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Old Woman's Summer

TWARMS! Twarms! February (which has passed us as I moralize) is a dire time without something to consider, and we were fortunate to have Indian summer at our disposal. Be it known that we feminists have just suffered a serious setback from which possibly and fortunately we may never recoup. I'm pretty sure it was in my favorite outlander newspaper, the Esslinger Zeitung, that I read the story. It had to do with a big lawsuit instituted in the federal courts of the Republic of West Germany demanding the abolishment of Indian summer. It's not quite that simple, but I'll explain patronizingly as we go along, perhaps to somebody's satisfaction. Indian summer is at best a nebulous, tenuous, elusive, and even whimsical interlude, which may or may not appear anyway, when unseasonably warm air, usually dry, visits parts of the United States and Canada. True Indian summer has a soft haze that mellows the scenery. It is a delicious dividend, easing off the severity of the vicious northeast line storm to make way for the rigors of the first blizzard of winter. Indian summer is sort of like the hyphen in ROWDY-DOW! The next thing will be Christmas.

So this time I was pleased to have Indian summer to ponder in low-spot February. Indian summer is like velvet to burlap, like a caress to a slap in the face. Like all delights, it is fleeting, and while the wind whistles at the keyhole, the German press beguiles me with news that Indian summer is unsporting.

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The best thing about Indian summer, maybe, is lining bees. Here in Maine, where we pay our state legislators seven times what they're worth, a law was enacted some years back making it unlawful to line bees. It was my good luck to become proficient in that pastime before it was made a crime. I'm told somebody with a deep sense of possession felt his bee-lining neighbors intruded on his importance, and he sought protection.

In my Indian summer frolics I would take a little box containing a dab of comb honey, and I would set forth unbeknownst to the state legislature and find a comfortable place for a recumbent posture where I would arrange myself. Usually, the goldenrod is waning by Indian summer, but the fall asters are in full panoply, and because the year is closing out, the bees do all that they can with the asters. I would find a bee on an aster blossom, and I would insert it (working bees are neuter) into my box of honey, and I would watch it settle down and gorge. Free honey is a boon.

When the bee was full, I would let it go and watch it circle a couple of times and then head for the hive - or with wild bees to a hollow tree. I would explain how a bee is picked off a blossom and inserted into a box, except that to do so is now illegal and would be an accessory before the fact. When done my way, there is no threat to the general public.

A bee thus fortified and released will be gone long enough to unload into the colony's comb, and then it will return to my box for more honey. With it will come several other bees who seem to suspect there's a gravy train. Before too long, a line of bees is coming and going between the colony and my box. By now I have enjoyed my sandwiches, a significant portion of Indian summer, and the comforting spectacle of a bunch of bees getting something for nothing.

We always kept bees, so I was never much on going after a wild colony, but I could have. Instead, I would get up from my lassitude when I felt good and ready, and I would go home, leaving my little box, which was expendable, so the bees would get the last drop of honey.

According to the Esslinger Zeitung, Indian summer is not called Indian summer in the German language. This spell of weather is spelled Altweibersommer, which translates as Old Woman's Summer. And something about that caused somebody who had nothing else to do in February to hire a lawyer and go to court to get the weather bureau people to stop speaking of Altweibersommer.

The word, so the argument went, was insulting to a substantial part of the West German population. It was derogatory and demeaning. The judge was told that every time the forecaster mentioned Altweibersommer all the elderly females in Germany endured a rising gorge and distinct dislike. The court should free them from this discourtesy and stigma.

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Maybe we should cheer, and maybe not, that the federal court denied a restraining order in this matter, and held that the word was traditional beyond recall, and never carried any inappropriate meaning. Altweibersommer won. We are back in the dismal days of dismay before women's lib. What do the Indians say?

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