ILLUSIONS IN SUNLIGHT
All one has to do is peruse a photo gallery or examine vacation photos to realize that humans love spectacular sunrises and sunsets. The colorful dynamics we see as the earth rotates from sunrise to sunset is the subtle conversion, through reflection and refraction, of white light into its associated colors. At the height of the day, the cool colors, blue, indigo and violet saturate the heavens. These give way to the warmer reds, oranges and yellows as the sun recedes or approaches the horizon. If meteorological conditions are proper, the color green flashes across the sky. This spectacular moment is called the “green flash” and is best seen by looking west across an open oceanic vista.
Perhaps a glimpse of the “green flash” is what attracts the worshipers to Mallory Pier in Key West at sunset.
But sunrises and sunsets are not the only illusions created by the bend or splitting of sunlight. Once in Belize, while collecting in a lagoon behind the coral reef, I looked up and saw an angry squall bearing down on me. Ominous, turbulent clouds were rapidly cloaking the sunshine in a black wall of rain. I needed to seek shelter. Any moment my near naked body would feel the sting of marble-sized raindrops and the chilling blasts of fierce winds. But being hundreds of yards away from any proper cover, I sat down on a sandy bar and allowed the warm ocean water to covered my body. Only my head protruded above the surface. A dive mask covered my face and I held the swim fins over my head.
The deluge arrived with a rush and roar, and waves roiled around me. But as quickly as the angry tumult appeared, it passed. Thought raindrops continued to fall, a brilliant rainbow arched over my head. Where the colored array met the ocean, shining disks bounced from the surface of the water like gold doubloons. Were the riches of the rainbow overflowing their pot a few hundred meters from where I sat? Perhaps on the sea, this imaginary myth has some truth.
Another time, while sailing in the Bahamas, some turbulent, steel gray cumulus clouds boiled from the horizon and preempted the noonday sun. As this ferment grew, the margins of the vaporous pinnacles became emphasized in an eruption of brilliant white light; so bright was the light that I had to look away. Was the Almighty and a host of glowing angels about to appear and point a direction to safe harbor? Of course not, instead all hell broke loose and the jagged, blazing aura gave way to hurricane force winds and great bolts of lightning. I quickly released the mainsail and steered toward the throne of God. For several moments, which felt like hours, the boat heaved and pitched between the pillars of Hades. When the waterspouts passed the sea calmed and the atmosphere appeared like a charcoal mirror. Its essence surrounded the boat, which drifted toward a glowing miasma, the indistinguishable nexus between sea and sky. Had I sail into purgatory?
Auroral displays can be fanciful and spectacular. I often pondered these mystical illusions. They brighten the mundane events of my day.