On December 4, 2017, the wildfire known as the Thomas Fire struck Meher Mount. Initially, the Visitor Center/Caretaker Quarters seemed to have the least amount of damage. In the end, the majority of the expenses, time, and effort has been expended on the Visitor Center.
In hindsight, there was a “perfect storm” of events that led to the unintended – but needed – upgrade, repair and refurbishment of the building that doubles as a Visitor Center and Caretaker Quarters.
One day while working at Meher Mount during recovery and renewal from the 2017 Thomas Fire, I noticed that the window and door frames needed to be repainted and spruced up. Then I looked more closely. Some of the wooden frames and door sills needed actual replacement.
Then taking a walk through the building, it was clear that many of the 25-year-old wooden-frame doors and windows were damaged due to time, use and weather. Sam Ervin pointed out – particularly without any furniture “hiding” parts of the building – that there were gaps between and under the doors.
The gaps invited dust, rodents, snakes and other critters inside. One night in the kitchen, former Manager/Caretakers Buzz and Ginger Glasky found a baby rattlesnake that had crawled in under the door.
When the December 2017 Thomas Fire hit Meher Mount, it only skimmed the corner of the outside trellis of the Visitor Center/Caretaker Quarters. The damage was minor. Estimated cost to make the repairs was $1,200. All that was needed was to replace three beams and apply some paint.
When attention moved to the burned trellis, this “minor” damage became a major repair with a final cost of $22,200.
The fire damage turned out be a blessing. It drew attention to the trellis – which would have been totally ignored in the focus to take care of other fire issues and ongoing maintenance at Meher Mount.
The December 2017 Thomas Fire completely burned the wooden entry fence at Meher Mount. Only the metal gate with the heart in the center was left standing.
In April 2018, the former, burned wooden fence was upgraded and replaced with a new metal fence. A more fire-resistant metal was used to help protect Meher Mount in the event of future fires.
The heart gate is again welcoming visitors to Meher Mount.
When the December 2017 Thomas Fire struck Meher Mount, it set in motion a regeneration and renewal process that is more than just fire recovery. On the surface, the fire damage seemed to be modest. Below the surface, the fire stirred a new creative energy that is moving in all directions.
Only Baba's Tree suffered major, irrevocable change. Winds and fire shattered the tree's crown and burned most of the trunk. Major limbs broke off and toppled to the ground.
But, the creative energy and the energy of Baba's Tree persists. The wood from Baba's Tree has been salvaged, milled and stored for future use.
For immediate use, Meher Mount worked with artisan Harold Greene to create three outdoor benches from Baba's Tree to be placed near Baba’s Fireplace – the only remaining man-made artifact from Avatar Meher Baba’s 1956 visit to Meher Mount. All other buildings, memorabilia, and machinery were destroyed the 1985 New Life Fire.
The Weeds 'n' Water fundraising campaign and new water treatment system in 2003 started a chain reaction. It set in motion a number of projects and ongoing activities along with a planning approach that continue to shape Meher Mount today.
Weeds ‘n’ Water was both a fundraising campaign to raise $24,000 and a project to provide potable water and purchase a ride-on mower for weed abatement and fire protection for Meher Mount.
Its success demonstrated the power of planning and fundraising with community support and participation. In addition, Weeds ‘n’ Water helped to create a better visitor experience and to make the Manager/Caretaker job more manageable.
The Stone Sign & Marker Project commemorates and marks the touchstones related to Avatar Meher Baba’s 1956 visit. Equally, as the number of visitors to Meher Mount increases each year – a 17% increase in the past two years to more than 1,500 visits in 2016 – it is important to have signs that inform, guide and orient these visitors.
These markers create lasting reminders of Avatar Meher Baba’s presence at Meher Mount for the guidance of present and future generations of visitors.
“We returned from vacation on September 20, 2016, and found water leaking at the well,” explained Manager/Caretaker Buzz Glasky. “We also found low water levels in the pool (which acts a reservoir before the water is treated) and in the 5,000-gallon holding tank. There was nothing in the agricultural water tank.”
The well pump had stopped working.
Infrastructure is not always buildings, roads and water treatment systems – although those items can consume much of Meher Mount’s focus. Infrastructure also includes financial systems, database management, and communications systems.
Since 2010, Meher Mount has been using a cloud-based platform from Salesforce.org called the Non-Profit Starter Pack. In the buzzwords of the industry, this system is for Constituent Relationship Management (CRM).
The following is excerpted with permission from “Musings on the Young Adult Sahavas,” by Ryan Brown, Love Steet Lamp Post, October-January, 2001 (1st Quarter 2001), pp.4-5. ©Avatar Meher Baba Center of Southern California.
The Young Adult Sahavas at Meher Mount from June 23-27, 2000, was a time of fellowship, service, and remembrance of Avatar Meher Baba.
It has taken four years, but the Visitor Center/Caretaker Quarters, built in 1994 for Agnes Baron, has been refurbished. The end result is a more welcoming and more comfortable center that is easier to maintain.
The idea for the patio first came about when the Board was planning for the Workshop. An early concept called for a workshop/garage built into the side of the hill with a rooftop patio in view of the Bluffs.
That concept proved to be too expensive, but the idea of a patio with a view of the mountains stuck.
On Monday, March 4, 2013, I received a call from Alex of Rock Hard Paving. His company has just finished laying an asphalt driveway at a neighbor's property, and he had two truckloads of surplus asphalt.
He had seen that Meher Mount's driveway was in disrepair and offered to lay the asphalt, including all grading and preparation, for a discounted price of $2.90 per square foot.
Yellow Starthistle (Centaurea solsitialis), is an invasive, noxious weed found in range lands, some wild lands, and along roadsides and walking trails.
There are an estimated 19,761,201 acres of Yellow Starthistle in the US. Some of that acreage includes Meher Mount.
Coincidentally, on the day construction of the Workshop began on January 20, 2011, former Manger/Caretaker Bill Goodrum, who served with his wife Pamela from 2000 to 2002, arrived at Meher Mount unaware of the day’s events.
He had the opportunity to witness the groundbreaking.
The barn was basically meant to be temporary. At that time there was no money and no shelter for anything. What I did on the barn was triage: meant to be basically a tent to protect the few things that survived the fire. At the time, we couldn't even afford a tent.
To repair that structure is no longer a wise investment. Please: just tear it down. It's time.
It all started with a routine question from the Ventura County Planning Department in reviewing plans for the construction of a new Workshop at Meher Mount: “How far is the septic tank from the proposed buidling?”
"Far enough," we said.
That question got the Board to thinking about the septic tank – one of those “deferred maintenance” projects that keeps getting, well, deferred.
After spending the summer of 2009 talking to contractors and securing bids, Meher Mount found an individual and a firm, Phil Riege of Coastal Constructors, who would take on the Workshop project for a reasonable cost.
In 2010, the construction and engineering plans were submitted to Ventura County for approval. As with any project at Meher Mount, there were some unforeseen delays, obstacles, and plan changes.
In the beginning of the planning process for the Workshop, a number of ideas and building sites were discussed. All of these ideas were eventually determined not suitable for Meher Mount, its needs, and its finances.
The Board and Manager/Caretakers went back to the basic criteria for the Workshop.
When the $40,000 donation was made, the donor specified that $20,000 be used to purchase a new tractor and $20,000 be used to build a "fireproof" garage/workshop to house the tractor.
The reason for the "fireproof" request was because on October 14, 1985, a fire had swept through the Upper Ojai Valley destroying all the buildings, equipment, and vehicles at Meher Mount.