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PERU is the Land of the Sun. Its light and heat descend upon the coast with tropical fury, reducing the desert to a shimmering vibration which breathes back scorching odors toward the sun. The sun alone makes life possible upon the arctic heights where, in Inca days, it was worshipped in name as well as in fact. Yet beyond the mountain-barrier the same constant sun has no longer undisputed sway. The jungle is "almost uninhabitable through too great abundance of waters." Peru is the Land of Water, without which the desert is barren, because of which the jungle is luxuriant.
But the sun, the god of Peru, controls the water. It can combine with its opposing element. It is able to transfigure even the rain, which, like human hopes, becomes iridescent because the sun shines. The rainbow is a willing Ariel, the servant of each, retreating from the sun only as far as the rain allows and illumining the rain only as far as the sun permits.
The rainbow is visible nature's alphabet. In terms of it are spelled sky and sea, trees, birds, and flowers. It shoots the desert-mists and twinkles along the streams which intersect it. It fearlessly embraces the austere crags of the mountain-peaks and shimmers in the craters of volcanoes.
Entire it flings itself from the heart of a shower, follows the waves of the sea along, or glints on a butterfly's wings or from a hummingbird's throat.
It reveals the elements of the stars, it lists the ingredients of the sun, and sets down upon its ephemeral tablet the red-hot vapors rising from the desert. Even the breath of the volcano has a place in the rainbow alphabet.
It is hard to avoid so fundamental a thing. Close your eyes in the sunlight, and its whole scale is thrown in glistening repetition across your own eyelashes.
Even the ultra-violet — the unknown, the unperceived — must be discussed in rainbow terms, the only letters the eye's alphabet knows.
The Incas chose it for an empire's emblem and dedicated to it a temple close to that of the Sun.
It symbolized to the Spaniards the astounding country which had fallen as by miracle into their grasp, the land of mystery, whose romantic wealth and dazzling promises encircled them as with the rainbow arch, and, like it, receded as they advanced.
Peru still keeps the rainbow symbol. Many-colored mysteries hover about the man who leans over its glittering jewel-casket. And wherever the ends of its bright bow touch the desert, flit over the mountain-tops, or sweep across the jungle, nature's unexplored secrets lie concealed.
There is, however, a difference. For the rainbow-arch which mingles sunlight and water is only an evanescent promise, vanishing almost as quickly as it can flash a new gleam of hope into a human heart. But Peru, with its changing beauties and its mysterious allurements, is a fact. The pot of gold which it promises is real.