Friday, January 19, 2007


Shoshone Falls, near Twin Falls, Idaho

I'm always a fan of things in the sky -
  • At home, we affectionately refer to the Seattle cloudcover as Cumulus Abundus.
  • My husband proposed to me under an Autumn sky and our youngest child is named after a star in the Orion constellation we often watched out on evening walks back when we were dating.
  • I can recall sitting out on lawn chairs in the middle of the night during winter a couple of years back to watch the Aurora Borealis, and dragging a sleepy child out of bed to see it.
  • Last week we took the binoculars out to glimpse Comet McNaught against a magnificent winter sunset.
  • I love to watch the seagulls gliding and soaring on the wind high in the sky.
  • I love the snowflakes that fall like glitter, I love the smell of fresh raindrops, I love the falling leaves, and I love the summer sun.
  • Way back when I decided to write this post, I saw rainbows 4 days in a row (granted we have a lot of rain here in the Emerald City), but it was unusual, like some sort of sign that I should pay attention to.

And so . . . rainbows. It just makes sense that I'd wonder in awe about them - I always have. The fact that I have 3 little girls seems to amplify that somehow, and add something tender to my affection for rainbows.

I've often claimed that I've driven through the end of the rainbow, and have read accounts of others doing so. But it isn't possible, not really. I've done my research to make sure. And yet, who am I to let someone else dictate what is or isn't possible in my life? Things in the sky have a way of making me feel small sometimes, but not in a belittling way - more like I'm a small part of something so big it's thrilling to even try to comprehend.

Lots of things usually come up when you talk about rainbows. How many colors are there really, and is it purple or indigo? In your head you start humming the tune to 'Over the Rainbow' or 'The Rainbow Connection'. I know, it makes you feel sorta silly and kinda girly, but here's some trivia for you:
'Over the Rainbow' was first produced in the late 1930's (lyrics by EY Harburg, music by Harold Arlen). It became a symbol of home for US soldiers during WWII, and it tops the Songs of the Century List created by the Recording Industry Association of America. By my very modest estimates, it's been redone by about 125 artists (but in reality, more than double that) since way back when Dorothy (Judy Garland) sang it in the Wizard of Oz. 'The Rainbow Connection'
(written by Paul Williams & Kenneth Ascher) is a little more modern and makes you feel a little cooler, a little more hip, right? I mean, after all, that one's been remade by the Dixie Chicks, Jason Mraz, Willie Nelson, Kenny Loggins, Sarah McLachlan . . oh, and about 40 others. But guess who's credited with the original version? None other than Kermit the Frog for the Muppet Movie in 1979. That song received both oscar nominations and golden globe nominations in 1979 and was a huge radio hit. Both songs have been credited with a symbolism for the youth of their generation: a promise of hopes and fulfilling dreams amidst a yearning for what promises might lie ahead; a desire for something else, something better, something more satisfying.

So what's in a real rainbow? If you don't know, a rainbow is caused by rays of light that are bent as they enter a water droplet, and when they are refracted (bounced back the other direction), the light is separated into a color spectrum. By definition, a rainbow does not actually exist. It is considered merely an optical phenomenon seen only from the position of the observer. It's position is dictated by the position of the sun in relation to water droplets in the air, and the point of the observer. More specifically, "The position of a rainbow in the sky is always in the opposite direction of the Sun with respect to the observer. The bow is centered on the shadow of the observer's head, or more exactly at the antisolar point (which is below the horizon during the daytime), appearing at an angle of approximately 40°–42° to the line between the observer's head and its shadow." (wikipedia)
Scientifically you cannot reach the end of a rainbow. No two people see the exact same rainbow because they are at different vantage points. You can see the end of a rainbow from afar, and I've wondered so many what if's . . . if a cloud moved over the sun, and bent the sun rays at a different angle and they refracted and reflected through the curvature of the raindrops just at the moment you were moving toward the rainbow, could you reach it? . . . but it gets complex and there's still the laws of physics to contend with.

Kind of a funny thing - a rainbow is beautiful, colorful, isn't really there, and you can never reach it. Sort of an alluring fantasy, isn't it? But sort of like human nature in life. We seem to always wonder what's on the other side, what's out there, what more is there? How do we reach ultimate bliss and beauty in our lives? And yet, what we see, isn't the same as what anyone else sees. And tangibly, it doesn't exist at all. What one person perceives as eternal happiness, another person might not even notice.

Rainbows make me think, and they make me feel, and they leave me with a continuously unsolved mystery. For me, those are the important things in life. But that's me, and I suppose it's gotta be different for everyone else, doesn't it? A couple last notes . . if you've never heard Israel Kamakawiw'ole's version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful world, now would be a good time to listen ( - it's amazing. And I can't seem to find where this quote came from, but is sure makes a lot of sense:
"We must each paint our rainbow from the colors we've been given."


IHateToast said...

1) only two songs make me cry. puff the magic dragon by pp&m and iz's version of over the rainbow.

2) one time at work we could see a rainbow out of our side of the building. the ones to stop work to look? all the men, two women.

3) and i love the eerie green skies that look like the underneath of egg cartons before one monster storm.

4) i've missed you.

stephruns said...

I'm attracted myself to rainbows! It might sounds really cheesy, but when I was a kid I collected the care bears stickers and me and my friends played we live on top of the rainbow...

when i quitt my job i had a vision of a rainbow. hmmmmm...

*jeanne* said...

When my husband and I were married (in Maui), I bought a helicopter ride for us as the "bride's gift to the groom". The pilot found a rainbow and we dove around and around it, watching how, when seen from the SKY, a rainbow makes a FULL CIRCLE.
They're really there. Just because you can't CATCH them doesn't mean they aren't THERE. I think they're there all the time, you just can't always see them.

Josh said...

Here's a thought... Since rainbows are all about perspective the pot of gold at the end of someone's rainbow could be you.

Sarah said...

My son's pet name for me is "My Rainbow." We like to dance to the rainbows when we let swing the crystal hanging on a string in our kitchen window. And this morning while I was out running he took dozens of pictures of the rainbows on the kitchen floor. We like rainbows too. : )

13akbal said...

they are indigo and violet, not just purple.

i love that the rainbow you see is not the same rainbow that i see when we stand together to look at one. it really does put perspective into.. well.. perspective :-)

JustRun said...

I love love love Iz's version of Over the Rainbow. I'm equally fascinated by a rainbow and what it is. Always have been. I saw a full circle rainbow from a plane once, that was amazing.

Also, I've been know on more than one occasion to break out into my own version of The Rainbow Connection. :)

Running Rabbit said...

I'm so glad I don't teach science!

Just12Finish said...

Duh - I immediately thought about Kermit and how long it's been since I heard that song. Didn't even know about the remakes!

Nice quote BTW.

Kurt said...

My youngest loves rainbows and we did an inquiry project on them for school. Learned a lot about them when we did it.

I didn't realize you were in Seattle. I grew up there!

Anne said...

Sounds like rainbows are nature's way of reminding us not everything can be explained. My favorite version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" is also by the now deceased Hawaiian singer Izzy Kamakawiwo'ole. It has a hint of melancholy laced into the hopeful message. The troops would have approved of it.

Angie said...

this put a smile on my face. thanks for sharing.

D said...

Great post.