Treebeard's Homepage : Stumpers

Treebeard's Stumper
8 March 2002

Over The Rainbow

Rainbows are an ancient symbol of hope, and it's my hope we get to see one soon. We really need more rain before summer. Rainbows are caused by the "transit of light through particles of water," but they are unusual objects that not even bluebirds can fly over. Stumpers abound. When I try to fit a full rainbow into a photograph, why doesn't it help to step back? Why does light reflecting from millions of raindrops add up to just one rainbow? Do two people standing side by side or many miles apart really see the same rainbow? (Thanks Cynthia!)

Above are two rainbows I photographed in the Santa Ynez Valley last fall. Note how different the shapes are. If you look close at the top-right photo, you can see that it is a double rainbow with the colors reversed so that the two red bands face each other.

Right is a close shot of the end of the rainbow, and another question. Does that rainbow pass in front of the tree or behind it? It seemed far away at the time, but now I'm not sure. If you look close, you can see a few streaks of rain in the foreground as I took the picture.

Below are some other rainbow-like objects I've managed to photograph lately. These rings and sundogs look more like bright clouds than rainbows, but there is a hint of color even in the moon ring at night. It's interesting that the reddish color is on the inside of these bows rather than the outside like normal rainbows. I'm still waiting to capture halos, pillars, and a perfect fogbow!

Partial ring around the sun at sundown. Ring around the full moon at night.
Sundog on the left side of the sun. Sundog on the right side of the sun.

It's an ancient tradition that rainbows are a symbol of hope, and I was glad that some DMS students knew the original story. (What?) I have to think of the wonderful song "Over The Rainbow" by Harold Arlen and E.Y. (Yip) Harburg written for the Wizard of OZ movie (1939). Judy Garland soars over the rainbow in the first two notes ("some-where"):

Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high
There's a land that I heard of, once in a lullaby
Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true
Some day I'll wish upon a star,
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Away above the chimney tops, that's where you'll find me
Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow
Why then, oh why, can't I?

If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why, can't I?
  Original sheet music from the
Library of Congress OZ collection.
There's another collection here.

What is it about rainbows that makes them such a perfect symbol for hope and fantasy? It is a fun scavenger hunt to track down as many cover versions of "Over the Rainbow" as you can find in all music genres! Amazon and CDNow are useful research tools. Napster and Morpheus have fallen, but Grokster and Kazaa and Limewire/Gnutella (etc.) are acceptable if you clean out the spyware. How many different cover versions can you find?


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Copyright © 2002 by Marc Kummel /