Posts Tagged ‘D.C.’

The Poinsettia Room at the United States Botanic Garden

The Poinsettia is particularly well known for its red and green foliage and is widely used in Christmas floral displays.  No flower says Christmas like the beautiful Poinsettia.  I particularly remember them being used to decorate the pulpit and front of the sanctuary in church when I was growing up.  Our family’s church would sell them during December to help raise money during the holidays for the poor.   The people who bought them would then pick them up after the Christmas Eve worship service to take them home.  And each year my parents would buy several, including one for an elderly widow in the church, who would take it home and eventually plant it in her garden.  A particularly difficult plant to keep alive when planted outdoors in areas that experience colder climates, the widow not only planted it each year, but they thrived.  She had a garden full of the Poinsettias my parents had given her.

During this lunchtime bike ride I made a stop at the United States Botanic Garden.  I was unaware of it until I was actually in it, but they have a Poinsettia Room.  And I was used to Poinsettias with traditional dark red blooms and green foliage, but the Botanic Garden Poinsettia Room is full of a wide variety of different Poinsettias of varying colors.  Though once only available in red, there are currently more than 100 natural and hybrid varieties of Poinsettias available in burgundy, pink, white, yellow, purple, salmon, and multi-colors. They have names like ‘Premium Picasso’, ‘Monet Twilight’, ‘Shimmer’, and ‘Surprise’.  The showy colored parts of poinsettias that most people think of as the flowers are actually colored bracts, which are modified leaves.  The colors of the bracts are created through “photoperiodism”, meaning that they require darkness for 12 hours at a time for at least five days in a row in order to change color.  Then, once Poinsettias finish that process, the plants require abundant light during the day for the brightest color

The word Poinsettia is traditionally capitalized because it is named after a person.  Poinsettias received their name in this country in honor of Joel Roberts Poinsett, who introduced the plant into the country in 1825.  Poinsett was a botanist, physician and the first United States Ambassador to Mexico. Poinsett sent cuttings of the plant he had discovered in Southern Mexico to his home in Charleston, South Carolina.  The poinsettia is a perennial shrub that will grow 10-15 feet tall in their native Mexico, where they are found in the wild in deciduous tropical forest at moderate elevations from southern Sinaloa down the entire Pacific coast of Mexico to Chiapas and Guatemala.  They are also found in the interior of Mexico in the hot, seasonally dry forests of Gurerro and Oxaca.  In Mexico they are known as “”La Flor de la Nochebuena”, meaning “Flower of the Holy Night, or Christmas Eve.

Paul Ecke, Jr. is considered the father of the Poinsettia industry due to his discovery of a technique which caused seedlings to branch. This technique allowed the Poinsettia industry to flourish, and for the Ecke Ranch in California to nearly corner the market.  Today Poinsettias are the best selling potted plant in the United States and Canada, and the Ecke Ranch grows over 70 percent of all Poinsettias purchased in the United States and about 50 percent of the world-wide sales of Poinsettias.

A popular rumor over the years resulted in the misperception that Poinsettias are poisonous if eaten.  However, scientific studies have determined that, for example, a 50-pound child would have to eat more than a pound-and-a-quarter of Poinsettia leaves, which is the equivalent of between 500 and 600 leaves, to have any side effects. The same is true with animals. The most common side effects that have been reported from Poinsettia ingestions are upset stomach and vomiting. The leaves are reportedly not very tasty, so it’s highly unlikely that kids or even pets would be able to eat that many.

Today is Poinsettia Day, which marks the anniversary of the death of Poinsett in 1851.  So enjoy the following photos of some of the different Poinsettias I saw today.  And I encourage anyone who is able to stop by the Botanic Garden between now and January 1st to see the Poinsettia Room and all of the other holiday decorations and displays.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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Plant-Based D.C. Landmarks

Sadly, despite having worked in downtown D.C. for the past 30 years, I had never visited the United States Botanic Garden during the Christmas holiday season before this year.  I’ve been there many times but not during the holidays. But a friend who only lived here for a year before moving out of the area knew about the Botanic Garden’s annual holiday display, entitled Season’s Greenings, and the sights, smells, and sounds that accompany it.  When she asked me about this year’s display, it prompted me to go check it out.  And I’m so glad I did.

This year’s display is a multifaceted one that stretches throughout the Botanic Garden.  First, it includes the return of a series of D.C. landmarks made out of plant materials.  The holiday display also includes thousands of blooms throughout the Conservatory, from exotic orchids to a showcase of heirloom and newly developed poinsettia varieties in the seasonal Poinsettia Room.  Lastly, this year’s holiday decorations include a showcase of model trains chugging around, below, through, and above plant-based recreations of iconic sights and roadside attractions from across the United States.

I will be covering the Poinsettia display, and the model train and roadside attractions showcase in the near future.  Today’s blog post focuses on the collection of D.C. landmarks, all made from a myriad of plant and other natural materials, which is displayed in the Garden Court.  There are a dozen local landmarks and memorials on display this year.  The White House swing set, which had been included in previous years, was not present this year because the actual swing set is no longer at the White House.  In it’s place is the Albert Einstein Memorial.  Also new this year is the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened a little over a year ago.  All of the landmarks would be incredible in and of themselves.  But knowing that they are made of plants adds to the experience.

For added holiday cheer at the Botanic Garden, there are concerts on Tuesday and Thursday evenings in December, when hours are extended until 8pm.  If you can, I highly recommend going on one of these days for both the music and to see the exhibit and plant collections illuminated by colorful lights.  One of my first thoughts after seeing Seasons Greenings was wishing that I had known about it and gone in previous years.  So do yourself a favor and go so you don’t have the same thought years from now.

 

[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]

1 – U.S. Capitol Building
2 – The Thomas Jefferson Memorial
3 – Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building
4 – Lincoln Memorial
5 – National Museum of African American History and Culture
6 – National Museum of the American Indian
7 – Smithsonian Institution, The Castle
8 – U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory
9 – U.S. Supreme Court
10 – Washington Monument
11 – White House
12 – Albert Einstein Memorial

NOTE:  My blog post on “Seasons Greetings: Railroads and Roadside Attractions” will appear next Monday.

St. Thomas Episcopal Church

On this lunchtime bike ride I saw some new and unusual-looking banners hanging on a fence as I was riding past St. Thomas Episcopal Church, located at the corner of 18th and Church Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s DuPont Circle neighborhood.  So naturally I stopped to get a closer look, and find out what I could about them.

There are currently four banners on the fence at the construction site where the historic church is being rebuilt.  Each of them has an image of Christ doing a facepalm, a gesture in which the palm of one’s hand is brought to one’s face as an expression of disbelief, shame, or exasperation.  Each banner also includes a political message intended to criticize the conservative agenda of President Donald Trump.

One banner reads, “Yes, science is real,” while another states, “What is it with America and guns.”  The other two banners seem more personal.  The third reads, “I never said I hated anyone.”  But the banner that is grabbing the most attention seems more political than issues-driven and is aimed at the President himself.  It reads, “The president said what?”

The church’s Priest-in-Charge, The Reverend Alex Dyer, said they were put up to send a message.  “We wanted to add a new voice,” he said, adding, “One voice that’s been perhaps too silent is the progressive Christian voice.”  Personally, I would expand that to the voices of all Christians.

Beyond turning heads and raising eyebrows of passersby, the banners started to gain international attention when the D.C. correspondent for the Toronto Star newspaper, David Dale, tweeted a photo of the banners with the message, “How churches advertise in Washington, apparently.”  Since the tweet, the banners have continued to gain attention on Twitter and other social media.

As news of the banners has spread the church has received some negative Emails and feedback about them.  The Reverend Dyers has said, “I know there are Christians out there who are definitely in line with what our president is doing, but there is also a voice in Christianity that says this is not in line and this is not okay.”  So according to the reverend, there is no chance they will take the banners down.

In fact, he not only plans to add more banners in the future, but starting this past weekend the church began selling “Faithpalm Jesus” merchandise, including t-shirts, bumper stickers, coffee mugs, magnets, yard signs, and more.

 

[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]

FBI-WFO (5)

The FBI’s Washington Field Office

In honor of Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., who would have turned 98 years old today, on this bike ride I rode to the FBI Headquarters building, and from there to the FBI’s Washington Field Office, which is located at 601 4th Street(MAP).  Mr. Zimbalist was an actor who is arguably most widely known for his starring role as Inspector Lewis Erskine in the television series “The F.B.I.”, which premiered on September 19, 1965 and closed with the last episode on September 8, 1974. The series was an authentic telling of fictionalized accounts of actual FBI cases, with fictitious main characters carrying the stories.

Mr. Zimbalist developed and maintained a strong personal relationship with J. Edgar Hoover, the real-life Director of the FBI at that time.  Although he was never seen in the series, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover actually served as series consultant. Mr. Hoover requested technical accuracy for the show, and that Agents be portrayed in the best possible light. Actors who played F.B.I. employees were required by Hoover to undergo a background check. Mr. Zimbalist passed his background check with ease. He subsequently spent a week in D.C., where he was interviewed by Hoover, and at the F.B.I. academy in Quantico, Virginia. Hoover and Zimbalist remained mutual admirers for the rest of Hoover’s life. Hoover would later hold Zimbalist up as an image role model for FBI employees to emulate in their personal appearance.

The Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, Inc. honored the character of Lewis Erskine in 1985 with a set of retired credentials. On June 8, 2009, then FBI Director Robert Mueller, presented Mr. Zimbalist with a plaque AS an honorary Special Agent for his work on the TV series.

Other notable people with a connection to the FBI and also share today’s birthday with Mr. Zimbalist are: G. Gordon Liddy (former FBI Agent and Watergate conspirator), who turned 87 today; Dick Clark (host of American Bandstand known as America’s oldest teenager, on whom the FBI maintained a file and conducted investigations in 1962 and 1985 into threats of violence against him), who would have turned 87 today; Abbie Hoffman (political activist who was investigated by the FBI), who would have been 81 today; Richard Crenna (actor who performed on the “This Is Your FBI” radio program) would have turned 90 today, and; Mandy Patinkin (actor who played FBI Agent Jason Gideon on the TV series “Criminal Minds”), who turned 65 today.

         

         
[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]

Holodomor (1)

The Holodomor Memorial

During this bike ride I picked up some take-out in Chinatown and then rode over to a Lower Senate Park across from Union Station to watch the travelers coming and going while I ate my General Tso’s chicken. But on the way to the park I happened upon a memorial I had not seen before.  I would come to find out that it is The Holodomor Memorial, and it is located at the intersection of North Capitol Street, Massachusetts Avenue, and F Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s NoMa neighborhood.

The Holodomor Memorial was designed by Larysa Kurylas, a local architect.  Her design, “Field of Wheat,” was chosen for the memorial through an open competition.  It built by the National Park Service and the Ukrainian government, and opened on November 7, 2015.  Formally known as The Holodomor Memorial to Victims of the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide of 1932–1933, it was built to honor the victims of a brutal artificial famine imposed by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet regime on the Ukraine and primarily ethnically Ukrainian areas in the Northern Caucasus in 1932 and 1933 that killed an officially estimated 7 million to 10 million people.  Also known as the Terror-Famine and Famine-Genocide in Ukraine, it was part of the wider Soviet famine of 1932–33, which affected the major grain-producing areas of the country.

The word Holodomor is from the Ukrainian word Голодомо́р, which is derived from морити голодом and is translated as, “to kill by starvation”.   Using Holodomor in reference to the famine emphasizes its man-made aspects, arguing that actions such as rejection of outside aid, confiscation of all household foodstuffs, and restriction of population movement confer intent and, therefore, define the famine as genocide.

Despite a targeted loss of life comparable to that of the Holocaust, many people remain unaware of the genocide.  So in addition to honoring the victims, another purpose of the memorial is to educate the American public about the genocide.  And today it achieved its purpose by educating one more.

         
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

The Mary Livingston Ripley Garden

One of my very favorite gardens in D.C., and one which I stop by frequently during my lunchtime bike rides, is the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden. Conveniently located on the south side of the National Mall in the city’s Downtown neighborhood, the garden is tucked neatly in-between the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (MAP), in an area which had previously been slated to become a parking lot.

The half-acre curvilinear-shaped garden was designed by local architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen as a sensory garden, with raised planting beds and greater accessibility for handicapped and other visitors. Many of its original plants were brought in from the Litchfield, Connecticut home of Mary Livingston Ripley, an avid lifelong plant scholar-collector, active gardener, and wife of the S. Dillon Ripley, the Smithsonian Institution’s eighth Secretary.  The garden opened in 1978, and a decade later it was renamed in Mrs. Ripley’s honor by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee, a philanthropic group she helped found.

The garden has evolved over the years, with more recent efforts focused on exposing visitors to the widest variety of plants and flowers possible, many of which are grown in the Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouse Complex in Maryland.  Currently there are more than 200 varieties of plants in hanging baskets, borders, raised serpentine and circular beds, and even growing vertically on plant walls.

The garden is also adorned with a number of 19th-century cast-iron furnishings. These furnishings are part of the historical collection belonging to Smithsonian Gardens, and include a large Acanthus fountain anchoring the middle of the garden, ornate light posts interspersed along the paths, and benches that are far away enough from each other that they provide a sense of intimacy with the person you’re sitting with rather than people on the next bench.

Another asset of the Ripley Garden is horticulturist Janet Draper and her staff.  They not only maintain this incredible garden, but are also friendly, helpful if you have a question or need assistance, and even offer an informal walking tour of the garden every Tuesday at 2 p.m. through October, weather permitting.

For anyone who hasn’t yet been there, I highly recommend it.  And I would encourage you to spend some time there and be attentive, unlike the commuters and other pedestrians who simply use the garden as a cut-through between Independence Avenue and the National Mall.  And if you’re able, I would suggest going several times, perhaps at different times during the year.  It is worth repeated visits not only for the quantity and variety of plants. but because the garden is ever changing.

         

         

         

         

The following are some of my favorite photos, mostly of of flowers and plants, that I took over the past year
or so in the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden.  Click on each to see the full-size version.  Viewing them on a
high definition screen is suggested in order to better see the complexity and intricate beauty of each.

         

         

         

         

         

         

          

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

          

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Sign hanging in the Ripley Garden

Battleground National Cemetery

On this lunchtime bike ride, while I was riding north on Georgia Avenue with no particular destination in mind, I came across a small cemetery, located at 6625 Georgia Avenue (MAP).  Located near Fort Stevens in the city’s Brightwood neighborhood, I found out that it is named Battleground National Cemetery, and it’s a military burial ground managed by the National Park Service, together with other components of Rock Creek Park.  Later, I found out a lot more.

The cemetery was created after the Civil War Battle of Fort Stevens, which took place on July 11 and 12, 1864.  The battle was significant in that it marked the defeat of General Jubal Anderson Early’s Confederate campaign to launch an offensive action against the poorly defended national capitol city.  The Battle of Fort Stevens also gained notoriety as being the only military action in which the commander in chief, President Abraham Lincoln, came under direct fire from an enemy force.  President Lincoln lived, but during the battle, 59 soldiers were killed on the Union side, and there were approximately 500 casualties on the Confederate side.

After the battle, Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs seized an acre of farm land to use for burying the dead. Under direction from President Lincoln and General Meigs, forty were buried on the evening of July 12, 1864, on the battlefield site. That night, Lincoln came to the site to dedicate it as Battleground National Cemetery.

The piece of land seized for the cemetery was previously part of a fruit orchard owned by farmer James Malloy.  When he returned to his land after the dust cleared from the battle, Malloy was upset that his land was taken and challenged the action. Through an act of Congress passed on February 22, 1867, the land was acquired and officially transferred to the Federal government, and on July 23, 1868, payment made to Malloy.

Battleground National Cemetery is one of our Nation’s smallest national cemeteries. The entrance to the cemetery is flanked by two Civil War vintage 6-pounder, smoothbore guns.  Also near the entrance are monuments commemorating each of the units which fought at Fort Stevens.  They were the 25th New York Volunteer Cavalry, the 98th Pennsylvania Volunteer, the 122nd New York Volunteer, and the 150th Ohio National Guard.

The center of the cemetery is marked by a central flagpole, surrounded by 41 regulation marble headstones, marking the remains of the honored dead of Fort Stevens. Behind these headstones and to the east, stands a marble rostrum used to conduct yearly Memorial Day services. The four granite pillars are in memory of the four volunteer companies who fought at Fort Stevens.

Also within the cemetery grounds is a series of cast iron markers containing the first of the twelve stanzas of a poem entitled “Bivouac of the Dead,” which was written by Theodore O’Hara in memory of those men who perished during the Mexican-American War.  The poem, as well as the words of the Gettysburg Address found on the side of the caretaker’s lodge, are reminiscent of many national cemeteries.

For an aimless bike ride with no particular destination in mind, I sure came across a lot of interesting history.  Unfortunately, that portion of Georgia Avenue is not particularly bike friendly.  So I imagine the vast majority of those driving hastily by in their vehicles probably have no idea of what they are passing by, and the history behind it.

         

         

    

         

                   
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

BIVOUAC OF THE DEAD
The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
The soldier’s last tattoo;
No more on life’s parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On Fame’s eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards, with solemn round,
The bivouac of the dead.

For today’s bike ride I rode over to Arlington National Cemetery (MAP).  However, my original destination within the cemetery was changed when I saw some artillery guns being set up at the end of McClellan Drive.  I asked one of the soldiers what was happening and found out that they were members of the Presidential Salute Battery, and they were there getting ready to participate in a military honors funeral.  So I decided to stay and watch, and go to my previously planned destination on another day.

Formed in 1953, the Presidential Salute Battery is a United States Army artillery battery that is part of the 3rd United States Infantry Regiment, or The Old Guard, the President of the United States’ escort regiment.  Also known as the 3rd U.S. Infantry Salute Guns Platoon, the battery  is chiefly responsible for firing ceremonial cannon volleys to render honors to visiting foreign dignitaries and heads of state at the White House, the Pentagon and elsewhere in the D.C., area. The battery also fires the final salutes during many funerals at Arlington National Cemetery.  They are also tasked with providing artillery support to the regiment during combat operations in the event of the need to defend the national capital city.  It also serves as the battalion’s mortar platoon, providing firepower support during tactical training exercises at nearby Fort A.P. Hill, in Virginia.  The guns platoon is the only unit of its kind in the Army, and its busy schedule includes more than 300 ceremonies each year.

The platoon is equipped with eight 3-inch anti-tank guns of World War II vintage, mounted on 105mm Howitzer chassis. Each gun weighs 5,775 pounds and fires 75mm blank shells with 1.5 pounds of powder

The battery is customarily deployed to Arlington National Cemetery for the funerals of sitting and former presidents of the United States, sitting cabinet secretaries, and military flag officers.  For funerals at Arlington it uses one of two firing positions, either from Section 4 of the cemetery on Dewey Drive, or at Red Springs on McClellan Drive where they were set up today.

The gun salutes rendered by the battery are done according to a customary order of arms which is 21 volleys for heads of state (including the president of the United States and former presidents); 19 for the vice-president of the United States, foreign chiefs of government, and members of the cabinet of the United States; and 17, 15, 13, and 11 for flag officers of the rank of O-10, O-9, O-8, and O-7, respectively.  Today’s salute was a 13-gun version done for an former admiral in the Navy.

         

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

Needle Tower

The destination of today’s lunchtime bike ride was Needle Tower, a public artwork by Kenneth Duane Snelson, an American contemporary sculptor and photographer.  The 60-foot abstract sculpture of steel wires and aluminum tubes is on display outside of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, which is located just off the National Mall at Independence Avenue and 7th Street (MAP) in southwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood. 

At first glance it seems improbable that Needle Tower can even remain upright.  But the aluminum tubes of the slim and graceful piece act in compression, and held in tension by the stainless steel cables threaded through in the ends of the aluminum tubes.

Snelson’s works often center around or incorporate geometric shapes.  And this piece is a good example of that.  The tower itself is interesting.  But looking up from the inside of Needle Tower is where it really impresses.  I see Stars of David getting progressively smaller in a seemingly endless procession ascending into the sky, symbolizing the infinite nature of the universe.  According to Snelson, however, six-pointed stars are common, and the piece does not include the Star of David nor is it symbolic.  In Needle Tower the six pointedness comes from the natural geometry of the three compression struts that make up each layer.  Sets of three alternate with left and right helical modules, adding up to six when viewed upwards from the base of the tower.

The structure was built in 1968, and has been on continuous display since the museum’s namesake, Joseph Hirshhorn, donated it in 1974. It remains one of the museum’s most popular works of art.  Needle Tower is so popular, in fact, that it was placed in its central spot outside the museum so that when tourists pass by on their way to and from nearby museums and attractions, it draws their attention to both the piece and the Hirshhorn.

A second Needle Tower, Needle Tower II, was completed in 1968 and was acquired in 1971 by the Kröller-Müller Museum in the Netherlands. That piece resides in the museum’s sculpture garden.  And I look forward to seeing it on my next bike ride to the Netherlands.

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

View of the Folger Rose Garden from the Smithsonian Castle

As I was riding around near the National Mall on this lunchtime bike ride, the bright colors of flowers in a garden near the Smithsonian Castle caught my attention.  So, of course, I rode over for a closer look.  The flowers were roses, and I was surprised to see so many of them in bloom so late in the season.  So I decided to look into it and find out more about roses and the garden.

There are many different kinds of roses, and they have been around for a long time.  At last count, there were roughly 150 known species alone, and the garden hybrids of those currently number in the thousands.  And although they are over 35 million years old, every year new varieties are developed and tested, and some are eventually introduced.  And if what I saw on this ride is any indication, a great resource for viewing roses is the Kathrine Dulin Folger Rose Garden, located downtown at 900 Jefferson Drive (MAP), in front of the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building and to the east of the iconic Smithsonian Castle.

The Folger Rose Garden embodies the best practices in modern rose care and culture. When planning for this project, Smithsonian Gardens staff spent months carefully selecting rose varieties that are fragrant, disease resistant, and–whenever possible–“own-root roses” meaning they are grown from cuttings rather than grafted onto another rootstalk. Good selection is critical to maintaining a beautiful and scented garden without constant disease pressure and pesticide application.

The Folger Rose Garden features a bed of roses in a rainbow of colors, along with selected companion plants, annuals, perennials, and groundcovers chosen for year-round interest.  Specimen conifers and evergreens also punctuate the garden and anchor it during the winter months.  Because of it’s prominent and conveniently accessible location, the garden provides an engaging space for visitors on their journey around the Smithsonian museums.  You often see people walking by stop to smell the various fragrant roses, read the plant name tags to gather ideas for their own gardens, and to enjoy the spectacular view.  And with educational signage interspersed throughout the garden, it also provides an opportunity for visitors to better understand roses as a part of a larger ecosystem.

The garden also includes a number of pieces of cast iron adornment, several of which are part of the Smithsonian Gardens’ garden artifact collection.  The cast iron pieces include four benches and a large urn, but the centerpiece is the cast iron original 19th century, three-tiered Keith Fountain at the western end of the garden.  The fountain, manufactured by the J. W. Fiske Iron Works Company in New York, formerly belonged to the Ellerslie Farm in Petersburg, Virginia.

The garden was made possible by a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Lee M. Folger, in honor of their mother, Kathrine Dulin Folger, and the widow of John Clifford Folger, a prominent Washington investment banker, civic leader, fund-raiser for the Republican Party and former U.S. ambassador to Belgium.  The restoration of the fountain was made possible by contributions of Narinder K. Keith and Rajinder K. Keith.

         

          

          

         

         

         

         
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]