A Pot of Gold

White-knuckle in a loose truck, ripping down Twentynine Palms Highway toward San Gorgonio Pass, one of the most consistently windy places in the United States, and tonight it was howling. In that gap between Southern California’s two tallest ranges, low pressure moisture had hit a wall of dry air at the boundary of desert. I am aware (as always) of a full moon rising in the east, but then I look west …

Moonbows, according to the internet, are rare. In a google search, most of the images that appear are not lunar rainbows at all, but rather lunar halos. Of the moonbow images that remain, most are the result of moonlight dancing through waterfall mist or other forms of humid air. So to see a partial rain moonbow feels super rare! Then a complete rain moonbow!! … super, super rare. Then a complete double rain moonbow!!! … super, super, super rare.

Brakes to the floor and a hard right turn into whatever neighborhood exists beneath the wind farms. Engine off, door open, back bumper standing for the trusted 50mm lens on beanbag on camper shell technique. And not a moment too soon. I fire only two photos before rain blasts the front of the lens and blows me off the back of the truck. I fire additional 30-second frames from inside the cab in order to make something more of the homes beneath the horizon. A pot of gold indeed.

The storm that rolled through California that night was the third or fourth in a relentless stream that continues as I write. Even Death Valley – typically sheltered from severe winter weather – felt ominous. Only a few rays of waxing gibbous slipped over the dunes during my night on the playa. Morning brought a dust storm and downpour and delicious breakfast burrito at the general store in Panamint Springs.

I am drawn to inclement weather, always have been, a result of growing up in the monotony of Southern California sun, where storms never seem to linger, despite the current torrent. In my unscientific observations of the past 15 years, severe winters in California mean mild winters in Michigan and vice versa. So it was no surprise that my return to Michigan flopped me to the mild side of the jet stream. Too mild. More monotony. January is supposed to be the cold month here, the one that builds ice, the one that excites. Instead I sit idly, recalling the road less travelled under the eastern Panamint Range, wishing I were back there with a pair of crampons and a few days’ rations to ascend Telescope Peak by whatever combination of canyon and ridgeline looked fair.

I travel back farther in my mind, to the sliver of waxing crescent that winked on Christmas Eve, to the clear coast and the calm before the storm, to the pounding shore break body surf barrels that foretold a change to come. A gift indeed.