Posted on Jul 19, 2018
By Ellie Laks, Founder of The Gentle Barn
When I was a child, my sanctuary was the woods and lakes near me. And all the magical creatures who lived there were my friends. When painful things were happening to me, I knew that when I galloped outside, barefoot, long hair whipping behind me, nature would embrace and heal me; and it always did.
When I built the first Gentle Barn to be a sanctuary for animals I found at an abusive petting zoo, with their matted coats, overgrown nails, and terrified eyes, I wanted them to feel the same way I did in the forests when they came home to the barnyard. I wanted them to exhale, feel safe and cared for, and start their recovery. I worked hard to ensure the straw was thick, the sand was absorbing and soft, the water was clean, the shelter was warm and dry, and the food was fresh and plentiful. And then four years later when Jay and I moved The Gentle Barn to Santa Clarita, we did the same thing. We drilled each post hole with all the strength we could muster. We planted each tree with excitement, imagining all the animals who would rest in its shade. We planned the property’s layout carefully to maximize each animal's experience. And we put so much love into everything we did so the animals would feel that love when they came home to it. We repeated that same process in Knoxville and then St Louis. And now today we are working very hard to do the same in Nashville. Each beam of wood is hand chosen to be the strongest. Every stroke of the paint brush is done with the most reverence. And the days are filled with gratitude that we get to do this work.
We know that whatever we give to this project is what the animals, children, and guests will get out of it. Jay and I are much older than the first time we built our sanctuary in Santa Clarita, so it takes much more determination to get the job done. We will not allow our age to deter us, however. Our minds are sharp, our hearts are open, and we are full of determination to make The Nashville Gentle Barn spectacular! We are so thankful to all our wonderful volunteers who are coming to help us.
We searched for the perfect property in Tennessee for about two years. First looking in Knoxville, and when we found nothing suitable, we expanded our search to Nashville. It was Jay who first went to look at properties in Nashville. Over the course of several months, he must have looked at about forty places. He sorted the list by location, acreage, price, and amenities. By the time Jay was done looking he had three favorites. That’s when I flew in to see them.
All three properties were gorgeous: about equal proximity to Nashville and the airport, similar asking price, and all had a house and at least one barn. The deciding factor would be how they felt. Although the first one had the most land with the most beautiful home, the energy there felt dark and bleak. It was green, spacious, and beautiful, but I could not picture our animals there, it just didn’t feel like a sanctuary. When we pulled up to the second place and stepped out of the car, a smile spread immediately over my face, I felt peaceful and full of joy. As I looked out over the land, I could see our cows grazing, horses playing, pigs splashing in their pool, and the birds exploring. It was as if they were already there. The land itself was healing and rejuvenating. I felt like I was seven again and wanted to pull off my shoes and go play in the pond. I was drawn to the pastures and woods as if they were long lost friends. We went to see the third place just to cover our basis, but I already knew without any doubt that we had found our sanctuary.
In our fast, high paced, technological world, where there is information coming at us from all sides, and constant noise, we all need a sanctuary. A place to be ourselves. A place to rest peacefully in quiet connection with who we really are. A place where we feel hopeful and can sample the best of humanity. And a place where we feel safe. Where is your sanctuary? Is it home, in your bed or garden? In a park or hiking trails? At the ocean? Nature is always there for us! And if you don’t have a sanctuary, The Gentle Barn and our animal angels are right here waiting for you!