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Indian Summer Proves Elusive This Summer
Regardless of our human calendar, sometimes nature has its own agenda. Many of the trees in our yard are still clad in the leaves of autumn, and it was around 70 degrees the day before Thanksgiving. . I hoped that it would be Indian Summer, that most fleeting and ephemeral of times, when the air is balmy and the sky is hazy. There is nothing lovelier, but Indian Summer doesn’t always happen.
I love George T. McCutcheon’s charming illustrations and accompanying story that he called "Injun Summer." It was first printed in the Chicago Tribune one hundred years ago this past September. You can find them on the Internet. Something about them reminds me of my childhood when Wanda and I built bonfires at the edge of Carey St.
The first painting is of one of those mellow, golden days where a haze lies over the land. An old man sits on a log, watching a smoking bonfire of fallen leaves with his little grandson. The haze blurs the sun. Nearby a split rail fence encloses a field of corn shocks. In the second picture it is night. The smoke has become dancing Indians, the corn shocks have become tepees, and moonlight bathes the scene.
When I read the yarn that the old man is spinning I hear the voices of old Granny and my mother in my mind’s ear. My imagination was fired by their fascinating stories of my people at the Old Home Place when Indians were still nearby and would come to borrow large kettles. My great-great grandfather always hid under the bed when they came and would tremble with fright when an old Indian, thinking it was funny, got down and peered in at him. : Here’s the old man’s story:
Yep, Sonny this is sure enough Injun summer . . . That’s when all the homesick Injuns come back to play. You know, a long time ago, long afore yer grandaddy was born even, there used to be heaps of Injuns around here--thousands--millions, I reckon . . . They wuz all around here--right here where you’re standin’. Don’t be skeered--hain’t none around here now, leastways no live ones. They been gone this many a year. They all went away and died, so they ain’t no more left.
But every year, ‘long about now, they all come back, leastways their sperrits do. They’re here now. You can see ‘em off across the fields. Look real hard. See that kind of hazy, misty look out yonder? Well, them’s Injun sperrits marchin’ along an’ dancin’ in the sunlight. That’s what makes that kind of haze--it’s the sperrits of the Injuns all come back. They’re all around us now.
See off yonder, see them tepees? They kind o’ look like corn shocks from here, but them’s Indian tepes . . . See ‘em now? Sure, I knowed you could. Smell that smoky sort o’ smell in the air? That’s the campfires a-burnin’ and their pipes a-goin’ . . .
You jest come out here tonight when the moon is hangin’ over the hill off yonder an’ the harvest fields is all swimmin’ in the moonlight, an’ you can see the Injuns and the tepees as plain as kin be. You can, eh? I knowed you would after a little while.
He explains that the red leaves on the trees happen when an Indian spirit gets tired from dancing and squats on a leaf to rest. "Why I kin hear ‘em rustlin’ an’ whisperin’ an creepin’ round all the time, an’ ever once’n a while a leaf gives way under some fat old Injun ghost and comes floatin’ down . . See--here’s one now. See how red it is? That’s the war paint rubbed off’n an Injun ghost, sure’s you’re born. Purty soon all the Injuns’ll go marching back to the happy huntin’ ground, but next year you’ll see ‘em troopin’ back--th’ sky jest hazy with em and their campfires smolderin’ away jest like they are now."
The Indians are long gone from the Old Home Place as are my pioneer ancestors, and Mother’s and Granny’s voices have been still these many years. They will not return, yet a faint essence of them still exists within me--as ephemeral and hazy as an Indian Summer day. Indian Summer did not come this year, but I shall watch for it next November.
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