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Indian Summer

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Indian Summer

Currents

It may be a little early—just after the Autumnal Equinox—to celebrate an Indian summer, but the bright, low angle of the sun says Indian summer to me. The September weeks of sunny days forecasting into October are a gift. Rainy and cold will arrive soon enough. A frost will sneak in under the protective plastic and kill the Early Girl tomatoes. 

Ah, but while this handsome Indian hangs around, it is nearly impossible to ignore the pleasure of a sunny day that isn’t too hot. The change is subtle, but cannot remain unnoticed. We are slowly tilting to the north. We have been tilting north since the June 21 solstice, but now it has become evident. Every day our sun rises a little bit further south; sets slightly south. The southerly angle gives the sunlight a chance to play upon the dried grasses creating a palate of colors. The lower angle also highlights every fly speck and dirty rain splash on the windows, but who has time to wash windows with a garden still producing?

Our moon is also changing its trajectory. The moon is pulled along by the earth’s gravity in the same slow tilt and travels north. At the equinoxes, the moon has the same path as the sun. Then their paths will cross. By December 21, the moon will be rising and setting where the sun rises and sets on June 21 and the winter sun will follow the path of the summer moon.

It seems fitting that the vegetables and flowers started as seeds inside on a warm pad on March 21 are winding down since the mild frost that occurred late September. Starting seeds on the first day of Spring—Vernal Equinox—is an easy way to remember, “Now when did I start these jalapenos?” and fits the spirit of the season. Finishing up the garden on September 22—the Autumnal Equinox—would be a balanced approach, but we have yet to experience the full brunt of a frosty night. After a six-month relationship with the tomatoes, peppers, celery, blanket flowers, zinnias and such, we are not in a hurry to open the gates and let the deer start the clean-up process.

Agricultural people world-wide are well aware of the spring and autumn equinoxes. Throughout the world the spring equinox is celebrated. It is only when people become distanced from their food production that the importance of this knowledge fades. However, even the most ‘modern’ societies still have special holidays to mark the beginning of spring.

On the morning of the Autumnal Equinox we heard varied thrush calling to each other in their long, un-interrupted, unmistakable whistle. We hadn’t heard them down here in the valley since spring. Looking back through the big wall calendar to March, we were interested to note that the varied thrush first appeared here on the Vernal Equinox. Could it be that their travels—to their nesting sites in our mountains and back to the coastal rain forests—are determined by the day and night being of equal length? By the 23rd, all was silent in the morning and the thrushes were on their way.

An old friend happen to call this morning while Indian summer was on my mind, so I asked him if he, as a Native American, found this phrase offensive. “Naw, you can’t be offended by warm fall weather.” 

Neither of us can explain where the phrase came from, nor can Wikipedia. But Indian summer does refer to an actual climatic event that can occur in the fall: a prolonged warm, hazy *, dry period following a frost, a not-summer, but not-autumn-yet time. The last five years or so, we have enjoyed long warm, dry autumns. Yeah global warming?

The smiling, ruddy-cheeked Indian is at the window, beckoning; come, come out into the real world. The only problem with this enticing fall weather is that it encourages the grasshopper, rather than prodding the ant. 

*We are meeting the hazy requirement thanks to Forest Service burning. The Cabinet Ranger District always informs folks living in the vicinity when they are planning to burn piles, units, or brush fields. The Panhandle Forest needs to realize that there are a whole bunch of people living across the border in Montana who expect to be informed before the smoke broils over the hill.

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Lou Springer Lou Springer lives in Heron when not out on a river somewhere.

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gardening, Currents, Indian Summer, Autumnal Equinox, fall

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