So wrote the poet Emily Dickinson. Well it’s definitely Autumn now – the leaves are turning the most beautiful colours and the temperatures are dropping. Although we’ve enjoyed some hot, sunny days in September and even into October, it can’t really be described as an ‘Indian Summer‘ because, other than a week at the beginning of September, it’s just been odd days when the temperatures have shot up. I have to admit I always thought the term ‘Indian Summer‘ was connected with South Asian India. However I have recently been educated by ‘Amateur Gardening‘ magazine. It is thought the term was first referred to in writing in a book written by J. H. St. John de Crèvecoeur in 1778 – ‘Letters from an American Farmer‘ – the author was a soldier who later became a farmer. He wrote about the north-east region of New York State and neighbouring Canada – Mohawk country:
“Then a severe frost succeeds which prepares it to receive the voluminous coat of snow which is soon to follow; though it is often preceded by a short interval of smoke and mildness, called the Indian Summer.”
When this occurred American Indians* could carry on hunting for longer before the snow came. Perhaps I can be forgiven for my ignorance as the term is said to have reached the UK during the days of the British Raj in India. Apparently before this we would describe warm, sunny weather occurring in September and October as St Luke’s or St Martin’s summer – personally I can’t recall anyone using these terms – can you?
In my garden in Autumn I look forward to picking the apples from my 2 small trees – one of them only managed to produce a single fruit this year and that was stolen by a squirrel. The other is hanging on to what looks like too many apples for its size! You’re not supposed to tug the apples off the tree, even if they look ready. Instead a gentle twist should detach them when they’re ripe enough. For the past few years I have protected mine as they get near to ripening, by popping them in sealable plastic bags with small holes cut in the corners to let the water out. This was a tip gained via an unnecessarily lengthy YouTube video – it doesn’t look great but it does seem to help minimise attacks by wasps and codling moths – it seems to deter the squirrels too (I was too late with the one I lost). I do reuse the bags year after year in case you were thinking this isn’t very eco friendly. Clearly it wouldn’t be very practical for a larger tree, unless you had oodles of time to spare!
Autumn also means I receive a mountain of plums from my friend’s tree. I like to stew them and have them for breakfast with some yoghurt. The stoning process was even more tedious this year though – the tree produced many more fruits than usual but they were much smaller in size. While I’m stoning them I always think about a time when I was around 4 years old. I got up far too early one morning and went into my parents’ room – they told me to get back to bed. I disobeyed and crept downstairs to eat some of the delicious plums I knew were in the fruit bowl. I swallowed a stone by mistake and ran to my parents panicking. My Dad was very cross and told me the stone would grow into a fruit tree inside me. I was petrified for a while until they calmed down and reassured me this would not be the case, but that I could have choked to death!
Another October memory is the annual Halloween party held in my school House. The main event took place in the cellar of the Victorian building. The sixth formers organised the ‘House of Horrors‘. This involved being blindfolded before entering the room and screaming hysterically while delving your hands into trays of revolting substances, supposed to feel like blood, guts, eyeballs, furry spiders etc. If this wasn’t enough we then went upstairs into the sixth form common room to be read a ghost story by the House Mistress. This was always accompanied at some stage by someone tapping on the window from the outside, a loud thud from the room above or a blood curdling scream from somewhere outside the room. Who provided these special effects we never knew but they made us jump and it’s a wonder we slept at night after that!
There are still some signs of summer in the garden – the recent winds snapped the stems of some of my sunflowers but I have been able to pick them and enjoy them indoors.
*The National Museum of the American Indian advises that ‘American Indian’ or ‘Indigenous American’ are currently the preferred terms to use.