Sunrise burnishes a drab cityscape

It's barely audible - the soft impress of feet on the deep pile of the bedroom carpet. Is it really heard or just felt? In either case, it wakens me. And as I peer toward the edge of the bed, a fluffy ginger tail, held high, passes like a military standard. Although the maneuver comes well ahead of the alarm clock, I yield to it - but not for the cat's sake.

I crawl out from under the comforter and reach over to raise the window shade. I wonder if the sight that transfixed me yesterday morning will appear, but so far there's only a slightly rosy tinge to the gray dawn. I have to find out ... So I crawl back into bed, prop myself up with pillows so I can look out over the rooftops - and wait.

And as I wait, I try to find something to praise in what I see. Some roofscapes are inherently atmospheric, like the rows of mansard roofs that greeted my first morning in Paris. This one is not.

Immediately across from my window is one of Boston's public alleys. So many of them are quaint, with twists and turns and vine-covered fences. This one, however, is dead straight and strictly utilitarian, lined by the sheer brick walls of apartment houses.

Three slender church steeples, seemingly identical, form a line that recedes toward the southwest and a low ridge of hills. By dawn's light, the distant hills are too hazy to counteract the expanse of rooftops. And the greenery of tree crowns, which would have softened the edge of roofs, has been lost to the first freeze of winter.

And so I lie here, waiting, as my gaze wanders over a vista of tarpaper, pipes, ventilators, and aluminum sheds. I could just get up and feed the cat, but I have to see if yesterday morning's scene will replay.

And then it begins.

A gleam appears from a cluster of chimney pots atop a low, square gray-stone church tower. Then comes another, until the whole cluster is aglow in a deep burnished bronze, greeting the sky like the warm alto section of a choir.

From other rooftops come faint echoes and then similar outbursts of shimmering bronze.

Slowly, one by one, the terra cotta pots surrounding a roof garden across the street take on a ruddy tinge and begin to glow. One can almost feel the heat radiating from them. Terra cotta - of course! That's "cooked earth" in Italian, and here the sun's rays are firing them back to life.

A brick wall facing south above the alley catches the rays coming between two buildings, as does the east-facing wall across the street. The brick facades turn a deep corduroy-like russet and contrast with the play of light above them.

I don't know how long I watch, but the bronze fades, and the rising sun catches the last clusters of golden leaves on boughs that barely reach above the edges of flat roofs.

The softest of morning breezes ruffles the leaves, making them glitter like a gypsy's bangles.

That, too, passes and the sunlight becomes white, catching the complementary white of window shades, the trim of window frames, then the aluminum flashings between roofs and walls. It sparkles off the layer of frost on flat tarpaper roofs.

Finally, the sky becomes a field of unrestricted light, and the only contrast comes from dark shadows on rooftops, where black chimney pots jut upward in all their prosaicness. The frost starts to melt, leaving dark patches.

The spell is broken. I sigh and look over the edge of the bed. A pair of adamantine green eyes stare up at me. Every waiting fiber of ginger cat says: Feed me!

And so I rise - fully intending to feed her. But first I detour to raise the shades in the living room. My gasp startles the cat.

Below, the entire street is a bonfire of gold-tipped flames. A canopy of scarlet and yellow maple leaves stretches from sidewalk to sidewalk, and the sun - now aloft to the south - is beating straight down the street and has set them alight. I pick up the cat to share the sight, but she wriggles out of my arms and heads for the kitchen.

I take a deep breath and follow her - she has been patient. And I have had a surfeit of glory.

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