Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In The Throes of Indian Summer

Here in the northeast we are experiencing that rare weather pattern better known as “Indian summer.” There are many definitions of what constitutes true Indian summer, but what isn’t in dispute is that it is lovely and warm, comes in October or November, lasts for at least a few days, and follows a hard, or killing frost. Some variations say that it must precede the first snow, with temperatures of at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit, but I never depend on such stringent criteria to define my Indian summer. If the sun is out and the late autumn days are balmy and still, or stirred only by a slight breeze from the southwest, it is Indian summer for me.

This year, it came after the first snow, which happened a few weeks ago on a cold and miserable Sunday. That was a nasty day of big, wet flakes mixed with sleet and a cold rain. It coated the grass in slush, but dissipated by the following morning. It unfortunately coincided with me having to drive into the city an hour away to pick up seven arrivals from the corporate headquarters on the west coast who were flying in to Logan airport…bad timing, to be sure. At least I earned time-and-a-half wages for my efforts and was able to take a company car.

That day was like a distant memory this past Sunday, as the frost melted off the grass by mid-morning, and we reveled in the hazy warmth of a low sun and a warm, sweet breeze that stirred the mostly bare trees. Even now, a few days later, though the sun is weaker, it is still weirdly mild outside and I love it.

But it got me to thinking: where does the term “Indian summer” come from? I did a little research and found that its true origins may be lost in time. But there are some things we do know. In most parts of the northern hemisphere, there is a name for the warm weather that follows the hard frost. In Bulgaria, for example, it is known as the “Gypsy summer” or sometimes, “Gypsy Christmas” presumably because it makes outdoor living more bearable for those wandering folk. In Germany it’s known as the “Web summer”, because a certain type of spider weaves webs on the grass and Hungarians know it as the “Crone’s summer”, which refers to the medieval association with Halloween and witchcraft.

The oldest written reference to the term Indian summer was apparently in a letter written by a Frenchman, St. John de Crevecouer, in 1778. He describes, “…an interval of calm and warmth which is called the Indian Summer; its characteristics are a tranquil atmosphere and general smokiness”, referring to the common occurrence of haze in the warm meadows. But where do Indians fit it to the picture? Although no one seems to know for certain, it is suspected that many native peoples here in the United States had a habit of setting fire to the grasslands during this time of year. The smoke mingled with the haze, allowing them to be better able to sneak up on their prey when hunting. Other sources contend that northern tribes saw the warmth of the dry winds as a gift from the gods of the southwest desert; a reprisal of summer, just before the winter.

On Sunday, Mac and I took Rigby down to the shore with the thought of walking her up and down the sand, but it was so nice on the beach, we set up chairs near the surf and read for a few hours. It was like medicine for the soul.

I hate to see this beautiful weather leave, because I know it is likely our last reprieve before winter’s icy grip enfolds us. But for today, it is wonderful.


  1. That is a lovely post. I could feel your enjoyment of your Indian Summer.

  2. I'm enjoying Indian Summer out here in the Midwest and enjoyed reading about it from your part of the country. I hope it lasts a lonnnnng time.

  3. My mom lives in north central Iowa. She went golfing last week. Must have been that mild weather. Blogs like yours have opened my eyes to the lovely weather of SoCal. (Are summer days are shorter than yours, but our winters are o so much more mild.)

  4. Great post...Yes, we too have had this lovely weather.. surprising us, seducing us into believing that by some odd circumstance winter will disappear, and we will be blessed with sweater weather all year..yes, right here in NYC! Just another warm weather daydream!

  5. Refreshing post - and yep, love these days before the snows! Thanks for all the info on Indian Summer too. Some of it I was familiar with - I love doing research too! Isn't it fun? You said "medicine for soul" ahhhh, love that too! Being in nature really does it for me too!

  6. I could feel the beautiful warmth of the Indian Summer as I read this. Wonderful...!

  7. A most interesting post, Deedee. I may well quote your piece about the Indian Summer on my word blog, if I may.

  8. daughter: Hi and glad you're reading!

    Pauline: I just love it! in fact I love all the seasonexcept winter, and even winter does have it's beauty I suppose!

    Maria: Glad you got some Indian summer too! I wonder if your turtles hibernate, or do they stay active?

    Don: Yes you do have enviable weather, Don - If I could stand to leave New England, I would head to Cali.

    Lyn: Enjoy! I will be heading to NYC for visit after Thanksgiving-looking forward to Central Park!

    Susan: I agree, nothing does it for me like nature. Enjoy the remaining autumn days!

    Jo: Thank you so much- hope you have some sun up north too!

    Scriptor: Thank you - Please feel free to use my words...I'd be honored!

  9. Hi! I sure wish that we were having an Indian Summer here! What's the opposite of Indian summer? Whatever, it is, that's exactly what we're having. :)

  10. may it last forever....or at least a few more weeks..jack.....hey daughter!

  11. What a lovely post about one of my favorite times of the year in NJ, Indian Summer. Don't have it here in Germany and I sure do miss that kind of weather. It was great to see your name in the comments list of my garter post. I love it when I reconnect with friends who I have failed to visit for a while. At times I have a hard time keeping up with so many blogs. :-( I am glad that you came around to find me again!! Have a good weekend Deedee, I hope that all is well with you. I will be back again soon, I promise. hugs, Debby

  12. What an infoirmative and interesting post and the photo is absolutely wonderful. Thanks.