The severe thunderstorm warning came over my radio just as I was headed south from Dothan. A huge ominous cloud hung back to the east and was headed my way.
The storm hit me north of Cottondale. It was a powerful, blinding rainstorm, with sheets of rain blowing across the four lane highway. Cars were pulled over all along the way as travelers slowed to a crawl.
By the time I got to Compass Lake, part of the dirt I had just had put in the driveway was washing down into the lake. I sat in the car for over 30 minutes waiting for just enough of a break to make a run for the house.
Three inches later, I started back home, with the rain still coming down, but with blue sky peeking through to the east. It appeared I would get a break in the weather as I traveled home, heading towards Marianna, Neal’s Landing and Donalsonville.
No one in the Florida Panhandle or Southwest Georgia needs a story about how powerful a thunderstorm was because we have all seen much, much worse in the past year. It was the aftermath of this particular storm that made this such a special day for me.
As I arrived in Alford, Florida, just seven miles north of Compass Lake, I saw the beginning of the rainbow. It was off to the right in the direction I was headed. It was brilliant with an intensity that you rarely see in a rainbow.(See photo on page 1 in this edition)
I was hopeful that the rainbow might last until I reached Marianna, 20 miles away. I wanted to take a picture of the rainbow against the backdrop of some of the devastation that still remains in that city. In particular, I wanted to see the colors landing against the crumbling walls of Saint Luke Baptist Church.
Located on Jackson Street, this historic African American church sits on one of the highest points of the city. The brick building was built in the Gothic Revival Style with pointed arch leaded stained glass windows. It had towers on either side of the central nave.
Vacant since 1984, I have traveled by this building for decades while taking a short cut through the city. As it slowly decayed, I would occasionally stop and take pictures. Hurricane Michael took its toll on the beautiful old building and the sanctuary roof collapsed, leaving just the shell of the two towers to stand over the surrounding debris.
As I arrived at the church, I was rewarded with not one but two rainbows. I stood in the rain trying to catch the perfect picture of the church and the double rainbow. None of the pictures did the setting justice but it was a beautiful sight to see.
As I headed home, the double rainbow seemed to move ahead of me. I passed Sunland, Greenwood and Bascom with the double rainbow still intense, present around every curve in the road.
Headed towards Neal’s Landing I stopped twice in the long stretch of straight road along Florida Highway 2. The double rainbow was now complete from end to end. I do not know if I have ever seen such a sight. The left side was in Alabama while the right side touched down in Florida.
I stopped on the bridge as I crossed the Chattahoochee River. The rainbow seemed to come right down into the water. It loomed in front of me all the way to Donalsonville, like a multi-colored gateway awaiting me at home.
I took more pictures in Donalsonville until it finally faded away, over an hour after I had first glimpsed its dazzling prism light.
I suppose I could just say that I was in the ideal position headed home behind a line of thunderstorms moving at the same speed I was traveling. I suppose I could say it was more vivid and clear because the sun was setting at just the right angle behind me. I suppose I could say that I could see the complete double rainbow because I was in some flat farmland with few trees to hinder the view.
I suppose. But I rather choose to think about it as a wonderful gift. After nine months of traveling this route of destruction at least once a week, I was led home by the most beautiful double rainbow I have ever seen. Ever. Bar none.
Genesis says that rainbows are a sign of the covenant between God and every living creature. God keeps His promises even in the midst of destruction and despair. Sometimes, those promises are doubled and guide us all the way home.
Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]