Indian Summer by Jamie Kirkpatrick


screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-8-27-12-amIt’s the time of year I love most: warm, dry days; cool, clear nights. The sound of geese, the crunch of leaves, the smell of a fire. Daylight recedes like an ebbing tide, leaving longer shadows and a lovely early evening stillness. Winter is coming, but she’s still far enough away not to be worrisome. We linger in Indian Summer.

The good old Farmer’s Almanac is very specific about what actually constitutes Indian Summer. The barometer is steadily high; there is little or no wind; the nights are clear and chilly. It should come on the heels of a cold spell or the first hard frost. Finally, it requires a “moving, cool, shallow polar air mass converting into a deep, warm, stagnant anticyclone (high pressure) system, which has the effect of causing the haze and large swing in temperature between day and night.” That’s a little too technical for my taste, but so be it. All I know is that nothing beats Indian Summer.

The origin of the term is interesting, too. Some say it comes from the early Algonquian Native Americans who believed that the condition was caused by a warm wind sent from the court of their southwestern god, Cautantowwit. And then there’s this theory: in colonial times, when the first cold spell came to New England, the early settlers felt they could finally let down their guard and leave their stockades unarmed. Then, if the weather unexpectedly turned warm again, the threat of Indian attack was once again upon them. Go fetch the blunderbuss, Priscilla: it’s Indian Summer.

But that was then; this is now: the rake is out and the leaves falling from the sycamore out front keep me busy every morning. My wife and I are getting the garden ready for bed. The fire pit that keeps the front porch warm is primed and the firewood we dried over the summer is stacked. Once daylight savings time is over—November 6 this year—we’ll have our cocktails on the porch by candlelight, fleeces on and maybe a lap robe to hand. We’ll start thinking about where to go for Thanksgiving, what to get the kids and grandkids for Christmas, and if there is a ski trip in our future. It’s a wholly different vocabulary and conversation at this time of year.

It’s a time for nostalgia, too. As the days dwindle down to a precious few, we remember and rue all those things we’ve done or have left undone this past year. In another few weeks, we’ll resolve to do better next year, but for the moment, it’s enough to watch the leaves drift down, to pour a second glass of good red wine or my favorite wee dram of single malt whisky, and to throw another log on the fire.

It’s early Sunday afternoon; all is calm on High Street. Someone is sitting out in front of Evergrain, sipping a cappuccino, lost in a good book. It’s quiet enough to hear the leaves falling, warm enough to enjoy the day but cool enough to enjoy it with a sweater. There’s a bit of gauzy haze in the air, the barometer is high, and as the sun slips ever lower, there’s a hint of the evening chill still a few hours off. I’m not too worried about any Indian attacks, but if Cautantowwit is responsible for this perfect time of year, I’m eternally grateful.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

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