Blue Rainbow

The ocean’s emerald waters are always a welcome relief for tired eyes. They are a cure for the abuse that the retina has suffered during the day, inflicted through repeated exposure to the same light wavelengths: the cheerful but blinding whites, the brutally monotonous hay yellows, and the dusty, dull browns of the height of the Mediterranean summer. The blue sea appears out of nowhere, cutting like a knife through the pale desert of earthy hues, almost as if it doesn’t really belong in this landscape. It is a surprising oasis of cool, vibrant colour, perhaps a moment when the painter had an unfortunate accident: the Prussian Blue tube burst open all over the canvas, flooding it over-generously with endless blue.

But a dilemma soon emerges, as one’s eyes are spoiled for choice about which part of the sea to focus their attention on. My eyes cannot help but constantly wander up and down the spectrum of colours which form a blue rainbow that runs along the coast: beginning with the sandy, lettuce-green hues of the shallows, and ending with an other-worldly dark purple-black toward the horizon. As my eyes move from one colour band to the next, each successive hue on the rainbow becomes more mysterious than the one before it. And each one has its own unique story to tell.

At the very edge of the water, where the sea is virtually colourless, the browns and yellows of the sand are still quite vibrant. Within just a few centimetres of depth however, they are the first ones to suffer: they begin to become subdued towards the cool range as a faint, transparent green sheen neutralises them, gradually extinguishing their warmth. As the water deepens, the yellows eventually become whites, and the reds turn into browns, or blacks.

Slightly deeper, a very pale green-teal, the only pastel colour in the entire rainbow, begins to dominate. It is a subtle, cheerful colour. Just a few meters deeper though, and the sleepy, meditative hue turns into an awakening, almost violent, brilliant emerald green. Its purity rivals that of any individual leaf in the surrounding forrest.

But although the sea may have won the competition for the most brilliant green, the emerald hue is only a fleeting, temporary stop in the blue rainbow. It is quickly forgotten, as an even more brilliant, neon turquoise blue colour appears next to it, stealing its thunder. As if by a change of heart, as the sea gets deeper it appears determined to banish all traces of green from its palette, hell bent on a perfectionist search for the most purest of blues. Can you blame it?

This is the point of the rainbow where things get quite tricky. As the retina’s blue and green cones become overloaded with neon blues and greens, the boundaries between blue, emerald and turquoise become ever so confusing. Words fail to accurately describe the colour hue, and all that is left is a feeling of wonder. The sea is being illuminated from below with a colour that is both relaxing and energising at the same time. There is just no substitute for turquoise blue.

But the sea has had yet another change of heart. As the bay opens up into the vast ocean, the electric turquoise gradually turns into a deep, darker, pure blue. It is the definitive sign that the sea has now forever said goodbye to land, it’s colour no more tinted by the warmth of the underlying sand. The playful, uplifting turquoise has given way to a much more serious, melancholy blue.

But things are about to get even darker still. The melancholic sea eventually takes the hue of aubergine, blueberry, even charcoal. It has closed in on itself, shutting everyone out of its deepest secrets. What started as a welcoming paradise has now become an opaque, impenetrable darkness. Instead of revealing its depths, the sea prefers to mirror the sky, almost as a decoy mechanism. Perhaps it became tired of colour games. Perhaps it became tired of pretending. A friendly face is not always a true face. Maybe charcoal blue is the only true colour in the sea’s vastness. It is the colour that sailors see, who know just how stoic, unforgiving and moody the sea can be.

Just below the horizon lies the last band of the blue rainbow. Its colour can vary tremendously depending on the time of day between white, blue, dark blueberry or violet blue. They are colours that signify distance, and mystery. It is the colour band that sea explorers have to stare into constantly until their eyes hurt, until they see a hint of land, or begin to see mirages and hallucinations. The last band on the rainbow is one of both hope and despair: you could either discover something exciting out beyond the horizon, or you could be shipwrecked in an ocean of melancholy as you sail further away from land.

(From the book Photographic Heart)

George is a chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons , join his mailing list, or read his books

15 thoughts on “Blue Rainbow

  1. Hey! I just wrote you the most wonderful note above that blue line as stipulated and nothing went through except the first couple of sentences! What does that blue line do Chew up anything it doesn’t fancy?

  2. Hello again George!

    Wanted to let you know that I’m over my thin blue line pique (although do you really want or need that line?). And would like to express my delight at how effectively you delineate reasons why certain issues/stances/positions/beliefs of humans should be modified or changed in the only book of yours I’ve yet read: “Disposable Earth’’. One of the most challenging tasks to undertake is, I think, to attempt to modify entrenched views of our species and you do so with imagination and humour. (Love your chapter headings!)

    “Blue Rainbow” is an engaging analysis of ocean colours. However at present I’m much more interested on how or whether our species might survive so ‘’Disposable Earth” gets my attention.

    Much looking forward to your forthcoming pieces and poems.

    Frances Christopherson (aka Charlie)

    1. Thanks for being a reader! Yes, Disposable Earth and Age of Separateness both aim to address our human-centric views. My new book will be a bit more personal, telling the story of a beautiful world and how we do not appreciate it.

  3. Dear George, Your words are awe inspiring. I am turning seventyseven in November and have written poetry since childhood. Also have Masters in Literature from University of Sydney. I find your work deeply gratifying to absorb. You are truly gifted. I wonder what you wrote in childhood???

    Arohanui Noeline (Roimata Mere ô Maniapoto)

    1. Thank you for your kind words Noeline! I’m so happy you’re enjoying my writing. Funny you ask, I never wrote in my childhood, I painted, which is maybe why my writing is often very visual. I tend to “feel” things through my eyes. My upcoming book Photographic Heart will be even more so.

    2. May I ask is your name Aboriginal? It reminds me of names of Gauguin’s Pacific Islander models that he used to write on his paintings, he is my favourite painter. You may want to check out my essay “To Be a Mirror”

  4. Wow. This needed reading, rereading and re-rereading. There is so much good going on here. I needed to experience each visual, each auditory. I love your use of vibrant adjectives. When I taught English and Spanish, I wish I had your writings to use as teaching tools and inspiration. I am relaxing now through emerald waters….. Thanks. Peter

    Sent from my iPhone


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