I'll call this one (in my own mind, at least; I don't get to write headlines) The Chemtrailer and the Rainbow.
A couple of things come to mind when I contemplate the beautiful San Luis Valley in southern Colorado, where I spend a couple of months every summer.
Okay, make that several things: rainbows, for instance, cattle mutilations, beautiful scenery, flying saucers and conspiracy theorists.
The valley, which lies between the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo mountain ranges, has a long history of strange occurrences. Most of the weird cattle mutilations reported a few years back occurred in the valley. True Believers are convinced that the cattle were taken aboard UFOs, mutilated with surgical precision for scientific purposes and then dumped back into pastures and open range, to the puzzlement of ranchers and law enforcement officials.
The valley is also a prime site for UFO sightings; to the extent that one woman a few miles south of the cabin I rent operates a combined campground and UFO watching site bedecked with old television satellite dishes and signs welcoming UFOs to the ranch and valley.
And it is not unusual for a conversation, especially later at night, sitting in a hot spring on the side of a mountain, to drift to conspiracy theories about everything from the Kennedy assassination to the belief that a mountain in New Mexico is hollow and houses a major base from which Martians operate their flying saucers.
Area 51 might be situated in Nevada, but its soul lives in the San Luis valley along with those of the Trilateral Commission and Council on Foreign Relations plots and the belief that Elvis, James Dean, and, by now probably Michael Jackson, are alive and well on a desert island somewhere.
The rule of etiquette is, "I will listen to your completely insane theory without giggling, as long as you agree to hear my insane theory and accord it the same mock courtesy."
What I usually say after hearing one of these theories is, "Gosh! I never thought of it that way. I'll have to look into that." Besides who am I to challenge weird beliefs? I even believed in the WMDs for almost a week.
The chemtrails folks, or at least a lot of them, believe that the government is constantly spraying us with mind-control chemicals to make us mindless automatons to do its bidding. Okay, that would explain the 2000 and 2004 elections, and it's not that I don't think the government could do that. I just don't think the folks who run it are that organized.
As evidence of the conspiracy, chemtrailers point to strange-looking jet contrails, especially those that appear to form a grid, as if the concept of different airliners flying in different directions at close to the same time wasn't an adequate counter-explanation.
One thing the valley does offer, however, is a vivid and frequently occurring assortment of rainbows, many times double rainbows. Last year, I saw a beautiful rainbow that ended on a nearby residence — a mobile home. I thought of going there and advising the residents that they were living at the end of a rainbow, but ranchers aren't always as metaphysically inclined as some of the valley's other residents.
As I entered the valley for the day of my visit year before last, a low-hanging overcast truncated a rainbow so that only the portion nearest the ground was visible and made it appear that a pillar of refracted light, in sharp contrast to the dark overcast behind it, was waiting for me on my arrival. Apparently, however, a lot of the people who stopped along the highway to gawk and take pictures took it equally personally.
My wife is co-founder of a charity called the Florida Rainbow Company and we turned our wedding into a fundraiser for the charity and called it, "Over the Rainbow." I was musing on that this year shortly after I had attended Denver's Gay Pride parade (a rainbow-themed event if one there ever was) and as I climbed a foothill heading for a hot-spring pond near the top.
Suddenly I noticed a single clump of cumulus cloud over the hills that was glowing with rainbow colors. I don't pretend to know the meteorological or optical science behind what I was seeing, but I wanted to share it with a woman I saw coming downhill on the same trail.
"Did you see that?" I asked pointing over her shoulder to the phenomenon highlighting a beautiful mountain day with otherwise cobalt-blue skies and skin-tingling sunlight.
"If you mean the contrail and the chemical cloud they are spraying," she said, "yes. That's why I'm leaving."
I don't know for sure, of course, whether her perspective on the event or mine was the most accurate.
But I do know that some people see the glass as half-full, some as half-empty and some as half-full but loaded with PCBs, raw sewage and industrial waste.
Call me Pollyanna.
But at least I didn't screw up somebody else's rainbow.