.....Yaddo for me is a place of magic. Its a romantic, heart-breaking,
heartwarming, mystical, and wonderous place.
Over the years, I have read many stories and books about Yaddo. But, none hold the same
magic that I have felt by being there.
Nestled amid the quaint victorian splendor that is Saratoga, New York, Yaddo is all but unseen.
Iron gates left open..beckon only those drawn there, Yaddo is seemingly invisible to the mass of passersby.
I am always amazed, when speaking of Yaddo, how many people don't know of its'
Over the years, I have read many stories and books about Yaddo. But, none hold the same magic that I have felt by being there.
Nestled amid the quaint victorian splendor that is Saratoga, New York, Yaddo is all but unseen. Iron gates left open..beckon only those drawn there, Yaddo is seemingly invisible to the mass of passersby.
I am always amazed, when speaking of Yaddo, how many people don't know of its' existence.
But the gate, it beckons me...calling ...there is magic here, a powerful
story to be told. A wonderous journey awaits those who explore the
paths..who listen to the wind in the pines. I am not alone in this
knowledge, but then, I vainly believe, no one knows it quite the way
Yaddo, in the late 1800's was a property acquired by Spencer & Katrina Trask and their daughter, Christina. I believe their son Alan was born shortly thereafter, but the accuracy of my "facts" is not the greatest. More than dates & history, my story is of the heart that lives and breathes at Yaddo, the spirits that flavor the breeze there.
The original house, burned to the ground, and Spencer began the task of building the glorious mansion that stands today. Two more children were born there, and I do not exactly recall the events of how all four of these children passed away over the years. There was a drowning in one of the lakes, scarlet and rheumatic fever. The details have left my mind intertwined with the pain and sadness I felt for Katrina & Spencer. How, not being the important part, but just that they had lost so much with each passing, and the extreme pain that they must have known is beyond my belief.
I recall that a grandmother had passed away at the time that they had first acquired the grounds of Yaddo. That the name Yaddo itself, was given by Christina, for the new home they had moved to in the shadow of the death of her grandmother. Christina thought that "Yaddo" sounded like "shadow"..but would not mean that. (There are other versions of the story, I prefer this one) And so, Katrina discovered that the true meaning of the word Yaddo, was light. How appropriate a word..The light, amid the shadow.
And so.."Yaddo" became the name of this 100+ acreage. And a light it was..which cast many shadows as well. Spencer had a love for Katrina that few in this world would ever know..And I'm sure that combined with their shared losses, gave him a strength unsurpassed. He built a virtual "castle" for her and the children.. and the gardens..of beauty unsurpassed, Roman style verandas, statues, and fountains.
I am not blessed with the words to descibe their beauty. And so it was , that one day as Spencer & Katrina were walking the grounds, they reached a spot where Katrina stopped, and a vision appeared to her. This vision was of artists of all kinds, painting pictures, writing stories, composing music, all hard at work, there on the grounds. People of all walks of life, were strolling the gardens. She turned to Spencer, to tell him that she knew now, what the future would hold. You see, for lack of heirs, they had not known what would become of Yaddo. I should also add that Katrina had visions in the spot many times over the years, but this was by far the most important one.
The two eagerly began the work of creating a sanctuary for artists here. Katrina, an author herself, was always surrounded by people of that nature, she & Spencer had a houseful of visitors all the time. They were very social people and enjoyed the company of their guests , who in turn were inspired by tranquility and magic that was Yaddo. The future was carefully planned, that new and aspiring artists would be invited to "stay" at Yaddo, for a certain length of time , to create. And so they did! Many people were inspired and created great things at Yaddo.
The list is immense, but it comes to mind that Truman Capote wrote his first novel there, not the best seller, but his first. What an inspiration Yaddo might have been to him, I can only imagine. A strict schedule was written, by Katrina for the "guests". I recall, an early morning breakfast where their was to be no talking, so as not to cloud the mind, or dim the previous nights dreams. Lunch was placed at each persons breakfast seat, in paper bags, that they should carry it to the spot where they were assigned to work. Many had outer buildings spread through the grounds, some worked in their rooms. They would all gather at dinner, to talk, relax & enjoy each others company. Lights out..was kinda early, but you know, they were here to work after all.
So, having given you a background, I shall begin my story, of how Yaddo touched me,
and changed the way I will view the world forever.
I walked onto the gounds of Yaddo with my daughter, a happy little almost two year old in the summer of 1981. Why I went is still a mystery, as is all that happened to me that summer.
I had been there before in my teen years, and loved the gardens and the small lakes. The real attraction for me back then was a romantic spot to walk hand in hand with my boyfriend. Now, as an adult, I was surely not there to rekindle old memories. I have to believe that I was drawn there, beckoned would be an appropriate word.
Hand in hand now with my daughter, we walked onto the garden path. I carefully read the story at the garden entrance to her. I realized that I hadn't known anything about the history of Yaddo at all before today. She listened intently, although I am sure she understood little.
We passed through the gate, and both were in awe of the grand fountain. The woman in the center, was missing a hand. We both noticed. I looked then up the hill to the mansion, to see whose view this fountain might be. It stood alone here at the bottom of a hill, with at least an acre or two of freshly cut lawn between the house and the fountain. As I looked to the grand home overlooking the fountain and ourselves, I felt a strong presence. Their was no doubt in my mind that all three of us were being watched. Exactly who was watching, was not a concern at the time, for surely people lived here.
My daughter was looking into the fountain. I looked to see such murk that it was difficult to see the orange blurrs that the sign had told us were gold fish. These fish were supposedly actual ancestors of the gold fish that swam in the fountains when the Trasks lived here. But they could barely be made out through the algae.
Taking my daughters hand and leading her from this obscenity, I looked to the house, with pity. I walked on to the rose garden. The roses were of course splendid, although much fewer in number than I remembered them to be. A gardener was busy at work with their care. Although he never looked up from his work, I smiled sweetly to the top of his hat, in thanks for his labors. My daughter was tugging me onward to another fountain, the central point of the gardens. A path circled the fountain, sprouting other paths north, south, east & west.
We had entered on the east path, to the south, the gardens were flanked with statues of 4 women, each held in her arms a bough, depicting one of the seasons. Spring flowers, summer fruits, fall wheat and winter pine & berries. Although their beauty was still radiant, these too were in need of repair.
I seached my mind for the memories of the splendor that used to be here. I was pained, that this would be what my daughter would know of Yaddo. I was also acutely aware, that her daughter might never know Yaddo at all. It's depreciation was saddening my heart. We took the path to the north, since I knew that it would circle me around to the one to the west. Climbing the massive cement stairs, the hill on either side, that had once been a mass of flowers, was half weeds.
At the top, the sundial stood intact, and I breathed a great sigh of relief as I saw it carefully
incased in plexi-glass. You should know that we were not alone
there. Maybe 50 other people were milling the gardens as well.
How many of them saw it as I did? I wondered.
Another day.. reading in the gardens, sitting on the cement bench that overlooks the roses and the fountain, I look up to see that it has begun to rain. Or has it been raining for quite some time? The garden is deserted, only I remain. I had been reading a book about Yaddo's history, the bulk of a great tree having shielded me from the rain. But is it really possible that I felt not a single drop of rain? I didn't stop to ponder that until much later. I tucked the precious book under my shirt, and made a dash through the gardens towards my car. Upon passing the central fountain, I noticed there, floating near the edge..the most wonderous red rose! I nearly whispered aloud to the spirits that must abide here.. "for me?" I plucked the rose from the water..and completed my dash to my car.
As I was visiting almost daily now, the voices were getting clearer to me. I was reading so much that sometimes I felt closer to Yaddo's past than its' present. I began to read "THE STORY" ..Yaddo, by Katrina herself. On another occasion, I had been left a pink rose. (All of the roses had been promptly been pressed into my bible as soon as I arrived home)
and the sadness begins.. as I read through page after page of warnings, of how the book is not for just any reader. How the book is for those who have been truly touched by Yaddo's magic (I had no doubt this pertained to me) My life at home began crumbling.. my husband blamed my obsession with Yaddo. I blamed him. ...and the world sped along..who knows what caused it, but life became difficult, and I slowed my pace at persuing Yaddo's mystery. I became pregnant for a child we could by no means afford. We had no insurance and were living "less than comfortably" on a meager income. In my despair..and unwillingness to give up this child.. I put Yaddo on a shelf.. I reasoned that for magic.. there is a price, and what was Katrina's price? This woman lost all of her children. And I was now faced with the decision of keeping my own child.
And so.. my husband re-entered the service. Strickly for my benefit. So that I might have this child I wanted so badly despite it's untimely conception.
In years to follow I would find that Yaddo's cry for help had been heard by many. The committee in charge of its' care began having fund raisers of all kinds.. Today, Yaddo is restored to much of its' former beauty. I can see the gardens through Katrina's eyes again. The same magic doesn't tug at me. although I do still feel her presence, a warm friendship kind of feeling. I had the VERY rare opportunity to tour the mansion two years ago. It was every bit as glorious as my dreams of it had been..perhaps more so. A new friend has just offered this advice to me. "Not all prices, are steep, and magic has to do with how one uses it.
Perhaps it's time to go back to the library..a great story awaits me.
Thank-You.. for sharing this walk with me.. Please.. if you ever happen near Saratoga NY..
tour the gardens, breathe the air.. and should Katrina speak to you..
Listen close.. there is magic in the air!
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