Into the Trees!

By Anthony Weston

Gaius, Bailey, and I are pleased to announce that the treehouse is now finished and open for business.  Please come and visit!  You’ll find it upslope from where the Dam Loop Trail and the trail to the Hartery and Hart’s Nest crosses the little creek that flows out of the pond.  It’s a triangular cedar platform in the trees, not too high, with a ladder on the low side, a rope ladder, pirate-style, on another, and a bench up top to keep lookout or read a book. It’s for kids—bigger people will notice that the ladders and the bench are a little smaller than you might expect.  But it’s comfortable for adults too, and you are welcome to come on up (but let’s say only up to two adults on the platform at any one time, and one on the rope ladder, please!).

You might also be interested to know that no trees were harmed in the mounting of this treehouse. There are no nails or screws or anything else into the trees; it’s held up by pressure alone.

We hope to develop the slope and creekside right around the treehouse as a Play Area. Already there is a hammock, thanks to Bailey, and a little loop trail around the area, thanks to Gaius. 

Other ideas mentioned for the Play Area/Creek Crossing include: a bridge upgrade (planned); a zipline down the slope (does anyone out there know how to build ziplines?); and a (stone) amphitheater. Stay tuned!  Your ideas—and good energies for helping to realize them—would be very welcome!

 

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Black Bean Harvest at Hart’s Mill–It Took a Village!

 by Margret Mueller

As some of you might remember, Jeffry and I tried to grow a crop of black beans on the land last year, only to have our hopes and efforts dashed by the untimely arrival of Hurricane Michael’s torrential rains.

Undaunted, we planted again this year, on approximately 1/10 of an acre. Since one of HM’s stated goals is “to feed ourselves to the extent practicable,” we thought it would be a good idea to find out what sort of yield we can expect from a certain size plot and how many families this might reasonably supply.  I must admit we were operating under the aphorism “Necessity is the Mother of Invention,” as we had no earthly idea how a successful harvest might be accomplished, should we have one.

 We began the process a couple of weeks  ago when a group of six folks (Maria Teresa, Marilyn, Jeffry, Anthony, Paul, & Hope) gathered at the farm and were shown how to pull up and  laterally stack the  plants to finish drying the pods. 

This year our weather could not have been more ideal—warm and dry for a whole week!  The beans were crispy and ready!  But then, what?

 A large-scale farm would most likely own a combine (a machine that combines three separate harvesting operations—reaping, threshing, and winnowing), or several farms might share one, but we did not know of anybody nearby willing to tackle such a relatively small crop.  Eventually a plot was hatched to convert a clothes-dryer into a small-scale threshing machine.  It sounded plausible; throw some brittle bean pods into the dryer along with some hard rubber balls, and let it spin! We procured a good used dryer (thank you Alana!) and Jeffry gave it a whirl, so to speak.  It turns out that this does indeed separate the beans from the pods, but retrieving the chaff and gathering the beans proved extremely time-consuming. (Anyone want to buy a good second-hand clothes dryer?). Jeffry also tried modifying a small chipper/shredder that he saw featured on Youtube, but that also proved too challenging.

Enter Doug Jones, fellow farmer and member of the Earth’s Turn community nearby. Though his plate is always full to overflowing, Doug loves to share his extensive knowledge on most all things farming, and he has the tricks and tools to make things happen.  It turns out that way back in the 70’s he was growing storage beans, so Doug was excited to see our nice stand of mature black bean plants–and he knew just what to do. 

  • Question: how do you get little black beans out of dried pods?
  • Answer: you STOMP on them!

 So… on Saturday September 21, Hart’s Mill held its first  (annual?) Black Bean Stomp. About a dozen of us, including a multi-generational family, gathered at Hart’s Nest.  In all, five pick-up-truck loads of dry plants were delivered to the Nest over several hours, spread on plywood and tarps, and literally stomped, shuffled, and danced upon.  Hope’s boombox belted out the Go-Gos singing “We Got the Beat” (which we reinterpreted as “We Got the Beans”) and other favorites, while we stomped, gathered, separated, screened and winnowed the beans. Click here to watch the action video!

Five hours later we had about 170 pounds of beautiful almost-clean beans!

Tired but proud, we gathered for a delicious pot-luck meal and toasted ourselves for this huge accomplishment.

As the last step, Jeffry and I are giving them a final sorting, packaging them in 1-lb. bags, and taking them to the Chapel Hill Farmer’s Market along with our other crops. All volunteers will receive one of these bags as a token of our gratitude.

 What we learned:

  • 1/10th of an acre can produce a LOT of beans (i.e. protein).
  • Even a good 1/10th acre harvest may barely supply the bean needs of a 32-household community for a year.
  • Most anything can be accomplished with enough imagination, expertise, good attitudes, energy—and a mentor!
  • It does, indeed, take a village

Many thanks to Doug, Dave, Margaret, Marilyn, Paul, Anthony, Amy H, Jeffry, Krystal, Amy LS, Hope, Margret, Maria Teresa, and our bittiest helpers, Nathan, and Everett! 

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Painting the Big Planning Picture

By Anthony Weston,

On September’s “First Saturday”, the Planning, Design, and Development Circle offered a wide-ranging review of the ongoing planning work for Hart’s Mill for an enthusiastic group of 25 members at Hart’s Nest.  The village is taking shape, becoming a matrix of structures that will build and nourish community with each other and the land.   

We began by looking at the current Common House concept design.   At the heart of our community, we’re developing a design that is delightful as well as flexible, affordable, and practical.  We then walked through the evolving community “dream kitchen” layout where we envision preparing nourishing meals large and small, canning, fermenting, and producing all manner of deliciousness within. 

On to the residences.  After a review of the “building block” concept that underlies the adaptable layout of our homes, we looked at schematic designs for the four residential prototypes now planned.  We learned a few things from the survey of our members this spring and as a result are developing an economical 3-bedroom house as well as a 1-bedroom cottage with a suite attached.  We reviewed the 9 ways that these 4 structures can be combined to serve a wide variety of members and their housing needs.  This flexibility and adaptability is a hallmark of our village concept. 

There were quick reviews of other topics: Hope’s slideshow on the excavations for the Waste Water Treatment system (now completed) pursuant to permitting a suitably-sized “waste disposal” (ie. fertility recycling) system; the question of optimal community size; and the possibility of building the village in phases (Katy).

For the final hour we transitioned to the land for a guided tour of the village site plan (Anthony), refreshed by watermelon and accompanied by another three members who mostly engaged in parallel play (aka “childcare”) with the three young kids. (The score: Gaius 180+, bubbles 0).  Mapping the village plan to the land helps us feel that much closer to living there.

In the meeting and again in this blogpost I want to emphasize that most of the information we presented about residential design and the 9 Living Options within them is also posted RIGHT HERE on the HM website under the “Village Design” tab. We’ve updated those pages with the new plans and will continue to refresh them as they are consolidated. For one thing, look for Common House elevations soon! Which reminds me also to add that questions, reactions, feedback, and suggestions are always welcome as this work proceeds. Please speak to me or Katy or email us at weston@elon.edu and katy@hartsmill.org.

Members of PDD include Katy Ansardi (Elected Representative), Hope Horton (Facilitator), Bob McCulley (our newest member), Jeffry Goodrum (on leave), and Anthony Weston (Operational Leader). Interested in becoming a member of PDD?  Contact Anthony: weston@elon.edu

 

 

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Our Forests, Our Future: the ForestHer Initiative

By Hope V. Horton

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service is reaching out to women.  Why?  Of the 18 million acres of timberland in this state, 61% are privately owned and the percentage of women owners is rising.  But women are traditionally under-represented in the forestry field and may not have the perspectives, knowledge, and skills to effectively manage their forest lands. 

Enter….ForestHer NC!  Spearheaded by Debbie Roos of Chatham County’s Cooperative Extension Service, this initiative will include six workshops throughout the year in 3 different locations across the state.  The first offering in Pittsboro, which I attended, brought together sixty women (and a few men) to hear professionals from several state agencies present an overview of forest management from a variety of angles. 

But first…let’s take a quick look at a few fast facts about the Hart’s Mill forest: 

  • Hart’s Mill has about 88 (out of 112) acres of forested land
  • We have nearly 4 miles of trails winding through the entire site
  • Our soil types are favorable for both food and forest cultivation over the majority of our land
  • Over 50 tree/shrub species and 130 wildflower types have been identified to-date
  • We have had a Forest Stewardship Plan since 2013
  • Ten distinct areas, or stands, have been identified, each with their own qualities and characteristics
  • There’s an active forest thinning initiative, let by Randy Dodd, happening NOW to address our plan’s recommendations* (and we’re looking for volunteers!)

The current state of our woodlands is largely a result of our land-use history.  We believe that much of our forest was used as farmland decades ago.  In the late 1990’s, most of the re-grown forest was heavily cut over, burned, and re-planted in loblolly pines.  As the current stewards of this land, Hart’s Mill has the obligation and opportunity to take it from here, nourishing and enhancing  the course of our woodlands for generations to come.  

Fortunately, there are a lot of resources available to us as we consider possibilities.  Here is a taste of what I heard at the ForestHer workshop:  

Click here to read map legend

Mark Megalos of NCSU Extension Forestry gave an overview of North Carolina forests complete with geology, history, types, and trends.  Two fun facts that stayed with me are 1) the eastern edge of the Piedmont used to be coastland, and 2) there are no natural lakes in the Piedmont. Click here for a map of forest types across the state.

Nick Haffle of Chatham County MIS made us aware of the fantastic GIS resources available online by County to do property research and interpretation.  There’s a feast of information including parcel  maps, photographic and topographical data as well as legal information such as deeds, value, and tax status.  Curious about the Hart’s Mill land and environs?  Google Orange County Interactive GIS, input our address: 1023 Frazier Rd., Mebane, and start poking around. 

John Isenhour of NC Wildlife Resources Commission and Jennifer Roach from the NC Forest Service made it abundantly clear that the first step in forest “management” is to establish objectives and goals  and then review them from time-to-time.  What are we trying to achieve?  What concerns do we want to address?  Hart’s Mill’s Forest Stewardship Plan was coordinated by the Eno River Association in 2013 when Alana Ennis was the landowner.  This plan has enabled us to qualify for the Present Use Valuation tax status, which is a huge financial benefit.  We might want to review the objectives laid out at that time and see if they are still resonant with us.   

I also learned that there is such a thing as a Wildlife Management Plan.  This piqued my interest and I’ve been in touch now with someone at the NC Wildlife Resources Commission to talk about what this might involve (to the best of my knowledge, this plan is free of cost). 

This workshop helped me to see our forests with new eyes and be open to new possibilities.  And this is just the first of six workshops planned.**  If this piques your interest, click here for more information on the program, and be in touch—I’d love to have company! 

*Every volunteer is valuable!  If you are interested in helping out with the WWW (Wood-Wide Web) forest thinning initiative, keep your eye out for announcements on our monthly calendar. 

**There will be five more workshops in the next year in three different state locations (not listed on the website).  Each costs $25 and includes lunch (it was really good!).  The Pittsboro workshops will take place on November 7, March 12, May 14, August 13, and one TBA.  To get on the mailing list, email Debbie Roos of NC Cooperative Extension. 

 

 

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August Trail Day Report (and a fun way to still help)

By Anthony Weston

On Sunday August 4th, a high-spirited band of workers gathered at the crack of dawn (OK, 9am) for a work session dedicated to trail maintenance and improvement.  George, Lisa, Randy, Hope, Paul, Amy, Mir, and Anthony started in the most challenging place and cleared the Pond Loop trail, which took continuous lopping, weed-whacking, tripper- and fallen-tree removal, and more. 

Reconvening at the far side of the dam, we moseyed along the south side of the Village Loop Trail over to McGowan Creek Loop, clearing as needed as well as enjoying some lovely spiderwebs still decked in morning dew.  We took a break to admire a box turtle who turned up in the path. 

    

Then we treated ourselves to a quick romp around the Far Loop — it still needs work, but it is easily passable — and then finished off the McGowan Creek Loop before retreating to the Pavilion for a convivial potluck lunch. 

Many thanks to all who took part. At lunch we also got a look at the new trail map being prepared by Lauren Lintz for her NCSU MA project. A  few final edits and it will be ready. 

Now, for those of you who (we know) desperately wanted to join the trail work but for whatever reason couldn’t make it, a final note. Absolutely the best way to help maintain the trails is to USE THEM! So the upshot is that you can still help!  Come out and walk the trails — Lauren’s map will be available on the HM website (my earlier version is up now) with hard copies at the pavilion and Hart’s Nest as well, and you can always call me or Hope (or Paul or Jeffry or Margret).  Or just explore!  There are many loop options, from brief saunters around the pond to several-mile adventures if you do all the Loops. Most of the trails are run-able as well. Come out and really see the land!  Sights like this abound. 

 

 

 

 

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Food & Medicine Are EVERYWHERE—A Walk With Wild Edibles Educator, Kim Calhoun

by Hope Horton

It was a cloudy morning during a precious 3-hour grace period between rainstorms.  Six of us gathered at the Nest and dedicated ourselves to discovering the edible plant species living on just a small part of the Hart’s Mill land.  Our guide,  Kim Calhoun, has spent decades developing knowledge about and relationships with the flora in our midst, and we were excited about this chance to learn with her. 

We shadowed Kim as she gently drew us into the particularities of the native plants that flourish on this land.  Right outside the front door, within our grasp at the edges of the trails, towering overhead – it was impossible to stroll more than a few feet before Kim introduced us to another plant friend—delectable, medicinal, or simply beautiful.  She had already whetted our appetites with a cold infusion of Japanese honeysuckle flowers, sipped in the living room before we set out.  We filled a thermos of boiling water to take with us, because chances were excellent that we’d find ingredients to prepare a yummy tea to enjoy after the walk.

Meeting each plant friend was an exercise in close observation.  Are the stems smooth or hairy?  The leaves simple or compound?  The edges serrated or crenelated?  Is there a fragrance?  Are they safe to taste, and what’s does the flavor evoke?  What portions are edible, and what benefits do they bring?  And this list barely scratches the surface of what we can be noticed and learned about the nature of the flora all around us. 

We hovered over about 30 different plants–looking, touching, smelling, and even sampling –most of which were edible and/or medicinal.  Here’s a tiny taste of what we learned.  Persimmon tree leaves are full of Vitamin C.  The sourwood tree leaves taste, well, sour, and add flavor to pesto.  Wild St. John’s wort leaves contain hypericum oil which turned our fingers purple and can help with nerve pain and mild depression.  Lobelia inflata, a very potent plant, has been used to help people to quit smoking.  Violet flowers and leaves are an amazing food and medicine—chop them into a salad or dry and crush the leaves to make a wild greens mix with other plants.  Also field garlic (good for colds), agrimony (helps relieve stress), resourceful person’s pepper for spice (see picture)…the list goes on. 

We encountered poison ivy everywhere.  Kim learned to call this native plant “sister ivy” from a teacher named Frank Cook who noted that when we hear the word, “poison,” we become fearful and shut down to the possibilities in the plant.  Sister ivy teaches us to be mindful of how and where we are walking.  It comes into disturbed areas to reclaim them and help them heal.  It’s also great food for wildlife.  And if you’re sensitive to it, just pick up some jewelweed, rub it on your skin to de-activate the oils.  Or, or make an infusion that can be sprayed on or frozen into ice cubes and rubbed on your skin.

The Elderberry bush growing on the pond dam was the star of the show!  The flowers are so beautiful and full of benefits too numerous to list.  We pulled the creamy flowers from the stems and dropped them into the thermos with hot water to steep.  After returning to the Nest, we sipped the gentle brew while reviewing all we learned on this cool and cloudy morning together.

Foraging is not for amateurs.  It takes knowledge and experience to know which plants-parts-quantities-and preparations are safe to take into our bodies.  In order to harness the medicine of plants, it’s important to develop a close relationship with them over the seasons. Are you absolutely certain that the plant is edible (or is it a poisonous look-alike)?  Has the plant been sprayed or exposed to exhaust and other toxins?  Is there enough of the plant to harvest sustainably?   Today, we were in safe hands with Kim! 

Kim offers classes and events in wild foods and medicine, yoga, energy work, and massage.  Visit her website at abundancehealingarts.com

 

 

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Harvesting Potatoes: Gleaning Knowledge Along the Way

As part of the “potato head” group which participated in potato preparation, planting, hilling, protecting, and now harvesting, here is what I have learned so far:

  • There is something so exciting about those red, blue, and gold potatoes emerging from the soil, watching then spill out from the dirt makes you just want to break out into a dance! Gathering them from the overturned dirt and disengaging the ones still attached to the plant – there is an intense satisfaction and joy to hold those little and not so little potatoes in your hand— some plants have just 2 -3 big ones, others have 8-10 of varying size, so it is often a surprise what is below ground.
  • I can see why having several eyes in one piece is a good thing! My idea that “1 is enough” is valid in that some potatoes will be produced from the plant, but now that the potato project is coming full cycle, I have learned that more eyes means more stalks and more stalks means more opportunities for spuds to grow in the same place…  meaning less work at harvest to get possibly a similar amount of potatoes.  After two hours of digging potatoes for market, I can see this is a good thing, which leads to next point…
  • Harvesting is back-breaking work. I have a 2-hour maximum.
  • Working in pairs is fun and actually makes the work easier! A threesome is even easier, with little loss in efficiency and much gain in speed.
  • In addition to hat, sunscreen, and water bottle, wearing a kerchief or bandanna or a Headwick really helps to keep from dripping everywhere, because, as noted, harvesting is back-breaking work.
  • Even so, I can’t wait to do it again!   

Here is a photo of a normal Johnny red potato plant just spilling over with spuds (thanks Marilyn!), and another of the potatoes prepared for market (thanks Margret!)

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Let’s Get Real About Racism and Racial Equity

by Amy Halberstadt

Seeing Our Blind Spots: Addressing Racism and Working for Racial Equity: A workshop presented by Joe Cole on May 25, 2019

As much as I have studied racism in the United States, both its history and its very present effects on our day-to-day lives…and also as I have learned how White people rarely know the frequency with which Black people and other people of color are affected by past and present racism…and, also how White people themselves are affected…as much as I have studied all of this, I am aware of how much I still have to learn. 

Joe Cole offered a comprehensive and stunning workshop as a part of our Last Saturday series, sponsored by the Membership & Marketing Circle.  (For Joe’s handouts, click here)

Here are a few highlights:

  • There was the early history lesson about how the language of “Black” and “White” was created in the 1600s-1700s, largely to create disunity among all the poor people of both groups in America.
  • Then there was the more recent history lesson which explained how the GI Bill, Social Security, and federal lending practices in the 1950s and beyond worked to sharply increase the wealth gap between White people and other populations living in the U.S.  Similar practices continue today through the overuse of standardized testing, under-funding of schools that serve communities of color and lower-income communities, inequities as to who receives health and retirement benefits, and unfair lending practices regarding home mortgages and small businesses.
  • Then there was the truth that things are not getting better, in fact, they are getting worse.  For example, the median White income is TWELVE times that of the median Black income.  Young Black children are being suspended at almost 4 times the rate of young White children, and, of course, we are well aware of the danger of “driving while Black”. 

The sizeable group at Hart’s Nest shared personal experiences and awareness of racism, feelings of caring deeply about racism and its power to create harm.  Joe shared many handouts to help us examine how segregated our lives are currently and how we might want to change that; how to think more deeply about microaggressions to avoid committing them; and how to think about the questions we sometimes have (that we don’t want to admit to) such as feelings associated with White privilege, including guilt, discomfort with being White, and difficulty recognizing the parts of “White identity” that we might carry (okay, that one is me!). 

And there was a lot of information about the connections between racism and sustainability, and how important it is to be aware of racism so as to create a socially just and fully sustainable community.  Head’s up, Hart’s Mill–this means US! 

People appreciated the pacing and varied activities of the 3-hour session, which began with a meditation to help us relax and focus.  After a break we did some Chi Gung to help engage with our energy.   The opportunity to hear each other’s stories about racism and the possibilities beyond racism was a favorite.  These stories were sometimes heart-wrenching, sometimes hopeful, and all were compelling examples of how significantly all of our lives have been influenced by racism.   The many gems and resources Joe offered to help us to understand racism and privilege, as well as how to organize to effect change within ourselves, our community, and the world, were greatly appreciated by all. 

For sure, many of us will continue these conversations further in small groups; we will brainstorm ways to incorporate the themes of social, racial, and environmental justice in our community; and we will be sharing with you our thoughts and ideas.  Please be in touch with what’s on your mind about racism, what you’d like to see happening at Hart’s Mill, and what you can offer.  We’re all ears!

Remember, childcare is available for all of our meetings and events upon request!

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To Market, To Market…

by Margret Mueller
 
How time flies! Only a few short weeks ago I posted the story of the Community Farm Initiative’s first planting day (see “Community Farming Initiative Gets Off the Ground,” posted March 24th).  And yesterday, Jeffry and I took the farm teams’ first produce to market!
 
I am happy to report that all items were enthused over and sold out, resulting in Hart’s Mill’s first small step toward repaying our farm loan.
 
Still to come: more greens, small potatoes, big beets, Gladioli, and more!
 

Marilyn cut about three dozen of the mini pac-choi, which we made into bundles of three or four plants.

Paul and Anthony pulled lots of small beet plants, which were too crowded and needed thinning.

These were rinsed and bundled and sold as mixed-color bunches of super-tender baby beet greens

 
 
 
 
 
 
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A Gentle Green Soak: The April Nature Walk

by Hope Horton

…this experience awakened memories of my childhood…

It was a cloudy, blustery day—a perfect time to step into the shelter of the woods to marvel at what the natural world is offering this Spring.  Margret, Jenny, and I loosely led eighteen (!) people into an intimate experience through  a cozy area nestled between our southern border and the brook connecting the pond with McGowan Creek. 

The path we chose began on higher ground, allowing us to avoid the rain-swamped areas of our better-known trail network.  Very few Hart’s Millers have been this way, and it was a delight to introduce everyone to the charms of this tucked-away spot.

…showing the children how to taste the sweetness of a coral honeysuckle blossom was a highlight…

We stepped from the Hart’s Nest lawn into a woodland carpeted with a filigree of Creeping Cedar.  This plant, a club moss, is among the oldest species on earth – originating around 500 million years ago and memorialized in ancient coal deposits – and its presence seems to bestow a sense of timeless enchantment. 

…it was great to have time to just stop and notice what’s around me…

As we walked along the southern border, it was striking how different the Hart’s Mill forest appeared from our neighbor’s to the south.  We don’t know the full history of this land, but it’s possible that this forest was clear cut, and even farmed, in the not too distant past.  It was certainly planted with pines at some point.  In contrast, the fairly open mixed-hardwood forest next door gave us an idea of what this land may have looked like many years ago—and may appear again some decades hence.

We made our way down a gentle slope, past a rare collection of large boulders—ideal for sitting and gazing, or closing one’s eyes and resting.  The brook at the bottom connects the pond with McGowan Creek and it was bustling, tunefully shifting the overflow towards the wetlands.  The children in the midst had a high time splashing in the water.  It’s a good thing they wore their rubber boots!

It was time to wander and follow our eyes, noses, and feet.  We indulged our senses, gazing at tiny new Tulip Tree leaves, feeling the quiet presence of the trees, scenting the wind, and listening for…well…anything that captured our attention.  People enjoyed this solo time guided by their own druthers. 

…I don’t often sit outside much, and sitting on a rock feeling the breeze and listening to the leaves was so calming…

The whole experience felt peaceful and laced with wonder.*   We headed back to the Nest under a light rainfall to enjoy a cup of hot tea, snacks, and reflect on what we noticed. 

There will be nature experiences every month at Hart’s Mill.  Be sure to check our calendar and catch the next one.  The land is waiting for you.

…it was all so quiet and calming…

*As I was writing this post, this article out of UC Berkeley showed up in my inbox: Why Is Nature So Good for Your Mental Health?  The link is included in case you are curious.

 

 

 

 

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