Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Nov. 4, 2005


There's nothing quite like the first hard freeze of the season to push me into action. I spent a good portion of Saturday on a ladder cleaning gutters while Art was busy with a woodworking project below. I doubt that he would have heard me scream over the noise of the saw had the ladder started slipping, but he might have seen me as I passed by.

But in spite of my fear of heights, I did OK.

That was one big job to check off my to-do list. But, alas, the list seems endless: drain and store garden hoses; cover the deck furniture; plant those day lilies and mums that I bought weeks ago; clean the humidifier; replace the furnace filter; put the shorts away and bring out the sweaters.

Ah, "Indian summer" - that time of year when the brilliant autumn colors, the misty mornings and crisp nights and the glorious sunshine work together to set us into action mode to prepare for the cold days ahead.

Indian summer can arrive any time from late September through November and it is triggered by the first frost of the fall, according to State of Kansas climatologist Mary Knapp. Indian summer is a string of warm, dry days and cool nights following an autumn freeze.

As is the case with many topics, I wanted to know more about Indian summer so I did an Internet search.

I found that the first known reference to Indian Summer appeared in a 1778 letter written by French essayist and colonial agriculturist Jean de Crèvecoeur: "Then a severe frost succeeds which prepares [the earth] to receive the voluminous coat of snow which is soon to follow; though it is often preceded by a short interval of smoke and mildness, called the Indian Summer."

Although no one knows for sure what de Crèvecoeur's reference to smoke meant, a couple of theories are that at this time of year, the Native Americans set fires to drive game out of hiding or to prepare grasslands for the next spring's planting.

According to New England Native American folklore, Indian summer is sent on a southwest wind from the spirit Countantowit.

A Christian Science Monitor article gave the term a more scientific explanation: it occurs "when a polar air mass stagnates in the East. As cool air lingers and inhibited vertical flow concentrates dust and smoke near the ground, a clockwise rotation of wind pulls much warmer air from the deep South and Southwest."

A more remote origin links the term with the marine shipping trade in the Indian Ocean. During the fair weather season, ships carried extra cargoes. To determine safe load limits, the mariners marked their hulls with the initials I.S. for Indian Summer to indicate the safe loading line for this period. How this term relates to autumn weather on the other side of the globe is uncertain.

Whatever the origin of the term, this autumn weather event isn't limited to North America. European folklore has Indian summer equivalents: "old wives' summer;" "halcyon days" and even "God's gift to Poland."

In Germany and northern Europe, Roman Catholics commemorate St. Martin of Tours - a bishop of the Middle Ages - with the feast day of Martinmas on Nov. 11. For country people, Martinmas is a time to relax after the harvest, so they refer to autumn's temperate climate as a Martinmas summer or St. Martin's summer.

Whatever its origin, all I really want to do is find a big pile of crunchy leaves and jump in - after I complete my list of autumn chores.

On second thought, why let chores interfere? I think I'll do that first!

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