Asip tastes like caramel, but deeper and not overpoweringly sweet, and it’s warm in the back of the throat. It’s color is lighter than amber and darker than gold, almost the color of late oak leaves.

A small group of us were sitting in the cafe after hours. We’d pulled up an informal circle of chairs, and we were tasting cordials at Wild Soul River and talking about how they are made. A cordial is a simple blend of sugar, alcohol and flavors — fruits, nuts, spices.

The complexity comes what you combine, and how much, explains herbalist Leslie Alexander. You could make one up for a friend, she says, and choose each element in it for them. You could think about the flavors they like and what grows where they live, about the natures of the plants and the person you love, and what they want right now.

This holiday, I’m looking for gifts like that … something that takes time and some quiet thinking. And touch. A year ago we were running on adrenaline — we were drinking hot chocolate outdoors and wrapping up in blankets to watch plays in the snow. This year feels more subdued. We start to relax and we get pulled up short. It’s an uncertain time, and uncertainty is getting old. This year, more than ever, I’m drawn to what feels real …

We can find music and storytelling and lights in the dark. NightWood at the Mount has grown along the trails, with torches flaming and sound washing like the sea, and WinterLights at Naumkeag is back with jazzy carols and dancing lights in the fir woods and Poinsettias in the greenhouse. And the cows and merino sheep are sleeping in the Round Stone Barn at Hancock Shaker Village.So you may feel a current running through the stories and events in this holiday section — honest and warm, and sometimes bare. I’ll be sharing experiences that touch my senses and bring me close to the hands and the presence of the people who make them. I can feel them imagining the world they want to live in. It’s enlivened, generous.

More than ever, this year I’m finding that kind of energy in local places. I’ll walk into the Bear and Bee Bookshop in the evening, and find a gathering talking about books. The the world section at Belltower Records pulls me across continents. I pick up baby begonia at the Plant Connector, small enough to hold in the palm of a hand, and they tell me these cuttings come from a woman who lives around the cormer from me.

Wild Soul River is around the corner too, with their herbal teas and tarot, candles and local honey and live poetry. The cordials I first met there come from simple proportions, to begin with: one part sugar syrup, one part alcohol, two parts fruit, and they age for three months, so any you make in harvest season will be ready about the new year. And they’re good for sipping slowly by the fire, especially with company and quiet talk.

Maybe we’re staying closer to home this winter. But the winter holidays are all about feeling at home.

Leslie Parke's Fall Frost turns ice on glass into abstract patterns of light and color. Press image courtesy of Bennington Museum
Photo by Leslie Parke

'Snowflake' Bentley inspires contemporary artists

Ice crystals form like stars in fractal patterns. They take shape too small for human eyes to see, repeating smaller and smaller until they vanish. And here in a museum gallery on a winter night they catch echoes in translucent glazes, quartz and silver, abstraction and calligraphy. Snowflakes are translated into contemporary art in Transient Beauty, the new winter show at the Bennington Museum.

The show centers around a Vermont artist known across the world. On a farm about a hundred miles north of here in 1885, Wilson Bentley became the first person to successfully photograph a single snowflake …

Transient Beauty at the Bennington Museum
A garden path shimmers with rainbow light in Winterights at Naumkeag.
Photo by Kate Abbott

Winterlights dance in the dark at Naumkeag

It’s full moon, and I’m walking up the hill on the old road across the fields, so I can see the hilltop above me steeped in light. The fruit trees are glowing red and gold. Naumkeag in Winterlights is bright as penny candy.

Tonight is one of those zany changes in plans that turn into serendipity — I’m here for a press walk-through, and I can’t find the right way in, so I leave the car on the main road and come up through the cemetery. … The house is above me on the hill, and I can see the whole sweep of thousand of lights.

Dorothy and Mark Alford's family chooses a tree at Crane Hill Tree Farm.
Photo by Susan Geller

Tree farms open with balsam and hot cocoa

The grass is frost-scuffed, and the afternoon light gives the bare trees a glow. We park in the field by the barn and walk up the hill carrying a bow saw. The air smells of balsam.

The baby trees on the fringes come up to our knees, but we are in among the larger ones, circling them to look from all angles. If you have ever chosen a Christmas tree with family and friends, you know this conversation — is it tall enough? You can just reach the top. It’s a little uneven, but we can shape it …

Berkshire tree farms grow spruce, fir and pine
Vials of light glow on a long table in the courtyard in NightWood at the Mount.
Photo by Kate Abbott

NightWood glimmers with music at the Mount

The flame streams sideways in the wind. The bowl of the torch is gleaming copper — it’s an oil lamp, essentially the same as the lamps that burned in Constantinople 2000 years ago, or in the temple of the Macabees. A procession of them coil along the old dirt road here, into the dark. It’s a cold night with a full moon, and NightWood has come back to the Mount.

The lights stretch away until they’re pinpricks hidden in the trees. I’m at the top of the path through the woods to Edith Wharton’s gardens, and I can hear my own footsteps on hard-packed earth …

Firelight and music transform NightWood

For our latest holiday stories and events, have a look below …

Holiday happenings coming up …

Notchview in Windsor grooms miles of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Jan 29 2022 @ 8:30 am
Notchview in the Berkshire Hills holds more than 3,000 acres of gentle slopes and miles trails groomed for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Notchview in Windsor grooms miles of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Jan 30 2022 @ 8:30 am
Notchview in the Berkshire Hills holds more than 3,000 acres of gentle slopes and miles trails groomed for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
A cross country skier in a spruce forest at the Notchview Reservation in Windsor. Courtesy of The Trustees of Reservations.
Jan 30 2022 @ 10:00 am
The Trustees of Reservations will lead a Winter Wildlife Tracking and Tree Identification trek through the spruce-fir forest at the Notchview Reservation.
Notchview in Windsor grooms miles of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Jan 31 2022 @ 8:30 am
Notchview in the Berkshire Hills holds more than 3,000 acres of gentle slopes and miles trails groomed for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Notchview in Windsor grooms miles of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Feb 1 2022 @ 8:30 am
Notchview in the Berkshire Hills holds more than 3,000 acres of gentle slopes and miles trails groomed for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Notchview in Windsor grooms miles of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Feb 2 2022 @ 8:30 am
Notchview in the Berkshire Hills holds more than 3,000 acres of gentle slopes and miles trails groomed for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Notchview in Windsor grooms miles of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Feb 3 2022 @ 8:30 am
Notchview in the Berkshire Hills holds more than 3,000 acres of gentle slopes and miles trails groomed for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Notchview in Windsor grooms miles of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Feb 4 2022 @ 8:30 am
Notchview in the Berkshire Hills holds more than 3,000 acres of gentle slopes and miles trails groomed for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Notchview in Windsor grooms miles of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Feb 5 2022 @ 8:30 am
Notchview in the Berkshire Hills holds more than 3,000 acres of gentle slopes and miles trails groomed for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Notchview in Windsor grooms miles of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Feb 6 2022 @ 8:30 am
Notchview in the Berkshire Hills holds more than 3,000 acres of gentle slopes and miles trails groomed for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Berkshire holiday stories