First came Tarra

There are some memories that are etched so deeply in my mind that I will never forget them. Among them are the first day I stepped on-grounds at the Sanctuary, and the last day I stepped off.

March 3rd brings back a flood of emotionally charged memories so intense that my senses are overwhelmed.  This is the day, back in 1995, when Tarra, Scott and I, along with my menagerie of dogs, birds and a single cat, moved to the Sanctuary.

Moving day was determined by the weather and the amount of rainfall during the previous 48 hours. The reason was that the entrance to the Sanctuary presented a challenge for Tarra’s rig.

Cane creek, a shallow, gravel bottom creek that crosses in front of Sanctuary property, usually swelled over its banks after a heavy spring rain.

The small wooden-plank bridge that crossed the creek was not sturdy enough to support the load of Tarra and her trailer. To accommodate larger, heavy vehicles, the local road maintenance crew leveled the embankment leading in and out of the creek, creating a bypass through the water. It was not paved and rumor is that many a driver had misjudged and ended up stuck in the soft gravel.

On this day the creek was very low and we were convinced–well, I should say I was — that we could drive Tarra’s rig through the creek without a problem.

With the engine screaming –RP’s through the roof, gravel crunching under tons of pachyderm weight and steel–we plunged into the shallow creek.

The soft creek bed felt like quicksand under our weight but I was determined not to spin the tires nor slow enough to get bogged down.  A happy balance was required and apparently it was reached because after what seemed like an eternity, we came crawling out the other side of the creek. I am sure our new neighbors heard our victory cheer over the screaming engine.

My dream realized

When I delivered my precious cargo to the threshold of my realized dream, I could hardly contain my excitement.

Over the previous three months I spent many days at the Sanctuary preparing the property for Tarra’s arrival. I always wondered if she knew what was about to happen. She definitely had to sense something grand was about to unfold, something that she had inspired.

For close to ten years I meticulously built this Sanctuary in my mind’s eye: the landscape, forest thick with trees, ponds, hills and pastures wrapped around a secluded valley with a creek running through the middle. I saw this image in my mind many times over the years and now it was real, my dream come true.

With the truck safely through the creek and parked inside the gates of elephant heaven, I anticipated pure silence.  But what I heard brought a smile to my heart.

The surrounding trees were teaming with flocks of boisterous birds, each determined to out-sing the others.  Their voices filled the air with soft chirps, tweets and rowdy calls. It was heavenly. I closed my eyes and breathed in the joy and magnificence of this moment, this day, this new beginning.

By the time this day arrived, Tarra and I had already shared a lifetime together with our family of dogs, goats, cats and birds. In addition to being naturally social, Tarra is very precious. She thrived in her big family.

Now we were literally standing on the threshold of monumental change. The Sanctuary would finally enable to us to expand the family to include other elephants. I had to refrain from thinking about this too much for fear I would burst from excitement.

First came Tarra

Then it was Tarra’s turn to take her first breath of Sanctuary air, which she did with much gusto, starting with a mighty trumpet as she bounded out of her trailer. She always thrills me with her drama queen antics. And I mean drama queen in the best way. Her playful side is her only side. She takes fun to the limit, adventure to the outer limit and when her people and her dogs share the adventure she is over the top.

Chattering her signature “bark” and spinning in circles, making volleyball size divots in the grass, Tarra hesitated for a split second. Then it was all four legs pumping as fast as she could drive them, leaving us with a view of her beautiful buttocks as she raced into the pasture.

My cheeks hurt so bad from smiling as I ran after her, not wanting to miss a second of this, our latest adventure.

Tarra ran around the pasture, doing her best to keep me and the dogs engaged in her play. It worked–we thoroughly enjoyed the fun she created.

The following twelve months was spent preparing for our second pachyderm resident and the unfolding of the Camelot years at the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.

Namaste Tarra, you inspired a vision like no other and continue to inspire me each and every day of my life.

5 Responses to “First came Tarra”

  1. msanborn1 says:

    Beautiful, Carol. Just beautiful.

  2. Jill says:

    OMG Carol… thank you so much for that ! ~ May the spirits of Barbara, Tina, Lota, Jenny, Dehli, Queenie, Zula, Bunny, Ned and Lottie help guide you back to Tarra and your dream in Tennessee ~

    Jill Litwack,

  3. sherryheim says:

    This story is so beautiful and so touching but it pokes me in a sad spot, too. It makes it all the harder to understand how you could have ever been ousted from TES and how anyone who had one ounce of compassion could keep you and Tarra apart. It also makes my blood boil that Scott was the one stirring the cauldron. You brought an air of enchantment to TES and now that is all gone. I thought it was heaven on earth and that the residents were the luckiest captive elephants, ever. All that has melted away and the feeling I now have of TES is that it is nothing more than an animal park and research center…kind of like Marineland used to be.

  4. LauraC says:

    Awe Carol……that is so great! Thanks for taking us back to that first day. I can only imagine the excitement you felt. Things like that are rare in anyone’s lifetime. But you made an entire sanctuary happen for Tarra and the others that followed her. Few people on Earth ever achieve such a magnanimous selfless ambition. And it is for that reason I firmly believe you are living a temporary but necessary extension of your life given to elephants, during or after which you will be reunited with your Tarra and the home you created for her.♥

  5. Ele-aunt says:

    She’s just so beautiful! The two of you revolutionized elephant care and continue to help humans come to realize how mistaken we have been about elephants, their lives and needs, and how to think about them. Keep writing, keep telling your stories. You’re doing wonderful work. Tarra came first, but then there was another, and another, and another, and everyone that she and you touch will touch another, and another, and another. And by that picture of her, I would guess that she knew then and still knows the impact that you and she are making on the world.
    Namaste Carol.