By Margaret Magnus
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 GREAT DHUNI STICK HARVEST volunteers at Meher Mount on January 12, 2019. (Left to right) Jim Whedon, David Trombley, Kyle Morrisson, Jim Whitson, David Springhorn, Sam Ervin, Cassandra Bramucci, Fred Stankus, Kristina Somma, Agnes Montano, and Juan Mendez. Margaret Magnus is taking the photo, and Robert Turnage is at the Visitor Center greeting guests. Lisa Morrison, Kristen Tarpey, and Mike Tarpey came later in the afternoon.
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.
VOLUNTEERS WALKING ON BABA’S PATH to Baba’s Tree (inside the seclusion fence) to harvest dhuni sticks at Meher Mount. The sun has just come out, and the skies were spectacular following the rainstorm. (Photo: Juan Mendez, January 12, 2019)
A BOX OF DHUNI STICKS ready to be shipped to another Meher Baba group for use in a dhuni. (Photo: Margaret Magnus, January 12, 2019)
The 1,200 sticks from Baba’s Tree are destined for 30 other Meher Baba groups for their dhuni fires.
The dhuni “symbolizes the fire of Baba’s divine love,” explained Meher Baba’s close disciple, Eruch Jessawala. The piece of wood represents some attachment or desire that an individual wises to burn to ashes.
Meher Mount is sharing these small pieces of wood from this place of pilgrimage, sanctified by His Presence, with those whose hearts are aligned toward Him.
For those who cannot come to Meher Baba’s mountain, these dhuni sticks are a way to bring a bit of Meher Mount to them.
Baba’s Tree is the Coast Live Oak under which Meher Baba sat on August 2, 1956. Meher Mount co-founder Agnes Baron began calling it “Baba’s Tree” when she, Jean Adriel and the New Life Foundation board first came to the property in 1946. During His visit, Meher Baba sat alone under the tree, accepting it as His by His actions.
THE FALLEN LIMBS AND BRANCHES of Baba’s Tree at Meher Mount are being harvested and cut into 1,200 dhuni-sized sticks to send to other Meher Baba groups for their dhuni. (Left to right): Agnes Montano, Sam Ervin, Kyle Morrison, Jim Whedon, Jim Whitson, David Trombley, Fred Stankus, David Springhorn, and Kristina Somma. (Photo: Juan Mendez, January 12, 2019)
Baba’s Tree has been burned by fire – twice. The first time was on October 14, 1985, in what Meher Mount calls the New Life Fire, and the second time on December 4, 2017 in the Thomas Fire. In the Thomas Fire, high winds toppled the canopy and fire burned the trunk and limbs of the tree. There is an ongoing program to nurture Baba’s Tree and its regeneration.
The dhuni sticks are part of that fallen canopy. It seems fitting that each of these sticks is a gift from Meher Baba and from His tree through His fire and returning to His fire.
After all the dhuni and walking sticks are harvested, the remaining twigs and branches will be be chipped and used for mulch around Baba’s Tree to hold in moisture and provide nutrients.
BAKED DHUNI STICKS cooling after coming out of the 200-degree oven for six hours. The baking process is to rid the wood of pests before sending the dhuni sticks to other Meher Baba groups. (Photo: Margaret Magnus, January 12, 2019)
During the harvest, Ventura County Star reporter Claudia Boyd-Barrett came by to take photographs, learn more about the dhuni, and get an update on Baba’s Tree progress. Earlier, she had written several articles on Baba’s Tree (“Baba’s Tree, burned in Thomas Fire, fights for survival in Ojai” and “Damaged in Thomas Fire, Baba’s Tree Limbs Live on as Benches at Ojai’s Meher Mount”).
After the sticks were harvested, they were baked in the oven for six hours at 200 degrees to remove any pests as part of the conservation effort to prevent the transportation of insects.
When The Great Dhuni Stick Harvest was planned, little notice was taken of the actual date of the volunteer weekend. It was only later that the team realized that the harvest would take place on the 12th of month.
In December 1941, Meher Baba instructed that a dhuni should be lit on every 12th of the month in Meherabad, India. That tradition continues today. Other groups also light a dhuni on the 12th of the month or have a dhuni at special gatherings.
BABA’S FIREPLACE & DARSHAN COURTYARD are the site of the January 12, 2019 dhuni at Meher Mount. The fire is contained in the metal charcoal BBQ pan, and the harvested dhuni sticks sit in the cart nearby so that each person can take a stick to throw into the fire. (Photo: Margaret Magnus)
Thus, it was only fitting that after the dhuni sticks were harvested, there should be a dhuni at Meher Mount. The rainy weather greatly reduced the risk of a wildfire, and cautions were taken to use the metal charcoal pan of a BBQ for the fire. Each person at Meher Mount that day had an opportunity to participate in a dhuni — many for the first time.
AROUND THE DHUNI at Meher Mount. (Left to right) David Trombley, Agnes Montano, Robert Turnage, Kristen Tarpey, Mike Tarpey, Kyle Morrison, Jim Whedon, David Springhorn, Jim Whitson and Fred Stankus. (Photo: Juan Mendez, January 12, 2019)
DHUNI ASHES from Baba’s Tree branches at Meher Mount. (Photo: Margaret Magnus, January 12, 2019)
Dhuni day January 12, 2019, was a special day, and many people were touched by the experience.
“I’m still drenched with His Love and bliss experienced at Meher Mount in the spontaneous outpouring of rain and brothers and sisters in harmony with the great fortune of piecing His sacred tree that contains His Presence!” wrote Fred Stankus several days later.
Jim Whedon noted, that it was “a very special day that I will always remember – thank you Baba!”
For several of the dhuni harvesters, this was their first visit to Meher Mount.
“Thank you for the warm welcome. I am looking forward to seeing you all again. It is humbling to see the way He is reflected from you folks,” said David Trombley. He felt that entire experience had opened his heart.
THE DHUNI at Meher Mount on January 12, 2019. (Front to left): David Springhorn, Kristina Somma, Jim Whitson, Kyle Morrison, Lisa Morrison, Kristen Tarpey, Mike Tarpey, Margaret Magnus, Fred Stankus, Jim Whedon, David Trombley, Robert Turnage, Agnes Montano and Juan Mendez. (Photo: Sam Ervin)
After the dhuni, the plan had been to go to a local restaurant after the harvest on Saturday. Fortunately, they were so busy the restaurant couldn’t take a group of 12. Instead, the group ordered take out, set up tables in the Visitor Center, and thoroughly reveled in the afterglow of a one-of-a-kind dhuni day 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.
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.
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.
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."