By Margaret Magnus
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.
TOP PRIORITIES FROM THE COMMUNITY MEETING & SURVEY
BABA’S FIREPLACE and courtyard area at Meher Mount was identified as a top priority at the July 2017 Community Meeting. This fireplace was in the room where followers of Avatar Meher Baba spent time with Him on August 2, 1956. (Left to right: Brent Carter, Richard Mannis, Nancy Pinckert, Ron Holsey, Steve Bostwick, Ursula Reinhart, Elliott Karpeles, Jim Whitson, Donnalyn Karpeles, Robert Turnage. (Photo: Sam Ervin, July 22, 2018)
Following the community meeting and survey, the Board of Directors identified five major projects:
Baba’s Fireplace and Courtyard – Develop and implement a plan for improved use in a remembrance of Avatar Meher Baba’s visit.
Water System – Upgrade the system for greater reliability and simplicity.
Sustainable Revenue – Identify sources for ongoing revenue.
Volunteer Work Days – Create more on-site volunteer opportunities.
Planned Giving – Develop a planned-giving program with an endowment option.
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.
MASTER PLAN GUIDES RECOVERY
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.
A GREATER FOCUS ON BABA’S FIREPLACE
BABA’S FIREPLACE commemorates the August 2, 1956 visit of Avatar Meher Baba to Meher Mount. This photo was taken just after the Eucalyptus stand that burned in the 2017 Thomas Fire was removed in April 2018. The Board of Directors is continuing to develop a plan for preserving the fireplace and enhancing the courtyard area with shade and landscaping. (Photo: Margaret Magnus, April 6, 2018)
The Thomas Fire and high winds badly damaged Baba’s Tree. Steps were taken to help the tree survive and grow.
A BENCH made from a burned limb of Baba’s Tree in April 2018 will be part of the courtyard area by Baba’s Fireplace. (Photo: Stephanie Ervin, September 1, 2018)
Now, Baba’s Tree is to remain in seclusion for several years while it recovers. As a result, the focus has shifted to other Meher Baba touchstones at Meher Mount.
The plan for Baba’s Fireplace has taken on even greater urgency. This fireplace was part of the guesthouse where Meher Baba met with His followers in 1956.
Specific fire-related projects – the use of wood from Baba’s Tree to create outdoor benches; installation of new doors and windows in the Visitor Center; removal of the burned Eucalyptus tree stand; and repairs to the Visitor Center – all became part of the plan for Baba’s Fireplace and courtyard.
Volunteers also started uncovering an original sandstone walkway leading to Baba’s Fireplace.
The fireplace and walkway are important artifacts from His visit – particularly since the 1985 New Life Fire destroyed almost everything else on the property.
WATER TREATMENT SYSTEM IS IMPROVED
ONE OF TWO WATER TANKS next to the upgraded water treatment system for Meher Mount’s well water. This large tank holds potable water, while a smaller “ag tank” holds untreated water for watering plants at the Visitor Center and Baba’s Tree. (Photo: Margaret Magnus, September 2018)
One of the first priorities in fire recovery was getting the water system working. That effort took five months. In the process, new elements – not available in 2004 when the system was initially established – were put in place.
The system is still not simpler, because Meher Mount’s water is still complex. However, important parts of the system were upgraded for greater reliability and longevity.
A POSSIBLE SOURCE OF ADDITIONAL, SUSTAINABLE REVENUE
STACKED WOOD milled from the fallen limbs and branches of Baba’s Tree. All the wood is being stored for future use while it cures. (Photo: Margaret Magnus, February 6, 2018)
There will always be an Annual Fund Campaign to solicit donations to support ongoing operations. However, additional sources of sustainable revenue can give Meher Mount a stronger financial base.
A TWIG BOUQUET from the downed limbs of Baba’s Tree. (Margaret Magnus, September 2018)
The question is always – What are those sources of revenue?
The fire damage to Baba’s Tree created an opportunity. Both ashes and wood were salvaged. The wood was milled and stored for future use.
Individual supporters sent emails and posted on social media their suggestions for using wood from Baba’s Tree as a source of future donations.
The board is in the process of developing a policy and plan for use of the wood – both at Meher Mount and as a source of donations.
THE COMMUNITY SUPPORTS VOLUNTEER WORK DAYS
VOLUNTEER DAYS COORDINATOR Jim Whedon uses an electric weed whacker to get ready for the June 1, 2018 deadline for fire abatement. Meher Mount was given a thumbs up by the Ventura County Fire Department. (Photo: Margaret Magnus, May 19, 2018)
As news of the Thomas Fire reached the Meher Baba community, there were offers to help with fire clean-up.
Fire recovery spurred multiple volunteer days: fire cleanup, caring for Baba’s Tree, harvesting and storing Baba’s Tree wood, weeding and mowing to get ready for fire abatement inspection, and general repairs.
The community responded and volunteered, even coming all the way from New York. Thank you. There are more volunteer days scheduled.
Meher Mount also installed a new app — Volunteers for Salesforce — for Salesforce’s constituency relationship management (CRM) program.
Meher Mount is using this app to track volunteers and hours, starting with Master Plan participation.
PLANNED GIVING IS ON THE AGENDA
Now that fire recovery is completed, it’s time to turn attention to the next top priority: planned giving with an endowment option.
There is a board meeting scheduled for November 2018 to discuss feasibility, implications and the possible next steps.
GUIDING PRINCIPLES OF THE MASTER PLAN
AVATAR MEHER BABA (center, blue coat) walking with His followers at Meher Mount on August 2, 1956. Baba’s Path and is kept mowed so that visitors can walk in His footsteps. (Photo: Darwin Shaw, (c) Meher Nazar Publications)
Meher Mount’s Master Plan and the resulting projects are based on five guiding principles.
Facilitate the remembrance of Avatar Meher Baba – To maintain Meher Mount as a medium for remembering Avatar Meher Baba and to honor His presence at Meher Mount.
Nurture divine love and oneness through nature – To preserve the natural environment and to support opportunities for loving God through nature.
Support pilgrimage to Meher Mount – To facilitate day pilgrimage with the least impact to Meher Mount.
Be good stewards – To preserve Meher Mount for future generations with thoughtful and careful stewardship.
Provide opportunities for service – To honor Agnes Baron’s legacy by creating opportunities for selfless service.
A PLAN FOR ALL TIME
A master plan is a living, breathing and changing road map. Its role is to provide a rationale, a vision, continuity, and guidance for today and for the future.
Meher Mount’s Master Plan definitely served its purpose during fire recovery and renewal.
COMMUNITY MEETING 2017 to update Meher Mount’s Master Plan. The group is in front of Baba’s Fireplace before the Eucalyptus trees to the right burned in the December 2017 Thomas Fire and were later removed. (Top row, left to right) Ron Holsey, Robert Turnage; (Middle row, left to right): Buzz Glasky, Steve Bostwick, Brent Carter, Jim Whitson, Marta Flores, Nancy Pinckert, Byron Pinckert, Donnalyn Karpeles, Elliott Karpeles, Eric Van Buskirk, Ursula Reinhart, Richard Mannis; (Front row) Ginger Glasky, Margaret Magnus, Patti Jones, Bing Heckman. Not pictured is Sam Ervin who is taking the photo, July 22, 2017.
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.
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.
Break out the champagne, it’s a celebration.
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.
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.
The December 2017 Thomas Fire completely burned the wooden entry fence at Meher Mount. Only the metal gate with the heart in the center was left standing.
In April 2018, the former, burned wooden fence was upgraded and replaced with a new metal fence. A more fire-resistant metal was used to help protect Meher Mount in the event of future fires.
The heart gate is again welcoming visitors to 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."
The following is a reprint of an article from the Ventura County Star published on April 30, 2018, about Baba's Tree, the 2017 Thomas Fire, and re-purposing the wood from the tree.
The following is a reprint of an article about the making of three benches from the fallen wood of Baba's Tree. It is from the Ojai Valley News published April 27, 2018.
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.
On December 4, 2017, the Thomas Fire struck Meher Mount burning the stand of 16 eucalyptus trees by Baba’s Fireplace and the Visitor Center along with the large eucalyptus by the pathway to Baba's Tree.
In assessing the fire damage and the future fire threats to Meher Mount, the question was put before the board, “What to do with the eucalyptus trees?”
After the initial shock of Baba’s Tree being struck by fire for a second time – the first time in 1985 and now again in 2017 – the community expressed its desire – through social media, email and personal contact – to save the wood from Baba’s Tree. The board of directors agreed.
Within two months after the December 4, 2017, Thomas Fire, a team of professionals and volunteers was at Meher Mount for three and one-half days harvesting and salvaging the burned and fallen wood from Baba’s Tree. The immediate goal was to mill, prepare and store the wood before the winter rains.
On December 4, 2017, the Thomas Fire – the largest wildfire in California’s history – burned Baba’s Tree leaving large deposits of ash from the tree.
Ten days later, Cassandra Bramucci emailed, “I'm feeling a sense of urgency to preserve the ashes from the tree as soon as possible - I sense rain will be coming soon.”
The forecast was for rain. But with some luck and planning, it was hoped the group could work around the rain. Despite the weather forecast, Meher Mount went ahead with Restoration Weekend – March 10 & 11, 2018.
It was a good decision. A number of tasks were completed as part of the ongoing recovery from the December 4, 2018 Thomas Fire. And as usual, a few more tasks were added to the "to do" list as a result.
The news coverage started with Perry Van Houten, who had written an earlier article “Ojai’s Trees” for the Winter 2014 edition of The Ojai Valley Visitors Guide, which included Baba’s Tree as one of six trees featured. He approached Meher Mount for a story for a story about Baba's Tree after the Thomas Fire. His article, “Group mounting significant effort to try to save Baba’s Tree,” was published on February 2, 2018, in the Ojai Valley News.
Later, Claudia Boyd-Barrett, an Ojai resident and journalist who had visited Meher Mount before, contacted Meher Mount to set up an interview. She talked with Board President Sam Ervin, Manager/Caretaker Buzz Glasky, arborist Michael Inaba, and Interim Caretaker Cassandra Bramucci. Her story for the Ventura County Star, “Baba's Tree, burned in Thomas Fire, fights for survival in Ojai,” was published on February 18, 2018.
Avatar Meher Baba's birthday on February 25, 2018, was the first public event and visitor open day at Meher Mount since the Thomas Fire on December 4, 2017. It was a fitting occasion to honor Meher Baba's Advent and to say farewell to Manager/Caretakers Buzz and Ginger Glasky. They have lovingly cared for Meher Mount for the past four-and-one-half years.
Recovery from the December 2017 Thomas Fire is a step-by-step process. Each completed task seems to generate several new task offspring. The restoration continues.
On February 15, 2018, just as Buzz and Ginger Glasky finished their four-and-a-half years as Manager/Caretakers, former Caretaker Ray Johnston (2002-2005, 2006-2010) arrived for a week to help with the recovery.