THESE ARE the darkest of times in the bay region. The Northern Hemisphere wallows in the trough of light's annual wave, which crested June 21 on the sun-soused summer solstice, when day lasted about five hours longer than now.
Incrementally, the day length has begun to rise from its low ebb about Dec. 21, the winter solstice, but never fast enough to sate my appetite for light.
Light is the absolute of our universe. Even before hanging the sun and planets and creating Earth from the void, God, if you take your Genesis literally, switched on the lights.
And if Einstein was correct, the speed of light is our ultimate limit, something we can never outdistance.
And anyhow, why would we want to: for everything light touches, it turns to colors.
Newton, when he used prisms to first demonstrate the rainbow hues bound in white light, arbitrarily assigned to these colors values that corresponded to the seven notes of the musical scale.
Color and music do seem related in the depth and scope of emotions both can evoke. Both also are variations of what physicists refer to as resonance.
Everything gets colored depending on the portion of the spectrum within which its molecules vibrate. Differences in resonance don't just sort one color from another. They are why a grape plops but a marble clicks, why a flute whistles and a cello moans.
I would take this a step further-- that humans resonate very sympathetically to light and color. It would help to explain how the beauty of a sunrise or sunset can stir emotions so strong they are almost painful; how a perfect, blue autumn sky can inspirit your whole day.
When the light is so scant as now seems a fitting time to celebrate it, a time to dress warmly and be out and about, feasting on every scrap.
And the bay, with its extensive edges of land and marsh and water, sets an exceptional table.
The choicest time to start is not at sunrise, but at first light, or dawn, which occurs about an hour before sunup. It is mostly duck hunters who are about at such times. But it would be well worth building blinds around the bay's edge just as places where one could hunker and see by the dawn's early light.
You would see first light filet the Eastern sky with strokes deft as a surgeon's, delicate as a watercolorist's, liberating exquisite tints and shapes from the gray-black bulk of night.
You would watch the colors pass from hints to frozen pastels, then warming, thawing, glowing, flaming.
Long before the land, the water wakes to the new day. When it still appears black as obsidian, just the subtle wake of a duck pTC issuing from the reeds will catch the sky, tracing gouts of liquid fire across the dark, silken surface of a cove.
Next the little creeks and coves extending into the land's edges begin to glow in sympathy with the sky, stabbing the dark marsh with fiery oranges and shining crimson.
Now the land is developing like a photographic print; cedars, fields, wharves, all tugging apart from the featureless gray of early morning, assuming their forms, textures and colors.
Then comes the sun, long combers of pure white light rolling across the landscape, seeking beachheads on which to vent their spectrum of colors -- crashing goldenly on a field of corn stubble, investing a bald cypress with glowing cinnamon, flushing a dozen shades of green from pines and everywhere else chlorophyll is encountered. Wild geese breasting the light seem armored in bronze.
The salt marshes provide a whole other canvas for the play of light -- not so much reflective as the water -- rather, interpretive, mixing colors with textures gathered from both sky and breeze.
And all this is just a few hours' encounter on a clear, sunny morning. Fog-filtered light creates a whole different world, drawing colors from the marsh grasses you never knew were in them.
And the pearly-gray skies you sometimes get, where water and sky fuse in a luminous monochrome, make swans simply glow as they take wing.
The colors of this world are so beautiful to us, it is humbling to realize that may be largely an unintended bonus.
It is bees and hummingbirds that must find blossoms to pollinate, and denizens of coral reefs that use color for organizing complex community structures that seem to need color. And we are merely enthralled and ensorceled by it.
Our species' huge capacity for processing light and color goes well beyond anything needed for survival.
But maybe that is the lesson -- that life is meant to be about so much more than the necessary and the bottom line.
All I know for sure is there are few better places to ponder such questions than from a Chesapeake edge on a winter's dawn.
Pub Date: 1/02/98