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January 5, 1995

In every gardener, there's also a dream lurking somewhere on the premises, especially during the bitterly cold days of a winter deepfreeze. The dream of an early spring day that's sunny enough and warm enough to be outside in the garden. Or a dream of the first summer harvest. Or the first ripe tomato. Or the first fresh tomato sauce, redolent with the aroma of fresh chopped basil and minced garlic. And there's nothing like the arrival of the spring gardening catalogues to help the dream along, glowing with emblems of summer. A ripe tomato (or two or three) prominently in the foreground of almost every cover, like the watercolor still-life of vegetables on the Shepherd's Seed catalogue that turned up in the mailbox this afternoon. And not only some glowing red tomatoes, but also a glossy purple eggplant, a cranberry-colored head of radicchio, a bright yellow pepper sitting next to a green pepper turning red at the top of its shoulders, a couple heads of pale white garlic, a few sprigs of basil, and a big crinkly green leaf of kale, all appetizingly arrayed upon a bright blue-and-yellow-striped tablecloth. As sunny as summer itself.

As sunny as winter, too, at least for the moment. No matter how bad the temperature or the windchill gets in January, the sun seems to shine more brightly now than at any other time of the year. An illusion aided, no doubt, by its low angle in the sky and its reflection on the snow. It shines more regularly too. Five days in a row so far. The color of its reflected light and the texture of the shadows it casts on the snow change continuously, as I can see from my third-floor perspective. Early this morning at sunrise, it cast a shadowless orange aura over the backyard. A few hours later the yard seemed bathed in a piercingly white light, broken only by the sharply defined and very dark shadows of the trees. A few hours later, the shadows began to soften and the light turned faintly yellow. And now, late in the afternoon, the shadows have completely disappeared, the snow is grayish, and soon it will change color again at the fabled blue hour.

No wonder the Scandinavians cherish the sun so much they've developed a special light bulb to compensate for the long periods when they're deprived of sunlight. I first heard about such light bulbs when I was reading the newspaper this morning, and one of them exploded in the table lamp just a few feet from my head, scattering its pale purple shards on the carpet around my feet. A few minutes later, Kate hustled downstairs to see what had happened, and it was then that she explained to me how these light bulbs are meant to "cut down on depression and lift your spirits," because, as one of the ads for them reports, "their bright, glare free light is the closet thing to natural daylight." Natural daylight, thank God, doesn't explode just a few feet from my head, but it does lift my spirits. Even now, when its glow is barely perceptible in the snow that is so blue, so blue as to be inseparable from the sky.