Ironwood Maine Web Update

I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.

–Ernest Hemingway

Listening is a skill, which requires both attention and intention. It starts with our ears—making sense of words as well as of the speaker’s tone—and it also involves our eyes, because body language can say a lot. Importantly, though, deep listening requires that we push the MUTE button on our internal commentary. And this last step is probably one of the hardest, because rather than truly listen to what another says, we too often merely hear a word or an idea that connects with something we want to say. There is an old proverb that states, “We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.” It would be more accurate if it explained that the reason for two ears and one mouth is that it’s twice as hard to listen as it is to talk.

I mentioned in a previous weekly update how “noisy” it is on campus. There is an incredible barrage of activities and happenings constantly. There are 40+ students on campus and as many staff. This past week, each of our students engaged in a few activities to bring some focus to this difficult, but necessary social expectation. We started with the game Telephone. The old-timey game where someone starts off by whispering a sentence in someone’s ear. That person then whispers into the next person and so on, until it makes it all the way around the group. The result is always hilarious, but the point is that even in a simple game, its hard to listen with full focus and attention.

In another activity we split groups into two sections. One group were the talkers, and the second, listeners. The talkers were to engage into a topic of passion for three minutes, uninterrupted. The listeners were instructed to raise their hand each time they wanted to interrupt, became distracted, or drifted into thoughts of personal experience. There were constant hand-raisings. The students were able to recognize how difficult it was being an active listener, to not personalize the conversation, and to actually be fully present. This also shared a unique perspective to the talkers as to their audience, and the internal reactions their peers are having during a conversation.

To practice active listening, a third activity was facilitated. In pairs, one student would describe in detail all of the ideals of an incredible vacation. Explain each of their desires, expectations, needs, etc. After this explanation, the second student would pair their ideals and make a suggestion as to where they should go. This encouraged students to not only hear what was being said, but to also process the words into conversation reengagement, revolving around the initial statements.

Each night on campus I take the opportunity to sit down and have a meal with one of our groups of students. It is an incredible opportunity to build rapport, share in their growth, and listen. Whether it be stories of the weekend field trip to Acadia National Park, or a book that a student is reading, a moment of pride related to progress, or some validation around struggle and frustration…these are moments of elevated value, human to human.   It is a daily challenge and effort for each of us as staff, students and parents, to pause, push away the distractions in our minds, look the other in the eye and listen with full attention and interest.  As we all work on this together, we should follow the lead of our Ironwood students who are quick to acknowledge peers and staff with the Ironwood encouraged reply, “I hear you”.

Thank you for placing your trust in Ironwood.  We are grateful for the opportunity to be of service to you family and we hope that you have a great weekend.

Wilderness and Natural Science Program Update

At Frye, we have been having Monday afternoon Natural science and wilderness enrichment blocks for both the mini barn and lodge groups.

We had a lesson on the life cycles of frogs and the biological processes they go through. We discussed the different stages of life or Metamorphisms from the laying and fertilization of eggs, to tadpoles, to froglets, to frogs. The participants found it interesting how the different stages of life were so unique and radically different from each other. For example how tadpoles breath with gills, frogs can breathe with lungs on the land and through their skin while in the water. We went and observed frogs through the different stages of life at the trout pond which has a plethora of specimens’. Many of the participants were surprised at how much they learned about these unique amphibians.

I was recently inspired to discuss the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) with our residents after this invasive species was discovered in Northern Maine.  The Emerald Ash Borer has killed hundreds of millions of Ash trees and has spread through 34 States since the insect was first discovered in Michigan in 2002. This insect is thought to have been transported to North America through creates transported from Asia. With our participants we took a hike to EAB detection/ monitoring site on Frye Mountain.  We had discussions about the impact invasive species can have on the natural environment both in Maine and in different regions.  We discussed the impact that the EAB has had across North America and what is at risk with Maine.  The participants were taught how to identify the insect and how recognize signs and symptoms that it is present. After the lesson we investigated a variety of alive and dead Ash trees; we were excited that our search came up empty.

Recently, we went on a wilderness outing with the Farm House Boys group.  Sunday morning we hiked around the campus to our camp site which is located on the back side of the Beaver Pond. When we arrived at our site we were immersed in a day of learning the wilderness ways and skills at our camp site. We set up the wall tent for the group shelter; This was a little more difficult this time around because unbeknownst to me, over the winter, the tent frame was used for an activity and some of the poles were bent. All of the participants set up their individual tarp shelters for a personal space and had fun showing them off to their peers. After the shelters are in place we worked on collecting firewood for our cooking fire and then proceed with dinner. After dinner we cleaned up camp and then had discussions around the camp fire prior to bed.

On Monday, we woke up and had a hot breakfast. We cleaned up our camp site and packed our bags for a day of adventure. We hiked the trail around Frye Mountain. This trail is moderate in difficulty with some short bursts of steep sections. The 6 mile trail passes through mixed and coniferous forests, parallels a wonderful stretch of Bartlett Stream, the northern-most feeder stream of the St. George River, and crosses Frye’s summit at 1,139 feet. The trail also passes through a few different blueberry barrens which were not yet ripe for the sampling.

Our hike was at a leisurely pace, with periodic stops for snacks, and discussions. We arrived back at our camp site mid-afternoon. After we arrived back at the site, the residents had a writing assignment about what nature has done for their self-awareness and self-discovery. After the group had some down time to work on their assignment and recuperate from the hike; we made a fire and started dinner prep. We enjoyed a relaxing dinner which was cooked over a fire. Dinner clean up and personal hygiene time and an evening camp fire wrapped up the day.

The group woke up and made a fire and we enjoyed a hot breakfast of Johnny cakes cooked over the fire. We completely packed up camp and swept the area for forgotten items. We enjoyed a low key day prior to returning to the Farmhouse campus around 10:00. When we arrive back on campus we unpacked gear and had the residents get cleaned up and ready for the week.

This past weekend, we are had a similar trip for the farm house girls group. Their trip had slight variations to accommodate a graduation early on Monday morning. We will also had warmer than normal temperatures which caused plans to change to maintain a safe and enjoyable environment. We will be having two more summer wilderness trips for the farm house groups in August and two autumn trips in September and in October. 

Video: Hay Baling at Ironwood Maine

Haying is underway on our campus…a true summer ceremony. Ironwood partners with an AMAZING local and family owned farm who hays our fields, mostly for their very hungry dairy cows. Operating a dairy business is hard work these days and Ironwood feels so fortunate to host their efforts for a few weeks each year. A standard square bale weighs around 40 pounds and these big round bales can range 800-1500 pounds each…much more practical and efficient for large dairy operations. Small bales will soon follow for our hungry team of “minis” down at Frye, as all of us on campus get to witness yet another example of the rewards of honest, hard work.

Ironwood Maine Web Update

July is here and with it comes the heat! Our students and staff had a busy week that included a weekend wilderness trip, a graduation and 4th of July festivities. We indulged in good food, water balloon fights, comradery and a campus wide game of capture the flag! One aspect of our Independence Day celebrations included a memorable flag lowering ceremony led by a veteran service member and attended by both the Farm House and Frye students.

As I sat down and contemplated the 4th of July, my mind was drawn to words like revolution, freedom and liberty. I reflected upon what these words mean for our nation; how we obtained these ideals and the battles that were fought by those who came before us, the sacrifices that were made. Digging deeper, I started to question what meaning that these concepts held forme and how they have impacted my life as well as the lives of our students.

I recognized that while our students aren’t expected to be ready to assemble and serve their country at a minute’s notice, that doesn’t mean they aren’t fighting wars of their own. I see battles waged daily all around our beautiful campus in the hearts and minds of the youth we serve. Our students are fighting to free themselves of depression, anxiety, addiction and old thinking patterns. Each day brings a new opportunity to gain ground or take rest and recuperate from the effort of a battle well fought. These battles are real and they are supported by the sacrifices that their families make, back home.

Some of these sacrifices and battles won clearly came to fruition last week as we promoted 4 students to level 4 and said goodbye to another after a moving graduation this week. We sure did enjoy our 4th of July week and hope that you and yours did, as well.​  Have a restful weekend.

Video: Dr. Tim Thayne at Ironwood Maine Family Weekend

Family Weekend guest speaker and author, Dr. Tim Thayne, affirms Ironwood’s most vital principle to Family success…unity, cooperation, concordance…ALIGNMENT. Tim is also modeling another important quality, which is that it’s ok to smile and laugh a bit, as we work on these important issues, together.

Ironwood Maine Web Update

Happy Friday folks. I’d like to encourage each of you to take the next thirty seconds to close your eyes and breathe. That’s it, no thinking, moving, or listening. Just breathe. Go ahead, do it, I’ll wait….

It has been an incredibly productive past few weeks here on campus and I am sure your life at home is no different. The world around us is continuously moving at a faster pace and we are constantly creating new agendas and expectations for ourselves. I am sure we can all relate to the concept of just trying to keep our head above water. That feeling is not shared by everyone, however. It is typically reserved for those of us who are driven. Driven to be successful, to improve, and to challenge ourselves to constantly develop. It’s not an easy world to live in, but it is the expectation we’ve set for ourselves, and for each of our students.

This past week has offered quite the spectacle of examples for this drive that we share as families, Ironwood staff and each of our students.

Family weekend offered special opportunity to see first-hand, how far you have come and how hard each of you have been working. There were some incredible learning opportunities, moments of praise, and some all-important realizations that took place on campus this past weekend. I personally had the opportunity to see several of you laugh together, problem solve and better understand how, as a family member, you have unique perspectives and experiences of value.

The Ironwood program is also constantly challenging itself. In the recent days, the management team has taken steps to implement a new employee development system. Encompassing strategic monthly check ins with each staff, individualized developmental goals, a cohort system to support multiple levels of leadership, and a recently enhanced annual review system. Each of these components are being put into place to simultaneously challenge and support our staff through daily responsibilities, as well as their own, personal mission.

It goes without saying each of our students are continuously being challenged in a variety of areas and I am in awe of their resilience and perseverance. This week was a very special culmination of hard work and acknowledgement of several student’s progression through the program. There was a parade of students that were welcomed into the Farmhouse for the first time this week and there were also promotions to our highest, level four status. Also, most refreshing, there were a few students whose hard work and persistence has been acknowledged by receiving their level two “purples.” To me, this is the most important process of the entire program. It is the initial awareness that a student has accepted Ironwood and is trying to move forward with greater success in their life.

We also had a student graduate this week! A very rewarding ceremony for all involved, but I was particularly blown away by her essay’s theme.

She spoke about her initial introduction to the program and how volatile her mental status was. She mentioned outside distractions and expectations that led her to destructive actions. She spoke about the process of acceptance, awareness, coping and managing, and then the final state of equanimity. She shared that she has learned how to stop and breathe, tell herself it’s going to be okay, and to not let anything have a negative impact on her emotional or physical status. Her composure in explaining her personal confrontation to conflict both in the past and plans for the future, hushed the room.

Even as I sit here in this moment, looking at the clock and noticing that this update has to be posted in 10 minutes, I struggle with my own equanimity. I think about each of us as adults, trying to navigate this world with a positive attitude, despite constant challenges. And then I remember, we asked for this, we are the driven, wanting the best of ourselves and for our family members…and we are capable.

Just breathe.

Have a great weekend and thank you for placing your trust in Ironwood.

Ironwood Maine Web Update

Wow! The first day of Family Weekend is a tremendous whirlwind of activity. Launched by a family introductory meeting at the Farmhouse School, the day is then set in motion with reunifications, smiles, laughs and yes, tears. All of the emotions you could imagine after not seeing your child for 10 weeks. After that, the families head off for a day of family therapies, experientials and some quiet time together.

The Level III, and Level IV residents enjoy a much deserved and looked forward to trip off campus beginning in the mid-afternoon. All Level III’s get to stay off campus on Saturday night. A Level III with their second family weekend get to stay off campus Sunday night as well. Level IV’s will enjoy a complete 3 night family weekend with a return on Monday.Level II residents, while enjoying a great day with family are not allowed off campus for the overnight.

This always leaves the question as to what happens to the Level I residents who’ve not yet been here long enough to enjoy a Family Weekend. Well, staff take great care of our Level I’s, by planning a good mix of activities, school lessons, exercise and time to converse with peers and staff. Today saw them in school for the regular amount of time, followed by a delicious lunch cooked outside, then some R&R with fellow residents and the Frye mini horses. Early summer is a great time for exploration and they will be seeing a lot of the area hiking, reading, and writing…never a dull moment.

Thanks for allowing your child to be part of our lives.

Ironwood Maine Web Update

There are several goals set for each individual student throughout their program academically, therapeutically, and behaviorally. Correlating intrinsically with the development of each of those facets is character development. This week I was able to witness several lessons focused on supporting our students’ growth in this area.

Earlier in the week was Hay Day! You may initially gravitate your thoughts to an out of control mess, but you would be wrong. It was a big day on the farm in which we had nearly 1000 bales of hay delivered to be stored in the barn for a full years’ worth of horse dinners. It was a campus wide project in which nearly all of the Ironwood staff and students participated in receiving the deliveries from a local farmer and diligently helping to store them in the barn. Our students were able to test their strength and resiliency through the long day of muscling bails up a conveyer belt and onto stacked piles of hay in the loft. This simple, old-fashioned character building exercise of hard work was a necessity in the care of our horses over the next year, and these students can carry the essential skills learned into other situations throughout their lives.

Craftsmanship is another character quality that is constantly being upheld here on campus. During down times at Frye, students participate in what is known as campus beautification. This time is spent working on projects that add to the functionality and aesthetics of the campus. The latest project consisted of digging up a huge rotted tree stump, leveling the area and hauling in crushed stone for footings. We then brought in downed birch trees to create a natural barrier and stacked a series of flat rocks to create a serving table. Once all was set into place two picnic tables were brought over to add the finishing touches to our brand new outdoor patio! This newfound ability to create things with increased quality will continue to serve them for many dinners to come.

Compassion is another vital character quality that isdeveloped during our student’s time on campus. The community model of our group supports the growth of a deeper understanding of their peers and an ability to recognize, understand, and relate. This ability allows for the growth of the ever so important traits of compassion and empathy. While each student is working on their own individual goals and challenges, the underlying social, physical, and emotional struggles are similar. Nearly every day, Farmhouse students advocate to spend time at Frye to “mentor”. This gives students an opportunity to validate their peers’ concerns, offer encouragement, and suggest strategies to persist.

As you all are aware, life offers constant opportunities to engage in character development. It is a never-ending testament to our will and drive to continue to better ourselves and make the most of our surroundings. Life at Ironwood is no different, and each of our students are offered the same opportunity to challenge their own character, develop new abilities, and add resiliency.

Ironwood Maine Barn Update

What a busy spring season at the barns!  Ironwood residents participate in the Equine Program in multiple levels and dimensions, so I will try to give a seasonal glimpse of several.  Daily Care is every resident’s entry level responsibility. Frye residents have been learning basics of the horses’ equuslanguage in order to help the mini horses and donkeys feel safe and nurtured during their daily care and exercise. They learn their nutritional needs and getting the hay portions just right for adequate fuel and little waste is a frequent challenge. This time of year, problems in the paddock routinely “crop up” in the form of weeds or plants that can cause bellyaches or worse. Residents have been learning the signs of common ailments and their causes and are on the lookout for culprits, which are usually disguised as beautiful flowers-like delightful buttercups!

​Frye residents also take the minis for walks around campus a few times a week. They face the challenge of having to set limits with their strong charges, whose appetite for green grass and curiosities about things can get them hurt or sick. Meanwhile, these residents who are the newest arrivals at Ironwood are often struggling with their own environmental limitations:  accepting being under constant supervision, following directions willingly, working together in groups, trying new things. The skills they learn about horses-grooming, leading, proper feeding, safety checks of stalls and pastures, organizing chores to complete them in a timely way, showing them leadership and learning to communicate in their language-all develop transferrable skills for their own settling in and growth in the program.

​In horsemanship classes, residents ask the horses to perform tasks that require thinking and movement, such as obstacle courses. Last week, several students gave Miss Fancy her first bath of the season. They learned about horse hygiene products, but the main focus was on how to help Fancy enjoy her bath. She was quite feisty at first and didn’t love feeling wet even though we used warm water. It had not occurred to many of them that horses can’t “deep clean” themselves and are totally dependent on them to groom thoroughly to prevent skin problems and heal any scratches or bug bites.  Of course, they are told this when taught to groom, but helping bathe her required a level of patience, compassion and determination that caused them to “discover” that truth for themselves.  Many expressed gratitude for their chance for warm showers later. Sometimes it’s the simple things that shift mindsets.  Animals have a way of reaching the hearts of kids without raising a lot of defensiveness.

​At the Farmhouse, residents have been continuing to have afternoon riding lessons, with an increase in trail rides around campus.  They work hard to care for their equine friends, and riding lessons can be their chance to play together while also learning new skills.  When I first pause to write about this, I think, “What’s to say? The residents ride at least twice a month for an hour or more. They can choose English (hunt seat), western, or training level dressage.”  But when I think of individual residents and particular sessions or human/horse pairings, there is so much depth and diversity it’s hard to know where to start. So I’ll start with a beginner lesson and continue with how others enter this venue in a later article.

​In the beginning…residents may come with no horse horseexperience at all or with several years of experience…even competing in shows. In StarRiders (the approach used here) all students are asked to come with a “beginner’s mind”-open and teachable.  Experienced riders are paired with horses whose talents and training best match their discipline or their goals for IW riding time. Those who never touched a horse until they came to IW are paired with the quietest, most predictable horses-again, with consideration for the riding style they want to try.

​In a recent lesson, there were two students who had never ridden before. A student who has progressed to “junior instructor” level, which means she can assist with one-on-one coaching under the direct supervision of the Barn Manager/Instructor (“eyes-on”, “ears on”), was present to assure safety and provide direct support as the instructor shifted focus between the two riders.  The session began with fitting of riding boots, helmets, chaps, and discussion of riding style options. To a casual observer, it would look like dawdling. What was really happening is that the student helper was busily locating equipment and practicing leadership skills in explaining how things work, while the instructor was observing for learning style indicators and levels of confidence in the two riders.

​It often works well to teach two different styles in the same session, especially with new riders, because it reduces pressure of unspoken competition or a learner’s internal tendency to compare themselves with others. Ultimately, they realize there is more in common across disciplines than is different, which is why it’s so easy for horses to cross train, but this time was just about individuals finding their seats and getting comfortable in the saddle.  The students groomed their horses in the usual way, which warmed and awakened the riders’ upper body and core muscles. It also reminded them that they already have skills for handling horses, which made the prospect of riding immediately more achievable. In the first session, the instructor “tacks up”, while narrating what they are doing, using the correct terms for the parts of the tack and making reference to correct placement and attachment. In the second lesson, the rider will begin to do so, with the instructor directing the steps as needed. By the third or fourth lesson, the rider is able to try tacking up on their own, and minor adjustments are made as needed. By the end of two months, riders routinely tack up on their own, but tack safety checks are always done by an instructor before mounting.

​Once in the arena, the riders warm up their horse with brisk walking, turns and maybe some silly patterns or movements that help them relax into their pairings and laugh a little. This also warms up the riders’ legs and increases awareness of their extremities (but don’t tell them that!).  They give a final tightening to the girth, “ask” their horse to the mounting block and mount up. By now, this description must sound painfully slow. “Get riding, already!” But mounting and dismounting are two of the highest risk times for riders. It matters what others are doing around them; the equipment preparations and horse behavior observations come together to allow the rider to “let go” of standing on their own two feet and let this new partner carry them, even though they haven’t yet learned the “language” for directing them once off the ground. It is about a -literally- heightened sense of trust.

​In the saddle, the rider’s reactions-comfort level, confidence, and style of communication-determines what comes next. With the two beginners referred to above, one was very quiet and technical in his approach-an internal processor who takes things in a step-by-step manner. The other was deeply sensing/feeling. He had an intuitive approach and wanted to “feel” the motion of riding before taking the reins and directing the process. The first rider was shown how to apply body language he uses on the ground to communicate with the horse while in the saddle-eyes and chest in the direction of desired movement, light leg pressure for a walk, and shifting of weight, use of legs to “send” the horse where he wants him to go. Then he was shown how to use the reins, and sent off to practice, with the junior instructor within arm’s reach of reins if he got confused or asked for help.  The second rider-who was more sensory-intuitive rode at first with the horse being led. Rather than hearing directions first, he experimented with how the horse reacted to changes in his posture and focus. After just sitting and feeling the movement of the horse under him and how it felt to maintain his balance and upright posture, he quickly learned he could “speed up” or slow down the walk with his seat and legs. Then he noticed he could move the horse sideways by shifting his weight, and could turn him by turning first his head, and then chest and legs. While still being led, he experienced a soft trot, and then took up the reins and carried on by himself. Sometimes he got confused and wound up in the middle of the arena. He asked questions of the instructors as needed, and then put his horse back on the rail.

​The first rider had by now learned several aids, layered them together, and was having enough success in managing the walk in each direction that he could do some simple patterns. Both riders were then instructed in how to reverse on the rail. By the end of an hour, both could walk, halt, back, reverse direction-all without anyone near them- and ride the trot comfortably.  Yet they each had experienced a very different lesson. As they dismounted, tacked down, and cooled out horses, there was a sense of accomplishment and great enjoyment, as well as deep appreciation for their horses. Conversation about how they learn and what worked for each of them ensued, and they were encouraged to advocate for themselves as learners in various settings as well as in future riding lessons.

​Once riders can ride walk/trot independently, halt, back, turn around, control the speed of the walk or trot, and apply two safety maneuvers, they may ride on the trails. Trail rides start with short forays to the schoolhouse or admin building at the end of a lesson and progress to up to an hour out in the fields and on the roads of IW campus.  More details on trail skills and lessons, as well as lessons for progressing beginners and intermediate and advanced riders will follow in a separate article.

​I hope your spring is melting into summer wonderfully and look forward to meeting many families next week and sharing some horse time!     Happy trails!       -Joy (Barn Manager)

Ironwood Maine Web Update

From the day students arrive on campus through the day they leave, there are two consistent expectations; to be respectful, and to engage.

It is always a treat to see the unique characteristics of our students in their individual strengths, interest, and abilities. Within the intricately designed weekly schedule, we find ways to incorporate a variety of activities in an effort to peak interest, curiosity, and passion. This week, not unusually, was filled with an abundance of creative and intriguing events.

To start the weekend off excitingly and to officially welcome the consistent warm weather, we had a huge field day in what we call “Spring Fling”. The entire campus came together to participate in a gauntlet of activities lead by a variety of staff members. Teachers, therapist and behavior staff all took turns overseeing stations of fun in which groups of students rotated through. The groups were intentionally split to include members of both the Farmhouse and Frye campus to build some cross-campus rapport as well as to create some leadership and role-modeling opportunities.

There was a boat building station with a random assortment of materials used to construct a make-shift boat. The engineering and construction was then put to the test at the pond where each boat had to successful float across the body of water. A tie-die station allowed for our artist and fashionistas to mix and match colors and designs to create their handmade shirt. There was an obstacle course to intrigue our competitive athletes in a timed event of running, throwing, and climbing their way to the finish line. For our crafters, there was a station of birdhouse painting and sculpture making to be placed in the garden to ward off in unwanted intruders. There was even a barn group that challenged students to convince a horse to walk backwards!

All of our students thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to engage with the whole campus in these creative activities, but perhaps the most distinguishable feat of engagement was our talent show. After a cookout and huge group meal around a fire, students were given the opportunity to perform at this years first Ironwood Talent Show! We had performers sign up to Sing, interpretive dance, play guitar, tell jokes, impressive corn-toss,and beatbox. It was impossible to crown a Talent-show winner as each proved to be so unique.

Later in the week, each campus had the opportunity to get out of the classroom and participate in a few place based science lessons. A trip to the planetarium offered a change in perception of our students and the world around them. Several individuals remarked how small they felt after learning more about the universe and stars. A few exclaimed their interest in wanting to work for NASA in the future. (I think we’ve all been there at least once) During another example, students learned about a frog’s life cycle. They took a trip to a local water source to observe wildlife in its different stages of life in its natural habitat. There was also plans to collect some tadpoles and watch the transformation take place back at campus, but I think all that was captured was a few leaches.

While our residents may not leave Ironwood as experts in any particular field, they certainly have plenty of opportunities to gain new skills and try new things. From natural science, yoga, camping, singing in front of a crowd or gardening, every single student is able to engage in at least one activity that is new for them. We can all set goals for ourselves and the people we love. And we can do our best to support those goals. But, the most we should really expect and strive for, is that we are engaged and giving this life our best try.

Thank you for putting your trust in Ironwood and we hope you have a great weekend!

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