After the first frost, but before the first snowfall, can come days or even weeks of warm sunny days. It is a time without storm, when a haze hangs in the still air and winter holds back and waits. In the coldest climates, it offers a last chance to batten down, and in gentler regions, it's a time to walk among heaps of colored leaves and enjoy brisk mornings and the last long days before the weather closes in.
It's Indian Summer. The term may have originated because European colonists feared that Native Americans would use this temperate time to attack settlements. That's what Daniel Boorstin, brilliant historian and twelfth Librarian of Congress believed.
Yet it may only be named for the time when the tribes hunted game. It comes when the crops are in, and when the frosts can preserve the kill. Late fall is still the hunting season. On the other hand, it's possible that the tribes predicted its coming to the settlers, and it got its troubling name that way.
According to meteorologists, a high-pressure dome holds back the storms to create Indian summer. The high-pressure area may be created by the same weather pattern that brought the first frost.
The Greeks called a similar period the halcyon days. Two doomed lovers, he the son of the morning star, she a daughter of the south wind, were parted. He died in a shipwreck and she threw herself off the cliff where she had long awaited him, to die in the dark ocean. But the watching gods seized her out of the air and transformed them both into pelagic birds, who built their floating nest upon the winter seas. Now every year the storms calm for them and their descendants, and the baby birds are safe on the waves.
Another term was St. Martin's summer, because it was supposed to end on the feast of St. Martin of Tours, November 11. The saint's day was celebrated with drinking and feasting, before the long fast of Advent began. Villagers slaughtered pigs or game, and drank the first of the new wine. This tradition continues in many places.
In Bulgaria, the weather pattern is sometimes called Gypsy Summer. The gypsies, the Roma, are the underclass of Bulgaria, considered unreliable, even unnatural, by some Bulgarians. Perhaps they somehow cause this unnatural weather.
Indian summer implies renaissance. It is something whose real time is passed, but which rises to shine again for a brief while, like the bright October weather that glows as if the long sleep of winter will not come. It is certainly unreliable, and therefore it's also called fool's summer, but its very uncertainty sharpens the joy of these few perfect days.