Who is saving what daylight?

FOR at least a month now people have been waking up in the middle of the night, otherwise known as morning at this time of year - just waiting for the clocks to fall back so they wouldn't have to begin their day, groping through the shrubbery for the newspaper: a small patch of whiteness in a world of black. Living in a time warp where 7 in the morning seems like 3 a.m. has its charms. When else, at that hour, can you look up through the boughs of a tree at stars arranged like early Christmas lights? When else can you go to work ``by the light of the silvery moon'' - and your high-beam headlights?

Just when your dawn gets so dark as to be ridiculous - black comedy - you are permitted, indeed required, to adjust your time zone to a common-sense sunrise. In exchange, of course, you lose your common-sense sunset, leaving you to do your return commute with ``the shades of night falling fast,'' from 4 p.m. on.

There is a charm to premature dusk as well - streetlamps blinking on with soft pools of light before the children can fairly scuff their way through the leaves, coming home from school. But until the winter solstice, when the day (as in daylight) shrinks to its minimum and then starts to grow back, no amount of fiddling with the beginning and the end will fool a sun-starved Northerner.

The Swiss Guards, who ought to know, used to sing an 18th-century song: ``Our life is a voyage/ Into the winter and the night.''

In November we all become Swiss Guards.

The end-of-the-world Cassandras divide between those who warn of the greenhouse effect and those who warn of the return of an Ice Age. In November the ``greenhouse effect'' - the turned-up thermostat - seems the preferable doom, as dooms go.

``Light, more light'' - this is supposed to have been Goethe's last request, and it is ours in November. It is the darkness, more darkness that goes with the cold, more cold that constitutes the November problem.

The essayist and poet Loren Eiseley quoted an Eskimo shaman, speaking for his people: ``We fear the cold and the things we do not understand'' - that is, the hidden things, the things in the dark. But the final darkness, the final coldness, Eiseley concluded, rests in the unenlightened heart, and this is what the shaman meant when he added: ``Most of all we fear the doings of the heedless ones among ourselves.''

The darkening days, the chilling nights of November can be countered by log fires, comforting with both light and warmth.

The dark and wintry heart, as always, takes more doing. How do you thaw life's icemen? How do you bring ``the heedless ones'' back to the light?

But if the dark and wintry heart means the mood, the November mood, that can settle like early twilight on anybody, there are geniuses who can banish the spell, though it does take genius. As you throw another log on the fire, put a little Mozart or Haydn on the turntable and reread Shakespeare's song that sings with the exuberance of a springtime lyric:

``When icicles hang by the wall,'' leading to the chorus, ``Tu-whit tu-who - a merry note.''

At that moment, who does not feel sorry for tropic folks, never privileged to know how good it feels to take off a frozen-stiff mitten and light a candle at, say, 3:45 p.m. on a November afternoon? Almost makes you want to tear up your reservation to go to the Caribbean - almost but not quite.

A Wednesday and Friday column

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