“Second Summer”

What do you call the sunny, warm dry New England weather after the first hard frost in late October or early November? I have always called it Indian summer and it has always evoked warm feelings about the season. This week we are experiencing a perfect example as you can see by the thermometer on the left(warm for November 3) and the dead sunflower on the right(remnant of a hard frost.) In fact it has been so warm the last few nights that Charlie had to take the storm window back off our bedroom window and reinstall the screen. Once he did that our sleep improved immensely.

Being the language nerd that you may know me to be, I tried to trace the etymology of the phrase “Indian summer.” There are many speculations about it but no consensus. Despite this, the American Meteorological people have stopped using the phrase, believing it offensive, and have substituted the earlier name “second summer.” It saddened me to see that among the possible reasons for the name, the weather reporters have decided that it must be offensive, gravitating to explanations that reinforce negative stereotypes.

Heaven knows there are many relics in American usage that are racist, including many names for geographic features of the landscape. I have no trouble giving such places kinder names. But when I think of Indian summer I think of Indian corn on the table with Indian pudding for dessert. All three bring me warmth and joy. I am happy to change all three labels if counseled by someone who actually knows they are offensive. Until then, I will smile each fall when we are visited by that warm spell after the killing frost. Whatever it is called.