What the heck is “Indian Summer?” I keep hearing this weird term being tossed about my area of the world right now. It’s not a phrase that I, originally from a very temperate little valley, heard a lot growing up. And frankly, it’s a little bizarre sounding, especially in the generally highly-specific and attempting-to-be-respectful-of-other-cultures atmosphere at my university. I was curious.
It turns out there are very specific requirements for an “Indian Summer.” For starters, despite the profusion of birds and blooms and bugs my area, it’s not an “Indian Summer” unless it happens between Nov. 11 and Nov. 20, at least according to Old Farmer’s Almanac. Others’ restrictions are a little less stringent – BBC reports that the Meteorological Glossary will allow October and November (http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-15127159 ).
Next, it has to follow cold weather or a good hard frost. There has to be warm, stagnant air — often hazy, sometimes even smoky, depending (ya know, on whether there are fires in the area). That’s the result of a mass of cold air in the atmosphere being transformed into a warm high pressure clump of air.
Finally, what’s with the “Indian” in “Indian summer”? There’s a lot of theories out there. One is that sailing ships would have a line marked on their hull marking where the load could sit when the ships navigated the Indian ocean during summer. Another is that the term originated from a Native American belief that the warmth was sent from the god Cautantowwit, or so Old Farmer’s Almanac says. A third idea is that it came from a time when attacks by native tribes against the European settlers could resume following the crippling summer heat. One thing is for sure, the term has a long history — most accounts do agree that the first use dates from the late 18th century.
I’m just happy for some warmth before the inevitable but gorgeous white descends in earnest.