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.
See a video by Juan Carlo of the making of the benches from Baba's Tree.
By Claudia Boyd-Barrett
Wood salvaged from a revered coast live oak in Ojai devastated by the Thomas Fire is being crafted into outdoor benches to honor the tree's connection to Indian spiritual teacher Meher Baba.
Known as "Baba's Tree," the large oak stands overlooking a lush swath of the Ojai Valley on a patch of the 172-acre Meher Mount retreat. Baba sat under the tree during a visit to the property in 1956, and followers of the guru consider the oak sacred. For decades, it's been a primary attraction for hundreds of annual visitors to Meher Mount
But the Thomas Fire tore through the tree in December, collapsing and burning much of its canopy and branches, leaving it in critical condition. Caretakers for the property, with input and financial support from Meher Baba followers and concerned community members, decided to salvage the damaged wood and turn it into furniture and keepsakes.
Recently, artisan woodworker Harold Greene began creating the first batch of objects from the wood: three naturally shaped benches made from log halves, supported by legs fashioned from blackened tree branches. The benches will be unveiled at an open house event on May 12.
"There's been an outpouring of concern and support for the tree. … It's so special to so many people," said Meher Mount Board President Sam Ervin. "We're seeing now a visible manifestation of the use of what many consider a sacred tree. It's exciting, and it feels so right."
A large amount of wood milled from Baba's tree is being stored for future use. Much of that wood will remain in storage for a year or more so it can dry out and become easier for a craftsman to work with, said volunteer communications director Margaret Magnus. The wood for the benches could be used sooner because it didn't require as much carpentry and will be used outdoors, she explained.
Greene, who is based in the San Pedro area of Los Angeles, said the project is unusual. Although he regularly makes furniture out of salvaged tree wood, Greene said he'd never before worked with wood considered sacred. The task required partnering with an arborist to carefully remove dead parts of Baba's tree without damaging areas that could regrow. He also worked over several days in February to mill the wood and catalog each part so that all pieces removed from the site were accounted for.
Recently, he sawed and sanded the wood for the benches, being careful to lay aside any unused pieces for storage.
Greene said the burned areas of the bench wood tell the story of what happened to Baba's tree. Making the dead wood into furniture is also symbolic, he said.
"When a tree is preserved and turned into a useful object, it gives the tree a second life, so to speak," Greene said. "It lets people see that trees, even after their life, are a great resource, and the objects that you make from them can last generations."
Meher Mount board members, meanwhile, are optimistic the part of Baba's tree that's still standing will regenerate. Shoots have begun sprouting from some of the branches, and a portion of the remaining canopy has turned green again.
"Look at that," Ervin said, pointing excitedly to the sprouting branches. "This makes us very hopeful."
The public is invited to attend an open house to view the benches made from Baba's tree from noon to 5 p.m. on May 12. Meher Mount is at 9902 Sulphur Mountain Road, Ojai. For more information, call 805-640-0000, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website at www.mehermount.org.
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM
Claudia Boyd-Barrett, "Damaged in Thomas Fire, Baba's Tree limbs live on as benches at Ojai's Meher Mount," Ventura County Star, accessed online May 15, 2018. USA Today Network.