This piece was submitted in memory of long-time Homer resident Lance Petersen, who passed away last week at the age of 81.
Twenty years ago, my friend Lance Petersen was at a party, telling a story, which I enjoyed so much I thought I’d write it down. Then, I thought I’d try to get it published, and submitted it to various publications. Eventually, one of those got back to me; the publisher said I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is, I liked your piece and it came in at second place in the contest. The bad news is, I’m discontinuing the magazine, so no prize, but congratulations! So I put the piece away and more or less forgot about it, until now.
Lance drove into the rainbow. If anybody was ever going to drive into a rainbow, it figured it’d be Lance.
He didn’t just drive straight into it, of course. That’s not how one approaches a rainbow. He knew that somehow, I guess. In any case, that’s not the way the road went, or where the rainbow was.
It makes sense. You wouldn’t walk right up to a unicorn, would you? Notice how dogs approach a stranger, for example. Obliquely. The way one might address, say, a body of water of unknown temperature. Carefully. Tangentially. Respectfully. With both eyes open, and senses honed. With awareness.
Anyway, the road wound one way, then another, towards and away, as is the wont of roads. Roads don’t care what you want to see or where you want to go; it’s their game, and you’re just along for the ride. They know where they’re going (they’ve been there before), and they’re going to get there, in their own sweet time and on their own sweet terms.
This one, though, was headed towards the rainbow. There was no mistaking it. It’d get closer, then veer away, then get closer yet. It was a pretty fantastic rainbow, as rainbows go. Was there ever a rainbow that wasn’t fantastic? Even the weakest, frailest, palest of rainbows can hardly help but draw and hold our attention. In any case, this one was neither pale nor frail, and certainly not weak. If anything, it was drawing him to it.
Lance drove. The road carried him along, as it had so many times before, along the path he knew as well, as they say, as the back of his hand. It was a beautiful morning. The road shone with the just-fallen rain, glistening like a child, freshly bathed and brushed. It was a morning like any number of mornings he’d seen on that road, a part of the reason why he chose to live in the Country. After all those years, he never did get tired of looking out across the Inlet at the mountains that were really volcanoes. He’d been there when they’d popped off, too, on more than one occasion. One day they’d be silent sentinels, cloaked in their winter mantles, not exactly inviting, but not exactly threatening, either. The next, they’d be spewing their guts across the whole damn Peninsula and out onto the Chain. They didn’t usually give much warning, either. Part of their charm, he’d always thought. Another part of the reason why he chose to live here, I suppose.
It was a beautiful morning, full of promise and hope, like a morning should be, like any number of mornings he’d seen along this road. And not quite like any morning he’d ever experienced before.
It was almost unnerving, how the road kept getting closer, closer to the rainbow, veering away and then veering back. Like the two of them were in cahoots, teasing him. Or like the road really was trying to sneak up on that rainbow, so stunningly beautiful by now that surely it was overwhelmed by its own splendor, and would never even notice a little old road just winding its way along, minding its own business.
He was close now, very close. Breathtakingly close. The rainbow occupied his entire world. He was no longer aware of anything else around him but the rainbow, almost obscene in its intensity, almost overwhelming in its vibrant omnipresence.
He gripped the wheel and felt the blood pumping in his temples. What now? he thought. What happens when you drive into a rainbow? I wonder if there really is a pot of gold…my god, this thing is huge…
The road curved. Just a little. Just enough.
Lance drove into the rainbow.
And suddenly, everything changed. The rainbow was gone. No bands of color. No arch. No definition of any sort.
Except that now everything, the whole world, the universe, was suffused in a golden light, practically palpable, and damn near audible. There may even have been a warmth emanating from it, he could never quite remember for sure. In any case, he would hardly have batted an eye if angels with harps had appeared in front of him. It was as though old Midas himself had cast his spell over the entire landscape. Someone — or something — certainly had; this was enchantment, no question about it. Even the road had turned to gold: “the Golden Road to….”
The road, fortunately, ran straight for some time. I don’t know if Lance would’ve made the curve if there had been one. Never mind traffic. Curiously enough, there wasn’t any. That was doubtless a blessing.
The road that took Lance into the rainbow took him back out. It was like breaking the surface after scuba-diving, coming back into a familiar reality that is less exotic than the one you’ve been in. Or like hitting the ground after parachuting out of an airplane. Suddenly, dramatically, sobering.
Lance drove on. It was still a beautiful morning. And now he knew: there is indeed gold at the end of the rainbow.