Gifts of time and touch can hold warmth

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 in what you combine, and how much, explains herbalist Leslie Alexander. You can make up a blend for a friend, she says, and choose each element in it for them. You can 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 here in this holiday season — 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.

Musicians perform at the Great Barrington Arts Market's annual holiday marketplace.
Great Barrington Arts Market

Musicians perform at the Great Barrington Arts Market's annual holiday marketplace.

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 Wild Soul River or 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.

By the Way Berkshires is a digital magazine exploring creative life and community — art and performance, food and the outdoors — and I’m writing it for you, with local voices, because I’ve gotten to know this rich part of the world as a writer and journalist, and I want to share it with you.

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