BY MARGARET MAGNUS
Recovery from the December 2017 Thomas Fire is a step-by-step process. Each completed task seems to generate several new task offspring. But the restoration continues.
On February 15, 2018, just as Buzz and Ginger Glasky finished their four-and-a-half years as Manager/Caretakers, former Caretaker Ray Johnston (2002-2005, 2006-2010) arrived for a week to help with the recovery.
He came from tropical Miami, FL, for the coldest week of the year at Meher Mount. As it so happens, there is no heat in the Caretaker Quarters/Visitor Center currently. A new heater is to be installed (replacing one from about 1994) when all the bids come in.
After arriving for this unusual Southern California cold snap, Ray immediately went out and purchased an electric blanket and borrowed a space heater from a friend in Ojai. It was still cold inside the Caretaker Quarters.
Ray spent the next week working at Meher Mount. Sam Ervin and Margaret Magnus joined him in the work effort for four of those days.
1. Workshop Cleanup
Per Buzz Glasky's suggestion, Ray spent time cleaning, sorting and organizing the Workshop. Interestingly, it was as if the Workshop project came full circle. The discussion, the designs, and the fundraising for the Workshop began in 2007 while Ray and Elizabeth Arnold were caretakers.
The Workshop was Ray's number one priority for the first major project in the Master Plan. It was finally built in 2012 when Samantha and Leslie Bridger were caretakers with Leslie overseeing the construction project.
Now in 2018, Ray is focused on a plan for building some interior storage and shelves to make the Workshop even more functional. This interior upgrade hopefully will be accomplished on Ray's next visit.
2. Electrical Power to the Well
Electricity to the Visitor Center, Workshop and water treatment system was restored early after the fire in December 2017. The problem has been getting power to the well. There were a number of stumbling blocks, including Meher Mount replacing two major utility poles.
The final step belonged to Southern California Edison (SCE). They needed to replace the burned meter and connect new electrical cables to the well system. The stumbling block is that the well meter has an address - for unknown reasons - of 9901 Sulphur Mountain Road (which doesn't exist) while the other meters on the property have an address of 9902 Sulphur Mountain Road (which does exist). The only way to access the well meter is through 9902 Sulphur Mountain Road, but if SCE was looking for 9901, they wouldn't have found it. Sam explained this to a number of people at SCE a number of times.
Sam tried to get an answer on whether or not to write 9901 or 9902 by the spot where the new meter should go. He opted for 9901, but spent several days on the lookout for SCE to guide them to the right spot. They still remained a no-show when Sam left Meher Mount late Thursday afternoon on February 22, 2018.
On Friday morning, Ray's last day at Meher Mount, SCE arrived. They installed the new meter and hooked up the electrical cables. Meher Mount's next step is replacing burned PVC pipes that were above ground and testing the well to determine the extent of fire damage.
3. Baba's Tree Potential Recovery - Limb Support
Arborist Michael Inaba came to Meher Mount on Saturday, February 17, 2018, with a fabricator to measure and determine the placement of four major props to be made for the limbs of Baba’s Tree to prevent them from breaking. He returned on Tuesday, February 20, to put in a temporary prop (as seen in the above photograph) for a major limb that is showing signs of recovery. The installation of four new props will happen mid-March.
4. Baba's Tree Potential Recovery - Adding Mulch to the Soil
Another step in helping Baba's Tree try to recover from the Thomas Fire is adding mulch to the soil around Baba's Tree. It helps to keep the moisture in and create a "living" soil of micro-organisms that help support Coast Live Oaks (Quercus agrifolia).
After the story of Baba's Tree appeared in the Ojai Valley News, a neighbor of Michael Inaba approached him to ask about Baba's Tree.
On Saturday, February 17, 2018, this neighbor, Ojai landscaper and gardener John Winspear of John James Winspear Landscaping, delivered 24-cubic yards of mulch to Meher Mount. He was so taken with the property, he then spent another hour hiking the Well Road and looking around.
5. Baba's Tree Potential Recovery - Sunburn Protection
When Michael Inaba visited, he brought a sample of what is known as floating row crop cover or frost blanket (brand name Agribon AG-19) to demonstrate how to cover the limbs of Baba's Tree for sunburn protection.
The tree's own leaf canopy normally protects an oak from sunburn, but the canopy of Baba's Tree toppled in the Thomas Fire. Hence, the need for intervention. Inaba carefully wrapped one of the limbs with Agribon and then cut tiny holes into the material and gently pulled through the new sprouts from under the cover so that they could be exposed to sunlight. He was an artisan at work.
On Thursday, February 22, Sam and Margaret tried to replicate Inaba's delicate touch and precise wrapping, but the cold winds blowing off the Pacific Ocean blew the material all around. They managed one limb and then decided to return to finish the job when it wasn't so windy.
6. Storage of the Tractor Implements
During the Fire Cleanup Day, volunteers cleared accumulated items around the Workshop, making space to store the attachments for the Kubota tractor. They were previously by the pool, but Inaba had pointed out their vulnerability under the large, heavy and weakened tree limbs of the nearby oaks that had been compromised by the drought, rot and the fire.
It is a seemingly simple task to hook up these attachments and move them. But it is really a two-person job to get it done with any efficiency. Working together, Sam and Ray got the implements moved and covered.
7. Replacement Doors & Windows
Without the caretakers' furniture in the Visitor Center main room, it is so easy to see the large gaps between the floor and doors and between some of the double doors. Buzz and Ginger had repeatedly experienced water pouring into the main room when it rained and the wind blew off the ocean.
Sam and Margaret began a quest to find replacement doors and widows. They visited three showrooms in Ventura and Oxnard and met with four contractors/estimators on site to get bids and information.
A recurring refrain heard as estimators/contractors arrived at Meher Mount, while looking a little harried from the drive, was, "Whew, this place is a long way..." Yes, Meher Mount is a little remote.
8. Telephone Service
While Ray, Sam and Margaret were working outside, Cassandra Bramucci who started as Interim Caretaker on February 23, 2018, was trying to get telephone service of some kind. The AT&T phone cable burned in the Thomas Fire and no date has been given for its replacement.
Cassandra spent a total of eight hours in seven different phone calls with AT&T to just get Meher Mount's phone number temporarily transferred to her phone. In expressing her frustration to her chiropractor, he replied, "Baba's roots go very, very deep!"
9. Filling Holes Left by Burned Tree Roots
What started as a scenic piece of oak-tree sculpture when the Topa Topa Patio was built in 2012 became a semi-hazardous hole after the 2017 Thomas Fire.
One of the fire recovery tasks was filling in that hole with dirt and stones.
10. Fun Hikes Provide a Break
The work week wasn't all work. Sam, Ray and Margaret walked different parts of the property enjoying the arrival of spring, the clear skies, and the crisp weather. The fire has cleared away a lot of the brush and poison oak (although the poison oak is starting to come back). Right now, walking in otherwise very overgrown areas is easier.
One day, they followed the old service road below Sulphur Mountain Road (on the downhill side of the property) to a lovely meadow with beautiful views overlooking the Ojai Valley. Here, there were some signs of erosion - a natural consequence following a major fire. On another day, they took a short, slightly steep hike to a lovely meadow that looks south toward the Santa Monica mountains.
Despite the cold, the days at Meher Mount were clear and beautiful. The 360-views were uplifting. And return of greenery brought a sense of renewal. Meher Mount carries its own challenges, but Meher Baba builds in the rewards.