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 moon is bright enough to make my way, and the first stretch of the path is quiet, through the double line of trees, tall dense connifers — are they firs? I can feel the winter grass under my feet. This corner of town feels like 300 years ago and more, pasture and stone and a right-of-way the cows could have walked through to the milking parlor.

Poinsettias glow in the greenhouse at Naumkeag in Winterlights.
Photo by Kate Abbott

Poinsettias gleam in the greenhouse at Naumkeag in Winterlights.

Then I’m walking up the old dirt road, and the house is above me on the hill, and I can see the whole sweep of thousand of lights. Winterlights fills the gardens in one great blaze. Stepping onto the garden path feels like walking on stage or onto the dance floor. The music is Mowtown, swing, jazzed up carols, and the ornaments on the trees are dancing with lighted stars.

The pathway turns through the woods, and the light and sound play with feeling and color. Here’s a miniature tree farm, and here the massive beech tree is glowing on the lawn. Here the light is vivid winterberry red and the long walk is a rainbow. Here the beat is picking up.

Naumkeag is our first local lightshow, and it’s always had a zany, family brightness. Kids run on the grass, teens talk on the paths, people cup hot drinks on the terrace. And you can move fast or slowly, and find a place to breathe or warm up when you want one.

Brian Cruey, Naumkeag’s manager, walked through the lighted house with me and out into the gardens on the far side, talking about new plans for planting in the new year. We walked into the courtyard of the the Chinese garden, and Globe lanterns were floating overhead, gleaming like bubbles.

As I wander around the hills this winter, I think … we can find different kinds of feeling within a winter holiday. NightWood at the Mount feels like solstice and fire in the dark. Local farms and candles in windows can give a feeling of family and shelter, from old new England to Bethlehem and Egypt. Wild Soul River explores Celtic celebrations of winter and Yule a thousand years ago.

Naumkeag holds elements of these, for me. I feel some of that quiet here. Phosphoresence is raining through a stretch of pine trees. The greenhouse is a warm enclosed place full of poinsettias and the sharp, clean smell of bulbs in clay pots.

But most of all, Naumkeag feels like a party. It’s the right kind of party — the people around you are friends, the music makes you laugh and get out of your chair if you happen to be in it, and you can move to the music without self-consciousness and sing.

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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