by Ed Chasteen
High in the New Zealand mountains I see it. As the first rays of early morning sun crest the highest peaks to my back, angry clouds roil above the mountains far in front of me. Arching across the sky and through those clouds, a brilliant rainbow of green and yellow and purple and red reaches the ground, bathing boulders and bushes on the mountain side in their glow. The ground is transfigured, and to my mind in that instant springs the story from scripture of Moses on another mountain and the burning bush he saw.
High in the sky far to my left the rainbow is faint and narrow. While remaining warm and blending effortlessly into one another, the ribbons of light that together make the rainbow grow wide and vivid as they arch across the heavens and settle gently upon the high reaches of that distant mountain.
Alone on my bike at first light of dawn in the chill mountain air of an early New Zealand spring, I am awed by all that I see and feel. Intermittent drops of rain grab my attention. Too few to dampen the joy of being alive on such a morning, their irregular plop, plop, plop on my helmet boot up my mind still groggy from early rising.
The road I take from the place where our group has slept bends slowly to the left. I have pedaled long enough to be warm inside my wind resistant and water-proof outer wear before the gentle curve of the road points me head on to that rainbow. The shock of suddenly seeing what my peripheral vision has not detected causes me in that instant to think that the rainbow has appeared full-blown in all its glory just as I turn to face it. If a man laughs for joy and no one is there to hear, has he really laughed and is the joy not real? I leave you, dear reader, (assuming you exist) to ponder.
Thornton Wilder, in his profoundly simple and simply profound little play called Our Town, has Emily to ask: “Does anyone ever realize life as they live it, every single minute?” We all know the answer of course. In this moment, though, I do realize life. And the memory of this moment may help me to mine more from those ordinary moments that march with unconscious regularity through my days and nights.
I have seen rainbows before. Only yesterday in Queenstown in early morn high above the mountains. Just out of Dublin years ago, amid the snow and sleet and rain sandwiched between bouts of sunshine. In the Colorado Rockies after a storm. At home in Missouri to conclude spring showers. Once in Ireland one seemed to touch the ground. But over a hill so that we could not see.
The ground this morning is aglow. Coming to rest upon the earth, the rainbow diffuses and blends, spilling out over the ground in a Technicolor flood. Earth tones as background for rainbow hues produce an orgy of color to which even Shakespeare could not apply adequate words, though he could do the scene more justice than I.
So bright is the color on the ground that the rainbow seems to have had its origin deep inside that mountain and though some fissure in the earth has spilled out. Some of it oozes across the ground, but with such force has it escaped the earth that it erupts high into the sky. Great gallons of it hang suspended near the place where it has lept from the ground. High into the sky it grows progressively less distinct, until across the horizon its faintness is swallowed up by angry clouds.
I gaze in awe at that place high on that distant mountain that is in this moment transfixed. I know in my mind that this moment will pass and this piece of earth will become again what a moment before it was. To see a place or a person made less gives me no pleasure. I understand the effervescence of rainbows, but if I am not here to see, will it really go?