One of the great phenomena we have the blessing to experience as entities in a physical reality is one we tend to treat with familiarity because it is fairly common. Like the glory of a sunrise or sunset, upon which one could gaze two times every living day, rainbows are a marvel of physics that we see often enough in our lifetimes that they sometimes feel routine. When they pop up, they demand our attention, but we might not place them in the pantheon of great experiences, as one might for a full solar eclipse or a close encounter with a tornado.

Still, they are magical.

I thought of rainbows when I watched my infant daughter wonder in awe at light bulbs and ceiling fans. I caught myself questioning why these everyday happenings would hold her attention so tautly. As I reflected, the question should have been with me, not with her. I wasn’t witnessing a young simpleton staring at trite spectacles. Light bulbs are miraculous. Ceiling fans are spellbinding. It was I who had lost the ability to wonder at these occurrences. At some point, our experience on Earth dulls the appreciation we have for the incredible things we witness often. It’s hard not to equate novelty with wonder.

The mechanics of a rainbow are a topic we’ll have to leave for another article. They’re not terribly difficult, but they are more complicated to express than the space afforded today. That sunlight can hit drops of water, reflect and refract, and produce a ROYGBIV is glorious.

Some people manage to retain the awe of children as they age. Perhaps the non-cynical experience is a rarity, but it does exist!

The end of a rainbow in Canada's Jasper National Park - photo by Wing-Chi Poon
Castle Geyser and rainbows at Yellowstone National Park - photo by Brocken Inaglory
Niagara Falls with rainbows - photo by Captain76
Notice the color bands in this double rainbow in Alaska - photo by Eric Rolph

On 8 January 2010, a man witnessed a double rainbow in his yard, near Yosemite National Park in California.

Technically, all rainbows are double, thanks to the physics of light and water. However, the secondary arc is often too weak to spot. When both bands appear in the sky, we call it a double rainbow. Interestingly, the colors are reversed between the arcs! You can see the red edge on top of the primary rainbow and the bottom of the secondary in the image above. The space between the arches of a double rainbow can often seem much darker than the rest of the sky. We call this section Alexander’s band, named after the Greek philosopher Alexander of Aphrodisias.

Because they are relatively uncommon to human eyes, double rainbows can be quite intoxicating to espy. To Paul Vasquez, the double rainbow he witnessed in 2010 filled him with “the spirit of the universe.” The video he produced of the rainbow and his reaction became one of the most famous internet sensations of all time. If you’ve never witnessed Double Rainbow before, prepare yourself for quite the spectacle. If it’s been a while since you watched the joy of a human’s reaction to two colorful arcs in the sky, revisit this fantastic snippet:

Known as Yosemitebear62 on YouTube, Vasquez was alternately moved to tears and uncontrollable delight as he discovered the double rainbow near his house.

Posted in the early era of YouTube, the double rainbow became a viral smash. Vasquez and the video appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! A few of his remarks became catchphrases. He exclaimed that the rainbow went “all the way across the sky!” He asked the world at large, “what does this mean?” Thirteen years later, people have watched Vasquez’ opus more than 50 million times.

Though some poked fun at the nature of his reaction, Double Rainbow is actually a rare moment of sincerity in a world filled with irony. On Good Morning America, host Bill Weir asked Vasquez if he was sober when he witnessed the optical phenomenon. “I was just on pure rainbow power. I was by myself and it was just the spirit of the universe influencing me.” Presented with moments of passing beauty, Vasquez reacted as a child might to a light bulb turning on or a ceiling fan turning.

Originally from Los Angeles, Vasquez was a firefighter before moving to Yosemite, where he became a farmer and a truck driver.

Though most famous for the double rainbow, Vasquez posted many videos about his life and the gorgeous scenery around Yosemite Valley. To date, Yosemitebear62 has over 4,500 videos on his channel!

Unfortunately, in May 2020, Vasquez developed a fever and started having trouble breathing. On May 9, he died at the age of 57. Though no cause of death was ever officially released, many speculate the timing corresponded too well with the worldwide Covid pandemic.

Those who followed his ecstatic content online believed his channel had seen the last double rainbow. Then something incredible started to happen.

Videos continued to arrive on his YouTube channel.

Paul Vasquez seemingly produced new short films from the dead. Of course, the most likely explanation is that he utilized the scheduling function on YouTube. The clip above – filmed in December 2017 – was posted just eight days before today’s article publication. Two days ago, he premiered a video from February 2013 on clouds. Two weeks ago, a clip showing a “rainbow cloud” near Half Dome appeared. In the past 24 hours, three pieces showed up.

Some of the videos deal with nature, some with his personal life, and some with his health struggles. They are all filled with the sincerity of Double Rainbow.

Despite 50 million views on his biggest video and more than 50,000 subscribers on YouTube, most of his post-death productions are watched by almost no one. At publication, his most recent video has 35 views. High counts for uploads hit three digits. The world has forgotten Paul Vasquez. That’s OK, his videos now seem like hidden secrets.

Not all the items Vasquez scheduled are tours de force. Some of them are short gems. Each one feels like a peek into a life that appreciated beautiful and interesting things. I find myself wanting to emulate his excitement and my daughter’s excitement. It’s hard to maintain a fresh outlook on a life that contains many hardships and disappointments, but Vasquez is a wonderful example to follow. In his talk with Jimmy Kimmel, Vasquez intuited that he understands reactions to the Double Rainbow video were varied. Some loved his earnestness; others mocked him, finding it hard to believe someone would have such a reaction. He notes that he thinks of the video as a mirror. Your response to him is equal to what comes out of you. What do you see?

How long will the uploads continue after his death? Some of the videos seem to have been scheduled for a decade after they were filmed. Can we hope for snippets into 2030? Videos that continue all the way across the decade would be great, but with each new posting comes the possibility that it could be the last.

The next time you see a rainbow, try to be a bit more like Paul!

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