Monday, October 5, 2009


"The moon sometimes exhibits the extraordinary phenomenon of an iris or rainbow, by the refraction of her rays in drops of rain during the night-time. This appearance is said to occur only at the time of full moon, and to be indicative of stormy and rainy weather. One is described in the Philosophical Transactions as having been seen in 1810, during a thick rain; but, subsequent to that time, the same person gives an account of one which perhaps was the most extraordinary of which we have any record. It became visible about nine o'clock, and continued, though with very different degrees of brilliancy, until past two. At first, though a strongly marked bow, it was without colour, but afterwards became extremely vivid, the red, green, and purple being the most strongly marked. About twelve it was the most splendid in appearance. The wind was very high at the time, and a drizzling rain falling occasionally."

(Courtesy of Project Gutenberg)

I didn't even know there was such a thing, but having seen it with my own eyes on Saturday night, I can vouch for the existence of the lunar rainbow. (I have often seen the white or coloured "ring" around the moon - but this was a real rainbow, a huge perfect arch stretching across the Otago Harbour from Port Chalmers on one side to Portobello on the other.)

The photos of lunar rainbows to be found on the internet seem mostly to be associated with waterfalls, and are coloured rainbows. The one I saw was white. I wasn't able to attempt to take a photo because of the extreme storm conditions at the time. The full moon was behind me as I looked towards an approaching southerly tempest, and the rainbow was set across in front of it.

It seemed an auspicious and lovely way to be greeted by the new environment (fortunately I like storms!) The cosy little house - which, it's becoming clear, is an ex-government building of some sort, likely a school house, that was moved here in the 1970s to serve as a holiday cottage - stood up well to the night of screaming gales with waves breaking against the sea wall and splashing up over the road, and sea spray being blown against the big front windows. The glass in the windows was being sucked in and out as the violent wind hurtled head-on against the house, which was rocking like a boat. A couple of times as my ears popped, I would open a window at the back of the house to ease the pressure, and hope the roof didn't lift... And it snowed and hailed all night. Weather courtesy of an unseasonal blast from from the Deep South.

This is how it's done, on the end of the Otago Peninsula. It's elemental, and wild. The birds and the seals are at home here, and the people are only guests.



Hi PC - Moon bows... what a treat! And your night in your new/old 'boat' house on the peninsula sounds quite thrilling (and a little nerve-wracking?). Hope the move from Blueskin Bay to there went smoothly.

Down in Antarctica, we'd occasionally witness a light phenomenon akin to the moon bow. It was called a 'sun dog' and was both spectacular and eerie. If you image google it, you'll see what I mean. For all its incongruities, we do live in a magical, mystifying world.

L, C

Mary McCallum said...

PC - I love how you extend my knowledge of and relationship with the environment. Thank you.

The Paradoxical Cat said...

Hi Mary - thanks for your comments - I'm going to be in Wellington in a couple of weeks and hope to catch up with you (will email).

And Claire - honestly I thought of you as we weathered the storm, although I suppose it was only a pale shadow of a real Antarctic storm, it did make me think of the polar explorers huddled up against the elements...