Reflections on rainwater

April showers bring the promise of spring

Image: Munchmuseet, Oslo
“Karl Johan in the Rain,” Edvard Munch, oil on canvas 1891.

Brooklyn, N.Y.

April is upon us, bringing the inevitable spring rains—a mixed blessing, as the earth is being reborn, and a plague, as clogged gutters can cause leaky roofs. But April always carries a special meaning for me. I always think of the words “Look down my rain barrel,” from the popular children’s song, “Oh Little Playmate.” 

Oh, a rain barrel—what a romantic throwback! But it is also something important, as it allows one to recycle rainwater. It sounds like an old-fashioned idea that needs to be reclaimed. And it is, with the increasing sighting of rain chains I see along the Northeast, emptying into containers.

In Japan, one finds rain chains, or kusari-doi, designed to gently control the flow of water from a roof to a container or the earth. They are lyrical waterspouts created by simply interlacing circles comprised of metal. While others are more elegant, shaped like bells or tapered like a lily, the majority I have encountered are made of warm copper, offering a soft lullaby as the liquid follows its course. 

These rain chains were designed for practical, not aesthetic, reasons. In regions of heavy snow, one finds tile roofs, and melt water would penetrate beneath the edges of tiles and subsequent freezing would shatter them, or pop them off. Japanese rain chains are thus a beautiful integration of function and form.

This philosophy of functional beauty is also fundamental to Nordic design. I was curious and began to explore how Norwegians have traditionally solved their issue of rainwater runoff within their architecture. 

For the most part, the Norwegians used wooden gutters, running along the length of a building like an open tunnel. These gutters can last for up to 100 years. What mimics the incorporation of ornamentation are their curvaceous supports. With a nod to practicality, they either have holes to allow the water to escape or to channel it to a wooden pipe, set at a right angle, utilizing gravity to lead it to its inevitable end.

What to do with this water? Should we allow it to spill into the ground or collect it for others? The latter is known as rainwater harvesting, a tradition found in both Japan and Norway. It’s practical and respects nature, a philosophy dear to both cultures.  And this practice continues to this day. 

Image: KODE Museum, Bergan
“Night in Spring,” Nikolai Astrup, oil on canvas, 1909.

April brings so many necessary surprises, after the chilly, damp days of winter. This month of spring rain and growing warmth still delights and offers a touch of magic, as the alchemy of both elements merging blesses the earth. Recognition of this was essential to Norway’s former agricultural society dependent on the whims of nature for survival. It is no surprise that these elements are represented in Norse pantheon. The god Frey symbolizes the warmth and gentleness of the spring rains, and the consequence of this—fertility—is encompassed in Iduna, the lovely Norse goddess of spring, who comes bearing apples that hold the same power as the fountain of youth.

I always welcome the return of April showers, whether drizzle or deluge. I love to hear the sounds of droplets, whether they interact with windowpanes or rivers. I look forward to their ever-changing symphony. I am grateful for the return of the delicate pear blossoms sheltering the street, the burst of chubby magnolias, and the distinct smell of soaked pavement.

This selfless gift of renewal and abundance is precious and fragile. We must tend to these gifts better with daily gratitude for nature’s largess. For, to know that the spring rains will come again and the sun will return, as the earth rebounds, is a great comfort during these strange and singular times. 

This article originally appeared in the April 17, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Victoria Hofmo

Victoria Hofmo was born, raised, and still lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the historical heart of Norwegian New York. She is 3/4 Scandinavian: 1/2 Norwegian and 1/4 Danish/Swedish. Self-employed, she runs an out-of-school-time program that articulates learning through the arts. Hofmo is an advocate for arts and culture, education, and the preservation of the built and natural environment of her hometown, with a love for most things Scandinavian.

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