A Rainbow in the West

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Early morning rainbow in the west, October.

When a delicate early-morning rainbow appeared late last week, I hustled to find the camera and take a picture. “We almost never see rainbows in the morning,” I was thinking to myself.

And it’s true. Most of the time, rainbows here are captured in the beams of late-day sun, riding the tails of afternoon thundershowers. The combination of time of day and weather conditions means that a  rainbow’s prismatic arch usually appears in our eastern viewshed, often straddling Pikes Peak.

The landscape in the other direction, which was underneath last week’s morning rainbow, is lovely, albeit not as striking as the mountain view. I probably look out our west-facing windows more often than any other during the course of the average day. The pasture lies that way, and I frequently check to see if the horses are in sight and if so what they’re doing. The road leading to our place threads in from the west, and I’m nosy enough to peer out and see if I know who’s driving by if I hear a vehicle. I also watch for my husband driving in, when he’s due to be coming home from work.

The photo I took of the recent rainbow was nice enough, but the context of the image lay beyond the camera’s frame. I wanted a picture more as a way of recording the unusual position and timing than of capturing the bow itself. I couldn’t get the entire rainbow in the camera’s frame, anyway; it was huge, writ large by a sun still low in the sky, just beginning its day in our part of the world.

Not long after I snapped that picture, I realized I’d actually seen rainbows organized in my western view more than once lately. It hadn’t occurred to me that they were in the west, glowing during morning hours, because I wasn’t at home. Everything about the landscape I was in at the time was novel. My focus was on being with people and enjoying a new place, not thinking about context or significance.

Our vacation in late September took us to Ireland, where we spent a week on the Dingle Peninsula, a rocky finger of land pointing into the north Atlantic. We’d rented a comfy house with captivating views of the coast, and invited my Mom and some friends from England to visit and share it. More than once during our stay, I glanced out the big front windows to see a rainbow over the waves, lit by sunshine shot between low and fast-moving clouds.

In my admittedly limited experience in Ireland, rainbows are common but fleeting. Rain and drizzle coursing swiftly over the emerald landscape make them likely any time of the day. They’re often partial, bent snippets of color caught in, as one local weather forecaster put it, “moments of clarity.”

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Looking west from Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula, near Clogher Head.

When we left home in mid-September, I was ready for a break.  I happily left everything behind for a while—the weeding and the chores and the work projects, together with the lingering late-season wildflowers and the horses and the rugged contours of this place I love. Rockiness and wind aside, a salt-misted sea level locale is about as different from our arid mountain environment as it’s possible to get.

Back home, everything looks washed clean and fresh, as if some of that Irish rain rinsed the land and sky. That’s not what happened, of course—it was my eyes and my brain that got refreshed by the change of pace and changes of scene.

The charm and pleasure of travel is experiencing places that are out of our ordinary. Seeing and writing usually run in tandem for me, but I was on vacation from the writing mindset during that time in Ireland. I looked and watched and saw, but mostly took a break from reflective impulses. I followed the wandering course of conversations with old friends. I pondered what to drink with my Irish stew or fish and chips. I weighed in on where to take our daily walk. I enjoyed unfamiliar beauties. I let my attention skip across the surface of things.

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The more common angle for our Colorado rainbows, with Pikes Peak on the northeastern horizon.

It felt hedonistic to simply let sights and sounds and scents and flavors and textures flow in, without analyzing them or setting them to words. Once I got home, I was a bit regretful that I hadn’t picked up a pen and made notes. Lucky for me, my brain was evidently working discretely in the background. Last week’s rainbow offered evidence that some portion of my mind had been noting subtleties while my conscious brain went on vacation, and I’m relieved that the task of documentation wasn’t left solely to my camera’s memory card.

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