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Welcoming First Light

2012 March 12

By Alice Kaufman

When I awoke this morning, I realized I’ve mentally turned the corner on winter. It happens every year, sometime around mid-January when I realize the days are getting longer. I may have felt it earlier this year because I spent the holidays in Alaska. This time of year in Alaska, the lazy winter night shifts slowly to morning at about 9 am and then thoughtlessly leads to darkness again around 3:30 pm. In Alaska it is the season for reading, walking with headlamps, visiting friends and sharing hot tubs. But back in New England, I am already embracing the longer days.

This morning after punching the alarm clock into submission I noticed first light. It was 6:20 a.m., still the dead of night for Alaskans. Outside, the earth still slumbered in the night shadows but the horizon was beginning to lighten. The sun wouldn’t be up for another hour but the pre-dawn light was spreading like an impressionist painting.

First light is like the beginning of the symphony, when musicians are fine tuning their instruments before the piece begins. It’s the space before the performance when expectation fills the air. You often miss it, not paying attention in the hurried expectation of the real thing. But the true first light is a breathtaking marvel. It is the awakening of the spirit to a wholly new day. First light – or nautical horizon as it is sometimes called – is the time between night and dawn when the center of the morning sun is between 6 and 12 degrees below the horizon. The illuminating sky is the scattering of light from the upper atmosphere down to the lower atmosphere. This period of time in the day is brief in New England. But in the northern reaches of Alaska it can last for hours. At the poles, it can last for weeks.

While I concerned myself with the varying light of early morning, some 700 delegates from 70 countries were arguing in Geneva whether to abolish the leap-second (NYT 1.19.12). While I watched the imperceptible slip into morning, others were concerned that our clocks, the human-devised keepers of time, are accurate.

While others calibrate milliseconds, I bask in the timelessness of light, as moments turn into daily rhythms and evolve into the rhythms of our seasons.

About the author:  Alice Kaufman works in EPA’s Boston office. She loves to travel, is an avid backcounty hiker, and frequently tromps through Thoreau’s woods in her home town with her husband and kids, and Watson, her mischievous Golden Retriever.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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3 Responses leave one →
  1. Arman.- permalink
    March 12, 2012


    Dear Alice,
    I impress with your experience and feel so naive still life in this planet. Sometimes I feel so strongest but in the other time so sad, alone and smallest when to see the sunshine. Like the lion which feel the king in the forest, they lose when the people shot them and its extinction, except us. Just the people who being read the sign of them….

  2. wade harter permalink
    March 12, 2012

    Alice – Those who do not experience the joy of a new day as you have just described or the evening shadows ending another day or the adventure of relating to and becoming a part of nature are really missing a part of what God has so graciously given each of us as we journey thru this existance on planet earth. I am indeed grateful for the desire and health to be able to spend time amoung the outdoors.

  3. Anonymous permalink
    March 12, 2012

    Thank you for your thoughts.

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