By Cassandra Bramucci
That Meher Baba fellow sure knows how to throw a work party!
Yolanda Koumidou traveled all the way from Lynbrook, New York. Jim Auster and Merrilee Bliss came from Carbondale, Colorado. Bing Heckman, Annabelle Orme and Tim DeGraff drove or flew from Northern California. All stayed nearby to be ready to start early on Sunday, January 28.
Others traveled two and three hours just to work all day for Meher Baba and Meher Mount. I came from about 10 miles away as the crow flies and I was late, but that’s another story.
As I drove up to the entry gate around 9:30 a.m., I found half a dozen people vigorously cultivating the ash-hardened ground under the Coast Live Oak tree there. All were new faces to me, but I was greeted with cheerful waves and a hearty chorus of “Jai Baba.”
So, began the first workday of 2018 in response to the devastating Thomas Fire that so heartrendingly damaged Baba’s Tree, crippled the fragile water system, and sent Manager/Caretakers Buzz and Ginger Glasky racing for their lives down a flaming Sulphur Mountain Road on December 4, 2017.
As I made my way up the driveway, I wondered how cheerful the volunteers would be after working all day long.
Jim Whedon, the gracious and tireless work leader for Fire Cleanup Day, seemed to be everywhere at once, organizing and cheerfully encouraging all. Didn’t I just see him at the gate talking to the crew there? Then he somehow beat me up to the dumpster next to the Workshop. So many times throughout the day, I would hear someone call for assistance, as in, “Who wants to come with me down the Well Road?” Jim would be the first to say, “I’ll go!”
All day long.
Crews where everywhere, smiling and laughing as they worked. Some could only stay for the morning. Some arrived for a second shift after lunch. The work went so smoothly that no one seemed to notice the amazing scope of it all.
The volunteers just kept going, gathering detritus no one even knew was there until the Thomas Fire revealed all that needed to be removed. Along every pathway. All day long.
Crews picked through the ashes and char tirelessly along the Well Road, the Ring Road, the path to Baba’s secluded tree, the pool, the pond, and the front gate. They were everywhere! It seemed like an endless stream of eager hands reaching into the devastation and removing the old energy to make room for the new.
Then there was Board President Sam Ervin who zipped about on the Kubota tractor from the get go. He hauled all the pieces of old pipe, barbed wire, the carcass of a burned-out trailer, and miscellaneous remnants of the previous 1985 New Life Fire – all exposed by the cleansing flames that so terrified all of us for 11 days in early December 2017.
At times, he looked like a little boy playing with his favorite Christmas toy. At other times, he was intensely focused on mastering the front loader as he dropped heavy sections of utility poles and bales of barbed wire over the nine-foot high side of the dumpster.
So, what was Margaret Magnus doing while her husband Sam rode around majestically on his steel throne? A better question is: what wasn’t she doing?
Like an energizer bunny, she must have walked a dozen miles, her head continually bobbing above the horizon as she hauled the wheel barrow up the well path or dragged another awkward cluster of barbed wire down to be disposed of.
Caretaker Buzz Glasky commented that she looked like a character out of Mad Max!
Ah, Buzz and Ginger, Meher Mount’s caretakers who had spent the past four-and-a-half years greeting visitors, telling stories, and working so hard to keep Meher Mount as “a place of spiritual pilgrimage.”
For all that time, they called out as guests headed back to the parking lot after a visit to Meher Mount, “Come often, stay longer!”
They, too, were such an integral part of it all the work. Ever since evacuating north to Oceano due to the Thomas Fire, they had been traveling the 125-mile distance between Oceano and Ojai helping Meher Mount recover from the fire.
By the end of the work day on Sunday, as everyone gathered around the now near-full dumpster for a triumphant group picture, they all looked like small children completing a play date. Yes, it was a lot of work, but as tired as everyone was, all shared that unique glow that is Meher Baba’s gift to those who act with love for Him.
The full list of volunteers also included James Whitson, Fred Stankus, Gigi Driessen, Homayar Gandhi, Ian Dibble, Jerry Hittleman, Khushnam Crawford, Lynne Goldfarb, Marta Flores, Michelle Choug, Mike Franklin, Terry Mendoza, Nancy Rugo, Sarah Larsen, and Satya Keyes.
I’m certain we will gather again in the months to come to ensure the renewal of this place we all hold so dear.
And we will celebrate all day long!