A Rainbow Over Manoa

Originally posted by O Ceallaigh on the discontinued blog Felloffatruck Publications, 28 May 2007. Reposted here, with updates, in support of a retrospective currently ongoing at the Dude & Dude site.


480px-Manoa-valley-01The “Manoa” of the University of Hawai’i at Manoa is a valley, trending in a NE-SW direction, with the Ko’olau Range at its head and Waikiki where it meets the sea. It is flanked by steep-sided spurs from the mountain range, rising hundreds of feet from the valley floor, which peter out about a mile and a half from the beach.

Up the valley about a mile from campus, there is a shopping center. I have business there, and start walking to it at about 3 PM on a sunny Sunday afternoon. At least, it’s sunny where I am. But the trade winds are blowing, and they are pushing clouds, thick clouds, white at the top but dark at the bottom, over the ridge and down into the head of the valley. Tendrils of those clouds reach for the shoppers of Manoa. They dissipate before they can make good their threat, but every once in awhile, there is a drop of mist on my cheek.

Rainbow-Manoa-300x116The walk takes about twenty minutes, much of it on a path where the houses and the mango trees block the view of the valley walls. At the end of the path is an open field. Here, the whole upper valley comes into view. And as I’m crossing that field, I notice the stub of a rainbow rising from the ridge spur to my right – the eastern wall of the valley.

Not much of a rainbow, I thought to myself, short and dim. I thought Hawai’i was supposed to be able to do better than this.

Then I looked again. The stub was the upper part of a double rainbow. The lower part, brilliant and full, had splashed itself against the side of the ridge, never launching itself into the sky but expending its brightness like spray paint against the green mountain.

A few minutes, and a hundred yards or so, and the angle had changed enough so that the top of the bow just managed to clear the ridge. And standing over the top of the bow, almost touching it, there was the waxing moon, five days from the full.

I went into the shopping center, expecting to be inside a good long time and not seeing anything more of the rainbow.

I was right about the “good long time”. It was nearly two hours later when I finally got what I came for and could emerge from a place where the only things Hawai’ian about it were the price tags. The sun was low in the sky by the time I could see it again, and the skies clear overhead. But the trades were still blowing, and I looked to the west and to the slanting rays of that sun, and they were mottled by drifts of mist.

imagesAnd to the east, the rainbow, full and sharp, towered over the parking lot.

I stood in the middle of that parking lot, transfixed. Like I would have in Maine, where a rainbow of such perfect colors and dimensions would stop traffic. People would pile into each other, would race to windows and onto porches and patios (quite possibly still underwater from the just-passed violent thunderstorm), all of them digging for cameras and cell phones.

Manoa’s shopping center was full of cars and people, each one of them with a purpose, each one focused on his or her private errand. Not one of them so much as looked up.

I suppose that’s not so strange. I can imagine a citizen of Hawai’i, newly landed in Maine, staring in blank-eyed astonishment at the lobsters in the aquarium’s touch tank. While the Mainahs shake their heads and slowly walk away. Tourists!

And then I noticed the moon. The filling moon, in exactly the same place on that rainbow, perched practically touching the top of its arch, that it had been when the rainbow was still spraypaint on the valley’s eastern spur. It’s as if the moon were pulling that rainbow. Stretching it into the fading of the day, higher and higher and yet higher still.

Until the arch can take no more and it shatters into brittle pieces that fall, dissolving as they go, never reaching the valley floor.

Leaving only the memory of color in the gray shapes under moonlight.

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