Indian Summer: Just 9 Days

Web photo (mine)I’ve tossed the term around since first hearing it in childhood: Indian Summer, indicating a surprisingly warm period after we’ve already had a cold snap. Well, I got the general idea right. But according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Indian Summer must technically fall between November 11 and November 20. So as I write this, we’re almost at this very specific window, although I do wonder if the Almanac people do any adjusting in light of climate change! There are more criteria than just dates, though:

“As well as being warm, the atmosphere during Indian summer is hazy or smoky, there is no wind, the barometer is standing high, and the nights are clear and chilly…The time of occurrence is important: The warm days must follow a spell of cold weather or a good hard frost.”

Why the term “Indian?” The Almanac’s prevailing opinion is that it refers to how the Native Americans could have “one more go” at the early New England settlers when the weather turned warm again. I prefer the story about the early Algonquians’ belief that the warm weather was sent by their southwestern god, Cautantowwit.

lichenWhether or not it’s fallen into the prescribed time period, creatures great and small here in Connecticut have been enjoying this reprieve from the autumn chill. Just a couple of weeks ago I awoke to find our porch begonias dead from the overnight frost, their rosy blossoms “bleeding” onto our yellow railing. But then it turned positively balmy again. Over the last week or so I’ve seen bees lingering over the asters. I photographed a jewel of a spider’s Web on our front hedge. And I’ve walked through the Cockaponset (conveniently located behind my home), admiring its generous décor of mushrooms and lichen. These moments, usually grabbed after Gavin gets on the bus and before I have to drive to work, are deeply appreciated as the days get shorter and the trees shout out their gold and orange songs.

One day, I was in a cranky mood and was positively stopped in my tracks by the gleaming gold in the afternoon sunlight outside. I really felt that I was being shouted at, reprimanded by beauty: how bad can it be when I’ve got this display right outside my door?

gold leaves

Robert Frost said it best: nothing gold can stay. But isn’t that why we treasure it so?:
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Aster Place Comes to CT

Astor Place in New York (Cooper Union building) by David Shankbone

Astor Place in New York (Cooper Union building)
by David Shankbone

I went to school in Manhattan for a while, and Astor Place meant a street in Greenwich Village, named after the incredibly wealthy John Jacob Astor.


Aster Place in Deep River

Aster Place in Deep River

When I pulled up my driveway earlier this week, I nearly rubbed my eyes to check my vision. Beyond the comforter and sheets bobbing on the clothesline, and further back, beyond the French drain to the mossy, moist part of the yard, was a sea of white stars. Uncountable asters had grown up, seemingly overnight. We’d never planted them; they just are; a visitor that comes every year as autumn approaches.

Toward the end of last autumn I picked a brownish, aged aster and placed it in a cobalt blue vase. My husband tossed it, thinking it was a bud that had stagnated from neglect. But I saved it because, even well past its prime, it had a modest, stalky beauty, well preserved. It was stalwart after summer ebbed, and I had to give it credit for its staying power.

The common name for the aster flower, which can bloom in white, blue, or purple, is the Michaelmas daisy, so named because it coincides with the feast of St Michael the archangel, according to Herbs Treat and Taste. The site also tells me that Virgil, some years before the start of AD (or Common Era), wrote about the flower, alluding to its use on holy shrines. I treasure the timelessness of these words nearly as much as I do gazing down out our bumper crop of stars:

There is a useful flower
Growing in the meadows, which the country folk
Call star-wort, not a blossom hard to find,
For its large cluster lifts itself in air.
Out of one root; its central orb is gold
But it wears petals in a numerous ring
Of glossy purplish blue; ’tis often laid
In twisted garlands at some holy shrine.
Bitter its taste; the shepherds gather it
In valley-pastures where the winding streams
Of Mella flow. The roots of this, steeped well,
In hot, high-flavored wine, thou may’st set down
At the hive door in baskets heaping full.