home’ wrote Maya Angelou in Letter to my Daugther in 2008, because ‘one carries the shadows, the dreams, the fears and dragons of home under one’s skin, at the extreme corners of one’s eyes and possibly in the gristle of the earlobe.’

I have been thinking a lot about home lately. As a child I had a stable home. We moved around a little at first, never straying far from that centre of my father’s universe that was Lundfod where he grew up. Once I started school we stayed in the same place until after I left home. My childhood was spent in the little village community of Gjellerup, smack in the centre of Jutland peninsula, as far away from the water as it is possible to get in the little island country of Denmark, where people are of the land and have both feet firmly planted on the ground. Once settled here, my parents got on with their business and we kids got on with being kids and growing up.

It was safe and it was summer, and I played with friends on the street until we were called in to go to bed, even if it still seemed like broad day light. Or it was winter with snow piled high outside and candle light on the well-decorated, freshly felled pine tree, cosy inside, and we played board games and card games with our parents. It was safe and we were never in doubt we were loved. It was a good place from which to go and conquer the world. And so I did, but that is another story.

My childhood home from 1972 to 1982

My childhood home from 1972 to 1982

This was home and I belonged to the place. My community was a very ancient village, the one with the oldest church in Denmark, from 1140. This community was tight knit and deeply religious, but growing fast in the secularised, liberated 1970s. Though we were newcomers, we were all able to find our community, our belonging, here in this rapidly expanding village as it merged to become a suburb of the larger town, Herning. I started at the new school as soon as it opened in january 1973, sang in the choir, joined the scouts, roamed the streets playing cowboys and indians, princesses and dragonslayers and racing our bikes down the gently sloping hills. Friends, whom I still hold dear and count among my very best friends, are friends from my childhood home (you know who you are).

No matter how much I go back and walk the streets I used to play in, look at the homes I used to live in or visit the school I went to, in that little village, I know that there is no going home. It is never the same as the memory of home I carry under my skin. Because I am not the person I was and I will never be that person again, never belong in that place as I did. Similarly, the people I associate with my belonging to that place are no longer there and are no longer the people they were. Experimental philosopher Joshua Knobe questions the notion of an essential self – the person you are can never be the person you were or the person you will be: Even physically, 98% of atoms in your body changes every year.

Nevertheless, when I go to Denmark and look at the landscape, the architecture and the people, hear the language and the songs and feel the place, I know that I belong. I am recognised, I fit in. I belong to this country, this people, this language, this history.

And I don’t. Having lived for 23 years in Australia, away from Denmark, my mother tongue is 23 years old and the society I knew then has moved on, through several crises and cultural shifts. Some of these shifts are significant and others more subtle. For any migrant, this is a significant experience and sometimes cause of sorrow. It reminds us perpetually of the flux of all things: ever-newer water flows and one cannot step in the same river twice (Heraculitus).

It may be true you never leave home, as Angelou asserts, but I have found the home under my skin has morphed and changed, as I run through its manifestations inside my head and adjust the shadows, dreams, fears and dragons to fit into the narrative of my life. One may never leave home, but home is never what it was.

And this is exactly why I need to go home to Denmark: so I can adjust the home under my skin, at the corner of my eye and in the gristle of my earlobe. Thanks Angelou, and rest in peace.

A blustery Brisbane day

Image credit: Mick 2014

Image credit: Mick 2014

Suddenly, the wind came from the west and brought interior cold gusts with it. Wind from the bare outback, the great big red centre of nothing, but a large rock and a few, very small communities, each 100 km from nothing. Sometimes this wind brings red dust with it, but today the wind seems to only bring cold. Last week Brisbane had temperatures up to 30 degrees and unseasonal rain that caught us by surprise, but on Saturday morning it suddenly changed. Like nature realised with a jolt that it was winter.

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