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Rainbow’s End

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Last week, I found the end of the rainbow.

Turns out, it’s in my front garden. At least, it was.

Allow me to explain.

Here in southern New England, summer storms come in a variety of forms, from plain rain with no embellishment to dramatic events including thunder, lightning, and/or hail. These storms can be so precise that one minute, you’re driving with your windshield wipers going at high speed, and the next, you cross some imaginary line where all precipitation abruptly ceases. Rain that comes in hard and fast will leave just as quickly.

It’s easy to tell whether we’ve had rain by observing our lawns. When we’re in a dry spell, many of them turn brown and crunchy; when we have good rain, they quickly become overgrown.

On the morning in question, I noticed that my front yard had progressed from shorn to shaggy.

All day, I’d had a hard time concentrating on work. Maybe it was the weather: outside was a storybook summer day, with bright sun and moderate heat. The evening’s forecast called for mild temperatures and a 15% chance of rain, which usually meant a nice, dry night. As afternoon turned to early evening, I debated whether I should take up the next project on my desk or mow the lawn.

I might have spent another hour considering the options, but I heard my neighbor’s mower. Thus inspired, I headed out to the garage and revved up my own. Within minutes, I was briskly striding back and forth across my front yard, shearing weeds so they resembled actual lawn.

About twenty minutes into the project, as I passed under a tree, I felt something wet hit my back. “What the—?” I muttered as another wet spot hit. Ever capable of denying the obvious, I assumed some of the leaves were still wet from the last rain until I emerged from beneath the branches, only to have big fat drops land on my arms and hands.

The 15% chance of rain had come through.

I immediately looked around for any sign of lightning, but I saw none. What I did see were patches of blue sky in between the clouds that were depositing splotches of rain on my mower.

I couldn’t help it—I started laughing. I had managed to time my mowing perfectly—at least, perfectly if my goal was to get soaked.

I considered stopping. Then, I spotted my neighbor in his backyard, still mowing. He’s a smart guy who’s about a thousand times better at judging outdoor things than I am. If he deemed it feasible to keep going, who was I to argue? Besides, if I’d stopped, I wouldn’t have started again. Definitely not tonight, and probably not anytime soon, leaving the lawn half-mown until the shagginess was uniform again.

So I made another couple passes. At least I was no longer hot and sweaty; the downpour cooled me down. As I approached the sloped street, I saw rivulets running down the pavement. A couple cars went past, their wipers slapping; I imagine they wondered what in blazes I was doing.

As I reached the street, I glanced at my front garden. Then, I stopped walking and stood in the pouring rain, staring.

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At first, I wasn’t certain. It must be my imagination, I thought. But there it was, right there in my front garden.

A rainbow, stretching down to the ground.

Instinctively, I looked up toward the east, where the sky was clear and blue. The rainbow arching far above the treetops was fuzzy and pale. The garden rainbow was darker, more intense; the sky rainbow looked diluted, already fading.

An instant later, the garden rainbow was gone.

If I’d stayed inside at my desk, or mowed the backyard first, or paused for a minute to empty the mower bag, I’d have missed it entirely.

Much has been written about rainbows, and especially about the rainbow’s end, that elusive spot legendary for being nearly impossible to find. Common lore has it that there’s a pot of gold waiting for the lucky soul who locates it. I hate to debunk a perfectly good myth, but I can tell you now that there’s no pot of gold. The rainbow’s end is as ephemeral as it is startling. When it fades, it leaves nothing behind, save memory.

Literature, art, and culture are replete with rainbows, ascribing all sorts of meaning to this phenomenon. The Bible tells us that the rainbow was the symbol of God’s promise to Noah that He would never again destroy the world by flooding. Dorothy discovered Oz when a tornado transported her over the rainbow. Kermit the Frog sang about finding the rainbow connection between “the lovers, the dreamers, and me.” Animal lovers speak of their departed pets as having crossed the Rainbow Bridge to a beautiful place where they wait to be reunited with their owners. The now-ubiquitous rainbow Pride flag celebrates the LBGTQ+ community, assigning a specific meaning to every color.

In contrast, science explains a rainbow simply as a raindrop acting as a prism, bending light, breaking it into a spectrum of color. Certainly there’s nothing poetic or magical about that.

Perhaps it’s the fleeting nature of the rainbow that makes it a thing of wonder. You see it, and then it’s gone. Unless you have a camera ready, you’re left with only the memory. Or maybe it’s that rainbows are beautiful. Perfect in ethereal simplicity, the rainbow arches over a rain-washed land, a momentary splash of color against the sky.

If you’re especially lucky, you may see the entire arc, start to finish. Several years ago, a storm came up while I was having one of my tires repaired. All the waiting customers clustered in the Firestone parking lot, oohing and aahing as, in the sky above the neighboring strip mall, a complete rainbow appeared.

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Seeing the end of the rainbow in my own garden, barely more than a yard from where I stood, felt important, as though it signified something deep, profound, life-changing.

Except maybe this moment was nothing more than a gentle reminder some of the best things cannot be controlled, that every now and then—through no intent or planning of our own—we can end up in precisely the right place, at the right time, to experience something extraordinary.

 

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