This is the halfway point of summer and everywhere there is a fullness and a generous abundance. Suddenly butterfly weed is blooming everywhere. Its clusters of small pointy blossoms really do attract butterflies. Hosts of swallowtails visiting a flowering clump make a sight not easily forgotten and one that is surely the very essence of summer.

The moon was an apricot lantern and then a silver one, and the air was warm and soft Wednesday night for the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association’s 103rd Grand Illumination in Oak Bluffs.

With its accustomed gusto – and perhaps a little more because it has a new leader, Robert M. Nute – the Vineyard Haven Band played sentimental Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes, and whistleable old favorites like the Washington Post, and the lilting Swinging Safari, for more than 2,000 Trinity Park visitors and residents. It was one of the loveliest Illumination Nights in recent memory, most agreed.

At 8 p.m., the program got underway with a Community Sing led by Gordon Almstead, with Catherine Carver Burton at the piano. There was a welcome from the Rev. Richard D. Bell, the Camp Meeting Association president, and then Donald E. Tilton of Vineyard Haven lit the first lantern. With aplomb, it was carried by Wentworth Tripp, head of maintenance at the Camp Ground, to the main entrance of the Tabernacle, where it bobbed, white and green and red, to signal the time for the lighting of all the lanterns around the park and to provide the flame from which the rest of those at the Tabernacle were lit.

It was 8:45 when the lanterns began to glow, the bells of Trinity Methodist Church pealed gaily, and there was an intermission in the band concert to allow foot-tapping oldsters and clapping youngsters to meander or to skip around the park. There they admired the gingerbread eaves, gay with green and pink and purple lanterns, long lanterns, round lanterns, pleated lanterns, silk, plastic, and paper lanterns. There were even mingled among the lanterns on William Grunden’s cottage, black painted soda cans, punctured with holes and lighted with Christmas tree bulbs (rather hard to obtain in July, the Grundens said. Even Sears Roebuck had none in supply in midsummer).

The largest number of lanterns – 502 of them – were at the house of Edward Hawkes of Springfield, Pa., whose collection has come from such faraway places as Singapore, Shanghai, Taiwan, Honolulu and China. Vying with the lanterns though, was his doorstep bouquet of silvery Queen Anne’s lace and orange butterfly weed.

The oldest lantern of all – or so it is said – is also at the Hawkes’, and reportedly has been there for 100 years. It came to them with the house. A few doors away, at Ms. Edith Kennedy’s, another one of about the same vintage, fashioned of rice paper and bamboo, and hand-painted painstakingly – 29 inches in diameter and 27 inches high – has had to undergo a little repair work in recent years, and has been covered with nylon net as a preservation measure, but the nylon net makes it gleam and shimmer in a particularly lovely way rather than detracting from it.

Down Fourth avenue, at Mr. and Ms. Franklin Cushings’, Puff, the Magic Dragon, clambered across the roof as he has every Illumination Night for the past 10 years, since the Cushings’ daughter, Betty, now Ms. David Surveck, created him of chicken wire and aluminum and dabbed his scales with red paint.

On virtually every Trinity Park porch, rockers rocked, and longtime residents recalled past Grand Illumination Nights as many of them proffered sherbet punch and fresh-baked cookies to their friends.

The precise origin of the celebration is not known but it began outside the Camp Ground, with all of Oak Bluffs participating. Then the center of the observance became the Tabernacle circle, and Illumination began to be the finale of the Methodist Camp Meeting season. Social spirit was combined with the original religious intent of the meeting; these were the love feast and the parting. Illuminations became a sharing in a special way of the religious and the social joys of summer, and visitors were welcomed, too, to come together under the Trinity Park oaks and sing and watch the lanterns brighten the night.

There were years when Governor’s Day, too, became a part of the program, and the perilous state of the nation was remarked about by orator after orator. But governors after a while sent their lieutenant governors and then lesser dignitaries, until Governor’s Day ceased to be. To most who attended Illumination Night that was just as well.

Occasionally, recently, the influx of off-Island visitors for the celebration has led to disorder and a sad alteration in the joyous mood that, for a century, has been the earmark of the event, but on Wednesday, thanks to the gentleness of the evening and the gentleness of the Camp Ground’s guests, it was a memorable Grand Illumination again.

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox