East over the Potomac, behind the silhouette of the Washington Monument, a smoky red glow lit the first morning of 1977. It began as a blush in the icy wind and swelled up into sunrise, clear and cold as the coming day.

The light came up, the street lamps dimmed, and the wind tumbled party noisemakers over the empty streets. It was half past seven. For most of Washington, the new year was still a sleepy memory of 1976 - a dry palate, a slowly settling stomach, an echo of music from the noisy night before.

For some, though, the year began long before sunrise.

Out is Waldorf, Md., D.C. Police Sgt. Thomas Lawless shook himself awake at 4:15 a.m. He dressed and shuffled out to his Pontiac for the long drive into Washington, his mind a blur, thinking only of the place nearby where someone had recently been killed driving down the wrong side of the road. Lawless watched for reckless drivers. Putting on his tie and nameplate at work in communications at the central station, would finish his waking process.

At 5:05, in the Greyhound station on New York Avenue NW, the last call for the Memphis bus crackled over the loudspeakers. Under the harsh ceiling lights, the travelers sat in long rows and waited, wearing hats, holding suitcases, sleeping. Shadowy figures moved on the coin-operated televisions.

"Kind of late to be out there partying," said a bus driver to a lone man leaning against a wall. The man looked glum. "She be out there doing it," he said.

In Georgetown, Jim King was out by 6 o'clock, wearing his green warmup suit, checking the river below the Potomac Boat Club to see whether he would be able to row. "All ice," he said, disappointed, his breath misty in the cold.

The frozen river heaved and creaked in the darkness. King said he would run a few miles on the towpath, instead of rowing, and then balanced on his toes and smiled down at the swirls of ice. "I can't think of anything prettier to look at the first day of the year," he said.

Natasha Sharice Staton was five hours and 53 minutes old at 6 a.m., and hungry. A nurse in Washington Hospital Center's intensive care nursery lifted Natasha from her incubator and bottle-fed her, the naked and dark-haired first Washington baby of the year, while Natasha Staton's mother, Patricia, rested in another ward.

Little Tavern hamburger stand No. 16, at 1110 H Street NW, was out of hamburgers. In the darkness, a drunk man swore at the girl behind the counter.

In Southeast, Naomi Muse heard the alarm clock at 6 o'clock. She had gone to bed at 3:30 a.m. She put on slacks and a sweater and drove to work at the People's drugstore on Thomas Circle, where she clerks in the sundries department. Cold, she thought, as she headed the car toward Northwest. Cold and dark.

As the sky lightened, Minnie Woden rose slowly from her bed at the Lutheran Home for the Aged at 18th and Douglas Streets NE. She had celebrated the night before - "We lifted our elbows a little," is how she put it, chuckling - but not enough to over-sleep. At the age of 78, she found New Year's Day delightful.

Eleanor Edelstein was up, too, on her way from Montgomery County to the New Hampshire Avenue NW building where she helps run Holiday Hotline, a crisis telephone service for people with alcohol and drug problems. Five calls had already stacked up on the overnight answering machine. There were alcoholics confronted by New Year's parties, depressed, drug users, a mother whose teen-aged son was drinking too much. The phone was ringing as Edelstein unlocked the door.

At 6:50, the Rev. Pat McCaffrey climbed out of bed in the brick rectory of the St. Francis de Sales Church on Rhode Island Avenue NE. The church would be cold after such a bitter winter night, and he had to heat the building for the 8 o'clock sermon, a celebration of the solemnity of the Blessed Mother. He would talk about reflection, Father McCaffrey had decided, about inward contemplation. It was a Catholic hold day, and the beginning of a new year.