On Christmas Day, the rainbow that appeared in front of our eyes as we crossed the Kilauea Iki Crater floor in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park was all contained within the crater and within our field of view: it felt reachable, touchable. Seeing a sliver of a rainbow brings joy: seeing the entire arc was exhilarating. I thought I could walk up to the rainbow, go through it like through a gentle waterfall and come out all colored. I walked from one end to the other and I was under it, embraced and protected by it.
When the sun shines into some rain, conditions are ripe for a rainbow to appear. Looking in the direction opposite to the sun, I may see one, but it is so much better when the rainbow appears unexpectedly, like a magical being that has answered a secret wish rather than a loud call.
I know that incident rays of light enter each raindrop and are refracted inwards, then reflected from the back surface of the raindrop, and then refracted again as they exit the raindrop and return to my eyes.
I know that refraction is responsible for splitting the sunlight into its component colors.
And I know that the different wavelength of blue and red light and the reflection of light rays from the back of the raindrop makes blue appear on the inside of the arc of the rainbow, and red on the outside.
Yet, knowing why a rainbow appears and why it looks the way it does has not divested the show of its magic. When my husband sees a rainbow, he is as amazed as a child, ready to learn why the refractive index is wavelength dependent. When I see a rainbow, I am as amazed as a child, ready to believe in fairy tales all over again.
A rainbow is a tale in which Sky showers Earth first with rain and then with colors as Earth reaches up to caress Sky’s tear-stained cheeks.
A rainbow appears and then it disappears like a cherished memory, or a fluttering butterfly. The arc never loses the lightness of a gossamer dream.
The moment I lose the ability to smile with my body and my heart at the sight of a rainbow — or ocean waves crashing against a rocky shore, or clouds blushing pink at sunset, or any of the beautiful details of a world born out of fire and ice — is the moment I’ll understand death.
My deep smile mirrored the arc of the rainbow. The scene was perfect. It was better than anything that could have landed, brightly wrapped and beribboned, under our Christmas tree.
Hiking the Kilauea Iki Trail and meeting the rainbow up close and personal was my Christmas indulgence. Around the Holidays in particular, the word “indulgence” usually refers to overeating overly rich dishes. But this Christmas I indulged in nature, luxuriated in an atmospheric solar spectrum, meditated on the magic and science of living on earth and smiled at the sky.
It was my kind of Christmas, really.
© 2015-2018 Simona Carini