FW: Indian Summer, The Smoky Mountains, and pollution
James A. Landau
JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Sun Mar 23 22:12:06 UTC 2003
In a message dated 03/23/2003 6:57:27 AM Eastern Standard Time,
abatefr at EARTHLINK.NET writes:
> 2. For Indian summer, since it has now come up, I want to throw out to the
> lists a theory I have on this -- that, in the same vein as the disparaging
> terms using "Dutch" (D. courage, etc.), this TOO is simply a disparaging
> term. The idea is that Indians were thought of as deceptive or fickle by
> early white settlers, and so the term arose in reference to a brief period
> in the fall when it appears that summer has returned, when in fact it has
> not -- the period is merely the last few days of fairly warm daytime temps
> before the fall and winter freezing daytime temps begin consistently.
> I believe Mencken proposes the above etym in his American Language. Though
> it likely cannot be proven as the origin of the term, it has the "ring of
> truth", it seems to me, even though it is not PC. The early white settlers
> never heard of no PC, of course.
Here's a legend I read back in elementary school: it seems that one year the
Native Americans were too lazy or distracted or something to get in their
winter stores and seed corn before the frosts came. So they prayed to the
Great Spirit who granted them an additional period of summer weather to
finish getting in the harvest etc. before winter returned. Hence "Indian
summer" means a special reprise of summer weather for the benefit of the
Do I believe this legend is the correct source of the term "Indian summer".
No, it sounds ex post facto to me, that is, the legend was created after the
term "Indian summer" had entered English. I would however refuse to bet
against the story having been invented by a Native American storyteller for
the benefit of a white audience.
Seriously, here is what the Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th edition (1987)
volume 6 page 291 column 1 has to say:
"period of dry, unseasonably warm weather in late October or November in the
central and eastern United States. The term originated in New England and
probably arose from the Indians' practice of gathering winter stores at this
time. This autumn warm period also occurs in Europe, where it is called
All-hallown summer or Old Wives' summer. <snip> In the United States, an
Indian summer period occurs when a cool, shallow polar air mas stagnates and
becomes a deep, warm high-pressure centre. This centre is characterized by a
strong low-level temperature inversion that produces a stable air
stratification. As a result, vertical air motions are inhibited, and smoke
and dust are concentrated near the ground, which accounts for the haziness."
(Technical note: to meteorologists and aviators, "stable" means no vertical
movement in the air, hence the "As a result" is incorrect since "vertical are
motions are inhibited" repeats the end of the previous sentence. In other
words, the jargon is wrong but the statement is correct.)
Inland a certain amount of dust is to be expected, and forest fires put
varying amounts of smoke into the air. A temperature inversion causing
stable air is the usual reason for a Los Angeles smog. An extreme example
occurred at Donora, Pennsylvania, where a temperature inversion trapped
industrial smoke in a steep-sided valley for six days, killing twenty people.
Indian summer is the opposite extreme, a temperature inversion over a large
area of the eastern US (and I suppose Canada as well) causing a barely
noticeable smog condition accompanied by warm weather.
Now for "Blue Ridge" and "Smoky Mountains." There is a "Blue Mountain"
(actually a ridge, but in the eastern US any ridge running say fifty miles or
more is likely to be called "X Mountain") just north of Harrisburg,
Pennsylvania. Whereas the Blue Ridge is on the seaward side of the
Shenandoah Valley, Blue Mountain forms the inland side of the Pennsylvania
extension of the Shenandoah Valley. There is also a set of "Blue Mountains"
somewhat inland from Sydney, Australia.
What the Blue Ridge, Blue Mountain in Pennsylvania, and the Blue Mountains in
Australia have in common is that, although not spectacularly high, they are
bordered by an extensive fairly flat region and so on one side form the
skyline for miles away. Now I haven't checked the physics or optics of this,
but I was out in the country this morning and I noticed that any group of
deciduous trees (which this week have not yet sprouted leaves in New Jersey)
appears a bluish gray if several miles away, rather than the actual brown
that a nearby group of decidous trees is in.
Hence any set of mountains that are covered with forest, particularly
deciduous forest, and which is visible from maybe ten or twenty miles away,
will look bluish (or bluish-gray) on many days of the year. Hence "Blue
As for the Great Smoky Mountains, the same Britannica (volume 5 page 449
column 1) says "[they] were named for the blue, smoky haze characteristic of
the area." Maybe, but I'd like to point out that the Smokies are an
extension of the Blue Ridge.
As for the folk song "On Top Of Old Smoky", it is probably hopeless to track
down what mountain was the original, or whether somebody specialized the
Great Smokies into a single mountain for the purpose of the song. However,
"all covered with snow" is much more likely in New England than in
- Jim Landau (who has seen all four mountains at one time or
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