Color and light kindle in the cold (December 8 newsletter)

The colors stopped me. The flowers were dried, and they held deep, rich reds and golds. They were set in wreathes of herbs, fragile and vivid. In the first weekend in December, in a weekend of holiday walks and artisan fairs, I was wandering around in the flow of the North Adams farmers market, and I found Full Well Farm for the first time.

Meg Bantle and Laura Tupper-Palches grow the flowers and make the wreathes in Adams. Laura grew up on a cranberry bog on Cape, they explain on their website, and Meg she grew up here. She s is a sixth generation farmer: Her grandparents ran a dairy farm here as Burnett Farm in Adams for 40 years.

I don’t know how they can preserve petals as bright as though they were in the meadow yesterday, but I see them and come close. And I realize that kind of spontaneous sensory pull is what draws me to a booth in a market or into a local shop. It’s a sense of creativity and time, and someone’s hands making what I’m holding. It’s meeting people I’m glad to know live here, and finding something beautiful I never knew we had.

Full Well Farm brings wreathes of rosemary and dried flowers to the North Adams Farmers Market.
Photo by Kate Abbott

Full Well Farm brings wreathes of rosemary and dried flowers to the North Adams Farmers Market.

Wandering outside, I walked past a rainbow rhinoceros mural I’d never seen either — I wondered whether the artist has been reading Peter Beagle’s stories about unicorns and the massive one-horned karkadan. I turned into the Bear and Bee Bookshop, and Rye Howard (the co-owner) told me that Sue Hubble has written more than one book about living on the top of a mountain with a few thousand bees.

I’ve loved her writing for years, and suddenly the world has more of her. She lived in New England too, and she got to know the minute invertebrates and sea creatures on the coast.

This holiday season, I keep finding this kind of generosity. Naumkeag invites me behind the scenes when the lights are gleaming in the gardens. They’re finishing set-up for a press run through, and walking through the phosphorescent pine trees feels like coming into a rehearsal and talking with the actors about the story they’re living in.

And then I walk out through the cemetery in the moonlight. The moon is full, and I have never seen moonlight as bright. It lights me down the old dirt road to the center of town. I find a gate open in the hedge and step in among the marble headstones in the corner to spend a quiet moment with Pophnehonnuhwon, the leader and Captain colonists knew as Konkapot.

He has a stone here in his memory, beside Roxy Seebuck and Sarah Towsey, and I can see the light shining on the symbols of the Mohican nation. For a moment I can feel the earth I’m standing on and the hard frost on the winter grass.

And a few days later I’m wandering through North Adams and Williamstown. People and dogs are streaming up Spring Street for the holiday walk, and young jazz musicians are performing at WCMA. I find myself face to face with a Hokusai print of a punter skimming up river under the Kintai Bridge. He must have painted his first sketch on a spring day at dusk. The cherry blossoms are in bloom. The petals of a tree on below me on the river bank seem close enough to touch, the same light shade as the last light of the sunset.

A collie in holiday gear steps out in the annual Williamstown Reindog Parade. Press photo courtesy of Williamstown Chamber of Commerce.
Williamstown Holiday Walk

A collie in holiday gear steps out in the annual Williamstown Reindog Parade. Press photo courtesy of Williamstown Chamber of Commerce.

Outside here, the sun is out — it’s a rare afternoon, and I walk with a friend along the Hoosic to gather around a bonfire at a Hanukkah sing-along at Congregation Beth Israel. We’re circled on the terrace in the dark, and Rabbi Rachel begins Light One Candle, clear and low, strumming her guitar.

I know the Peter, Paul and Mary song for the Maccabees as they reclaim a place that was home for them, that hostile forces destroyed. They’re sweeping up broken fragments, refilling the lamps, trying to find some kind of calm and refuge.

‘Light one candle for the pain they endured
when their right to exist was denied …’

And I’m singing back to her, all the words I can remember. The fire stirs in the wind, and the night feels clear. And it feels like a gift.

Berkshire holiday events coming up …

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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