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Light in January

WINTER can be gentle in New England - when you're warm, when storms subside quickly and snowfalls linger on the municipal golf course, when geese convene along the banks of the Charles and office workers look for excuses to walk outdoors on late sunny mornings downtown. Days begin to lengthen. The year's opening wedge of daylight starts to widen perceptibly in January. Resolutions to get about more, to seek crowds and not just solitude, or at least to join others at the hearth, become more credible.

Though winter's end won't come until March, and even then powerful nor'easters can attack into April, one's optimism becomes more sustainable. Seed and garden catalogs arrive, newsletters from the rhododendron and lily and primula societies. The spring and summer garden takes root in the imagination; mail orders for plants, seeds, and paraphernalia (a new catalog for British gardening tools came in the mail this week!) go out.

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January nights are still too long. Commuting in dim light, if not darkness, can be arduous, especially when the workweek is no longer punctuated by the year-end holiday breaks. Next weekend, however, the new Martin Luther King Jr. holiday offers a mid-January respite to which we are not yet accustomed.

January can be demanding. Students must submit outlines for their honors theses. The ambitious start gathering tax forms and guides. Budgets, plans for corporate and community action, are drawn with ice-storm accountability.

Yet the air is clearer these cold nights. Jupiter and Mars are distinct, the moon's orbit at its 18-year extremes. Winter's visibility makes a bond between night and day that reassures those who are alert.

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