Big Sky

Cambridge is not exactly Montana, but the landscape around the city, especially to the north, is flat and vast with a low horizon, and the sky opens up accordingly. The town itself is also contourless; any low eminence – the Hill’s Road Bridge below the school, the Castle Mound, the Mill Road railway bridge – offers surprising wide vistas, and a potentially colossal sky.

landscape-with-a-double-rainbow-1812Good for rainbows, then, and cycling back from the school yesterday afternoon in a heavy shower I saw a spectacular double rainbow with one foot of the complete inner arc planted in the rail tracks and the other somewhere around Coldham’s Common. From the top of Mill Road Railway Bridge you could see it in its entirety, and the inner arc was so complete that at its edges it started to bleed back into a reprise of the spectrum.

People were standing all along Mill Road with their mouths open and their smartphones raised in adoration. It was an understandable impulse, one which the (relatively) local painter John Constable would have shared. Constable was obsessed with big skies, low Dutch horizons, and rainbows, the latter appearing not so much like the alien systemisation, both of colour and form, which they are, but as absorbed natural phenomena, of a piece with the mixed and watery airs of his East Anglian (and in the case below, Hamstead) skies.

Hampstead Heath with a Rainbow 1836 by John Constable 1776-1837


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