As far as I know, Yaddo in Saratoga Springs was named after one of the Trask children couldn’t pronounce “shadow.” The word was probably uttered innocently enough, yet the tale darkens aptly once you learn that Spencer and Katrina Trask’s four children all died during childhood or infancy—all of them. Two contracted diphtheria from their very own mother, planting a kiss on her cheek or lips as she lay in bed, recovering. The guilt and grief would have eaten me alive. Instead Katrina and Spencer, an intensely rich Wall Street tycoon, built an artist’s colony; those grounds that used to shade little heads from the sun now welcomed writers, musicians, playwrights. Over the years, thousands of artists took refuge from an at-times inhospitable world, their work blossoming under green leafy balconies and the presence of Katrina, herself a writer.

In my mind I see her pain sloughing off white skin like mushroom spores, floating in a steamy, gentle upstate summer wind to far-reaching corners, gathering all these slightly-lost souls bursting at the seams with gifts to give the world. The words and sounds might have leaked a bit through their clothes, but a safe place was needed to give birth to all that gestating art. I think in this way, Katrina became a mother yet again, surrounding herself with pregnant bellies and the resulting children she would never bear herself. In this way, a place that witnessed abject sorrow became one that birthed some of the most important works in the past two centuries. I can’t think of anything more beautiful.

Photo: courtesy of the Corporation of Yaddo


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