"Ah, this is freedom," I thought, as we headed the
car east on Highway 72 into hazy blue skies blended with milky
gray clouds. I pressed back on a button overhead and the moon
roof slid open like a trap door. The whole car lit up inside
as a hot orange sun warmed the right side of my face. In summer,
that extra solar energy might have been almost intolerable. But
now it felt good. In the coolish air and shorter days of mid-autumn,
the sun's rays felt distinctly invigorating, even therapeutic.
It was great just to be cruising in short sleeves with all the
windows down for perhaps one last time this year. Breathe in
that air and hold it. It's not going to last.
that is the true magic of Indian Summer. The knowing that any
day with temperatures in the 70's and warm, dry breezes could
be the last of its kind for six months or more. We get lots of
these days in late spring and early summer. But then we are at
the beginning of the season. It's sort of like opening a new
box of cookies. No need to be careful about savoring them. There
are so many more to come. It's when you get down to the last
few of anything and there are no more at hand that you start
to get careful about getting the most value from the ones that
There are other aspects to the fall season that help to magnify
the enjoyment of those Indian Summer days. Looking down the highway,
the scenery is dotted with pockets of yellow and red woven into
the tans and browns of cornfields being harvested. Fall foliage
lights the landscape and makes it a special treat. The greens
of summer are pleasing to the eye, but you soon get lulled into
the sense of everything being green so that nothing in particular
stands out. The autumn leaves are not so easily ignored by the
senses. Every tree is a different shade. Many of their leaves
are scattered on the lawns, still a golden yellow. The older
ones have turned brown, but they are piled high at the curbs
waiting to be vacuumed by the city trucks or burned to add to
the smoky haze and sharp aroma of the fall air.
For me, the term Indian Summer was defined by a story that
my dad used to share with us kids each year. It was a picture
story called Injun Summer by John McCutcheon that ran
in the Chicago Tribune magazine. There were two scenes. The top
one showed an older man and a young boy looking at fields of
harvested corn. The spent corn stalks were tied at the tops in
bundles to make rows of corn shocks in the barren fields. As
the man wove his story about how the Indians used to inhabit
that land and dance around their teepees in the moonlight, the
scene switched to another picture, where the boy could see the
corn shocks becoming teepees and the Indians reappearing as ghosts
in the smoky atmosphere. Our family would later go for rides
in the country, and with every plume of smoke sighted in the
distance, one of us would say "there's another Indian campfire."
Indian Summer may well be historically related to Native American
culture. That time of the year, just before the snows of winter,
was prime hunting season. The warm weather encouraged animals
to be out foraging for food, and the haziness in the atmosphere
helped to cloak the movements of the hunters. Some tribes were
known to set grass fires to accentuate the haze in the air and
make it even harder to be spotted by their prey. The warm southwestern
winds were also regarded by Native Americans as a blessing from
the gods in the American Southwest.
A completely different explanation for the name Indian Summer
comes from the shipping industry, where ships that crossed the
Indian Ocean would carry extra loads during this predominantly
fair weather season. Ships were said to have lines inscribed
on their hulls with the initials "I.S." to indicate
the safe load level for sailing during Indian Summer.
Indian Summers are a welcome gift that allow us a few more opportunities
to finish working on the house, get the yard in shape, take the
bikes out on the road or just lounge on the patio, topping off
the charge on the solar batteries inside of us. The fluttering
of the leaves as they disconnect from thinning branches and helicopter
to the ground tell us that we're dealing with entropy here. There's
no going backwards. The season will surely progress from a time
of comfortable warmth and beauty to a dormant interval of cold
air and gray landscapes before the first blanket of snow comes
to perk up our spirits again. We get another reminder as the
clocks are set back an hour at Halloween and we start leaving
work with night already upon us. It's time to start moving back
indoors and burrowing for the winter.
But, wait. We may get yet another bonus or two before Christmas.
The high pressure zones that move in to clear the skies and suck
warm air from the gulf northward may form again when we least
suspect. Then we'll enjoy another few days or even a week of
dramatically above normal temperatures in the midst of the declining
daily averages. Don't put your favorite T-shirt and light jacket
away yet. Indian Summer may well be offering an encore performance.
Books of Interest:
Indian Summer,A Native Americn View of Nature
- Indian Summer is a collection of 26 full-color photographs,
paired with the views of eight Native American authors. To these
authors, the land is sacred. Standing Bear speaks for many Americans
when he says, "From Wakan Tanka there came a great unifying
life force that flowed in and through all things .... Thus all
things were kindred and brought together by the same Great Mystery".
The authors stress the importance of loving and respecting the
land. They show us how such respect can benefit all peoples.
The photographs by Betsy Wyckoff in Indian Summer represent more
than 30 years of photographing nature throughout the United States.
They have appeared in gallery exhibitions, as cover and internal
art in various publications, and are owned by numerous private
Also visit these related
Summer by John McCutcheon - Here's the picture story that
my dad shared with us each year when it ran in the Chicago Tribune
Magazine. Little did I realize that they had been publishing
it since 1912. Thanks to reader Vera for finding this site. It's
a wonderful trip down memory lane.
Indian Summer - Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine tells us just when to know when you've arrived.