Monday, November 12, 2012

This Charming Season

Here in the Shire, November weather 
can sometimes be chilly, cold, and rainy as it was last week.
But yesterday nice weather made its way to Tidewater,
and we were granted a respite from the cold.
The sun was warm, so it was a good day to work outside 
and get planters cleaned out and pots cleaned up in readiness for winter.
Warm days such as these
always make people want to get out of the house and move around.

When warm days occur in Late October or November, 
we often describe them as "Indian Summer."
I wondered about the origin of the expression,
so I consulted the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).
Entries in the OED are meticulous;
they trace the etymology or origin of words
as well as chronicle their first mention in published texts.
The earliest use of the expression "Indian Summer" dates back to a 1794 entry
 in a military journal kept by Major Ebenezer Denny, 
veteran of the American Revolutionary War and the Indian Wars.
Denny wrote: Pleasant weather. The Indian Summer here. Frosty nights.

The OED also gives a clue as to why Indian Summer
was at one time thought to have been a term derogatory to Native Americans.
The OED lists an 1824 publication with the lengthy title 
 "Notes on the Settlement and Indian wars 
of the western parts of Virginia and Pennsylvania, 
from the year 1763 until the year 1783, inclusive" 
In it, Joseph Doddridge wrote:

The smokey time commenced and lasted for a considerable number of days. 
This was the Indian Summer, because it afforded the Indians
another opportunity of visiting the settlements with their destructive warfare.

Irrespective of Doddridge's cynical explanation,
all other references to Indian Summer listed in the OED are positive,
primarily describing the pleasantness of the weather.
 An 1812 sermon by J. Freeman 
offers the best explanation for the term's origin that I've read:

... fair weather ... the air is perfectly transparent, and the clouds,
which float in a sky of the purest azure,
are adorned with brilliant colors ...
This charming season is called the Indian Summer,
which is derived from the natives,
who believe that it is caused by a wind
which comes immediately from the court 
of their great and benevolent God Cautantowwit
or the south-western God.

A gift of beautiful weather brought to us on a breeze and a prayer.
Sounds like Indian Summer to me.

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