By Margaret Magnus
Just as the October 2014 board meeting at Meher Mount was winding up, contributing writer for The Ojai Valley Visitors Guide Perry Van Houten arrived to find out more about Baba’s Tree for an article he was writing.
Board President Sam Ervin took him on a tour and provided background information along with a number of photos.
What follows is the section about Baba’s Tree from the article “Ojai’s Trees” by Perry Van Houten published in the Winter 2014 edition of the The Ojai Valley Visitors Guide and used with permission from the publisher, Ojai Valley News.
EXCERPT ON BABA'S TREE
“Ojai’s spiritual connections to its trees can also be found on a mountain 1,200 feet above the valley. Baba’s Tree overlooks the Pacific Ocean from the brow of Sulphur Mountain. The giant coast live oak was named for Avatar Meher Baba (1894-1969), an Indian spiritual master who maintained a vow of silence for more than 40 years, and was a partial influence behind The Who song ‘Baba O’Reilly.’
“During his visit to the tree in August 1956, it’s said that Baba ‘…went into the tent of leafy branches and sat down on a bed of dry leaves. He signaled that no one else should sit down. His eyes shone in the half-light, and he made a sign that he was happy.’
“Estimated to be as old as 300-500 years, the tree was badly burned in the Ferndale Fire in October of 1985. After the blaze blackened the mountaintop and everything on it (including Agnes Baron’s Meher Mount home, which burned to the ground), a small crew of firefighters stayed with the tree for four days, continually dousing it with water to make sure the fire was completely out.
“But despite their heroic efforts, it appeared that Baba’s Tree was lost. ‘A few weeks after the fire, there wasn’t a leaf on it,’ says Sam Ervin, Meher Mount board president. ‘It was totally black, and we thought, this tree is dead. We were pretty amazed at the way it came back.’
“Oaks are known for their resilience to fire, key to surviving in a wildfire-prone climate such as Ojai’s. Coast live oaks in particular are especially resistant, with thick bark that insulates the inner tree tissues from the flames. Once the fire passes, the trees are able to quickly regenerate their branches and leaves, thanks to large amounts of nutrients stored in the roots.”
OTHER OJAI TREES FEATURED
The article also featured five other trees in the Ojai area: the sycamore tree in Libbey Park in downtown Ojai; the Sycamore of the Winds on the east side of the Ventura River Trail bike path; the Oak Grove, the site of talks by philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986); the Pepper Tree near the Krishnamurti Educational Center; and the Teaching Tree on the grounds of the Ojai Foundation.
EXCERPTED WITH PERMISSION FROM
Perry Van Houten, “Ojai’s Trees,” The Ojai Valley Visitors Guide, Winter 2014 edition, p. 21. ©2014 Ojai Valley Visitors Guide.