Savoring Indian Summer

Oct 7 2012 @ 2:14pm

Maria Konnikova explores autumn's final warm spell, known as Indian Summer, got its name:

According to one account, the name is simply an accident of geography: the time of year was first recorded by early settlers in regions where Indians abounded. Others, however, hold that it refers to the haze in the air that resulted from Indian prairie fires—fires that were lit predominantly in these early weeks of autumn. Yet others argue that the name is tied to the autumnal raids that the Indians paid on the early settlers, after a short lull during the colder days that came before. Others, however, are far more generous. Raids were neither here nor there, they say. Those warm days carry the Indians’ name because the Native American tribes were the first to recognize the weather pattern for what it was and to take advantage of the relative mildness to lay in food supplies for the winter.

Or maybe the name doesn’t come from the settlers at all, but rather from Native American legend. The warm winds that made it easier to hunt and gather food, the story goes, were a present from a god of the Southwest desert, Cautantowwit, his way of giving thanks for devoted worship. In the creation myths of the Algonquin, Cautontowwit is credited for giving form to the first modern humans, out of clay or living tree. Isn’t it fitting, then, that he would also be the giver of a final burst of productive weather, before the barren nothingness of the winter months?