Linda Seebantz was a marketing professional in her native Wisconsin when she decided to quit her job and move, “because I could. I was in my forties; I was single; I had no children.” Linda moved to Taos in 2003. She thought she might stay a few years and then go to the Pacific Northwest, “but I put down roots that did not pull out easily.” Eight years ago she became Marketing Director of Ghost Ranch, That sealed her connection to this area.
The history of Ghost Ranch is vivid as any slice of Western lore, rich with feuding brothers, cattle rustlers, cottonwood hangings, hard scrapple widows, poker table deed swaps, and rumors of haunting. “It’s the mystique of the West.” Carol Bishop Stanley ran the place as a dude ranch in the early 1920’s. The rugged canyons, so handy for hiding stolen cattle, possess a solitary beauty that drew wealthy Easterners. Arthur Pack of Princeton NJ purchased Ghost Ranch, and then hosted the Rockefellers and their ilk. The stunning landscape also attracted artists; Georgia O’Keeffe had a house here for decades and many of her most famous images are the profiles surrounding Ghost Ranch.
In 1955 Arthur Pack gave the 21,000-acre property to the Presbyterian Church USA. For the past sixty years, Ghost Ranch has been an education and retreat center that hosts over 300 retreats a year. “We integrate education and spiritual opportunities with local traditions.” Day-trippers take horseback rides, weeklong attendees delve into poetry or plein air painting, interns stay for an entire season. “Our motto is, ‘Your True Nature.’ We want to connect you to nature and help you find your own nature.”
These days, most retreaters are woman of retirement age, but through a series of high school and college-age programs, Ghost Ranch is touching younger people as well. “We are interested in exploring the culture born from the land,” a concept that resonates with young people who question the values of our ever-accelerating society.”
Ghost Ranch programs are ecumenical and interfaith. There is little focus on the precepts of the Presbyterian Church, or even Christianity; more emphasis on the universally spiritual. Although the church owns Ghost Ranch, since 2006 the retreat center has been self-supporting.
Despite its morally questionable beginnings, Ghost Ranch is a place of ethical inquiry. Despite its period of coddling the affluent, Ghost Ranch is a modest place where human presence accedes to nature. In the 150 years since westerners have occupied Ghost Ranch, it has evolved and changed, and will continue to do so. But so far, our footprints have been gentle enough to leave the natural splendor of Ghost Ranch intact.
How will we live tomorrow?
“There’s a Ghost Ranch initiative we’re doing that has influenced me directly; redefining Sabbath (based on the work of Wayne Muller, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in Our Busy Lives). We only value success. Not being productive is frowned upon. By consciously giving one opportunities to do nothing, I am investing in everything that needs to be done in a different way.
“This is radical. Go back thousands of years, to Egypt; the powerful got people to work long and hard. In our culture, we have a tradition of work.
“The hard thing is to apply the benefit of Sabbath into our lives. The contradiction is within. There are things in my DNA that push me. Our minds are capable of doing so many things, understanding so many parameters. But we need time for our hearts to catch up.