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Indian summer

September 23, 2013
By Ellayne Conyers , Marshall Independent

It is the time of the year for Indian Summer to return. By now most of us have put away our summer clothes and brought out the sweaters and woolen clothes. And then, to our yearly surprise, the hot weather returns, and we experience a couple of weeks of Indian Summer.

The official definition of an Indian summer is a heat wave that occurs in the autumn. It refers to a period of considerably above-normal temperatures, accompanied by dry and hazy conditions, usually after there has been a killing frost. Depending on latitude and elevation, it can occur in the Northern Hemisphere between late September and mid-November.

But did you ever wonder how this two-week reprieve got named "Indian Summer?" When the early immigrants settled in New England they knew that summer was a dangerous time to stray from their villages, because there were always Indians camping nearby, waiting to attack. But when the weather changed and fall, with its cooler temperatures, arrived the Indians packed up and retreated to their villages where they made preparations for surviving the coming bitter winter. The settlers then had nothing to fear from the Indians.

The problem was that when the warm weather temporarily returned, the New Englanders insisted that this was NOT summer, it was only a few warm days in fall. To the Indians, however, there seemed to be two summers a big one and a little one. So, planning accordingly, and certainly practical in their understanding of nature, they returned and zapped the unsuspecting settlers every time.

According to a 2008 issue of "About Town," "Though the early Yankees eventually learned their lesson, they were, after all, still New Englanders. And New Englanders, as we all know, are just plain stubborn. If they weren't, they wouldn't have settled here. So refusing to acknowledge a second summer themselves (because 't'was, after all, fall!") they called it 'the Indian's summer,' which later got shortened to 'Indian Summer.' And that's how the whole thing got started."

Catharine Parr Traill, in an account of her settler's life in Canada in the 1830s, described how she anticipated Indian summer "of which I have read such delightful descriptions, but I must say it has fallen far below my expectations" because its hazy daysproved rather warm and oppressive' and periods of stagnant air alternated with high winds that left the trees leafless. She mocked the notion held by some travelers - not settlers - that heat from forest fires set by First Nations peoples "beyond the larger lakes" caused the return of warmer temperatures and offered her own theory that the heat derived from the fermentation of vegetation in the vast Canadian forests in late October and early November. She predicted the phenomenon would become less marked as the region became settled and wrote "I have heard the difference is already observable by those long acquainted with the American continent."

The Northeastern Native American tribe who called themselves Alnobak, or "the people," more commonly Abenaki among outsiders, called a warm autumn spell a "person's summer" or Alnobainiben. As to an outsider their word for "the people" became their tribal name, their word "persons' summer" would be "Albenake summer," or later "Indian's summer."

In British English "St. Martin's summer" was the most widely used term until the American phrase became better known in the 20th century. An alternative was "Saint Luke's" summer; another was "All-hallow summer." In many Slavic-speaking countries, the season is called "Old Ladies' Summer." In Bulgaria, the phenomenon is sometimes called "Gypsy Summer" or Gypsy Christmas." In Hungary, its "Old Ladies' Summer or "Crone's Summer" because the many white spiders seen at this time of the year have been associated with the norms of Norse folklore or medieval witches. And lastly, in Lithuania this period is also called "summer of old ladies."

Well, whatever you want to call this unseasonably warm weather that we have in the fall, it is here now and we can be confident that it will return each fall, WEATHER we like it or not.



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