Coming up the hill, you can see the house gleaming in the distance and the birches shining like candy canes all along the Blue Stairs. Naumkeag is decked out again in Winterlights.
It’s almost cold enough to feel like December now and pitch dark before 5 p.m. On the pathway as I walk in, the collective lights are bright enough to maze my camera lens, and the hilltop looks awash in color.
I move informally from one moment to the next, as groups form and pause at new scenes, the minute tree farm and the tunnel, the rainbow alley and the vivid bulbs filling the lawn.
The families around me simultaneously stop and stare upward when the path turns into the wood and the pines around us are swept in pinpoints of green fairy light, as fine as snow.
In past years, the hill has rung with music too. Songs swell up around us all now in some places, but the focus seems more on the light this year. And the relative quiet means I can hear the spontaneous responses around me.
A girl charges up from the woods calling this is so amazing — two sisters are absorbed in watching staff light a fire in the firepit at the outdoor café — and a girl circling through the tendrils of hanging blue-white lights in the Chinese pavilion says to her mother you have to swim through the jellyfish, and *it’s complicated* … all uncomplicated declarations of joy.
Unexpected moments catch hold of me, like the wreath on the heavy iron knocker and lights in the vines on the stone tower, and golden light on paperwhites and the scent of bulbs in the greenhouse.
And just as I’m thinking about the sound and wishing for some music, I walk through the round opening in the garden wall and hear Darlene Love belting out in Motown rhythm,
Do you remember sleigh riding in the snow
and dancing all night to ‘Baby, Please Come Home’ …
Her voice and her energy lift my spirits — the song’s a recognition of challenges and loneliness and closeness and gladness all at once, and it feels like good music for a garden full of wishing trees.
We write quietly, thoughts on strips of paper in silver ink — wishes for company, for healing, messages to people we love and miss. And then we tie them to the twigs, and they shake in the cold air. Standing in the garden in dark, I can hear people around me reading them out loud, standing close to the sapling trees.
I’ve read about traditions like this. Around the world, people seem to have talked with trees at high points in their lives (and asked comfort at low ones) Celtic people on journeys of faith and healing would set tokens near sacred wells, and they still do.
In Turkey they hang cloth on branches, or nazar (an amulet shaped like eyes, also a vow or a promise). At the Tanabata festival in Japan and the Qixi Festival in China, people will write prayers and thoughts and messages on colored paper. If we look far enough or deep enough, do all of these festivals share … roots?
Eyes all aglow
Naumkeag’s historic gardens shine with Winterlights in the annual holiday festival.
Events coming up …
Find more art and performance, outdoors and food in the BTW events calendar.