Indian Summer

Earlier this week there were a few days when it felt like we had gone back to summer. In fact, as we stepped out into a balmy 30+ degrees C evening at the conclusion of our yoga class our instructor (who is from India) quipped, “My Italian neighbor told me today that we are experiencing an “Indian Summer” but I had no idea what it meant and had to look it up in the dictionary”.

I had first come across this expression while in England on a training course, back in 1977. At the time, I had instinctively felt it was possibly a statement intended to denounce Indian weather, and provided yet another example of the typically off-handed, superciliously patronising British affectation (surely a reflection of how thin-skinned I must have been!) Like my yoga instructor, I too had to consult the dictionary and discovered that an Indian Summer refers to:
• A period of unusually dry, warm weather occurring in late autumn.
• A period of happiness or success occurring late in life.
While its origin is not entirely clear, the dictionary indicated that the expression was coined possibly towards the “late 18th century, with reference to North American Indians, rather than to the country of India, and first used in connection with the northern US and Canada ….” Whew, glad I got that out from under my skin and forgave the British for the perceived slight against us EAST Indians; so much for my own prejudices!

Just like the human mind, nature too can be fickle. Early this morning, there was a nip in the air. Dewdrops glistened on the needles of the spruce tree in the front yard, tentatively hanging on before dissipating. Sunbeams reflected through the prisms of watery crystals lingering on the emerald green blades of grass, which will soon start to die with the onset of frost. A lone off-white rose is preparing to shed its petals. A small section of leaves on the eastern side of the maple tree is now starting to display shades of yellow, orange, russet and just a hint of red. In contrast, all the leaves on the locust tree in the backyard went from green to yellow literally overnight and even a gentle breeze is enough to bring them fluttering down.

Later in the day, my companion was a ninety-two years old gentleman. Both of us were sitting on a bench outside his senior’s home as he wished to enjoy the cool, fresh air while he could, before colder weather sets in. We were not chatting about anything in particular, content to just spend time together when he stopped in mid-sentence. Slowly cocking his head to one side he strained to catch the rustling sound of dried leaves that swept across the street swishing aimlessly in the wind, and softly remarked, “Ashes to ashes dust to dust”. “But” he added, “The sky is clear and so blue. The sun feels good. Beautiful day to be alive”. He would have liked to stay outside but the wind was picking up and we decided to head back in. “Hopefully” he added as I wheeled him to his room, “It will still be nice enough for us to sit outside when you visit again. No pressure”.

On the drive back home, I thought about nature’s ebbs and flows, the unending cycle of changing seasons and our fixation with life while showing reluctance to deal with the inevitable death. Fallen leaves turning to compost today will soon be back again in the spring.

A Zen master pointed to a heap of manure and asked his pupil, “What do you see?”
“I see cow dung and compost, O Master” replied the student.
“Your vision is lacking. Can you not see the blooming flowers and the succulent vegetables that lie buried within that heap?” admonished his master.

Fall is my favorite time of the year. The weather is great for long walks, introspecting and admiring the ever-changing spectacularly colorful foliage. Enjoying nature’s bounty and picking fresh fruits, including apples (and pumpkins) for delectable pies! In my Autumn of Life, I can fondly ruminate on the memories of a life gone by, while looking forward to another spring that must follow and bring with it the budding promise of fresh joys.

Back in 1966, Simon & Garfunkel wrote and sang this beauty, which remains a favorite Autumn song of mine:

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