By Margaret Magnus
Baba’s Tree has been struck by fire twice in the last 34 years. The Ferndale Fire — or what Meher Mount calls the New Life Fire — on October 14, 1985, severely burned Baba’s Tree. On December 4, 2017, the Thomas Fire and high winds combined toppled the already weakened tree, shattering the trunk and breaking off about two thirds of the circumference of the tree and about 90% of the canopy.
Baba’s Tree continues to grow healthy new branches — aided by the winter rains, the extra measures of care given over the past 18 months, and the love and prayers from around the world. It remains in seclusion – at least until the end of the year – while the tree gathers strength and continues to generate new growth.
NEW SUNBURN & PEST PROTECTION
Consulting with ISA® Certified Arborist Michael Inaba, Meher Mount put in place a care plan starting in early 2018 for Baba’s Tree recovery and regeneration. One of the steps in the plan is sheltering the limbs with a fabric to help protect them from sunburn and pests while new growth creates a protective canopy. More than a year later, it was time for a new ‘sadra’ for Baba’s Tree.
During the replacement process in June 2019, Inaba was able to assess the health of the tree underneath, including the presence of pests. There were no major alarms regarding the Polyphagous Shot Hole Borer, which is making its appearance in the Ojai Valley.
The result is a new sadra for Baba’s Tree. Thanks to the team which removed the old cover and replaced it with new Agribon® on June 22-23, 2019: Michael Inaba, Ellen Kwiatkowski, Aaron Hemeon, Sean Hemeon, Sam Ervin, Jim Whitson and Margaret Magnus.
A sadra (also sadhra) refers to a thin muslin shirt traditionally worn by Zoroastrians. Avatar Meher Baba adapted the sadra into an ankle-length garment which He regularly wore. Meher Baba said, “You have no idea what just one scrap of My sadra will mean to the world in the future.”
TWIGS ARE CHIPPED
When the fallen wood of Baba’s Tree was harvested and milled in February 2018, there remained a pile of twigs and branches. Meher Mount harvested about 1,200 dhuni sticks, which were sent to 37 centers in the U.S., Mexico and India. Some of the twigs were harvested for twig bouquets.
Now 18 months later, it was time to return the remaining pile of twigs and branches to the earth. On Monday, June 24, 2019, they were chipped by LNS Tree Service and are ready to be spread around Baba’s Tree. Mulch and leaf litter (without weeds) from Coast Live Oaks (Quercus agrifolia) support microorganisms that provide protection to oaks from disease, provide critical nutrients, and help retain moisture in the soil.
BABA’S TREE GROVE EMERGES
Meanwhile, Baba’s Tree (and its surrounding family of Coast Live Oaks) are busy regenerating and supporting new growth – not only for Baba’s Tree itself, but also for the seedlings and saplings from Baba’s Tree.
There’s a small would-be grove of Coast Live Oaks sprouting around Baba’s Tree, which are either seedlings from acorns and/or saplings from the roots of Baba’s Tree.
These sprouting trees have been marked by tiny red flags as a reminder of the power of nature to regenerate and to be careful and work around them when tending to Baba’s Tree.
After the Thomas Fire, visitors ‘suddenly’ noticed Baby Baba’s Tree, which had been somewhat obscured by the canopy of Baba’s Tree and overshadowed in the attention focused on Baba’s Tree.
This offspring survived the fire and is also growing new branches. It’s a cornerstone in the natural creation of Baba’s Tree Grove.
Meanwhile, to the left facing Baba’s Tree, there was an oak tree stump that had been cut to the ground sometime in the history of Meher Mount.
No one currently volunteering at Meher Mount was aware it existed. Now, without the canopy of Baba’s Tree shading it and with sun and rain, new sprouts have come out after all these years.
EXTRA CLEARANCE FOR FIRE PROTECTION
The Ventura County Fire Department requires 100-feet of defensible space around all structures. After the Thomas Fire, it became apparent that the word ‘structures’ needed to be expanded to include Baba’s Tree and the harvested and milled wood from Baba’s Tree.
In late May and early June 2019, a number of volunteers mowed, pulled weeds, raked, removed nearby dead limbs, and took out the invasive Italian thistle (Carduus acanthoides) surrounding Baba’s Tree.
Thank you to Juan Mendez, Agnes Montano, Bing Heckman, Steve Bostwick, Umakanth Umapathy, Ray Johnston, Sam Ervin and Margaret Magnus who cleared the areas around Baba’s Tree and Baba’s Tree wood.
SOURCES & NOTES
 Baba’s Words: The Master’s Glossary, Edition One, Copyright 2000 Frank Davis and the Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust, “Sadra,” accessed online June 26, 2019.
 Avatar Meher Baba Trust, Archives, accessed online June 26, 2019.
 Las Pilitas Nursery, Oak Tree Help, accessed online June 26, 2019.
 Note: Even though Baba’s Tree was severely damaged in the fire, that damage is more of an exception for Coast Live Oaks. Baba’s Tree had been compromised by an earlier fire in 1985 which made it vulnerable to fire and high winds. Generally, Coast Live Oaks are “exceptionally fire resistant,” according to the U.S. Forest Service. Their adaptations to fire include evergreen leaves, thick bark, and a sprouting ability. Evergreen leaves allow Coast Live Oak to allocate greater amounts of energy to recovery from fire than to replacing the entire crown annually. Evergreens are often better able to conserve nutrients than deciduous species and are favored in fire-prone environments. Coast Live Oak bark is the thickest among the California oaks; it is mainly composed of live inner bark with little dead outer tissue. (Source: U.S. Forest Service Fire Ecology of Quercus argifolia, accessed June 26, 2019)