A blog focused on nature, science, environmental topics, and happenings at the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC).

A Naif in the Forest by Darrell Berger

Wing Tips to Hiking Boots: Musings of a New, Full-Time Poconos Resident 

This is a rainbow peeking through the trees, a rare phenomenon here. We don’t have lot of sky to see unless you look straight up, where rainbows never appear. Our weather seems not to change fast enough to make rainbows, which require droplets of rain and sunshine to share the sky. 

A rainbow is not a real object, but an optical illusion, requiring very specific events to manifest. They appear only at forty-two degrees from the direction opposite the sun, and require a human spectrum of visible light. The most rainbows I ever saw were over San Francisco Bay, where the weather changes constantly and the sky is vast and open. Only humans see rainbows. Also, black and white photographs of rainbows are impossible. 

Aristotle and Seneca studied rainbows in ways that eventually branched into both science and mythology. The science became optics and astronomy, while the mythology began with the rainbow after the flood in Genesis and continues to the present day, being used as symbols of Gay Pride and the end of apartheid in South Africa. 

The most popularly enduring rainbow symbol is the Irish leprechaun promising a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and never delivering. It is a complex myth of greed, hope that exceeds reason, and the power of self-deception. 

Rainbows are likely to remain a powerful symbol of human emotions as wide as the spectrum of colors found in them. One person, standing at the proper angle at the proper time, has a spectacular vision.  Another, arriving a moment earlier or later, or in a slightly different position, sees nothing. Their dogs think both of them are deluded. 

What are these two persons to do? They have completely different perceptions of reality. They are both correct, depending on their perspectives. They would both be wise not to defend the truth of their own perceptions, but rather to recognize the human limits of their perceptions. The rainbow both exists and doesn’t exist, balancing at the edge of reality, depending on where one stands.

Add comment

Security code

Additional information