By Margaret Magnus
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 the tender loving care it deserves and creating a welcoming appearance. Tending to Meher Mount is honoring Avatar Meher Baba's presence here.
"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."
LIFE RETURNS AFTER THE THOMAS FIRE
For weeks after the Thomas Fire on December 4, 2017, the burned ground looked like a moonscape. It was charred, barren and seemingly lifeless.
Then nature took its course. Life started to return. Bushes, grasses and trees began their regeneration. Even with little rain, the California poppies, lupine and other flowers bloomed, the grasses grew, and the burned and blackened trees – including Baba’s Tree – showed signs of life.
During this regrowth period, volunteers focused on the more pressing fire recovery issues: replacing all the electrical components and restoring power to Meher Mount; getting the water system repaired and up and running; fire cleanup; taking care of Baba’s Tree; harvesting Baba’s Tree wood before the rains came; restoring telephone service; replacing the burned front entryway fence; and dozens and dozens of other seemingly never-ending tasks.
THE GROUNDS AT MEHER MOUNT NEED SOME TENDER LOVING CARE
The grasses continued to grow. With this new growth, came new fuel for fire. The fields are beautiful in the spring. But as summer comes, the grasses in the fields and by the buildings turn brown and become a fire hazard.
With this new growth, Meher Mount was also starting to look a little neglected with weeds growing in the garden and in the driveway.
It was time to start focusing on managing the grounds at Meher Mount.
The first push came in late March. Interim Caretaker Cassandra Bramucci began by mowing the paths to Baba's Tree, the amphitheater area by the Visitor Center, the parking lot, and the area near the Workshop - several times. She also raked and tended the garden - but it's a big job for only one person.
In early April, Eric Ashelman, a former caretaker at Meherana in Mariposa, CA, came to stay at Meher Mount for several days to help with the mowing.
Eric Turk, who initially came to help sort Meher Mount’s library in mid-April, turned his focus to the yard and garden.
He said it was heartbreaking to see the sprouting weeds everywhere. He came back at least six more times to work on the garden and driveway area.
Then board member Robert Turnage and his wife Kristina Somma came for 12 days. They continued the mowing, until the tractor broke down.
GETTING READY FOR THE BIG PUSH
To meet the June 1st deadline, the tractor needed to be in good working order. Cassandra coordinated several service calls for the Kubota tractor and the John Deere ride-on mower.
The hand-power tools were taken to Fast Eddy in Meiners Oaks for repair and service.
Meher Mount was ready for the big push for fire abatement.
Former Manager/Caretaker (2002-2010) Ray Johnston flew in from Miami to stay for 15 days and to focus on weed abatement. He arrived on May 15, 2018, and immediately began mowing.
Although the tractor developed a transmission problem that required transporting it to the shop in Oxnard, Ray was able to baby it along and painstakingly mow and disc the major areas at Meher Mount over several of days.
COUNTY REQUIREMENTS & MORE
The Ventura County fire abatement requirement is to mow at least 150 feet from all structures.
Based on the experience with the Thomas Fire, Meher Mount added the well area and the water treatment system to the list of required tasks. In addition, Meher Mount now had over a thousand board feet of milled wood from Baba’s Tree to protect by weed abatement.
FIRE PREVENTION VOLUNTEER WEEKEND
On the weekend of May 19-20, 2018, 11 volunteers were at Meher Mount. The event was billed as the “Fire Prevention & TLC Volunteer Weekend.”
Indeed, both were accomplished. Meher Mount received some tender loving care (TLC), and the group supported the tractor’s fire abatement work.
The volunteer team coordinated by Jim Whedon included “locals”: Cassandra Bramucci (Interim Caretaker), Sam Ervin, Margaret Magnus, Eric Turk, Jim Whitson, Khushnam Crawford, Homayar Gandhi, and Brad Spurr.
Rudy Duran and Kathy Najar, who live in Arizona and were thinking of moving to Ojai, joined the group on both days. They had been to Meher Mount before and had met former caretaker and co-founder Agnes Baron (who was responsible for fire abatement every year from 1946 to 1994).
Brad, Rudy and Jim Whedon used the gas-powered weed eaters to tackle all the places a mower or tractor can’t reach – including areas that had been burned or need additional protection, such as the well area, the water treatment area, and Baba’s Wood storage.
Kathy, Khushnam, Margaret and Jim Whitson continued the earlier work of weeding the garden areas around the Visitor Center, by the pond, and by the Workshop.
REMOVING THE INVASIVE SPANISH THISTLE
When arborist Michael Inaba visited on May 16, 2018, he pointed out that the fire had brought out the non-native, invasive Spanish or golden thistle (Scolymus hispanicus).
Homayar, Sam, Margaret, and Kathy worked on eradicating these stubborn, tenacious and deep-rooted plants – generally by the pool/water treatment area, but also in other areas scattered near the Visitor Center and by Baba's Tree.
AND STILL YET MORE TASKS
Rudy and Jim Whedon cut two burned Toyon trees to the ground to allow the new sprouts to thrive.
Overhanging branches were trimmed back from buildings by Jim Whedon, and the branches put under the forest canopy to provide mulch for future growth.
Eric Turk tackled the poison oak - a job no one else would touch.
50 YEARS OF PULLING WEEDS
Saturday, May 19, 2018, marked the 50th Anniversary of the first time Sam Ervin pulled weeds at Mount Mount. Avatar Meher Baba had called for a special day of silence on May 19, 1968. Agnes Baron, Meher Mount Caretaker, invited about 20 young people to come up for that silence day.
"So May 18 was the first day I met Agnes," explained Sam, "and May 19 was the first day I worked at Meher Mount, in silence, pulling weeds all day. Now I realize what a small thing was my puny effort and yet what a blessing and privilege to even pull one weed on Baba's Mountain."
TIME FOR EXTRA PROJECTS
The group was so efficient over the weekend, there was time for some additional work. Rudy stepped in to change the filters on the water system.
Sam, Margaret, and James Whedon inspected Baba's Tree for new growth on the limbs which were covered by floating row cover (Agribon) that is used for sunburn protection.
Wherever new buds were starting to appear, they cut openings in the cover to allow the branches to grow and get sunlight.
The final item on the "to do" list for the weekend was watering Baba's Tree.
On Sunday evening, May 20, 2018, the last of the exhausted volunteers left Meher Mount feeling that the major hand-labor for fire abatement was accomplished. Meher Mount again had that “cared for” look.
On Monday evening, May 21, 2018, Ray Johnston called to say that he had completed the fire abatement work.
With the tractor and attached discs, he had done the necessary abatement in a field that Meher Mount owns near the cell phone tower and a neighbors’ home.
He had also taken care of the meadow, known as the Prasad Orchard, which is next to the neighboring Narcanon drug rehabilitation residence center.
HARD, HARD WORK
During the volunteer weekend, former Manager/Caretaker (2013-2018) Buzz Glasky posted the following on Facebook:
Margaret responded, “Ah, we missed you. You and Ginger would be pleased with the job the team is doing. It's only taking 12 people to do what you did.” Actually, the number of volunteers was 15 during the two months.
Previous temporary caretakers Kyle and Lisa Morrison returned to Meher Mount to stay for a week to help with renewal and any leftover fire abatement tasks. On June 2-3, 2018, Kyle and his son-in-law Michael Tarpey finished taking down a burned Toyon and cutting branches away from the Visitor Center and the natural gas tank.