Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Sun's Last Embrace of the Season

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Sun's Last Embrace of the Season

Article excerpt

Everyone knows that time of year between late October and the end of November, long after summer has waved goodbye, and cold days have returned like an old but uninvited friend. Screens raised, storm windows lowered, wood chopped, and furnace primed, we've already boxed our shorts and T-shirts, covered the pool, rolled up the garden hose, and wheeled the lawn mower into the shed. We've traded our spade for a rake. We've taken out the flannel and wool. We've started eating soups again. We've begun to settle in.

Then it comes! Hills haze over. Wind stops. The world turns gentle and smoky, and the sky turns the deep blue of forget-me- nots. We forgive everything. We laze, and relish these strange warm days, these nights when the moon burns like a giant gas lamp. We forget about diminishing daylight, and revisit in our minds the long afternoons of July and August. We make the most of this meteorological benediction, for this is our last chance to bask in the sun. This is Indian summer.

A period of dry and unseasonably mild temperatures in the eastern and central United States, Indian summer occurs, ironically, when a polar air mass stagnates in the East. As cool air lingers and inhibited vertical flow concentrates dust and smoke near the ground, a clockwise rotation of wind pulls much warmer air from the deep South and Southwest.

Born of cold air, Indian summer often follows a killing frost, and may last from one to two weeks before a low-pressure system and accompanying cold front - grim reminders of the coming winter season - usher it away.

The origin of the term itself, however, is not so well understood. In perhaps the earliest written record of its usage, French essayist and colonial agriculturist Michel-Gillaume Jean de Crvecoeur, describing the New England weather in a letter dated Jan. 17, 1778, mentions the term. Yet his reference suggests that the expression was already popular, and doesn't explain its derivation. …

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