Sunday, August 28, 2005

Chasing Rainbows

For you Winnie, who has been wanting to know what's at the end of a double rainbow.

I've been invited along on a trip of sorts, a trip of the mind. Or rather, a trip of the imagination. The Soulfood Café is currently offering a tour to a number of its patrons of what lies beyond its back doors, along what is called the Silk Road. Numerous stops will be made along the way, and numerous tasks will be required of the travelers who embark on this journey. Each stop and task of the 21-day tour is meant to help us find and use our imagination to nourish our creative talents, to give voice to our Muses and to inspire and edify our fellow travelers. I've packed and today I'm taking the first step. We all begin at the Grotto, or the Cave of the Enchantress. Before I can get there, though, there's a gate I must open and pass through, a gate allowing me entrance into this magic world.

Lil did I know it at the time, this entry in my journal was to be the beginning of my journey along the Soulfood Silk Road. The child in it, now grown up and having seen a double rainbow just now on one of her many excursions just outside her village, is off to find the answers to her questions of what lies at the end of this twin beauty.

Last night the wind blew hard enough outside my windows to be heard, and I knew the heavens would soon be opening up to release the cleansing tears we mortals call rain. For when the wind comes, moisture is sure to follow. It was a playful wind I heard, scuttling the first of the fallen leaves of the changing season along the path following the west wall of my cottage. It swirled through the village square, and sometimes, lying abed, if the wind brought it near I'd hear the slow wooden cccrrreeeakk of a business sign hung outside Paddy's Pub and a few other shops down the road aways. It rustled and pushed through the leaves of the trees, and in my mind's eye, snug warmly under my covers, I could see their limbs dancing and swaying to the wind's whistling tune.

If there's rain on the morrow, I thought before drifting off to sleep, as sure as Ireland is green, a rainbow is sure to grace our sky. And I determined then to watch for it.

Ever since I was a wee one, I've loved the tales told me by my grandma. Tales of Old Ireland, tales of the Fae Folk and Queen Mab, tales of the heroes of yore. They fed my fertile, young imagination and oft times I would go exploring, to see if I could stumble upon Queen Mab's court and espy what it was the Fae Folk were up to. Or perhaps to try and catch myself a leprechaun and have three wishes granted.

One day when I was seven, and it was nearing the end of the summer vacation my family and I had taken to visit her here in Ireland, it had rained most of the day. I was quite put out because I couldn't leave the cottage. I wanted to explore! I wanted to see if I could find and capture a wee man or woman and have them grant me my wishes. I knew exactly what I'd wish for too. I wanted to stay in Ireland with Grandma, not having to go back to the States come next week. I wanted to meet Queen Mab and dance with her people. I wanted to be great, like the hero Cuchulainn.

"Now child, don't mope so," Grandma told me as she sat knitting in her rocking chair. "Ye can go explorin' tomorrow. 'Tis sure to be a better day."

The rain had stopped by then, but twilight would soon be falling upon the tiny village and my parents and sister and brother would soon be returning from the next town over. The adults didn't like it if it was nearing dark and I wasn't within calling distance.

I was at the window, despondently watching the leftover raindrops slide in slow, meandering rivelets down the pane of glass. I was about to turn and answer her when an arc of color caught my eye. A rainbow! A beautiful, brilliant rainbow perfectly arching across the gray sky!

"Grandma! Look, a rainbow!" I said excitedly and launched toward the door, throwing it open and hastening out into the front yard. I pointed to Earth's natural prism hanging above the trees and drank in the deep red that lightened by degrees then bled into what soon became orange and all the other colors. I had never seen a rainbow this vibrant before and I wanted to take in every last detail so I could tell Da and the others about it later. Da loved rainbows.

Grandma was slower in coming, but come she did and placed her thin arm around my shoulders, a smile wreathing her beloved wrinkled face. I noticed then one end of the rainbow seemed to touch the hills in the distance, and I remembered the tales of a leprechaun's pot of gold being at the end. Having a child's curiosity I asked her. It was that day she shared the true magic of what lies at the end of a rainbow if one is lucky enough to get there before it fades. It was that day my world changed just a lil, my imagination expanded to include new possibilities and my own love for rainbows was born.

I never forgot that day or her words to me when I asked about double rainbows. "I think ye are just the explorer needed for that answer, my child. Next time ye see a double rainbow, ye can tell me your answer."

Now I'm grown and have come back to Ireland, having inherited Grandma's cottage.

Sure enough, the rain came. I awoke early this morning to the tap-tap-tapping of its drops on the windows and thatched roof. I smiled into my pillow and curled my toes into the mattress, my heart dancing at the prospect of seeing a rainbow. Grandma's words filtered up through the lingering mists of sleep and I was suddenly gripped with the whimsical thought of chasing a rainbow to see what was at the end of it. Maybe this time I would be quick enough to slip through the gate into the invisible world of the Fae and finally meet the queen I had so longed to know.

What if there's a double rainbow? You could finally have your answers and no more wondering... This thought followed closely on the heels of the first and my eyes opened. Sleep was firmly banished in the new compelling whimsy of the idea.

Why not? I thought as I stretched, pushed back the covers and rolled from bed. It's crazy, but then Grandma would say, 'It's magic. It does'na haveta make sense.'

True, and it would give me another excuse to take my camera, journals and things and go exploring. And maybe, if today's is a double rainbow I'll be able to find the answers to my long-ago questions for both Grandma and myself.

The chilled wooden floor instantly cooled the soles of my bare feet, sending lil shivers up through my legs, causing me to yelp in surprise. Hastily I reached for my Irish green zip up slippers and put them on. Hugging myself and chafing my arms a bit to ward off the chill that invaded my room early this morning, I walked down the short narrow hallway to the common room where the fireplace and kitchen are. I knelt and started a small fire to warm the place up then moved to the kitchen area to start a pot of tea.

"If the rain lets up later, Grandma, I'll go exploring," I told her. "Perhaps then I'll be able to answer those questions we both wanted to know about and find out what's at the end of a double rainbow."

It may seem crazy, I know, talking to a dead loved one, but it's comforting to me. Since she died four months ago I've been missing her something terrible; talking to her fills the void and brings her spirit close.

*******
The rain let up just after one this afternoon. I spent my morning in restless anticipation, cleaning my cottage and then packing any and all things I thought I would need for this exploration in my oversized Texas Flag overnighter. When I noticed the rain was letting up outside my bedroom window I slung the bag over my shoulder and started down the short hall toward the door. My image in the hall mirror caught my eye and I stopped briefly for a quick once over. My reflection grinned wryly back at me. Dark brown hair was pulled into a bun, but flyaway wisps were falling around an oval face on the rounding side with sea green eyes evenly spaced apart. Thin-rimmed tortoise shell glasses were sliding down a short wedge of a nose. I pushed them up then looked down at myself. A red sweatshirt with the old-fashioned Mickey Mouse sewn on the front and on the right shoulder, paired with black floral-printed stretch pants and Ugg hiking shoes. I had to laugh. Eccentric Colleen O'Leary's granddaughter was sure to be thought of as eccentric as she if people ever caught wind she was chasing after a rainbow.

Stepping outside the rain was falling intermittently now, and I knew I had to hurry. Not caring that the occasional drop splattered on me or my glasses, I followed the muddy path in front of my cottage until it forked left or continued straight on into the village. Turning left I walked at an increasing pace until I left the path altogether and began climbing a knoll. The heavens soon dried up and cleared, and though I crested the small hill and kept going and climbing others, I remained alert, searching the lightening sky for the rainbow.

Stopping to catch my breath for a moment, having climbed over a low stone wall and hoisted my bag over it, I twisted to my left to scan the horizon. And there it was! A double rainbow! The inner arc of banded colors was more vibrant and prominent than its outer sister, but I thought the first just as lovely as the second. I knew I was grinning foolishly and my heart jumped into joyous overdrive. A double rainbow!

"What a magnificent sight, Grandma!" I cried as I shouldered my bag hastily again and took off in that direction as fast as my bag, the terrain and stone walls allowed. "Here we go!"


Always keeping the curved bands of color in sight, I prayed they wouldn't fade before I could get there.

Funny how magic works, especially on Time and distance and other things. The rainbows always seemed to hang in the distance, no matter how far I traveled. Then all of the sudden they were before me! Shimmering arcs of brilliant color, one about 25 feet from the other and duller, but no less beautiful. Their ends barely brushed the tips of the grass blades, and they sssooaarred into the sky. I felt insignificant standing there in front them and shivered.

It's difficult to describe what it's like standing in front of a rainbow, but I shall try. Words, speech failed me as I stood there looking up with my mouth hanging open. The air seemed thin, charged with some invisible force and my nerve endings tingled as if sparkles, all the colors of the rainbow, traveled along them.

I don't how long I stood there in silent awe. A hundred years, or mere seconds, I couldn't tell you. Belatedly, and excitedly, I remembered my digital camera and began recording pictures. Talking to Grandma, I put the camera away back in my bag and, looking at the wonder of colored light and mist I stood up, taking my bag with me.

"Ready Grandma, to find out what's on the opposite side?" Taking a deep breath and closing my eyes, I stretched forth my right hand and walked the rainbow's curtain...

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