By Margaret Magnus
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.
BUZZ & GINGER GLASKY ‘RETIRE’
In August 2017 after more than four years (November 2013—February 2018) of taking care of Meher Mount, Buzz and Ginger Glasky were ready to retire. They indicated that their last day as Manager/Caretakers would be February 15, 2018.
They gave plenty of notice – six months – to provide the board sufficient time to recruit their replacements. The months passed. No candidates came forward. More advertising. Still, no candidates.
Then in December 2017, the Thomas Fire struck Meher Mount.
NEW CARETAKERS SPARED BEING HOMELESS
In hindsight, it seems obvious why no new caretakers were at Meher Mount. 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.
Buzz and Ginger, on the other hand, had earlier purchased an Airsteam trailer for their post-Meher Mount travels. When the call came to evacuate Meher Mount on December 4, 2017, they hooked up their trailer and left.
In the days of the continuing and spreading Thomas Fire, they were able to move to Oceano, CA, about 122 miles away. In the days and weeks of immediate fire recovery, they traveled regularly – at least two-and-one-half hours each way – from Oceano to Meher Mount to assist in the recovery effort.
Finally, the day of their official departure came. On Baba’s Birthday, February 25, 2018, there was a farewell party for Buzz and Ginger. Friends came to say goodbye before they left to take their long-deserved break from the day-to-day responsibilities of Meher Mount.
What about long-term Manager/Caretaker recruitment? It apparently wasn’t time yet. The extensive repairs and refurbishment of the Caretaker Center meant Meher Mount was not ready to welcome new Manager/Caretakers.
CARETAKER RECRUITMENT STARTS AGAIN
In the fall of 2018, Meher Mount was ready. Recruitment efforts began again. Interested persons started coming forward. Most declined after seeing the extent and the variety of requirements for the job, its voluntary nature, and the remote location.
In October 2018, Sam Ervin, board president, and Margaret Magnus, went on a long-planned pilgrimage to Meher Baba’s Tomb Shrine and home in Meherabad and Meherazad, India.
“On the first morning after our arrival, I went to the dining hall for early morning tea. At 6:00 a.m. that day, there was only one other person there, Ellen Kwiatkowski, and we started chatting.
“Somehow, Meher Mount slipped into the conversation including the fact that the board was looking for on-site, live-on, volunteer Manager/Caretakers,” Sam said.
Ellen indicated that she and her husband Eric Carlson might be interested. They were thinking of selling their organic, you-pick-it farm in Bayfield, WI, and were looking for the next opportunity.
“I HAVE ALWAYS FELT GOD IN NATURE…”
Discussions continued in India and afterward. In January 2019, Ellen and Eric came to Meher Mount for a 10-day stay to get a feel for Meher Mount and to see if being a Manager/Caretaker was something they wanted to do.
Afterward, Eric wrote that the opportunity to be a caretaker at Meher Mount interested him, “because it aligns with my feelings about the Earth and nature as being an expression of God and provides the opportunity to share this with others while also serving Meher Baba.”
For Ellen, the opportunity “appeals to me because my focus is on Him all the more. Also, spending time in nature has always been an important part of my emotional and spiritual health and well being. I have always felt God in nature…”
In late March 2019, they said, “Yes,” and signed the Manager/Caretaker agreement. Ellen arrived on May 27, 2019, and Eric arrived about a month later on June 25, 2019. He had stayed in Wisconsin to train a manager for the summer crop on their farm, while getting the farm ready to be sold.
IN THE MEANTIME
In the meantime, who cared for Meher Mount?
In February 2018, just as Buzz and Ginger were leaving, Cassandra Bramucci offered to come for three months as Interim Caretaker – and then extended her stay to six months.
She lived on-site in her RV – thus not needing to live in the Caretaker Quarters which still weren’t quite ready for inhabitants.
In the next weeks and months, she and other temporary caretakers helped with much of the heavy lifting of continued fire recovery and restoration.
After Cassandra left in late August 2018, there were a series of temporary caretakers who came to stay, care for Meher Mount, and greet the weekend visitors.
Volunteers came for days, weeks and even months to be temporary caretakers. Thank you to: Robert Turnage and Kristina Somma, Ray Johnston and April Buchwald, Elizabeth Arnold, Wayne Myers, Kyle and Lisa Morrison, Melissa and John Collins, Jennifer Navarro-Marroquin and Luis Marroquin, David DeFauw and Julia Christopher, James Whedon, Stephanie Ervin, Ron Holsey, Sam Ervin and Margaret Magnus, Bing Heckman, Robert Redecker, Anamika Christenson, Coline Tabrum, Rudoph Duran and Kathy Najar.
LOOKING FOR ANOTHER TEMPORARY SOLUTION
Just as it seemed that Meher Mount had no more temporary caretakers to care for Meher Mount, Buzz and Ginger again stepped forward. It was almost a year after their official departure in 2018. They offered to move their Airstream to Meher Mount and stay as long as needed while the Board recruited regular Manager/Caretakers.
They ‘camped’ at Meher Mount from mid-January until early July 2019, taking care of weed abatement, watching over Meher Mount, welcoming guests, and providing orientation for Ellen and Eric.
While not having regular Manager/Caretakers was, at times, a little nerve wracking, it also opened up the possibility for others to serve on a short-term basis.
They had the opportunity to stay overnight, get a better understanding of Meher Mount, and be a more integral part of the land. They also met many interesting guests.
They were able to spend an extended time in this place made sacred by Meher Baba’s Presence. And some initiated activities such as the native plant walk and the bird watching day.
In hindsight, it seemed as if Ellen and Eric were destined to come to Meher Mount as Manager/Caretakers from the beginning, but everything needed to be in place first. Meher Mount needed to be ready to greet them, and they needed to do several things on their farm before they could leave.
ABOUT THE CARETAKERS
Eric Carlson describes himself as an entrepreneur. He established and managed – for the past 30 years – Blue Vista Farm in Bayfield, WI. The farm directly markets fruit crops to the consumer in a way that creates a deeper experience and connection with the land. Blue Vista is located in a Wisconsin tourist destination and receives 10,000 to 15,000 visitors annually.
Eric managed a seasonal staff of 28 in production, harvesting, marketing, advertising, and retail aspects of the farm. He is experienced in operating and maintaining all power tools, implements and tractors, as well as understanding and solving the day-to-day issues of a land-focused organization.
While managing the farm, Eric also served as President of the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce and chairman of its Orchard Task Force for eight years. During that time the Chamber quadrupled its membership, and he helped restore health and vibrancy to the board and organization.
Eric has a B.S. in plant pathology and horticulture from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he worked in the department of Plant Pathology as a fruit crop research specialist for several years. This knowledge and his experience provide him with skills to facilitate the creating of harmony in cultivated and wild plant communities. He also has extensive experience studying, tracking and observing animals and plants in their natural habitats.
Eric first learned of Meher Baba in 2013. He and Ellen have visited the Meher Spiritual Center in Myrtle Beach, SC, and Meher Baba’s Tomb Shrine and home in Meherabad and Meherazad, India.
Ellen Kwiatkowski has a B.S. in biology from James Madison University in Virginia and has more than 20 years’ experience working on biodiversity conservation. Starting with three years as a forestry extensionist with the US Peace Corps in Paraguay and then 10 years with the Nature Conservancy, where she worked internationally as Manager of their Rapid Ecological Assessment Program and domestically as Director of Conservation Programs for the Delaware Chapter.
While in Delaware, she oversaw site-based and landscape-scale conservation planning, acquisition and management of their portfolio of preserves. She has extensive experience in developing and managing grant-funded (federal, state, private) projects that include land acquisition, habitat restoration, migratory bird conservation and biological inventories.
After meeting Eric and moving to Wisconsin, Ellen worked with Eric at Blue Vista Farm for a few years, did some private consulting, and was Executive Director of the Bayfield Regional Conservancy, a local land trust. Here, she oversaw all land protection and conservation activities. During that time, the Conservancy became a nationally accredited land trust, more than doubled the acreage of protected sites and doubled the Stewardship Endowment Fund.
She was also awarded the 2012 Wisconsin Conservationist of the Year by a statewide group of her peers. Ellen then worked for two years as Planning Administrator for a local Native American Tribe. She also serves on the Environmental Management Committee for the Meher Spiritual Center in Myrtle Beach, SC.
While Eric is looking at animal tracks and birds, Ellen is identifying and learning plants. She has a keen interest in learning the local flora and understanding plant distribution and alliances.