BY MARGARET MAGNUS
After the initial shock of Baba’s Tree being struck by fire for a second time – the first time in 1985 and now again in 2017 – the community expressed its desire – through social media, email and personal contact – to save the wood from Baba’s Tree. The board of directors agreed.
Within two months of the December 4, 2017, Thomas Fire, a team of professionals and volunteers was at Meher Mount for three and a half days harvesting and salvaging the burned and fallen wood from Baba’s Tree. The immediate goal was to mill, prepare and store the wood before the winter rains.
Meher Baba’s Unseen Hand Guides the Process
This entire process demonstrated how blessed Meher Mount is to have just the right people when they are needed and how Avatar Meher Baba’s unseen hand continually guides the events and people associated with Meher Mount.
As an example, years before the Thomas Fire, volunteers Sam Ervin (board president) and Margaret Magnus (communications director) visited their friend and Meher Baba follower Ken Pellman. That particular visit was to see his remodeled house and the furniture he had handcrafted for his home. Both are beautiful and exquisite.
Coming forward a number of years, the Thomas Fire strikes Meher Mount. The first thing Sam and Margaret think about related to Baba’s Tree wood is: “Call Ken Pellman.” In addition to being an experienced wood worker, Ken managed his family’s business – a lumberyard – for a number of years. His experience, judgement and knowledge in this area was valuable in determining how to proceed to save the wood from Baba’s Tree.
Ken outlined the considerations and process in saving, storing and using the wood. He then directed Margaret and Sam to craftsman Harold Greene of Antiques of the Future based in San Pedro, CA. Harold and Ken had worked together over the years to design and craft the furniture in Ken’s home as well specifically design and craft a bench for the Dome in the Avatar Meher Baba Center of Southern California (Meherabode).
Harold was interested in being part of the project. He suggested working with certified arborist and miller Peter Harnisch of Harnisch Tree Care. The team arrived on Monday, February 5, 2018 to begin the process.
While watching Harold and Peter work together for three-and-one-half days, it became apparent that their mutual respect, experience in communicating with each other, and their expertise was exactly the right team for Baba’s Tree.
They had the knowledge Meher Mount needed to guide the process. It was more than a job to them. They approached the task of milling the wood with love, care and veneration. Meher Baba had sent the right people for the task.
Baba’s Tree: Considerations Before Milling the Wood
Before milling, Ken recommended that Meher Mount have a general idea of the various ways in which the wood would be used.
Knowing the range of items to be crafted, their sizes, and their uses would help to direct how the wood would be cut.
“Each cut produces a different type of wood pattern,” he noted. “It helps to know how you are going to use the wood before milling it so you choose the appropriate cut.”
The options became endless. For smaller pieces of wood, the idea list included everything from small paperweights, to vases, to picture frames, to boxes with lids, to jewelry and walking sticks.
For larger pieces of wood, the list included a replica of the chair Meher Baba sat in during His 1956 visit, a memorial for Meher Mount co-founder Agnes Baron, outdoor benches, chairs, bookcases and so on.
Margaret created a new Pinterest board “Wood Furniture, Vases, Boxes & Jewelry” for Meher Mount to collect ideas and photos of ways in which to use the wood from Baba’s Tree.
These considerations helped Harold Greene guide the milling process.
Baba’s Tree: Taking Inventory
As a first step in harvesting the wood from Baba’s Tree, artisan Harold Greene advised Meher Mount on the need to tag and catalog the wood. The tagging objectives were to identify what the wood looked like before milling, to know approximately where it came from on Baba’s Tree, and to have a complete inventory of all the milled pieces.
On the morning of February 5, 2018, Harold arrived with the tags and began attaching them to segments of Baba’s Tree. He instructed Margaret Magnus to begin photographing the tagged pieces before the team cut any portion of the tree. These tags formed the basis for cataloging the harvested wood for Baba’s Tree.
The sheer volume of wood was astounding – most of the wood was properly tagged, but it soon became difficult to show exactly where the wood was originally located on Baba’s Tree.
Once the limbs and branches were milled into planks, Margaret logged those pieces on the inventory sheets Harold had provided. Each log was given an identification number, such as 4C.
Then the diameter and length of the log were measured, the number of planks from that log identified, and the thickness of each plank noted.
Thus, the inventory sheet for Log 4C indicates that its diameter ranges from 11 inches to 14 inches, the length is 41 inches, and there is a total of eight planks that are each one-and-a-half-inches thick.
This inventory is a valuable record going forward and helps to guide which pieces of wood to use for what.
Baba’s Tree: Clearing the Branches First
When the Thomas Fire struck Baba’s Tree, most of the crown of the tree separated and toppled to the ground in the high winds.
The fallen part of Baba's Tree included very large limbs, medium-sized branches, small branches, and a huge volume of twigs.
Before the actual milling could begin, the team needed to clear away the smaller branches and twigs to reach the large limbs and medium-sized branches.
One of the major tasks of the first two days of harvesting was clearing away these branches and twigs to get to the larger logs and branches to mill them for wood.
Baba’s Tree: Milling the Wood
To mill the wood, Peter brought two different types of portable saw mills and all the milling was done on site at Meher Mount.
The milling process was considered, slow and steady – evaluating each limb and branch, its shape, its diameter, and ultimately selecting the appropriate number and depth of planks.
Working with Peter, Harold carefully identified how each major limb would be milled. The number of planks with width calculated before the sawing even began.
In the first two-and-a-half days, February 5-7, 2018, most of the wood was milled.
However, some of the very large limbs required a different type of mill, and the team returned later on February 13, 2018 to finish the milling process, which included the wood for three outdoor benches from Baba's Tree.
In addition to the milled larger pieces, Meher Mount kept a number of smaller branches.
The total volume of salvaged wood partially fills a cargo container. Harold later estimated that there could be 1,000 board feet of lumber milled from Baba's Tree.
Baba’s Tree: Storage of the Milled Wood
Prior to milling the wood, the Meher Mount team identified the perfect outdoor storage area for the wood while it cured and dried. Partway down the Well Road, there was a concrete pad that had been the foundation of a barn/shed at Meher Mount before the shed was destroyed in the 1985 New Life Fire.
The 2017 Thomas Fire burned all the grass around the pad, but there was general debris in the area. Volunteers for the January 28, 2018, fire clean-up work day (“Thomas Fire No Match for Meher Baba and His Lovers”) cleared the area around the concrete pad in anticipation of storing Baba’s Tree wood there.
Later, a second pad was created from discarded concrete blocks. The entire storage area was later fenced with a locked gate so that the wood would remain undisturbed.
The reclamation and salvaging of the wood from Baba’s Tree was a major milestone in the recovery and renewal of Meher Mount from the Thomas Fire.
While the wood dries and cures, the board is developing a policy on how to use the wood. A number of people have suggested using it for fundraising – a definite consideration.