Was it coincidence, prescience or Meher Baba’s Divine timing?
Just days before the December 4, 2017 Thomas Fire struck Meher Mount, well-known Meher Baba artist Charles Mills approached Meher Mount about doing a painting that would represent Meher Baba’s 1956 visit to Meher Mount.
“I didn’t know if a painting was needed,” Mills said later, “I just made myself available.”
In discussions with Board President Sam Ervin, they talked about a painting that would represent the energy of Meher Baba’s visit as captured in the 55-minute film Meher Baba, The Awakenermade in 1994 by Tim Thelan. The footage of Meher Baba at Meher Mount starts at 43:22 minutes.
The original and complete footage of Meher Baba at Meher Mount, starting at 50:23 minutes, is included Meher Baba in the USA, 1956 produced by Sufism Reoriented.
CAPTURING MEHER BABA’S ENERGY ON CANVAS
The concept was to portray the swift, long strides of Meher Baba walking across the meadow from Baba’s Tree with His followers hurrying to keep up with Him. That image seemed to be both an actual andmetaphorical representation of being with the God-Man.
Marguerite Poley, who was at Meher Mount with Meher Baba on August 2, 1956, described that walk in an interview that was part of the Meher Baba,The Awakener film.
In early 2018, Charlie started work on the painting. He obtained permission to use the image from Sufism Reoriented, blew it up on his computer, stretched the 4- x 5-foot canvas, and began to paint.
On August 10, 2018, he and his wife Linda Mills were at Meher Mount to hang the newly finished work of art.
“I CAN’T IMAGINE A BETTER PAINTING AT MEHER MOUNT”
AVATAR MEHER BABA walking in the meadow from Baba’s Tree at Meher Mount on August 2, 1956. Painted specifically for Meher Mount and donated by Charles Mills in 2018.
In Meher Baba’s impeccable timing, Charlie and the painting arrived after all the fire damage repairs, additional upgrades, and refurbishment to the Visitor Center had been completed. The painting seemed to be the icing on the cake (or the cherry on top) for fire recovery and renewal.
The painting was hung just days after a fresh coat of paint had been applied to the entire interior. It was as if the Visitor Center had been specifically prepared to receive this loving gift from the artist.
“I can’t imagine a better painting for Meher Mount,” remarked Board Director Jim Whitson after seeing Mills’ painting.
“How nice that I could contribute that painting and be part of the effort after the fire,” Charlie said afterward.
ENTHUSIASM FOR THE PAINTING
In seeing the finished painting, Sam Ervin commented,
Both Marta Flores and Kristina Somma, who were at Meher Mount on August 10th, noted that when walking to Baba’s Tree they would imagine the painting and see themselves walking alongside Meher Baba.
Other reactions were equally enthusiastic: “How nice! He is a great painter!” “Lovely.” “How exciting! I just love seeing pictures of Baba at Meher Mount!”
Board Director Richard Mannis sent this email, “We like it. Lovely! Lucky dog!”
Speaking of the dog, Kali, co-founder and lifetime caretaker Agnes Baron said Kali was an extremely smart dog and that she followed Meher Baba around the whole day. When Meher Baba was getting in the car to leave on August 2nd, He patted Kali on the head and said she would be a human in her next life.
CELEBRATING THE ARRIVAL of Charles Mill’s painting of Avatar Meher Baba and a special visit by Tom and Cathy Riley. (Left to right: Wayne Myers, Kristina Somma, Charles Mills, Robert Turnage (kneeling), Sam Ervin, Tom Riley, Marta Flores, Cathy Riley and Linda Mills. (Photo: Margaret Magnus, August 10, 2018)
ABOUT THE ARTIST
The artwork of Charles Mills – both the Meher Baba paintings and abstract work – can be seen on his website Mills Studios.
Charlie's first works of art were in pencil and on paper he spread on the floor. Drawings of guns, planes and tanks from World War II were his topic of the day. Later in school, he broadened his skills, and he studied art at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, to study commercial art.
Mills spent 12 years doing graphic design which included brochure layouts, logo design, technical drawings, mural painting and metal sculpture. Most of his work was in California where he met his wife, Linda.
They decided to find some land of their own, so they moved to West Virginia, bought 25 acres and built a cabin. Here Charlie’s commercial art career converted to sign painting.
Soon after arriving in West Virginia, they were awakened to Meher Baba. Charlie then began doing paintings of the Avatar. Now numbering over 250, these portraits are familiar to many followers of Meher Baba all over the world.
One of his paintings is at the entry to the dining hall of the Meher Pilgrim Retreat in Meherabad, India. Meherabad is where Meher Baba’s Tomb Shrine is located.
On December 4, 2017, the wildfire known as the Thomas Fire struck Meher Mount. Initially, the Visitor Center/Caretaker Quarters seemed to have the least amount of damage. In the end, the majority of the expenses, time, and effort has been expended on the Visitor Center.
In hindsight, there was a “perfect storm” of events that led to the unintended – but needed – upgrade, repair and refurbishment of the building that doubles as a Visitor Center and Caretaker Quarters.
One day while working at Meher Mount during recovery and renewal from the 2017 Thomas Fire, I noticed that the window and door frames needed to be repainted and spruced up. Then I looked more closely. Some of the wooden frames and door sills needed actual replacement.
Then taking a walk through the building, it was clear that many of the 25-year-old wooden-frame doors and windows were damaged due to time, use and weather. Sam Ervin pointed out – particularly without any furniture “hiding” parts of the building – that there were gaps between and under the doors.
The gaps invited dust, rodents, snakes and other critters inside. One night in the kitchen, former Manager/Caretakers Buzz and Ginger Glasky found a baby rattlesnake that had crawled in under the door.
One day while working at Meher Mount, I heard Sam Ervin call to me, “Margaret, come look at this.”
Feeling it wasn’t something I wanted to see, I said, “No.”
Sam replied, “No, come look at this.”
Again, I said, “No.”
He insisted, “Come look at this it.”
After six months of repairs, clean-up, and small fix-it jobs turning into big fix-it jobs following the 2017 Thomas Fire, I just didn’t want to discover one item that needed attention. But, I knew I couldn’t escape. I went to take a look.
Meher Mount continually welcomes many first-time visitors who know nothing of Avatar Meher Baba and not very much about Meher Mount. They often ask: “What is this place?” and “Who is Meher Baba?”
Followers of Meher Baba often are curious about the history of Meher Mount and how it came to be. Some ask for more details about Meher Baba’s 1956 visit.
All of these questions are part of the Meher Mount story — Avatar Meher Baba, His 1956 visit to Meher Mount, Agnes Baron and the founding of Meher Mount, and the purpose and role of Meher Mount.
In planning discussions, the board has identified the need to tell the Meher Mount story for visitors. But, where to start? How to best use the limited wall space? How to naturally guide visitors through the information?
A recent article — “What’s a QCD? (And Why It’s Timely)” — in The Wall Street Journal suggests that older adults who are withdrawing money from their IRA and who want to make charitable donations, consider a “qualified charitable distribution.”
A qualified charitable distribution (QCD) is a withdrawal from an individual retirement account (IRA) that is sent directly to a charity. “In other words,” says the Journal, “the funds don’t pass through your hands. You instruct your IRA custodian to send the money straight to the [charitable] group or groups you specify.”
When Meher Mount’s fiscal year started on July 1, 2017, the year-long goal was to update the Master Plan. There was a community meeting in July along with an online survey to solicit comments for the next version of the plan.
Then, on December 4, 2017, the Thomas Fire struck Meher Mount. It seemed initially that master planning would be set aside to focus on fire recovery. On the contrary.
The discussions from the previous months, which supplemented the existing Master Plan, served as guiding principles for fire recovery and renewal.
It was as if the recent planning process had been particularly designed to guide recovery projects. Specific actions outlined in the plan became part of the recovery and renewal effort.
My mind is like still water as I sit on the veranda of the Visitor Center. Next to me is a friend who has been helping me take care of Meher Mount for several weeks. It is evening, the sun is about to set, and even the busy hummingbirds are settling in to partake of the peace of this special place.
“This is all Meher Baba,” my companion remarks with deep emotion in his voice as he spreads his arms to indicate the whole of Meher Mount.
If the Thomas Fire has taught me anything, it has taught me that one just never knows when something will “catch fire” at Meher Mount. Priorities are constantly shifting and even as the list of projects to be done continues to spark more lists of projects to be done, it is always Meher Baba who finds a way to ignite one’s passion at just the right moment.
What seems to be catching fire for visitors, volunteers, and caretakers alike these days is the remnant of a sandstone walkway that begins at the northeast edge of the circular driveway and extends for about 10 feet or so toward the side of the Visitor Center/Caretaker Quarters. Avatar Meher Baba walked on these exact same flagstones.
When the Ojai Raptor Center sent out an email after the December 2017 Thomas Fire encouraging landowners to install perches and box homes to support the raptor population in the area, Meher Mount responded.
The center said the fire had destroyed raptor (eagle, hawk, falcon, owl) habitat in the area, and putting up boxes and perches was one way to help the recovery of these birds.
Meher Mount was also motivated to install the boxes to create a natural form of rodent control. A simple walk to Baba’s Tree and Avatar’s Point demonstrates the abundance of small rodents (such as gophers, voles, and mice) at Meher Mount. The ground is pock-marked with their holes.
By helping raptors thrive, Meher Mount is helping to keep the predator-prey balance in the ecosystem. The Ojai Raptor Center calls raptors and owls “free, natural and abundant rodent control!”
On December 4, 2017, the Thomas Fire hit Meher Mount. Within a few days, the damage assessment began. At first, it seemed straightforward: Document the damage. Make a list for insurance. Begin to repair the damage.
There was some thought that in 90 days the fire recovery "to do list" would be complete, pending insurance reimbursement. As fire recovery progressed, the to do list never seemed to get shorter. In fact, each newly completed or half-completed task seemed to generate several more related tasks. The to do list was never ending.
Then it dawned on us – draw a line through the task list. When all the recovery projects before that line were completed, declare victory.
Now, seven months - 207 days to be exact - after the Thomas Fire, Meher Mount is declaring victory. The task list is still long, but every operational aspect related to fire damage has been fixed.
On December 4, 2017, Manager/Caretakers Buzz and Ginger Glasky evacuated with their Airsteam travel trailer to Oceano, CA, because the Thomas Fire had forced them to leave Meher Mount.
Buzz and Ginger continued to stay in Oceano even during fire cleanup and recovery, often traveling three to four hours to and from Meher Mount. Before they left Oceano in late May, a number of followers of Meher Baba visited them and the Dunite museum with Gavin Arthur's house, where Meher Baba had spent the night in 1934.
On December 11, 2017, Buzz posted this story on Facebook about their stay in Oceano.
After the Thomas Fire fire struck Meher Mount on December 4, 2017, help in the form of time, energy and money, began trickling in and then streaming in.
It was inspiring for all who were on the ground, day-to-day, to feel the love and caring from around the world. The support made recovery and regeneration practically and energetically possible for Meher Mount.
It was suggested by Cassandra Bramucci that Meher Mount find a way to thank all the donors and volunteers. She thought sending a keepsake with the ashes from Baba’s Tree would be appropriate.
When the December 2017 Thomas Fire hit Meher Mount, it only skimmed the corner of the outside trellis of the Visitor Center/Caretaker Quarters. The damage was minor. Estimated cost to make the repairs was $1,200. All that was needed was to replace three beams and apply some paint.
When attention moved to the burned trellis, this “minor” damage became a major repair with a final cost of $22,200.
The fire damage turned out be a blessing. It drew attention to the trellis – which would have been totally ignored in the focus to take care of other fire issues and ongoing maintenance at Meher Mount.
It took a concentrated team effort to accomplish the mission: get ready for the June 1, 2018, fire abatement inspection by the Ventura County Fire Department.
Behind the ostensible fire clearance goal is giving Meher Mount tender loving care and a welcoming appearance. It is honoring Avatar Meher Baba's presence at Meher Mount.
"The work to clean, maintain and 'beautify' Meher Mount is like dressing Meher Baba's Samadhi [tomb shrine] for the day," said Board President Sam Ervin. "It's preparation for inviting souls into His Presence."
When the December 2017 Thomas Fire struck Meher Mount, it set in motion a regeneration and renewal process that is more than just fire recovery. On the surface, the fire damage seemed to be modest. Below the surface, the fire stirred a new creative energy that is moving in all directions.
Only Baba's Tree suffered major, irrevocable change. Winds and fire shattered the tree's crown and burned most of the trunk. Major limbs broke off and toppled to the ground.
But, the creative energy and the energy of Baba's Tree persists. The wood from Baba's Tree has been salvaged, milled and stored for future use.
For immediate use, Meher Mount worked with artisan Harold Greene to create three outdoor benches from Baba's Tree to be placed near Baba’s Fireplace – the only remaining man-made artifact from Avatar Meher Baba’s 1956 visit to Meher Mount. All other buildings, memorabilia, and machinery were destroyed the 1985 New Life Fire.