Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 5, 2011
As many readers know, an Indian summer is a period of warm weather which sometimes happens in early autumn. What is not as well-known is that an Indian summer can also be a successful or pleasant period in someone’s life, oftentimes in the twilight years of their life.
On September 1, 2008 the Guardian newspaper in the UK published a news story entitled, “Is Summer Really Over?“ According to the paper, it had been a particularly soggy summer with North Ireland breaking the record for rain for the month of August that had previously been set in 1914. The UK, overall, had seen 154% more rain than usual and this had caused flooding that disrupted transportation and saw outdoor events cancelled. However, September promised to be a more temperate month according to weather forecasters.
Today marks the start of autumn according to the Meteorological office, and unfortunately its autumn forecast doesn’t promise an Indian summer. For the UK it predicts that temperatures will be near to or just above the average of 16C. However, don’t put your barbecue away yet, because the good news is that rainfall is forecast to be below average.
Just a year earlier, the summer months were terribly wet in Scotland according to journalist Bill Chudziak of the Glasgow Sunday Mail as evidenced by his article published on September 2, 2007. The article reported in part:
Summer was a washout. This record breaker has deluged wildlife and commercial crops, resulting in significant failure. Provisional figures from the Met Office show 387.6mm (15in) of rain have already fallen in May, Jun and July, making it the wettest summer since records began in 1766. However, September’s here, an Indian summer is surely due and there’s a rake of jobs to do.
Oddly enough, on October 26, 2002 the South Wales Echo published a news article by Simon Williams entitled, “Driest September For Almost A Decade” in which his first sentence was:
Forget Venice, Madrid and the hotspots of the Mediterranean, South Wales is basking in an Indian Summer that is making it one of the warmest parts of Europe.
The phrase was included in the 1841 edition of the Webster dictionary which indicates that the term was already part of every day language, back to at least the early 1800s.
Back on October 13, 1794, Major Denny was stationed with his troops at French Creek near the present city of Erie, Pennsylvania. In his journal he made an entry in his journal that read: “Pleasant Weather. The Indian summer here. Frosty nights.”
A reference to “Indian Summer” is found in The Farmer’s Almanac edited by Robert B. Thomas in 1792.
If All Saints brings out Winter, Saint Martin’s brings out Indian Summer.
And in 1790, General Josiah Harmar made 3 journal entries over a period of 10 days that read as follows:
Thursday, Oct 21st – fine weather – Indian summer. Having completed the destruction of the Maumee towns as they are called, we took up our line of march this morning from the ruins of Chillicothe for Ft. Washington. Marched about 8 miles.
Saturday, Oct. 23rd – Indian summer. Took up our line of march this morning at 8 o’clock and encamped about 24 miles from the ruins of the Maumee towns. This days march about 16 miles – much encumbered with our wounded men.
Sunday, Oct 31st – Fine, clear weather. Indian summer. Marched and halted a little while at what is called Sugar Camp – from thence to Caesar’s creek, a branch of the Little Miami – three miles. Thence crossed the Little Miami.”
Indian summer is recorded in Letters From an American Farmer, written in 1778 and published in 1782. The author was French-American soldier turned farmer J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur (1735 – 1813) also known as Michel-Guillaume-Jean de Crèvecoeur. He immigrated from France to North America in 1755 when he was just 20 years old, finally settling in New York state sometime in 1759. In his book, the following passage is found:
Then a severe frost succeeds which prepares it 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.
But the earliest version of “Indian Summer” is found in the story told by the First Nations people of the Eastern Woodlands.
The story goes that a noble warrior of great integrity, kindness, compassion and honesty and what happened in his relationship between him and the Creator over a period of years when times were very hard on his people. As times worsened, the warrior blamed others and then the Creator for what was happening.
The villagers begged the warrior to seek wisdom and guidance from the Creator but he would not, and so the villagers built him a lodge on the far side of a great field by the river so he could live on his own. They brought him food to keep him alive and clothing to keep him warm.
By the time December came around, the warrior realized he had been wrong to blame the Creator for the problems he and his people had experienced. He begged the Creator to forgive him and he was forgiven. By January, the warrior was starving and he begged the Creator for food. The Creator told the warrior to do everything that would be asked of him and not question anything asked of him by the Creator.
He was told by the Creator to look in the empty gourds within the lodge and if he found corn, bean and squash seeds, as well as other seeds, he was to plant them. The warrior found these seeds but he also knew that the ground outside was frozen and hard. He also knew that if he managed to plant these seeds in the frozen found, nothing would grow because is was the Moon of Much Cold. Still, he had given his word to the Creator not to question His directions and he left the lodge to plant the seeds.
Night came and the Creator spoke to the warrior, telling him that the next day, the warrior would have to rise early and tend to the plants. At first, the warrior wondered if Coyote had come to trick him but he remember what the Creator had told him, and so the next morning he arose early and tended to the plants. To his surprise, the day felt more like the Moon of Spring (April) and he was surprised and happy to see that each mound where a seed had been planted had a seedling growing.
On the second morning, the Creator commanded the warrior to arise and till the plants. Without questioning, the warrior rose and stepped out of the lodge where the warmth of the Moon of Flowers (May) warmed him. The seedlings from the day before were now plants, so he tilled and weaned each and every mound and at the end of the day, he returned tired but pleased with the work he had done.
One the third morning, the Creator woke the warrior again and said, “Arise warrior and weed the plants and eat.”
The warrior got up out of bed and left his lodge. He found the day to be warm like the days of the Month of Green Corn (June). He went out to the plants where he saw many of them were being choked by weeds and so he weeded the plants, picked some of the bounty and returned to his lodge.
That evening, the Creator came to the warrior and told him to take care of the garden, sharing the fruits of his labour with his people. And so on the fourth morning, after being awakened by the Creator, the warrior harvested the field. Later that evening when everyone in the village was asleep, the warrior placed food at the doors of each lodge.
On the fifth morning, the Creator woke the warrior with a start, telling him that the plants needed to be protected from Crow, Racoon, Rabbit and Fox. As he left the lodge, the heat from the Moon of Much Heat (August) hit him and he chased away Crow, Raccoon, Rabbit and Fox. He harvested more food and shared this with the people as well.
The sixth morning found the warrior awakened by the Creator who warned him that he had to harvest what was left of the bounty in the field as Winter was coming quickly again. The warrior stepped out of the lodge and felt the coolness of the Moon of Harvest (September). He hurried and harvested all the food which was plentiful as the garden had produced a great deal of food. At the end of the day, he shared the food with the people in the village again.
On the seventh day, the Creator told the warrior, “Till up the garden and leave the plants for the four-leggeds and the birds of the sky. Then hunt so that you have meat. You must be done with the hunt and drying of meat by dusk for the Moon of Hard Frost comes at the end of this day and tomorrow you will find yourself in the Moon of Much Cold again.”
Without question, the warrior did as the Creator had told him to do. As the day drew to a close, the warrior was more tired than he remembered ever being before but he set aside time to be grateful for what the Creator had given him and he thanked Him for the miracle of the 7 days that had passed.
And as told to him, all was as the Creator said it would be the next morning. But the Creator had more to share with the warrior and his people.
He came to the warrior and the people at sunrise and said, “Warrior, you have done well following my words and giving back to the people. I am always here and a part of who you are. Be happy for what you have when you have it for there may be days when it may not be there for you and it may never be there for you again. Always take care of the people.”
The warrior took these words to heart as did the people.
“When times turn cold and you believe all is gone, do not be afraid. I will always give the people the time of another warmth so they may gather just a bit more food to make it through the cold. Make this time a time of great happiness and sharing, and it is to be known as Little Summer.”
It is said that the people no longer feared the Moon of the Hard Frost after that because they knew the joy of Little Summer would soon follow.
When the white men found the people and were told of this Little Summer, the white men chose to call this time after the people and it became known as “Indian Summer.”