Monday, May 28, 2012

Songs Of Rain

By Heidi Noroozy

The first night I spent on the southern shores of the Caspian Sea eight years ago, I woke up in the dark to the sound of a lion roaring. Lions in northern Iran? I didn’t think so. After listening to the rain drumming on the roof of the house where I was staying, accompanied by the rat-a-tat of a tree branch against the window, I realized a storm had blown up in the night, and the lion roaring was nothing more than the waves crashing against a nearby rocky beach.
Caspian Sea, near Ramsar, Mazandaran

In a country where 20 percent of the territory is covered by desert, rain is a precious commodity. Even in Gilan and Mazandaran, the fertile northern provinces where much of the nation’s food crops are grown, rain is as necessary as the clear, fresh sea air along the Caspian coast. Iranians call this region Shomal (which means “North”), and Shomalis have long-standing traditions for inducing and predicting much needed precipitation. The Tiregan rain festival, which I wrote about last fall, is still held in Gilan every summer. And in Mazandaran, a popular saying among farmers goes like this: when you hear the song of the tree frog, you know the rain will soon begin.

Earlier this month, I spent a week near a village right smack on the border between Gilan and Mazandaran. We had sunny weather for the most part, with mist draping the verdant mountains that rise steeply from the Caspian’s shore.

And yet evidence of Shomal’s damp climate was apparent everywhere. I saw it in the Chaboksar meydoon (weekly farmer’s market), where the region’s bounty lay spread out on sturdy cloths covering the ground: tomatoes, cucumbers, oranges, garlic, and herbs, to name just some of the produce on display. Driving along the coastal road that hugs the Caspian shore, the breeze wafting through our open windows carried the scent of orange blossoms from orchards that clung to the steep mountain slopes. Behind the house where we spent each night, rice farmers in colorful Shomali garb waded through their watery paddies, tending the crop that forms the foundation of the Persian diet. With so much abundance dependent on the rain, it’s not hard to see why the locals listen for the tree frog’s song.
Tea break in the rice paddies of Gilan

In the Tabarian dialect of Mazandaran, the tree frog is called darvag (as opposed to the much harder to pronounce ghoorbagheh in standard Farsi). The song of this small green frog with the loud voice has inspired not only farmers but poets as well. In the following poem by the Mazandaran-born poet, Nima Youshij, a farmer yearns to hear the song of the darvag as drought destroys his crops:


Oh, messenger of cloudy days!
My land, adjacent to my neighbor’s, has become dry.
My shack is dark with no happiness in it.
The bamboo walls of my house are falling, due to lack of water,
Like the hearts of friends when parted.
Tell me: When will the rain come?

(translation by Hassan H. Farmarz)

Herbs for sale at the meydoon
On the last day of my recent visit to Mazandaran and Gilan provinces, the skies opened and rain drenched the land. Earlier, I’d heard frogs croaking in the fields behind the house but didn’t pay much attention to them at the time. Now, though, I think there may be a measure of truth in the Mazandarani weather superstition, since sunny skies had prevailed all week. Maybe the frogs I’d heard in the fields were raising their voices in songs of rain.

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