Don’t know about you, but I feel myself wearying of being in the dark thrall of a mad man. (Making that two words was intentional—he’s just angry, and thus engenders none of the empathy and understanding due someone who may be mentally ill.)
Knocked off balance by such brazen amorality and conniving, I have joined millions of others in groping toward a prudent response, but no amount or vehemence of thought or critique seems to suffice. Resist, yes, a solemn duty, but ultimately, it will likely be less outsiders’ resistance and more his self-immolation that will be the defining moment of this—and his—time.
Once again, Icarus flying high in his own fathomless self-regard, too close to the sun. It is a story as old as the first storytellers told.
Meanwhile, what other stories might we access in this time of trial? How might we break free, toward brighter lights and better angels within and among us all?
How about a kind of picture book? Of rainbows. Could there be a more gratifying means of going brighter and better than the solace (not to mention the childish, giddy joy) of beholding rainbows?
I think not.
And it just so happens that one appeared in front of me late this afternoon, at the tail end of an already eye-candied walk in which I took in random squizzles, minor mounds and sprawling carpets of colorful leaves fresh-blown from trees through a long day’s storm. It had already been a pretty darn good late fall day, I thought, with one of the block’s elite female ginkgo trees nearly completing the spreading of her jewels across a neighbor’s pristine green lawn.
She was more than deserving of her moment in the sun, seemed to me.
But that was just the warmup, I came to find out. The rainbow that stretched itself out just a few minutes later started modestly enough in a little bitty corner of the southeastern sky, sending its first tentative beams up a few degrees between my and my neighbor’s house as I let out an involuntary, if less than full-throated, little squeal.
Had my dog with me, groped for my camera, walked backwards with leash in one hand and camera readying in the other, trying to improve my angle. And by that time, the thing had shot up like one of those time-lapse photographs showing 365 sunrises and sundowns in a matter of seconds. So I started snapping, and here was the first one.
Then it became clear that the rainbow was only getting started. As tends to happen on such occasions, the sun came out just a little brighter as the rain started up again, half earnestly, and my dog started casting nervous glances my way, pleading with doleful eyes, “Whatever it is you’re doing out here, I’m not the least bit interested in getting wet for its sake.”
The little piker.
By the time I scurried the 30 yards or so to the house to let her inside, the rainbow was hurtling through its adolescence and promising not even to pause on its way through full brilliant adulthood and quick-coming senescence. So I lifted that phone camera skyward and resumed snapping.
And then all heaven broke loose.
Amidst the near-frenzy of clouds and rain and glancing light and my pointing and giggling and wow!!!ing and thinking to yell for every last neighbor to come out of every last house and just behold!, the thing just formed itself, in a perfect arc of ever brighter and deeper color, an inch and two at a time heading rapidly northwards, a multi-hued caravan that no one was about to call out the army to stop.
Verily, among the most magnificent rainbows I have ever come across.
These will not do its deep layered colors justice, but here they are anyway.
Interested to know how that happened? Science can explain it exactly:
“…we see that the rainbow ray for red light makes an angle of 42 degrees between the direction of the incident sunlight and the line of sight. Therefore, as long as the raindrop is viewed along a line of sight that makes this angle with the direction of incident light, we will see a brightening. The rainbow is thus a circle of angular radius 42 degrees, centered on the antisolar point…”
Ah yes, the “angular radius 42 degrees”—I’d almost forgotten!
But there are other explanations, from non-scientists:
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky.
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
That’s William Wordsworth (best surname ever for a poet!), and I think his explanation in “My Heart Leaps Up” is a bit more in line with my own sensibilities than is the one from ucar.edu above, however learned the latter is.
In the end, having a rainbow explained scientifically is interesting enough, in the kind of way that just about anything in our world can stimulate intellectual interest and curiosity and leave us wondering.
But there is wondering about something and seeking an answer, and then there is wonder. The former leads to investigation, research and rational understanding, the latter to poetry and transrational utterances of ecstasy and awe (in other words, true, foundational religion).
Both have their place, and both are essential if humankind is to flourish. In dark times and seasons such as we have been experiencing, when both are under certain kinds of assault by know-nothings of various narrow persuasions, it is more important than ever that we hold both their banners high.
A couple of weeks ago I heard “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” performed with a mandolin and guitar, and it floored me with its beauty. That version is not on YouTube (yet,), but this one with violin and piano is, and it is really swell, too.
Deep appreciation to the photographers! Unless otherwise stated, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing.
Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.
Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org