By Cassandra Bramucci & Margaret Magnus
Every spring at Meher Mount, amid the stirring of new life – nesting birds, blooming wildflowers, tender new leaves on the ubiquitous Coast Live Oak trees swollen from recent rains – volunteers from far and wide gather to perform the rituals of weed abatement.
It is mandatory in Ventura County, CA, that by June 1st a strict protocol of reducing hazardous vegetation and creating defensible spaces around buildings and roads must be completed by all property owners in anticipation of the upcoming fire season.
There is little doubt that this kind of stewardship at Meher Mount prevented the devastating Thomas Fire of December 2017 from destroying the buildings, utilities, and equipment.
The Manager/Caretakers at Meher Mount have traditionally started their abatement efforts in late March. It takes weeks just to bring a long winter’s worth of untamed growth and scattered natural debris into a manageable state.
The 2019 winter saw the most rainfall in a decade, so Interim Caretakers Buzz and Ginger Glasky had their hands full keeping the tractor and riding mower running smoothly and rolling over the 70-plus acres that needed the most care.
They worked hard to keep the fields and paths clear while preparing for the final push by volunteers who come in May for a busy weekend of weed-whacking, mowing, garden clean-up, and removing dead and fallen branches.
This year, 21 volunteers arrived in shifts from May 11 through May 24, 2019, to help. Some were young, some not so young. Some new to Meher Mount, others who mark their calendars for this time of year. Some who were a few hours’ drive away, others who came from across the country. It is the joy of working with such enthusiastic and friendly folks that makes volunteering such a memorable event.
There was good humor and camaraderie that abounded as teams of workers headed off to work after getting their instructions from Buzz Glasky and Sam Ervin.
Weeds come in all kinds and sizes. Some are tall grasses that need to be mowed to the ground, others are plants in the wrong places that need to be removed, and still others are invasive plants that must be completely eradicated and carefully disposed of.
The first goal is fire abatement, the second goal is making sure Meher Mount looks its best for visitors, and the third is removing invasive plants to allow the native, fire-resistant and fire-adapted plants to flourish.
A team including Ginger Glasky, Erin Sommerville, Susie Lemieux, Margaret Magnus, Homayar Gandhi, and Nancy Rugo, pulled and raked weeds in the walkways, driveways and around the Visitor Center. As Sam Ervin remarked after all the weeding was completed, “This definitely looks better.”
Sam and Cassandra Bramucci tackled the largest invasive purple thistle encountered on the property. It filled a plastic bag and took about an hour to remove. Sam continued his quest to remove the thistle over the next three days.
Longtime Meher Mount veteran Bing Heckman sprang into action mowing the area below the Ring Road and clearing around the Workshop and Topa Topa Patio. It was a challenging task to wrangle the self-propelled mower over the rough terrain still crumbling underfoot from the harsh rains of winter.
Eric Turk – who has been continuously battling poison oak since the 2017 Thomas Fire – also took the weed eater wherever needed to get those spots where the ride-on mower or tractor could not reach. Even before the weekend started, Ron Holsey spent a day using the weed whacker around the property.
Steve Bostwick and Umakanth Umapathy gathered with Sam Ervin at Baba’s Tree to help clear the weeds and invasive plants both inside and outside of the seclusion fence. Umakanth later sent an email, “I to wanted express that I quite enjoyed a day out in the field.
“I thoroughly enjoyed being there working, though I did feel a bit sad for cutting plants even if they are weeds. Well, I do believe it’s for the greater good, and it will give way for better plants to grow. I also enjoyed the inclusive lunch atmosphere, and these are moments to be cherished.”
Soon it was time to break for lunch. Everyone gathered on the Topa Topa patio to share their food potluck style while renewing the bonds that tend to form among those who volunteer at Meher Mount.
For the afternoon shift, a group that included Cynthia Griffin, Khushnam Crawford, Cassandra Bramucci, Susie Lemeiux, Ervin Sommerville, and Margaret Magnus gathered around the kitchen table to fold, address, and stamp 400-plus Anniversary Sahavas flyers soon to be mailed out.
Meanwhile with team leader Jim Whedon, a group completed construction of an A-frame storage shed for the harvested and milled wood from Baba’s Tree.
Joining him were his son Ian Whedon, Jim’s nephew Anthony LoGalbo and his wife Heather Mabbitt, and Jim’s long-time friend Richard Griffin from Salem, MA.
Others continued with weed whacking and invasive plant removal until the day finally wound down toward everyone’s favorite part of work weekends: Saturday night dinner.
A caravan of cars headed down Sulphur Mountain to Boccali’s restaurant in Ojai with tired bodies, full hearts, and healthy appetites. The food was excellent, but the company was even better.
“I definitely wanted to spend my birthday helping out at Meher Mount. There was no doubt that was what I wanted to do,” declared Khushnam Crawford, as we all sang happy birthday and shared some delicious strawberry shortcake to celebrate.
A couple of days later, Sam Ervin and Margaret Magnus mowed and cleared dead limbs around the A-frame structure to create a fire-defensible space to protect Baba’s Tree wood.
They were joined by former Manager/Caretaker Ray Johnston, who traveled from Miami, FL, to help mow and disc for weed abatement.
He spent most of the following week clearing the meadow – known as the Prasad Orchard – next to the Narcanon neighbor’s buildings (the requirement is 100 feet of vegetation clearance). Ray also mowed another section of Meher Mount’s property up Sulphur Mountain Road and next to the home of Bill and Ernestine Kee.
He had hoped to disc those spots and others around the property, but rain on Sunday, May 19, 2019, made the ground so wet, that the discing only served to clog the disc with weed and mud which then had to be cleaned out. He resorted to mowing only.
Even as the team worked, it continued to rain – completely unseasonable for May in Southern California. So, Buzz and Ginger Glasky continued to mow the new growth to keep Meher Mount ready for fire inspection.