Current Meher Mount caretakers Ellen Kwiatkowski and Eric Carlson didn’t have to ask twice. When they suggested we fill in for them and care for their sweet dog Oday while they were away winterizing their Blue Vista Farm in Bayfield, WI, we immediately said, “Yes.”
The plan was for former Interim Caretaker Cassandra Bramucci to cover the first week of Ellen’s and Eric’s leave, and we would take over on October 30th for another seven days.
We should have known it wasn’t going to be a smooth ride when, on the day we were set to drive up to Meher Mount from Oceanside (about 180 miles south of Ojai), we received a message from Cassandra advising us against driving up that day due to strong Santa Ana winds.
The two-year, world-wide search for on-site, residential Manager/Caretakers at Meher Mount is – in hindsight – a clear example of who, when and what happening in Meher Baba’s time.
Recruitment for volunteer caretakers started in August 2017, and it wasn’t until the last days of June 2019 that new caretakers Ellen Kwiatkowski and Eric Carlson were settled in at Meher Mount.
In hindsight, it seems obvious why no new caretakers were at Meher Mount at the time Buzz and Ginger Glasky were leaving. They would have been homeless. There was some smoke damage, no heating/cooling, no power and no water in the Caretaker Quarters, thus, making it temporarily uninhabitable.
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.
One day while working at Meher Mount, I heard Sam Ervin call to me, “Margaret, come look at this.”
Feeling it wasn’t something I wanted to see, I said, “No.”
Sam replied, “Yes, you have to come look at this.”
Again, I said, “No.”
He insisted, “Come look at this it.”
After six months of repairs, clean-up, and small fix-it jobs turning into big fix-it jobs following the 2017 Thomas Fire, I just didn’t want to discover one item that needed attention. But, I knew I couldn’t escape. I went to take a look.
My mind is like still water as I sit on the veranda of the Visitor Center. Next to me is a friend who has been helping me take care of Meher Mount for several weeks. It is evening, the sun is about to set, and even the busy hummingbirds are settling in to partake of the peace of this special place.
“This is all Meher Baba,” my companion remarks with deep emotion in his voice as he spreads his arms to indicate the whole of Meher Mount.
If the Thomas Fire has taught me anything, it has taught me that one just never knows when something will “catch fire” at Meher Mount. Priorities are constantly shifting and even as the list of projects to be done continues to spark more lists of projects to be done, it is always Meher Baba who finds a way to ignite one’s passion at just the right moment.
What seems to be catching fire for visitors, volunteers, and caretakers alike these days is the remnant of a sandstone walkway that begins at the northeast edge of the circular driveway and extends for about 10 feet or so toward the side of the Visitor Center/Caretaker Quarters. Avatar Meher Baba walked on these exact same flagstones.
On December 4, 2017, the Thomas Fire – the largest wildfire in California’s history – burned Baba’s Tree leaving large deposits of ash from the tree.
Ten days later, Cassandra Bramucci emailed, “I'm feeling a sense of urgency to preserve the ashes from the tree as soon as possible - I sense rain will be coming soon.”
The news coverage started with Perry Van Houten, who had written an earlier article “Ojai’s Trees” for the Winter 2014 edition of The Ojai Valley Visitors Guide, which included Baba’s Tree as one of six trees featured. He approached Meher Mount for a story for a story about Baba's Tree after the Thomas Fire. His article, “Group mounting significant effort to try to save Baba’s Tree,” was published on February 2, 2018, in the Ojai Valley News.
Later, Claudia Boyd-Barrett, an Ojai resident and journalist who had visited Meher Mount before, contacted Meher Mount to set up an interview. She talked with Board President Sam Ervin, Manager/Caretaker Buzz Glasky, arborist Michael Inaba, and Interim Caretaker Cassandra Bramucci. Her story for the Ventura County Star, “Baba's Tree, burned in Thomas Fire, fights for survival in Ojai,” was published on February 18, 2018.
The following is a reprint of an article about Baba's Tree and the 2017 Thomas Fire from the Ventura County Star published on February 18, 2018.
Fire strips away much of nature’s camouflage and reveals the unexpected.
On December 12, 2017, just eight days after the Thomas Fire swept through parts of Meher Mount, Buzz and Ginger Glasky, Cassandra Bramucci, Margaret Magnus and I walked the property marveling at the fire’s path and the fire’s targets.
Surprisingly, Cassandra noticed a small pile of 21 coins, unearthed by the fire, under one of the pine trees at Avatar’s Point. We had no idea how they got there.