Pack Creek Ranch, San Juan County, Utah.
The last full week of January, 2017
Another stormy week – wind, several kinds of snow, and sleet – and now,
settling down toward clear days and nights – but still icy cold. Snow blowing
off the mountain tops makes them look like volcanoes.
Imagine yourself in this situation:
You are sitting in a chair in a nail salon waiting for your pedicure.
In front of you is a low table covered with the usual collection of
tattered, out-of-date women’s magazines.
At the far end of the table, a little boy – 5 maybe – is down on his knees.
He is equipped with a drawing pad, a pencil, and a box of 24 Crayolas.
He has drawn a picture of mountains on either side of a valley that has a river running through it. Now he has added a rainbow, also drawn in pencil, and he is ready to fill in between the lines with colors.
Looks up at you and asks:
“Which color goes on the top?”
And you reply:______________
While you are thinking, he continues his inquiry:
“How many colors are there? And what comes after what?”
And you reply:______________
And he asks: “Why aren’t there more colors?”
And you reply:______________
And before you can organize your answers, he throws his curveball –
“If there are rainbows, are there snow-bows?
Did you have answers at the ready? Not me – not quite.
I did a verbal song and dance as I scrambled around in my mental closet looking for answers that are surely in there somewhere. As I stalled for time, the little boy asked:
“Have you seen a rainbow? Are they real?”
“Well, yes I’ve seen them many times and they are very real.
Have you seen one?”
Forlornly he admitted he had not. “No, only some pictures.”
That stopped me. Really? He had never actually seen a rainbow. Wow!
What an enchanting experience he has to look forward to!
Just then the angel of mental mercy delivered the goods from my storage
unit in the form of a mnemonic learned in first grade: 7 ROY G BIV.
Confidently, I said: “Here’s what you need to know. Seven colors – red on top, followed by orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet,” and I pulled those colors out of his box of 24 Crayolas and put them in order on his drawing pad. “Like that.”
“Why aren’t there more colors?” he asked.
“It’s hard to explain – there are more – but our eyes can only see seven.” He looked down at his box of Crayolas – he could see twenty four colors right in front of him. He gave me a skeptical look.
His unspoken question hung in the air: “What’s wrong with your eyes?”
(And I’m thinking that explaining the physics of light waves – angles of refraction and reflection – to a five- year-old is way outside my skill set.)
I changed the subject and played conversational dodge-ball.
“As to snow-bows, that’s a very good question. I’ve never actually seen one myself. Not even pictures. But I don’t know why not.. They must be rare. I think there should be snow-bows, don’t you?
Why don’t you draw one?”
“Yes, there should be – and I will draw one after I finish this rainbow.”
(I glanced at his drawing and saw he had already outlined empty stripes for a lot of colors – far more than 7. This is going to be interesting.)
Methodically he worked his way through his box of Crayolas, using every color. I have never seen a rainbow with 24 colors before.
I would have said there is no such thing.
But there is now.
Factoids: Yes, I went home and did my research so I’m better prepared for the next examination by a child – or even an adult. I pass this information along to you in case you are ever on the rainbow hot-seat.
1. It is not true that the top color is always red. If there are two bows, one above the other – a double – the top color in the upper bow is violet.
The colors in the upper bow are reversed. Yes.
2. The kid is on the right track in his color scheme. From a technical, scientific point of view, the number of colors in a rainbow is infinite.
They are all there. Our eyes just aren’t equipped to perceive them.
3. There are single, double, and even circular rainbows – but no triples or quadruples.
4. As for snow-bows – in a very technical sense, under very rare circumstances they might be possible, but nobody has ever seen one – except for a very few people who have also seen fairies and unicorns.
5. Rainbows do not exist as objective phenomena – they are not really
out there. They are a product of sunlight passing through the prisms
of raindrops at a certain exact angle, which reaches the photo receptors in our eyes, sends an electric stimulus to our brains, which we then assemble as a rainbow.
In other words, rainbows only exist in our minds.
Yes. We can and do construct rainbows inside our brains.
Rainbows are virtual reality – a collaborative social consensus.
6. Not only that, but we do not and cannot perceive the exact same rainbow because each person’s position in the circumstances of the angles required for stimulus is different. This involves physics and light waves and photo-receptors unique to each one of us and the unique position we are in at the moment of stimulation.
7. Got that? Rainbows exist only in our minds – and each person sees a different rainbow. Try explaining that to a five year old who is busy constructing a picture of a rainbow with 24 colors.
I didn’t even try.
Before he could ask me another question on his quiz, I asked him one:
“I wonder if animals see rainbows.
Do you suppose cats and dogs and cows see rainbows?”
“Of course,” he said with succinct confidence.
He finished his remarkable rainbow with 24 colors.
I asked if I could have it.
“No, it’s for my father.”
So you’ll just have to imagine the kid’s rainbow.
But you can, you see – rainbows are all in your imagination, anyhow.
All of them – always.