By Cassandra Bramucci & Margaret Magnus
Every spring at Meher Mount, amid the stirring of new life – nesting birds, blooming wildflowers, tender new leaves on the ubiquitous Coast Live Oak trees swollen from recent rains – volunteers from far and wide gather to perform the rituals of weed abatement.
BUZZ GLASKY DRIVES the ride-on mower to begin the fire clearance process. (Photo: Ginger Glasky, April 2019)
It is mandatory in Ventura County, CA, that by June 1st a strict protocol of reducing hazardous vegetation and creating defensible spaces around buildings and roads must be completed by all property owners in anticipation of the upcoming fire season.
RON HOLSEY gets a head start on the weed whacking before the weekend begins. (Photo: Buzz Glasky, May 11, 2019)
There is little doubt that this kind of stewardship at Meher Mount prevented the devastating Thomas Fire of December 2017 from destroying the buildings, utilities, and equipment.
The Manager/Caretakers at Meher Mount have traditionally started their abatement efforts in late March. It takes weeks just to bring a long winter’s worth of untamed growth and scattered natural debris into a manageable state.
The 2019 winter saw the most rainfall in a decade, so Interim Caretakers Buzz and Ginger Glasky had their hands full keeping the tractor and riding mower running smoothly and rolling over the 70-plus acres that needed the most care.
They worked hard to keep the fields and paths clear while preparing for the final push by volunteers who come in May for a busy weekend of weed-whacking, mowing, garden clean-up, and removing dead and fallen branches.
BING HECKMAN is mowing the grassy area near the Visitor Center. (Photo: Margaret Magnus, May 18, 2019)
This year, 21 volunteers arrived in shifts from May 11 through May 24, 2019, to help. Some were young, some not so young. Some new to Meher Mount, others who mark their calendars for this time of year. Some who were a few hours’ drive away, others who came from across the country. It is the joy of working with such enthusiastic and friendly folks that makes volunteering such a memorable event.
WEEDING THE GARDEN by the Visitor Center at Meher Mount are volunteers Susie Lemieux and Erin Sommerville. (Photo: Margaret Magnus, May 18, 2019)
There was good humor and camaraderie that abounded as teams of workers headed off to work after getting their instructions from Buzz Glasky and Sam Ervin.
Weeds come in all kinds and sizes. Some are tall grasses that need to be mowed to the ground, others are plants in the wrong places that need to be removed, and still others are invasive plants that must be completely eradicated and carefully disposed of.
The first goal is fire abatement, the second goal is making sure Meher Mount looks its best for visitors, and the third is removing invasive plants to allow the native, fire-resistant and fire-adapted plants to flourish.
GINGER GLASKY is weeding the garden and open area by the Visitor Center/Caretaker Quarters. (Photo: Margaret Magnus, May 18, 2019)
A team including Ginger Glasky, Erin Sommerville, Susie Lemieux, Margaret Magnus, Homayar Gandhi, and Nancy Rugo, pulled and raked weeds in the walkways, driveways and around the Visitor Center. As Sam Ervin remarked after all the weeding was completed, “This definitely looks better.”
Sam and Cassandra Bramucci tackled the largest invasive purple thistle encountered on the property. It filled a plastic bag and took about an hour to remove. Sam continued his quest to remove the thistle over the next three days.
INVASIVE PURPLE THISTLE is under attack at Meher Mount from Sam Ervin and Cassandra Bramucci. (Photo: Margaret Magnus, May 18, 2019)
Longtime Meher Mount veteran Bing Heckman sprang into action mowing the area below the Ring Road and clearing around the Workshop and Topa Topa Patio. It was a challenging task to wrangle the self-propelled mower over the rough terrain still crumbling underfoot from the harsh rains of winter.
CUTTING DOWN THE WEEDS by the Workshop and Topa Topa Patio at Meher Mount is long-time volunteer and supporter Bing Heckman. (Photo: Margaret Magnus, May 18, 2019)
Eric Turk – who has been continuously battling poison oak since the 2017 Thomas Fire – also took the weed eater wherever needed to get those spots where the ride-on mower or tractor could not reach. Even before the weekend started, Ron Holsey spent a day using the weed whacker around the property.
ERIC TURK uses the weed eater to clear away tall grass and weeds at the entrance to Meher Mount. (Photo: Margaret Magnus, May 19, 2019)
Steve Bostwick and Umakanth Umapathy gathered with Sam Ervin at Baba’s Tree to help clear the weeds and invasive plants both inside and outside of the seclusion fence. Umakanth later sent an email, “I to wanted express that I quite enjoyed a day out in the field.
“I thoroughly enjoyed being there working, though I did feel a bit sad for cutting plants even if they are weeds. Well, I do believe it’s for the greater good, and it will give way for better plants to grow. I also enjoyed the inclusive lunch atmosphere, and these are moments to be cherished.”
WEEDS & INVASIVE PLANTS are no match for this team. (Left to right) Steve Bostwick, Sam Ervin and Umakanth Umapathy do fire abatement around Baba’s Tree at Meher Mount. (Photo: Margaret Magnus, May 18, 2019)
Soon it was time to break for lunch. Everyone gathered on the Topa Topa patio to share their food potluck style while renewing the bonds that tend to form among those who volunteer at Meher Mount.
For the afternoon shift, a group that included Cynthia Griffin, Khushnam Crawford, Cassandra Bramucci, Susie Lemeiux, Ervin Sommerville, and Margaret Magnus gathered around the kitchen table to fold, address, and stamp 400-plus Anniversary Sahavas flyers soon to be mailed out.
FLYERS FOR THE 2019 ANNIVERSARY SAHAVAS at Meher Mount are being folded, stamped and addressed by (left to right) Khushnam Crawford, Cassandra Bramucci, and Cynthia Griffin. (Photo: Margaret Magnus, May 18, 2019)
THE FATHER-SON TEAM of James Whedon and his son Ian (in blue) work on building the A-frame structure to protect the harvested and milled wood from Baba’s Tree. (Photo: Margaret Magnus, May 28, 2019)
Meanwhile with team leader Jim Whedon, a group completed construction of an A-frame storage shed for the harvested and milled wood from Baba’s Tree.
Joining him were his son Ian Whedon, Jim’s nephew Anthony LoGalbo and his wife Heather Mabbitt, and Jim’s long-time friend Richard Griffin from Salem, MA.
Others continued with weed whacking and invasive plant removal until the day finally wound down toward everyone’s favorite part of work weekends: Saturday night dinner.
A caravan of cars headed down Sulphur Mountain to Boccali’s restaurant in Ojai with tired bodies, full hearts, and healthy appetites. The food was excellent, but the company was even better.
“I definitely wanted to spend my birthday helping out at Meher Mount. There was no doubt that was what I wanted to do,” declared Khushnam Crawford, as we all sang happy birthday and shared some delicious strawberry shortcake to celebrate.
DINNER after a hard day's work. (Left to right): Heather Mabbitt, Anthony LoGalbo, Erin Summerville, Margaret Magnus, Susie Lemieux, Sam Ervin, Cassandra Bramucci, Khushnam Crawford, Homayar Gandhi, Cynthia Griffin, Richard Griffin and Jim Whedon.
A couple of days later, Sam Ervin and Margaret Magnus mowed and cleared dead limbs around the A-frame structure to create a fire-defensible space to protect Baba’s Tree wood.
They were joined by former Manager/Caretaker Ray Johnston, who traveled from Miami, FL, to help mow and disc for weed abatement.
OFF TO MOW some of the more remote access fields of Meher Mount that are near the homes of Meher Mount’s neighbors. Ray Johnston, driving the tractor, and Sam Ervin. (Photo: Margaret Magnus, May 20, 2019)
He spent most of the following week clearing the meadow – known as the Prasad Orchard – next to the Narcanon neighbor’s buildings (the requirement is 100 feet of vegetation clearance). Ray also mowed another section of Meher Mount’s property up Sulphur Mountain Road and next to the home of Bill and Ernestine Kee.
He had hoped to disc those spots and others around the property, but rain on Sunday, May 19, 2019, made the ground so wet, that the discing only served to clog the disc with weed and mud which then had to be cleaned out. He resorted to mowing only.
Even as the team worked, it continued to rain – completely unseasonable for May in Southern California. So, Buzz and Ginger Glasky continued to mow the new growth to keep Meher Mount ready for fire inspection.
ALMOST EVERYONE at Meher Mount on Saturday, May 18, 2019. (Left to right) Cynthia Griffin, Ian Whedon, Margaret Magnus, Steve Bostwick, Ervin Sommerville, Cassandra Bramucci, Umakanth Umapathy, Buzz Glasky, Nancy Rugo, Susie Lemieux, Ginger Glasky, Homayar Gandhi, Bing Heckman and Sam Ervin. (Photo: Khushnam Crawford)
Just after dawn this morning – as with most mornings – three or four California quail coveys drink at the pond, followed by hordes of Dark-Eyed Juncos, three different species of Goldfinch, and several Spotted Towhees. All are gathered for their morning ablutions and chatter fest.
This morning there is a special guest among the avian visitors. As a cool mist envelops the top of Sulphur Mountain, there is a rarely seen Hooded Oriole, the latest addition to the Meher Mount bird family. He repeatedly makes his appearance at the Hummingbird feeders to the delight of onlookers. The Oriole balances precariously on the feeder rim while sipping the sweet nectar with his long slender beak.
The Spring 2019 “super bloom” that is sweeping California following the generous winter rains is also gracing Meher Mount. Its appearance isn’t the massive and concentrated flowering of the desert blooms. Rather, it is the variety of wildflowers at Meher Mount that often appear only after abundant rains and sometimes specifically after a fire, such as the December 2017 Thomas Fire.
You might also say Meher Mount and the surrounding area are experiencing a “super green.” The emerald-hued rolling hills, steep mountainsides and valleys are a deep green, particularly in stark contrast to the ash-covered hillsides of 15 months earlier.
During their annual migration, more than 300 species of birds are estimated to use the Pacific Flyway as their connection between the Arctic and South America, according to NASA Science. The flyway stretches from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean and includes all of California.
Every year, millions of migratory birds head south, then north, using the 4,000-mile-long and, in places, the 1,000-mile-wide route known in search of places to breed, feed, and spend the winter.
Caretakers of a beloved oak tree in Upper Ojai say they're cautiously optimistic the tree will survive.
Baba's Tree, on the property of the Meher Mount retreat, at 9902 Sulphur Mountain Road, was shattered by the Thomas Fire, which consumed the main trunk of the tree and destroyed 90 percent of its canopy.
But now the iconic tree is coming back to life. "It's looking good, so far," said Meher Mount President Sam Ervin.
The giant coast live oak, named for Indian spiritual master Avatar Meher Baba, overlooks the Pacific Ocean from the brow of the mountain, 1,200 feet above the Ojai Valley. Meher Baba sat under the tree and sanctified the property during his only visit in August 1956.
“I am never born, I never die. Yet, every moment, I take birth and undergo death. The countless illusory births and deaths are necessary landmarks in the progression of man's consciousness to Truth — a prelude to the Real Death and Real Birth. Real Death is when one dies to self, and Real Birth is, when dying to self, one is born in God, to live forever His eternal life consciously.
Although I am present everywhere eternally, in my formless, infinite state, from time to time I take form, and the taking of the form and leaving it is termed my physical birth and death. In this sense, I was born 60 years ago and I will die when my Universal work is finished.”
Your celebrating my 60th birthday today with all your love, enthusiasm and zeal has deeply touched me and makes me give you my blessings for the ultimate understanding that we all are one, that God alone is real and that all else is false.” - Avatar Meher Baba
The following is from the Ventura County Star published on February 11, 2019, about the recovery of Baba’s Tree from the 2017 Thomas Fire. See the full article, “Baba’s Tree springs back to life after being nearly destroyed by Thomas Fire.”
The measures taken over the past year to protect and nourish Baba’s Tree seem to have contributed to its survival and new growth so far.
Baba’s Tree continues to show signs that point to survival and at the same time, caution. Most of the sprouts that have come out since the fire, on the shattered trunk and two of the largest limbs, are still green and look healthy.
There has been some significant die-back of sprouts along two other large limbs. Inaba counsels cautious optimism, suggesting that another summer will tell much more about the longer term probabilities. Fire recovery is not over and continues for Baba’s Tree at least for another year or two.
The forecast was for rain. Still, the volunteers came. It was the day of The Great Dhuni Stick Harvest. Saturday, January 12, 2019, turned out to be a glorious day with a very special dhuni at Meher Mount.
The rain stopped, and the sun came out around 10:30 a.m. The cloud-filled skies were deep blue, and the views were picture-perfect. It was time to harvest dhuni-sized sticks from the fallen branches of Baba’s Tree.
It was only fitting that after the dhuni sticks were harvested, there should be a dhuni at Meher Mount.
This Christmas greeting from Avatar Meher Baba was a sent to Elizabeth Patterson and Kitty Davy (Meher Baba's close Western disciples) at the Meher Spiritual Center in Myrtle Beach, SC, on December 10, 1958.
"Gratitude is a most lovable way of acknowledging My unconditional compassion. And it strengthens your relationship with Me. I have no expectation of it, for My own sake, but it is for your personal good.
"In a sense, gratitude is the art of accepting life, moment by moment, in whatever situation one finds oneself, as being My Will. You offer everything to Me, and receive everything from Me."
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 Awakener made in 1994 by Tim Thelan. The footage of Meher Baba at Meher Mount starts at 43:22 minutes.
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, “Yes, you have to 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.”
How might this save you money?
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.
Baba’s Fireplace was part of the living room of the guesthouse at Meher Mount where Avatar Meher Baba met with His followers and gave darshan (blessing) on August 2, 1956.
Now, as Baba’s Tree’s remains in seclusion for several years while it recovers, Baba’s Fireplace and courtyard area are a more integral part of the visitor experience.
As a result, there is a greater sense of urgency to finalize and implement the plans to preserve Baba’s Fireplace and enhance the courtyard area.