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Remembering Maggie Kahin

Sep 1, 2016 By Betty Starks Case

Once upon a time, I wrote a book about her

Ecumenical? What does it mean? The odd-sounding word came alive when I met Dr. Maggie Kahin, founder of Ring Lake Ranch east of Dubois.

Last week, the ranch celebrated 50 years of Maggie's vision, in her words described as "Renewal in sacred wilderness."

Mountain lovers often claim the experience. But there's a story within this story.

I first met Maggie at my mother's kitchen table in Riverton, where they sat for a cup of tea. I learned of her great-grandfather's wealth, acquired when he commanded four huge clipper ships in the China trade in the mid-1800s.

Maggie planned to spend the remainder of her inheritance on a Wyoming mountain retreat where a sharing, caring community might, instead of bitter disagreement, listen with their hearts for growth and understanding.

Mystery and wonder, like clipper ships on the high seas, can lure a writer to uncharted territory.

"May I write your life story?" I asked.

"Sure," Maggie responded. "Soon as I finish my classes in London."

Two years later, we moved back to Wyoming. Maggie returned to work on the center she'd dreamed of in Wyoming's high country - a place where people might leave behind the "frames" of their everyday lives and hear one another's ideas without the fear of the misunderstanding that had haunted her own self-expression for a lifetime.

My experience, as hers, was filled with the unexpected.

Sadly, Maggie died six months after we began our project. But I'd promised to tell her story. My mission continued.

Discussing the project later, my mate asked, "Where or what is the turning point of Maggie's life? You'll have no story without some startling change."

Clearly, though I'd studied boxes and boxes of newspapers, letters and journals, something was missing.

Without contacting any of my "sources," as news reporters say, I received in the mail the following week a plain manila envelope with no return address, containing one last journal - the one so crucial to the other half of my story.

The book was fresh from the printer in Cheyenne when I received a strange phone call.

"Hi, I work at the Wyoming State Library and your book just came in. I think it stands a good chance in the Wyoming Press Women's competition. May I enter it for you?"

My response began with a stutter. I'd never heard of the competition, never thought of "Maggie: Set Free in The Wyoming Rockies" competing with other books. I wrote it because I felt some sort of kinship with Maggie, half-joking that, "I can write when I can't talk."

First place in the state? Heading for National Press Women's competition in Coeur d' Alene, Idaho?

"Well, you're going, aren't you?" a friend asked.

"I don't know..." I stammered.

"What's the matter with you?" she demanded. "Of course you'll go."

There, treated as if "Maggie" had won first, I accepted national honorable mention with pride, trying to be grateful for the judge's comment, "The book would have placed higher if Maggie had been more famous."

"Everyone's life is an important story," I mumbled to myself. "Not just the famous and infamous as the business world implies."

But the surprises weren't over. When my husband was asked to serve as consultant to a company in Boston, I was to accompany him.

"That's only 100 miles from Litchfield, Connecticut, where Maggie was raised," he said. "When my job is done, let's rent a car and drive down there."

In Litchfield, a realtor who'd known Maggie's family canceled an appointment to drive us to the elegant home and fine horse stables of Echo Farm, Maggie's childhood home. Not far away stood Maggie's grade school, the former home of Harriet Beecher Stowe, famed author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

The Echo Farm owner invited us in, served lemonade and seemed pleased that we'd stopped by. As we departed, she looked deep into my eyes and said, "I never ask strangers into my home; there's just something about your face."

I sent a copy of the book to the woman. No response.

So what did the owner of Maggie's childhood home see in my face?

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