Arrastre Creek Aspen Grove

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“Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.”

– Robert Frost

If you’ve been reading my previous posts you’ll know that I’ve expressed interest in photography and have since taken many photos. With the autumn season already upon us I thought way better way to practice photography than to shoot autumn colors!

Unfortunately Southern California more so synonymous with brown and crispy than it is with red, orange, and gold. Finding a reliable autumn display wouldn’t be easy and require a good bit of leg work.

After a bit of research I was ecstatic to discover that Southern California had an aspen grove. Quite literally called “Aspen Grove” by the USFS it was a popular location for autumn hikers and photographers. While I was planning my trip I read a notice and my heart sank. The grove was burned down in 2015 from the Lake Fire and was not yet reopened for public access.

My plans were scrapped–or so I thought. I started from square one went to a page for a local wilderness association. I expressed my interests in finding a good autumn display and soon found out that a second aspen stand existed in Southern California. It was off trail though and its location, kept discrete by locals and other hikers.

Some rigorous searching on the interwebs yielded that it was near Arrastre Creek with an old forest service document describing it 200 yards up a canyon.

Here’s an interesting bit of information from the same document. The Pleistocene age was over 10,000 years ago mind you:

“These two groves, separated from the
nearest populations by more than 200 miles (322 km), are believed to be relics
from the late Pleistocene when the climate was much cooler and wetter.”

I had narrowed it’s approximate range but it still would be a challenging search. I was fortunate a few days prior to my trip, I was able to receive specific directions to the grove. Had I not had them, with my limited information I may never have found it. A big thanks to Joseph Esparza whose blog you can find here.

With good information, I set out on a long drive followed by a longer hike and had success reaching the grove. It wasn’t without difficulty though. I discovered the limitations of my 21 year old car (I’ll keep this one as an inside joke), slipped down 5 to 6 feet of gravel, got cut by dead cottonwood branches, had a branch break and fall on my head, got flipped off for over 20 minutes by a driver who could not see the cars backed up in front of me, and lost my tripod.

Despite these difficulties they pale in comparison to having a good time with friends, exploring the mountains, and experiencing fall at it’s best.

I thought I’d share the best pictures I took and hope you find them enjoyable:

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arrastre quaking aspens

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I also thought it may be interesting to mention that Andy Smith has had success collecting aspens in recent years. I think they have the potential to be excellent native bonsai material and hope to see more in the future. If not for my hot climate I’d grow some too.

Lastly if you’re worrying that the content of my blog is straying, fear not! Next week I will be attending the GSBF convention held here in Riverside, CA. I’ll be covering the show on Saturday so expect a good review, pictures, and maybe some videos. Hope to meet many of you there and watch some of the best in bonsai.

Until next time, Julian.

Utah Juniper

A few months ago I received a yamadori Utah juniper from my time at the Hidden Gardens. It’s been growing well in the warm Southern California climate with new growth tips showing all over the foliage.

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As a collected tree it’s abundant with character. A sizable hollow is found in the center of the trunk and natural shari lines are present along many branches. The extremely fine growth lines on the deadwood indicate a great age too.

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For all the character this tree has there are still some flaws. As common with many yamadori this tree lacks good branch placement and structure. Most of the foliage sits on leggy branches leading the eye away from the key features of the trunk.

In order to compact the tree and give me more design options, I’ve decided to graft this tree. But rather than grafting the much finer shimpaku or itoigawa foliage I intend to graft the native Utah juniper foliage. The larger and coarse foliage will be slightly out of place on a smaller tree but in turn I’ll get to keep the beautiful icy-blue color which for me is one of the best features of the tree.

In February I will repot the tree to expose buried nebari and will begin approach grafting whips of foliage lower on the trunk.

I do not have a design envisioned for this tree yet but will upload a virt when I do.

Thank for taking a look.

Nandina Bamboo and Summer Update

Last year I dug out an old nandina bamboo from a home undergoing construction. Nandina are seldom seen as bonsai. Trifoliate leaves and small trunks leave little to be desired. Atypical of most nandinas this specimen boasted thick corky bark and a sizable trunk. The reliable display of fall color in a Mediterranean climate SoCal was icing on the cake.

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Earlier in the year I brought the tree to a Will Baddeley workshop seen here. Over the summer the tree has grown extremely well. I thinned out unnecessary shoots only leaving ones to be developed as future primary branching. Branching is difficult to develop on nandinas due to their growth habit and trifoliate leaves.

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New growth is sent out as a stalk with leaf petioles wrapped around it. Internodes can easily run long here so I would not fertilize until growth has hardened. This stalk eventually lignifies and in time looks branch like.

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Trifoliate pattern of new growth

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I’m experimenting with branch development on this tree. My plan is to remove any lateral growth and base shoots and allow the stalks to grow out at least for 1-2 years. Without consistent pruning the tree will not prioritize branch growth and will continue to throw out new foliage near the base of all the shoots.

Before it completely lignifies I will cut it back and new growth should emerge from the petiole stubs. Updates to come in the future so subscribe to see it firsthand.

Interestingly this tree began throwing out a lot of mushrooms on the soil line. This is indicative of good soil and root health. When digging out the tree the root mass had a lot of mycelium so I can only assume these are the fruiting bodies from it. I took some macro photos of them you may find interesting:

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Summer has come to a close and autumn is upon us. I spent most of it by Chicago where I worked at Argonne National Lab. In that span I was afforded many professional opportunities, making great friends at it too. But more than just a job, working there presented me with an invaluable opportunity to reach out to the bonsai community. Living only 4 miles from the Hidden Gardens I commuted there by bike whenever I had the chance. Doing so enabled me to meet Jeff and talk to Owen providing me with insight and a sounding board for my professional bonsai ambitions.

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Hand carved Ben Oki repotting stick, parting gift from Jeff

Planning for the future is daunting and even more so intimidating with an “unconventional” career path in bonsai. I graduate in a year and will finish up my degree at UCR. In this time span I intend to find a foreign apprenticeship I can pursue after graduation. Bonsai means a lot to me. More than anything I just want to find a sustainable way so that I can practice and pursue this art for many years to come.

I will document my efforts on this blog in hopes that I’ll not only garner support but to provide something interesting for you to follow.

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My family cat, Sammy, recently passed away. At the age of 16 he’s been with me for over three quarters of my life. Although you can say he’s just a cat, it feels strange without him around and I miss him very much. It feels as if his passing marks the end of one stage of my life. I will respectfully move on and look ahead to the future.

 

Thanks for reading, Julian.

On a side note I have been getting into photography and now include a gallery section on my blog. Please check it out for high quality photographs.

 

40th Annual Mid-America Bonsai Exhibition

 

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Best of show, Gary Andes

This past weekend I was able to experience Midwest bonsai at it’s best. The Midwest Bonsai show is the largest in the area and many enthusiasts from surrounding states and the east coast attend. Many beautiful trees, as well as some comedic entries, were displayed in the exhibit.

I came both as a participant, helping table and load trees, and as a guest able to chat and enjoy the show at my leisure. I was able to meet many new people as well as others I was only acquainted with through various online bonsai groups.

The venue was excellent as well, hosted at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. I was able see the permanent bonsai collection, Japanese, and waterfall gardens. On display was a rare corpse flower too! Unbeknownst to me, it bloomed just as I was loading the trailer and left.

I hope you enjoy this post and without further ado, on to the pictures.

Day 1:

Friday morning I finished work early and scrambled to the station to catch the earliest train heading north.

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Cool weather, great for the show

 

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on time!

I made it by early afternoon. I met up with John, a friend from bonsainut and walked through the exhibition with him.

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The show displayed a range of trees from novice to professional categories. The quality in the professional category was outstanding. The ones photographed were among the best in the show.

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Upon observation all the white pines displayed at the show were grafted. That said the grafts were well done and extremely clean. I’d love to have a pine like this but both my climate and wallet won’t tolerate it.

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At many shows sometimes people pay too much heed towards the awards. Bonsai is a product of many years of labor and love. Receiving critique and watching other trees get more recognition is not an easy thing for many. Jim Doyle’s display reminded both participants and onlookers to enjoy the show. Served with humor on the side.

Although illegible in this photo the note reads, “who climbed these trees first…man or monkey?”

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An aptly chosen banana accent plant.

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Monkeys hanging in the trees

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A nice larger douglas fir displayed by Andy Smith.

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An interesting 10 tree shohin display by Dan Turner. It is a bit too busy for my personal taste but an cool display nonetheless.

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Cool root over rock trident by Mark Fields.

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If you look carefully at the trunk you will notice a very smooth line diagonally across the trunk. Early in the tree’s development wire is wrapped around the trunk between the graft union of black pine root stock and white pine. The wire bites into the tree as it grows and the surrounding cambium thickens. Over time the wire is completely encased. The method is controversial for some but given enough time is a viable method to thicken a trunk and induce some character. Signs of this technique being used was visible on most white pines at the show.

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I believe this is a Virginia pine. A eastern US pine but cool to see native species used other than stuff from the mountains. (–this is actually a Scott’s pine but there was a similar looking Virginia pine at the show)

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Grey Owl juniper. Nice well developed tree but not in best health. Many foliage pads were pinched hard in the last season or 2 and appear to be sulking.

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Here is a sign provided by the Chicago Botanic Gardens that accompanied Bill Valavanis’ trees.

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Below is Bill Valavanis’s Dwarf Brush Cherry he displayed at the same show 40 years ago.

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The development of the tree was shared as well:

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A Kashima maple also by Bill Valvanis, in development for many decades.

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The progression was displayed as well:

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Seen below is a Tanuki. No, not the brown racoon looking thing but the tree. The deadwood on this tree was artificially attached to the live vein. Also known as a phoenix graft, a young tree is closely bound to a piece of deadwood and allowed to grow together. A successful graft will introduce character to the tree and create the illusion of age. They are difficult to do without the tree appearing contrived.

On another note in Japanese culture Tanukis are depicted as a mischievous and deceptive animal, often capable of shape shifting into people or inanimate objects. Thus the adoption of this name for a tree that tries to deceive the viewer.

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A nice red pine. The apex feels too strong in my opinion. I discussed with John the possibility of removing the apex and bringing the the immediate branch on the right in as the new apex. The movement of the tree feels disjointed with the apex fighting with the lower branching. A very nice tree though and something I’d like to own.

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An outstanding large “Kokonoa” Japanese white pine. Perhaps my favorite tree in the exhibition and highly refined.

 

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Twisting pomegranate. These trees have very brittle branches and coarser growth. They are not an easy species to get a high level of branch ramification with. I was told by Owen Reich that the tree was primarily developed by clip and grow with some wire use.

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Excellent suiseki display by Dan Turner. The chrysanthemum stone in particular is a gem. “Cheaper” chrysanthemum stones you find on ebay or in peoples collection will only have one flower pattern. This one has a complex array of prints that evoke the feeling of dragonflies and lilies.

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Shots from the permanent collection:

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Boulevard Cypress

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Trident Maple

 

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shimpaku raft
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European olive

 

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Walter Pall limber pine

 

Day 2:

I started my day bright and early and hitched a ride with Jeff from the Hidden Gardens. No roosters to start me off but some hens clucking will suffice.

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The show was rough in terms of sales with most of the interest in cheaper pre-bonsai to mid-high range trees. In between and over was a rough bet. Exceptions to this were Sara Rayner who did exceptional for the show and Nitsu pottery seemed to do well with good prices on nice pots. Andy Smith had some killer material for low prices and Todd Schlafer did really good for his first vending experience as a bonsai pro.

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I watched a Kathy Shaner demo later that day. Unfortunately I was not able to get a before picture of the tree, but here is the finished work. The demo tree was a black hills spruce provided by Andy Smith. Kathy discussed in depth about preserving the manner the tree was growing in and to showcase the struggles it had in its life. She set primary and secondary branching in place but did not do too much detail wiring. Much of the tree was preserved giving lots of potential design paths for the future. The tree was raffled but I hope I can see where it is taken in the future.

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Trees were judged Friday evening and were displayed with awards on Saturday. Gary Andes twisted pomegranate won best of show and Bill Valavanis’ Kashima maple won first in the professional division.

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Day 3:

The day started off slow but by early afternoon the show became fairly crowded with visitors crowding around vendors and trees. I had more leisure time–least until it was time to pack out, but enough to explore the gardens.

Here are some shots of the Japanese and waterfall gardens.

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I enjoyed good bonsai conversations with Loren and talked with Owen who filled me in on the bits about the apprenticeship and bonsai professional life. Also met a younger guy Griffen if I remember that right. Griffen is a younger bonsai enthusiast who started back when he was 12 and now has done bonsai for 4 years. He was helping out Jim Doyle for the show. Its cool to meet other “young” people into bonsai as I’m often the youngest at every show and event I attend!

Group shot with (left to right) Jeff, Todd, me, and Loren.

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I also talked to Sara Rayner and bought a pot from her.

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Got a shot with Owen towards the end of the show.

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Last look at some cool trees and then I packed out. Well, after a good 3 and a half hours of loading trees and shelves. Jeff and I packed out a trailer tight! One more tree and it would be sitting with us in the truck cabin. 😅

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All in all it was a great show. I made some new friends and thoroughly enjoyed my time there. Big thanks to Jeff who not only saved me a lot of time and train fares, but enabled me to meet many people in the local bonsai scene both in the show and out.

Pursuing bonsai professionally is a huge goal for me and I’ve been trying to explore possible paths that can open up bonsai as a sustainable career for me. There’s a large gap in knowledge I need to fill before I can find what will work for me.

Owen has helped me out in this regard a lot over the course of the show and I owe him thanks as well. I’ll see on returning the favor.

Thanks for reading and feel free to subscribe to see updates on my trees and more bonsai adventures. I will be investing into photography in the coming months and will get the rest of my trees up on the blog with quality pictures.

 

Carving Hornbeam at the Hidden Gardens

I’ve been heading down to the Hidden Gardens often this past month. My work schedule at Argonne is pretty variable, so days I get off or get out early Jeff’s been letting me hang and help out at the nursery.

One of the projects I recently worked on was an American Hornbeam with massive dieback. In contrast to the coniferous yamadori found at the nursery Jeff started carrying collected deciduous material. Mainly American hornbeams, but red maples, lilacs, oaks, among others can be found.

Many of these trees have significant post collection dieback. On one end the dieback detracts from the value of the tree–the likelihood of creating a “seamless” trunk becomes increasingly difficult.

The same dieback however provides an opportunity to impart character and to impose a ruggedness characteristic of trees at the Hidden Gardens. Jeff gave me full reins to pick out a hornbeam to carve–so I did!

I have very little carving experience, but I did participate in one Will Baddeley workshop discussed here.

The tree I selected had a decent base with twin trunks–both of which significant dieback.

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I neglected to take good before shots but there wasn’t too much to show. The bark was carefully stripped to separate the dead and live regions. The two trunks were crossing significantly so Jeff and I decided to cut the left one off. With minimal movement and little top growth on a mostly dead trunk the decision was easy.

I proceeded to shade the regions I wanted to carve out. When using high powered die grinders and dremels its easy to take out a chunk of tree you’ll never get back. Better to take it slow then to hog down big chunks of wood right off the bat.

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After assessing the deadwood I began carving. First with the lower chopped trunk then with the top. A dremel was used both to establish a hollow and to add detail work. A die grinder was used on the top to remove excess wood.

The final height of the right trunk will actually be much lower (up to the sharpie) but I opted not to chop it back. Currently the narrow strip of cambium is solely supported by some top growth. Chopping lower risks dieback to the extent where deadwood will comprise more than half of the trunk. While deadwood has its place among deciduous trees it can easily become overpowering.

The trunk will be left alone with the intent of approaching grafting one of the suckers mid height onto the trunk. Until growth is established either through backbudding or grafting cutting back poses to great a risk.

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The bottom carving turned out very well. The top, not as much. It was challenging creating a wide channel through the curved trunk. The same techniques I used to create detail work on the smaller lower trunk resulted in a contrived appearance on the top. The second mistake I made was not offsetting channels in the top enough. This meant you could see through the trunk at some angles. Fortunately this was not the case for the potential fronts.

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Flaw in top work seen here

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I may try to clean up the top more in the future and put more depth in the “flatter” areas. For now we’ll see how the grows next season as its not particularly strong at the moment. Working on this tree was good practice and I’m certain my next carving project will be even better.

Big thanks to Jeff for letting me potentially butcher a tree. I just hope that my work increased the value of the tree instead of depreciating it.  😅

On a side note I’ll be heading up to the Midwest Bonsai Show possibly all 3 days! I offered Jeff to help table and prep for the show so I’ll be hitching a ride with him up to the botanical gardens. I’m trying to reach out to the bonsai community more and hope to meet many people there. I plan to document the show on my blog so stay tuned.

For your viewing pleasure here are some photos of a sunrise I recently photographed:

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In Chicago! Bontsai in the Midwest

From the Southern California suburbs I found myself in the Midwest. Farms and all, but still within close proximity to the city and the outdoors. I’ve began an internship at Argonne National Lab, a great opportunity not only for my professional career but for me to network and meet new people.

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I aspire to pursue bonsai professionally and I think a big component of that is getting to know the community. For my brief time here I hope I am able to meet as many Midwest enthusiasts as I can! I will try to attend both the Prairie State Show and the Midwest Show in August. I’m always up for a bike ride or a trip to the Hidden Gardens too.

On Monday I was able to meet the crew at the Hidden Gardens.

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It was good talking to Jeff as well as meeting Kevin and Jennifer. Their nursery, in contrast to what we have in SoCal, has a TON of yamadori. Old rocky mountain junipers, ponderosas, and spruce occupied most of the benches. This season they also brought in a bunch of deciduous trees with massive hornbeams.

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There were many impressive trees with tons of character. Here is a fir with a massive base:

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RMJ with an twisting shari and live vein:

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One of Jennifer’s trees? Some kind of spruce but the gnarly deadwood and trunk line made it one of my favorites:

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I should of taken a picture of the entire tree but here’s a massive RMJ with a really nice trunk:

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The high quality character and abundant foliage came with a price. Although not photographed that massive trunk is supported by two skinny strips of live vein. Imagine a body builder who never did squats. The challenge is to relocate the root mass closer to the trunk line so that the tree can be repotted in a more stable and aesthetic position.

I was talking to Jeff about an old Kimura video where he removes the dead wood, splits the live vein connecting to the root mass, and does some crazy bending to relocate it to a more desirable position. I thought that would be the best and possibly only option for this tree and Jeff was thinking the same thing.

The current root mass would need to be placed somewhere between the milk carton and the nursery can. Perhaps next year he’ll undertake the daunting task himself or enlist the help of some pros. Kimura himself would be the best 😀 .

I snapped a picture of Todd Schlafer working on an RMJ too.

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All in all I enjoyed my time at the Hidden Gardens and the hospitality of the whole crew there. Given that I live only a few miles away I definitely plan visit again!

I’d love to buy an RMJ to send back home to SoCal (apparently they grow fine there) but shipping plants into California is a bit of a problem 😦 .

Well that’s it for now folks. If anyone is in the area feel free to message me. I’m open to meeting most any bonsai enthusiasts.

A few shots of the local trails and the secret real glen waterfall. Location courtesy of bnutter “CasAH.”

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The Great Outdoors: Mt. Wilson

“This trail has been created for you – the city dweller – so that you might exchange, for a short time, the hectic scene of your urban life for the rugged beauty and freedom of adventure into the solitary wonderland of nature.”

– United States Forest Service

Its been long due for a post. If you’ll entertain me, I’ve decided to do something a bit different.

7 AM. Start. Class, research, study, socializing, networking, career, career planning, relationships, improve mandarin, learn Japanese, learn Spanish, work out (gym? cycle? climb?), aspirations, mindless streaming, mindless gaming, more study, eat. Stop. Despite achieving some, I am successful in none. Even if only temporary I sought an escape–an interlude from the chaos imposed by day to day life.

Memorial day weekend arrived and with more time on my hands I decided to set out on a hike. Although I’ve been afforded many hiking opportunities in the past, it had been at least 3-4 years since I went on something more substantial. For the route in question, perhaps 5 years since my last attempt. Of since I’ve gained a much greater appreciation of the outdoors. All things considered, I was eager to set out.

I would be hiking Mt. Wilson starting from the Gabrielino Trail and looping back on Mt. Wilson Trail. The route is approximately 15 miles round trip with 4,000 ft of elevation gain.

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I began my day at 5:00 AM, an unholy hour. While the sane, should they have the choice, was sleeping in I packed my gear and set out early to secure parking.

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But hey, the cat’s awake though!

I was heading to the Chantry Flats station. Despite getting there at 6:25 AM, 25 minutes after they open the gate, the parking lot was already completely filled. I was fortunate to find parking further down the road. Had I been enthusiastic enough I could of biked up there and locked it to the provided racks, bypassing the need for parking. I wasn’t too keen on stacking a difficult bike ride and hike together. Perhaps next time.

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I followed the Gabrielino Trail, a popular well traversed segment likely due to its creek-side pathing. Water running through the Santa Anita Wash created a lush understory and a diverse canopy of both deciduous and evergreen trees. White alders dominated the landscape with oaks mixed in.

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I also got a look at the nearby Sturtevant Falls. Even at 7 am there were still a fair amount of people at the falls. Speaks for its popularity.

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As the trail branched away from the creek the canopy transformed into groves of live oaks, one of my favorite species for bonsai cultivation and in its natural form. One oak in particular stood above the rest. The enormous trunk and boulder its’ roots grasped was a testament to it’s age–undoubtedly a centennial at minimum. It’s difficult to get a sense of scale but the boulder is at least 5-6 feet tall.

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Here are some shots for the remainder of the Gabrielino Trail.

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The Gabrielino trail led into Sturtevent Trail which would be taken to the summit. The gradual incline became steeper and steeper and white firs and big cone spruce would begin to take hold.

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The dense canopies restricted your field of vision but the latter half of this segment afforded expansive vistas.

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Soon after I reached the top. Instead of pristine alpine summit you’re met with paved roads and astronomical equipment. As a consolation prize you get to eat at a cafe.

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Of course, the trip wouldn’t count if I didn’t photograph the USGS marker.

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The views back down were nothing special but I did see many spectacular manzanitas–characterized by the striking contrast between their red bark and bleached deadwood. Highly sought after as bonsai, but are extremely difficult to collect and keep.

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All in all it was an enjoyable trip and I plan to do more in the future. I hope you’ve enjoyed my post and its off topic nature. Thanks for taking a look!

Bonus panorama shot:

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