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.

BUMPER CROP of Tree Circles


Fully aware that Molly is sideways (blog options not cooperating), but even from this angle you can see she’s got a taste for burgeoning spring


What joy—enough snow melted so that Molly and I could foot the mile to town without fearing the need to dive into tall snowdrifts should 2 cars come down the narrow street simultaneously! Yes, there they were—a bumper crop of tree circles where before there was only a scant sprouting.


As I walked I found myself feeling sorry for those in eternally temperate climes, because they can’t experience the happy release that comes with the long-awaited start of spring thaw. It’s a tenuous joy that comes, because there may be more snow, but maybe that makes the first moderately warm moments even sweeter.

I thought of the Dar Williams song Sometimes Southern California Wants to Be Western New York, and also of my favorite Robert Frost Poem, My November Guest (excerpts from each below):

There’s a part of the country
Could drop off tomorrow in an earthquake
Yeah, it’s out there on the cutting edge
The people move, the sidewalks shake

And there’s another part of the country
With a land that gently creaks and thuds
Where the heavy snows make faucets leak
In bathrooms with free-standing tubs…

…And it wants to have a snow day
That will turn its parents into kids

And it’s embarrassed, but it’s lusting
After a SUNY student with mousy brown hair who is
Taking out the compost
Making coffee in long underwear


My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted gray
Is silver now with clinging mist…

Both of these bards remind me of that part of me that loves and welcomes the coldness and barrenness of winter. It is a time for hunkering down and thinking about things and venturing into inner space, and there certainly is a quiet beauty to the bare tree branches and making coffee in long underwear. That being said, it gets OLD for most of us–to the point of familiarity breeds contempt!. And as hardy as I tried to make myself this winter, my natural instinct was to stay off the ice and keep the chill away by donning layers of baggy sweaters and eating warm things.

How lovely to see the world waking up as I am, again alert to what’s going on beyond the confines of my snowed-in street. Long live tree circles, their widening embrace, and eventual disappearance as all the melt goes underground to feed their budding source.

Woody Guthrie, Robert Frost, and The Mountain

cattleAt long last, we managed to get ourselves down to southern Virginia this summer, a trip vastly overdue and a time to reconnect with family. There are other chapters to be written about ties that bind and family history, but this one is about the land.

When we woke, whether we looked out the front or the back window, there were cattle, and, once, a young buck grazing among them, pretending at being a steer. Aunt Norma, dealing with medical issues and unable to take the journey herself, emphasized the importance of going up the mountain, and cousin Mike took the men on the long drive up. Cattle were fed; pictures were taken. I remember going up there as a child and picking wild strawberries, and turning strong lights on at night so we could see the deer. Mike’s father, and the grandfather we share, raised cattle, too. I’m told my father cowboyed out west, summers, and it helped pay for school.

I didn’t go up the mountain, but I sat overlooking the hills in the mornings, and one day walked up the dirt road—more cattle to visit but also the hum of crickets and birds, tangles of wildflowers, and unfolding curves that beckoned me. Trees waved in the gentle breeze and I thought of my father, who also loved this land. I visited the cemetery, where he and many of my other relatives’ tombstones nestle in the green grass, the markers weathered and hosting lichen and moss, not far from the mountain.

Woody Guthrie was right—this land is our land . But so was Robert Frost in The Gift Outright —“the land was ours before we were the land’s.” His poem, an inaugural one for John F. Kennedy, talks of nations and war, and my people were part of that story, too. But this part makes me think of the mountain, and how it owns us all now:

Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright

I’m told there are some cousins, most of whom I’ve never met, who aren’t especially attached to our family’s mountain. But I am so glad for those who have given themselves to it, seen the grace that it holds; longed for, sought, and found wordless connection there. We are the land’s as much as the land is ours. And the connection we feel comes with responsibility; if you spend enough time in nature this realization becomes unavoidable. Teddy Roosevelt, another lover of mountains, said it well:

The Mountain (Hampton)Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.

And Gary Snyder has summed up the way that many feel; the way that I felt in Virginia although I was hours away from my house and usual environs:

Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.