I didn't see rainbows as a kid. I saw pictures in children's books, but not the real thing. Probably two many trees. I spent most of my life in Eastern coastal states.
In the seventies, a woman who worked for a manufacturer my father and I represented came out from Indiana to work for us. She'd grown up in Nebraska. She'd never been East, and at first she found it claustrophobic because she couldn't really see the sky. I didn't know what she meant. I looked up and saw it. But she meant not just between trees and rooftops. At some point the Superman movie with Chris Reeve came out and she said it looked like the farm he lived on as a boy.
In the early nineties, my wife finished her Ph.D. J was born and we were finding out the extent of his disabilities in slow motion. My wife wanted to do something other than worrying full time, so she started checking out faculty jobs. Much to her surprise, she landed one at Purdue, so we headed out to North Central Indiana. The terrain there is pancake-flat; the only hills are where rivers and creeks carve out valleys. It's so flat I wondered where water went when it rained - there was literally no downhill. Turns out it forms enormous shallow puddles in cornfields.
The land is flat and not heavily treed. Really, the landscape is kind of bleak. What makes up for that is that the sky is panoramic. It's huge. Now I knew what the Montana license plates that said Big Sky meant. It's Make You Feel Insignificant big. It's so big you can see fronts coming. It's like the difference between a TV set and IMAX.
And one of the things you can see is rainbows. Out there, I saw full doubles. I once saw one and wanted to stay outside until it dissipated, but fifteen minutes later it was still there. And one was so bright a photo of it made the front page of the local paper - in black and white. Dead serious.
We saw enough of them over the years that my wife began to know when to look for them. I hadn't bothered to think about it, but I knew too.
My wife came home from work today and mentioned that she'd forgotten her IPad at the office. I knew she was kind of lost without it and I was going to pick up Chinese food so I told her I'd go get it. Her office is nearly half an hour east of here and the Chinese takeout is in the opposite direction, but along the same highway. So I leave the house and start to drive and it starts raining. By the time I get to her office it is pouring. I have to roll down the window to wave her ID at the sensor that opens the gate to her parking lot and just that action gets my left side soaked. I work through a jammed zipper on my old raincoat and run in. When I come out, it's still raining but not hard.
Now I'm driving west along a commercial highway and the sun breaks through. It's quite late, like nearly 7:30. It's in my eyes and I encounter a driving condition I've never seen before (which is kind of amazing): because the road is wet where I am, the sunlight reflects off the road surface. The bright sun is in my eyes and a column of bright sunlight goes down from it down the center of my lane straight to me. I'm holding one hand up to block the sun and I'm fumbling with sunglasses with the other.
I know what I expect to see, but I'm heading west. I know I've soon got to head north over the Susquehanna to get to a real highway heading west. I want to go north, not just to get the sun out of my eyes but to get a chance to glance east. I take the exit, wait for a view, look to the right - and it's even bright through my sunglasses. I take a picture or two with my phone from the drivers' seat, then pull off and go into a parking lot to get a few more shots.
I'n case you don't know when and where to look for them, the best time to see them is late in the day, if it's raining or just been raining and the sun comes out. Find a place with a long view and look eastward. If those are the conditions and you don't see one, wait a few minutes.