What is ‘Indian summer’?

“Indian summer”: a period of unusually dry, warm weather occurring in late autumn in the northern hemisphere.
Growing up in northern New York state, I don’t remember anyone talking about Indian summer. Maybe I was just unaware.
Later, as a young pastor’s wife, I lived across the continent in Edmonton, Alta. In Edmonton, as I recall, summer turned to winter with the first frost in late August or early September–making it the perfect place for winter sports.
Skating, especially, for our family.
Both of our children were excellent skaters at three years old. And I still have their tiny skates as a remembrance of the fun we had on our almost daily visits to the local rink.
But I don’t remember any Indian summers in Edmonton, either.
It wasn’t until we moved to Kansas, in the middle of the continent, that I finally experienced a real Indian summer. And last weekend, as I was finishing this column, it was so warm that we needed air conditioning–more than 90 degrees F at the brink of November.
Now that’s Indian summer! And what a great reprieve from the coming cold!
There are a few other things besides warmth that characterize Indian summer. The atmosphere often is quite hazy, there is little wind, the barometer is high, and it usually comes after a killing frost and the nights are chilly.
This year, frost hasn’t yet hit our area so we still can enjoy our summer flowers on these beautiful warm days!
For more than 200 years, people have been talking about Indian summer as though they knew what it meant. But when I tried to find out who coined the phrase and why, I found a myriad of guesses but no facts.
It seems the truth is that no one knows the origin for sure.
In the late 1800s, New Englander Albert Matthews made a serious study of the term in early American literature. The earliest reference he found was 1778 but it appeared to already be in widespread use.
Here in 2014, a search of the Internet garnered sites such as “Possible origins of Indian summer.”
So, if you are fortunate enough to have Indian summer this autumn, just enjoy it while it lasts without getting academic.
However, there is a second dictionary definition of Indian summer: a period of great happiness or success occurring late in life. Now that’s a definition worth pondering.
If you are “this side of 60” or “this side of 80,” what happiness and success should you be cultivating? If you have good health, what faraway place have you always wanted to visit? Do it now!
What musical instrument have you always wanted to play? Or is there a book inside you just waiting to be written? Perhaps your memoirs.
How about gardening or planting a tree. There’s so much to do.
Or do you just want to sit in the sun and have coffee with friends. It’s your choice.
But, whatever you do, don’t waste the Indian summers of your lifetime. This short reprieve is yours to enjoy!
Make the most of each day and flourish. It can bring great happiness and success to you!
Marie Snider is an award-winning health writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at thisside60@cox.net

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