Left and right. Right and wrong. These dichotomies persist across many cultures and are perhaps tied to our biology and our bilateral symmetry. More often than not, belief in binaries divides and oversimplifies issues. Is there any way that I can reconcile perceived opposites and seek out unique moments that can’t be categorized by our binary systems?
Every day the sun rises and the sun sets. But there are several very rare natural phenomena that some people spend years and lifetimes looking for, even chasing. The green flash, flash spectrum, lunar eclipses, solar eclipses, the northern lights, and the Brocken spectre, to name a few. These events are much rarer than rainbows, in part because it requires specific planetary alignments as well as ideal atmospheric conditions to observe them properly.
In just one of these phenomena, the Brocken spectre (or Glory), does the observer become a necessary part of the event. This occurs when the observer is on a high point, with the sun setting behind him, and a circular rainbow surrounds his shadow as it projects out over the landscape. I’ve seen the Brocken spectre just one time.
On a mountaintop, just south of Ulaanbaatar in November of 2008. The day before I left the country. Down in the city the air was full of the dense pollution that hangs above Ulaanbaatar for the cold months, in a valley where 1.5 million people are trying to stay warm as temperatures regularly reach -40° (the only temperature where Fahrenheit and Celsius are the same) by burning coal and wood and dung. But there is a clear line on that mountain, an elevation where the smog stops; so I was standing above the pollution, in fresh mountain air.
The sun was setting behind me, and the mountain’s shadow was looming over Ulaanbaatar. Just as I was about to step back down into that layer of smog, the Brocken spectre appeared for just a moment… my shadow seemed to be cast over the city, larger than the mountain. There I was, huge and surrounded by a halo shaped rainbow. Divine? The whole event lasted no longer than a few seconds. By the time, I thought to pull my camera up in front of my face, the vision was gone. But for one moment I felt like I was part of this amazing planetary alignment. I felt enormous.
The world is a very very large place compared to any one man, but there are billions of us. Humanity’s ability to impact and change the planet and its ecosystems is undeniable. It’s for this reason that scientists are not referring to the world today as “modern” or “post-modern” or “post-post-modern” or “contemporary”; instead the consensus is that we have entered a new geographic epoch that they refer to as the Anthropocene. For our effect is great on this planet.