By Margaret Magnus
In the days immediately following the devastation of Baba’s Tree from the December 2017 Thomas Fire, volunteers looked for rays of hope. One of those rays of hope was the growth of new sprouts on Baba’s Tree.
Another ray of hope was the realization that there was a small Coast Life Oak (Quercus agrifolia) that had been ‘hiding’ in plain sight very close to Baba’s Tree. And this tree, most probably Baba’s Tree progeny, had only been slightly burned by the Thomas Fire.
BABY BABA’S TREE IS ‘DISCOVERED’
Some volunteers started calling this tree “Baby Baba’s Tree.” Had anybody noticed this tree earlier? Yes. But with all the focus on Baba’s Tree, this tree only captured many visitors’ attention after the Thomas Fire.
It’s likely quite a few people were aware of Baby Baba’s Tree (although not named yet) before the Thomas Fire. Manager/Caretakers Samantha and Leslie Bridger had created another opening in Baba’s Tree canopy on the Avatar’s Point side by clearing underbrush and trimming some branches. They also put a bench on that side of the tree, making the baby tree more visible.
Even before that was done, Leslie had pointed out to Wayne Myers sometime in 2010 or 2011 there was a baby Baba’s Tree. “He said that could be Baba’s Tree in another 100 or 200 years,” Wayne said. “I had the impression he was being attentive to maintaining it.”
How is Baby Baba’s Tree related to Baba’s Tree? All the Coast Live Oaks at Avatar’s Point belong to the same ‘family,’ according to ISA® certified arborist Michael Inaba. Baby Baba’s Tree may be an an extension of Baba’s Tree through the root system or inter-connected to Baba’s Tree underground with entwined roots.
Baby Baba’s Tree has come out of shadows of Baba’s Tree and is now a cornerstone of what is becoming Baba’s Tree Grove. The tree is healthy and is continuing to produce new growth while the sections of the trunk heal naturally.
A Spontaneous Revival Leads to a Grove
Meanwhile, in another spot near Baba’s Tree and previously hidden under the canopy of Baba’s Tree was a growth-suppressed tree stump of a Coast Live Oak that had been cut down sometime in the history of Meher Mount.
The stump, now exposed to sunlight and benefiting from the care for Baba’s Tree (including love, water and the support of the underground root system), began sprouting new life. These sprouts, now small branches, continue to grow and look healthy in the two years following the fire. This vigorous growth shows indications of longer-term survival.
This former tree stump is another cornerstone of Baba’s Tree Grove.
To name this tree, Meher Mount asked for suggestions through social media (Facebook and Instagram), and good ideas were put forth. “The New Life Tree” seemed to be appropriate. The stump had appeared to be helpless and hopeless – helplessness and hopelessness being a part of Meher Baba’s New Life – and then ‘new life’ sprung forward.
In addition, the predecessor retreat center to Meher Mount was the New Life Foundation founded by Jean Adriel and Alexandar Markey in La Crescenta, CA. After finding the property now known as Meher Mount, they sold the 500-acre New Life Foundation property and purchased Meher Mount in 1946.
“Mighty oaks from little acorns grow” (Geoffrey Chaucer)
When arborist Michael Inaba visited in September 2018 to check on Baba’s Tree, he pointed out the many acorns produced by Baba’s Tree. He suggested collecting a few of them to germinate and then plant when the time was right.
At that time, Robert Turnage and Kristina Somma harvested 19 viable acorns from Baba’s Tree, knowing that not all would sprout and thrive. Each was put in a separate bag with peat moss, kept damp and stored in the refrigerator. They took the acorns home to Sacramento, CA, in a cooler to nurture them for the next month.
In October 2018, Robert and Kristina were on a trip to Southern California and stopped briefly at Meher Mount to plant 16 of the still-viable acorns in small containers using soil from Meher Mount.
The acorns have the best chance to turn into mature oak trees if all the planting conditions are similar to their origin and final home.
Over the subsequent months, volunteers continued to water, protect and nurture the acorns, with Michael Inaba periodically checking in on their progress.
“Let nature do the hard work…”
In discussions about where to plant the acorns, Inaba noted that if the acorns were planted near the trees of their origin, i.e., Baba’s Tree, they would have better chances of survival. The existing trees and roots would recognize the acorns as part of the family and would reach out to nourish and support their growth. “When you plant the acorns in the same area as their origin, you let nature do the hard work” of helping the them to grow, Inaba explained.
In fact, he believes that the surrounding trees have helped sustain and support the renewed growth of Baba’s Tree.
There are still five viable seedlings from the acorns of Baba’s Tree. Inaba has recommended November/December as planting time – the days are shorter, thus less intense sunshine; and the winter rains will help the seedlings get established.
Seedlings & Saplings from Baba’s Tree
In Spring 2019, the tiniest beginnings of Coast Live Oak trees randomly emerged around and near Baba’s Tree. They are either from acorns (seedlings) that fell during the previous fall and germinated on their own, or they are extensions from the roots (saplings) of Baba’s Tree. These ‘volunteers’ are adding to Baba’s Tree Grove.
Baba’s Tree Survival
Baba’s Tree continues to defy the odds. “This tree seems to operate by different rules,” said arborist Michael Inaba referring to Baba’s Tree. “Every time I look at what was left to generate the tree, I marvel at the growth.”
For now, the attached dead limbs of Baba’s Tree remain. All the burned parts of Baba’s Tree are part of the tree’s ecology and tell the continuous story of fire (October 1985), renewal, fire (December 2017) and renewal. There’s a value in keeping damaged trees — they provide habitat, educate us on the cycle of life, and reflect nature. In the instance of Baba’s Tree, these limbs were at Meher Mount in some form when the Avatar of the Age, Meher Baba, visited in 1956.