Mar 7, 2020

Moonbow Meander

Cumberland Falls, Google Pixel 4

Mini Snow
Diana F+ MEG, Kodak 400TX
Gatliff Bridge
Diana F+ MEG, Kodak 400TX
Cumberland River
Diana F+ MEG, Kodak 400TX
Last month I packed a few cameras and visited Cumberland Falls State Park in Kentucky.

I planned to go with someone else. I drove up alone, opening the windows occasionally to the cold to wake myself because I'd slept so little in the weeks prior, and felt melancholy. In the higher elevations I smiled at patches of snow that fell earlier in the week but were mostly melted. It was the first snow I'd seen this season, despite being February. Every white patch brought a blizzard of happy memories, smiles that melted back into sadness.

The drive took longer than I expected, longer than Google said it would, but I welcomed the slowness.

A long bridge spanning the obscenely swollen Cumberland River greeted me at the park. It’s been a wet winter, but the speed and rage of the water shocked me. I didn’t recognize it as the same river that passes through my town, Nashville, 200 miles downstream; I'd never seen it like this, not even during the flood of 2010. Driving across that old bridge, convinced it couldn’t possibly withstand the river's onslaught, frightened me.This was Young Cumberland, still close to its birth, hot-headed, eager to rebel against constraint. Down Nashville way it's Mid-life Cumberland, meandering through its day-to-day routine, trying to slow the persistent plod toward retirement into the Ohio. Both stages can be deadly, but in very different ways.

I promised myself to use this time away to think. Thinking about youth vs. mid-life, and beyond, didn’t help my melancholy. I took a deep breath and drove across the bridge.

Just downstream of the bridge is Cumberland Falls, a 70-foot faceplant in the river’s journey west. I parked and rushed to see the fall. It’s called the Niagara of the South. It ain’t quite Niagara, but its power made me think it’s damn close. I wandered to the different overlooks, each time impressed with the fall and trying to capture it on my crappy little film cameras.

Cumberland River Valley, Google Pixel 4
I drove up the lodge, where I’d booked a suite, and dropped my stuff in the room. I wasn’t looking forward to sleeping in a king-size bed in a king-size room on my own. I didn’t want to hang out in that vast loneliness, so I went down and sat on the lodge’s patio, feeling the cold as I watched the Cumberland Valley turn itself over to night.

My main reason for going: to see my first moonbow.

A moonbow is a rainbow created by the light of the full moon in the mist of the falls. You don’t see a rainbow in the traditional sense because your eyes can't discern the colors (unless you’re under the age of ~6…something about losing cones as you get older). Conditions must be perfect, so moonbows aren’t common but there are a few places on earth they appear with some regularity, Cumberland Falls being one of them. I advise you look up Cumberland Falls and Moonbow to see what I’m talking about.

(Barely Visible) Moonbow, Google Pixel 4
Although naked adult eyes can’t see the colors, long exposure photos can. I hoped to capture a colorful moonbow on film (alas, I failed). I was surprised how many other people were there for the exact same thing (although I don’t think anyone else was shooting film).

One woman I met was driving from Florida to Pennsylvania; her husband filed for divorce and she was headed to stay with a cousin she’d met only once. She’d read a blurb about the Moonbow at a rest stop and decided to detour since it was a full moon weekend. She had a high-end digital SLR she didn’t know how to use despite calling herself a wedding photographer. I showed her how it worked and let her use my tripod to take several photos of the moonlit falls. She was excited and it made me happy to help her find some joy in a difficult time.

She left and I reclaimed my tripod to take my own photos, hoping to find my own joy in a difficult time.

1 comment:

  1. Maybe I'm just imagining but I think I can almost see some colors in that moonbow photo?