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.
I love walking at night. Something shifts as the dusk comes in, as though I can feel the air moving around bark and dried fern and lichen, and the spaces it moves through, and they’re shivering with possibility. I can feel the woods around me in the dark. And still it’s rare to be out like this under the trees, walking by firelight.
A chord lifts and holds. Light rises in the maple and pine. Two broad tree trunks are shining like a gateway, and the torchlit path winds through them.
Chris Bocchiaro, a lighting designer for theater, opera, dance and public art in the Boston area, has come together with theatrical scenic designer and architect Megan Kinneen and sound designer Greg Hanson to create a winter experience in light and sound.
At the foot of the hill, the melody line glides like a violin over a light shifting beat, and lights are floating in a grove of fir or spruce. They remind me of the tree snails that are supposed to live in the everglades in tapering spiral shells. In the dry season, they’ll fasten onto branches and hunker down until the rains come. I wanted to see them, the one time I’ve ever been near, but I never have yet.
The path turns into the courtyard in front of the house, and a long table is set with vials of glass and light. Color and sound wash toward me in a wave of choral voices, though Hanson told me a year ago that he created every sound himself and blended them together. He’s not only a one-man ensemble — he’s a one-man choir.
It feels like another dimension, to be outside in the cold while shapes in the Italian garden are glowing green and cobalt blue, like biodomes in an alternate reality. I wonder how many futures they could incubate, and how much could Wharton herself imagine this one. A night like this can feel old in the torchlight. I can half imagine mummers in the trees and candle-lit processions.
On a path in the woods, the tree trunks are streaked with red, and chimes are falling like rain over percussion rattle and the crackle of leaves. The moon is so bright I think I could follow this road by its light alone. And I wonder how I would feel then, and what I would see.