The Solace of Rainbows

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.


There’s green lawn under that gold carpet, really…


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.


Growing by leaps & bounds…


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.


A last kiss to my front yard catalpa tree, passing on in glory with its end due next week


Doubling up…


The art of the arc…


Last moments…


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 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.

Check out this blog’s public page on Facebook for 1-minute snippets of wisdom and other musings from the world’s great thinkers and artists, accompanied by lovely photography.

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:

Rainbow photos by Andrew Hidas

17 comments to The Solace of Rainbows

  • Dawn Helman  says:

    Natural beauty. So “uplifting.” A good omen. Thanks for the reminder that all things rise and fall away. This too, the reign of the madman, shall pass. Natural beauty and disaster will be with us always. Our presence with and compassion for ourselves, others, and the planet will rise us up in the colors of the rainbow.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Yes, the slightly bittersweet news is that rainbows are so fleeting, the very happy news: so are mad men! (Unless we spiral further into their clutches, but I’m counting on that not happening…) Thanks for this, Dawn!

  • Angela  says:

    …..and then, there is wonder.

  • Karen  says:

    Thanks for the word squizzle!!! That’s a new fave!

    Your images are amazing and, as always, your words are thought provoking. I am reminded to appreciate the beauty that is always all around us no matter what might show up on the front page.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      You’ll find multiple definitions for “squizzle” in online dictionaries, Karen, but mine means…what it meant here! :-)

      Yes, that front page…curiously, sometimes devastatingly addictive. It is good to blow right by it on occasion, and it would be even better if I took my own advice on that matter!

  • Mary  says:

    Thank you so much for these photographs!!

    I am reminded here of a quirky slogan from an exceptionally quirky group (of which I am a proud member), the Cloud Appreciation Society. It exists to showcase clouds in all their varied glory and its abiding slogan is “Down with Blue Sky Thinking!”, which is to say that our preoccupation with sunny days being the only “good’ weather” is hopelessly flawed, and we would do well to more frequently look up, notice and appreciate the clouds, the sky and their endless shifting parade of light and shadow.

    I could go further to discuss the apparent and abundant metaphor here, of the eternally shifting weather within each of us, that the combination of dark and light, storm and sun in the sky, in our life, often creates brilliance and joy. However, I think the rainbow is sufficiently articulate on this point.

  • Julie Johnson  says:

    Beautiful images, Andrew. And they illustrate so clearly something my father pointed out long ago: whenever there is a double rainbow, the sky between the rainbows is darker than that outside. Thanks for a hopeful message, and for making me pause to think of my dad, who applied his scientific bent of mind in ways that did not detract, but enhanced beauty for me, whether it was rainbows, music, or geological forms.

  • Andrew Hidas  says:

    I’m gonna raise you one, Mary, by offering up a link to that most worthy Cloud Appreciation Society:

    Such a lovely Christmas gift a membership might make for one Traversing reader or other!

    Also want to invite you to indeed “go further to discuss the apparent and abundant metaphor” of eternally shifting weather, etc… Maybe over the weekend?? :-)

    Julie, it does my heart very much good to know that anything I might write causes someone to pause and fondly reflect on a parent. We hear and read so much (thinking about Karen’s “front page” reference above), regarding far different kinds of parents than yours (and mine; fortunate we both were…). So it’s very nice to hear the kind of reflection you’re sharing here.

    And you’re exactly right about science carrying the seeds of enhancing what I consider essentially religious sensibilities of beauty, awe, etc. rather than having such knowledge beget a dismissive, reductionistic “scientism.” Also had no idea about that double rainbow phenomenon your dad pointed out. More wonders! Thanks for holding these points up to the light.

  • Al Haas  says:

    Speaking of scientism, what a great invention, the photographic camera. So much of what we witness is so fleeting and so difficult to share. That you could manage those gorgeous photos while out walking your dog is marvelous. You’ve fulfilled my closest verbal distillation of “the meaning of life”: to appreciate beauty and share it with others. Thanks, Andrew.

  • Kevin Feldman  says:

    What a delight-filled post – and replies… love it… stunning pics, am sure National Geographic will be knocking on your door soon! Mary is certainly spot on with “Down with blue sky thinking” & the Cloud Appreciation Society (reminds me of an old fav Twilight Zone where the bad guy mob killer goes to what he thinks is heaven where he always wins at pool etc, everything is smooth and programmed till he drives him crazy and he tells one of the “angels” – “I was a really bad guy in life and think I should be in other place”… of course the “angel” looks at him and slowly says… “you ARE in the other place”!!) – love your readers’ comments re: how science (and the tech it’s given us) can enhance our experience of awe and beauty without necessarily going down the rabbit hole of scientific reductionism (but am sure that has its place too, knowledge can enhance awe as well!)… Here’s to walking the dog (or in my case dogs), will do that right now!

  • Andrew Hidas  says:

    Al, I think that’s as good a working definition or barometer of the “meaning of life” as most others, and though I’m tempted to try to wriggle the word “love” in there somewhere, perhaps we could borrow from Keats’s “Beauty is truth/truth beauty” maxim and bend it to our purposes somehow: The meaning of life is “To love beauty and share it in love with others.” Might be fun to toy around with variations on that theme! Or an updated secular trinity: Truth, Beauty, Love.

    Kevin, saw that Twilight Zone episode not all that long ago and thought it brilliant, just as so much of Mr. Serling’s work was. Packed a lot of thinkin’ stories into those 22-minute episodes, that man did! He was his own kind of genius, I think.

    Yep, Julie’s point was indeed the conjoining of science and awe, if you will (and more widely, I think, math & poetry, right brain & left, etc.). I always think of Carl Sagan with this, and what amounted to his profound pro-science/anti-scientism stance as he stared in reverence & awe at his beloved cosmos, atheist though he was (and a profoundly religious one, in my book), refusing to remain unmoved by what he beheld. But that’s another post, or a past post (or two…), so thanks for contributing to this one!

  • Robert Spencer  says:

    Rainbows mean much more to me than just that space beyond where stars shine, moons revolve, clouds roll, bluebirds fly, troubles vanish, and dreams live. It’s much more personal to me. Rainbows were a constant motif in so many of my father’s paintings. The rainbow’s spectrum in a sense became his signature. He said, “To me it (rainbow) is the analogy of life, You break the light into prisms, and you get all this color. Without light, without the sun, there is no life as we know it. When I put it into a painting, it is a representation of life.” I tried to paste one of his oils ( “Tocatta Per Tempore”) into my reply,but failed; I assume it doesn’t support image downloading. Drew, if interested in viewing how he incorporated the spectrum into his paintings, google “Harold Spencer artist” and click images.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Yeah, comments aren’t set up to handle images, Robert, though I may talk to my programmer about that and see if it’s possible. Meanwhile, why don’t you email me that image you were thinking of and I’ll see about getting it in somewhere above. Thanks!


      Ah yes, am back after making a visit to the Harold Spencer page—quite some love affair your father had with color, it seems. Stared a long time at the “Jardine de los Muertos” piece and yes, he seemed to snag every color in the rainbow there—for an honoring of the dead! Made a Georgia O’ Keefe connection almost immediately—saw an exhibition of hers just recently; your father was a fan of hers, I assume?

      Can’t quite figure out what to do with these pieces in the context of this post, but I’ll keep it close by for the future, thanks for sending a few samples along. Wish there was more online, and how come there’s not? Because most of his work is in private collections and more unavailable to the public domain than not, perhaps?

  • Jeanette Millard  says:

    Well this was a very nourishing read, Andrew and commenters. More of this!! I finally got time to read this post, as sunlight pours in my many windows and my dog moves along the floor following its path. I just loved the image that Julie (and her father) added: “whenever there is a double rainbow, the sky between the rainbows is darker than that outside.” That is now my personal image of hope.
    And this has all put me in mind of one of my favorite poems, which may feel odd since it appears full of pain. (And the defense of madness certainly does not apply to *our* mad man…but to those who struggle with mental illness…) -but the first line fills me with hope. Even when “the edge is what I have.
    At the risk of a too-long post, here it is!

    In a Dark Time


    In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
    I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
    I hear my echo in the echoing wood—
    A lord of nature weeping to a tree.
    I live between the heron and the wren,
    Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

    What’s madness but nobility of soul
    At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
    I know the purity of pure despair,
    My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
    That place among the rocks—is it a cave,
    Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

    A steady storm of correspondences!
    A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
    And in broad day the midnight come again!
    A man goes far to find out what he is—
    Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
    All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

    Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
    My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
    Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
    A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
    The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
    And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Jeanette, if this Comments section accepted fotos, I would attach one here showing the Roethke section of my home library—nine well-thumbed volumes, some heavily underlined, others which I couldn’t bear to deface in that way. This poem is behind only “The Far Field” in my esteem, and in my continual return to it nearly 40 years after I came across his work (I believe via a volume by his one-time paramour and soulmate Louise Bogan, no small talent in her own right).

      So blessings upon you, my dear, for holding Mr. Roethke dear enough to yourself for sharing here. I think I’ve referenced him multiple times on this blog, the most recent in concluding the post on Ernest Becker several weeks ago. But I’m surprised to look back and realize I’ve never devoted an entire post to him. Oughta rectify that matter sooner rather than later!

      • Jeanette Millard  says:

        Well that is good to know! I *think* my father told me he had a class (in math?) from Roethke. Can that be? Anyway I have loved him forever though have not read him widely. Can you suggest a volume?

        • Andrew Hidas  says:

          His “Collected Poems” are widely available, starting at a buck-forty on Amazon, not terribly thick (he was no prolific Whitman, having died at a mere 55), and a lovely study with some bio material (“Theodore Roethke: The Garden Master”) is a mere six bucks. Happy reading!

          Not sure about that math class; will have to investigate. I do know he was a much beloved poetry teacher at Univ. of Washington, but he may have taught high school earlier in his life; been a long time since I read his bio!

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