Legend of the goose summer

ALTHOUGH nature often seems determined not to notice, tradition tells us that at this time of year we should expect a few days…

ALTHOUGH nature often seems determined not to notice, tradition tells us that at this time of year we should expect a few days of unseasonably quiet, warm and sunny weather. It is called "St Martin's Summer", today being Martin's feast day, or alternatively, "Goose Summer", for reasons that will be apparent later.

Martin was born in AD 316, and as a young man followed in his father's footsteps by becoming an officer of the Roman army. The young Martin, however, was attracted to the new cult of Christianity, and when one bleak November day he found himself accosted by a shivering, almost naked, beggar man, he put his adopted principles into practice he cut his cloak in two and gave half to the beggar.

Now, the story goes that God was so pleased with this generous act that He let the sun shine warmly on the saintly half cloaked Martin for several days, until he could repair his wardrobe. Indeed, God has continued ever since to commemorate this event by sending a few days of warm weather each November hence "St Martin's Summer".

Martin was successful in his Christian calling. By the year 370 his devotion to saintly duty had attracted such attention that he was named Bishop of Tours. The legend goes that the diffident Martin was so alarmed by this daunting prospect, that he hid in a barn to avoid the call, but was given away by a noisy goose who attracted the Church Pursuant to his hiding place. This, however, is where Martin shows a vengeful streak after his elevation, the new bishop had the interfering goose put down and served for dinner, establishing, we are told, the tradition of eating goose on St Martin's Day. It also explains why "St Martin's Summer" is often called the "Goose Summer".


The story has an interesting sequel in etymology. Many species of spider, it seems, disperse their populations by allowing themselves to be wafted over long distances by air. On sunny, breezy days around this time of year, a spider with a wanderlust will climb to the top of some convenient projection, weave a silken thread that may be several yards in length, and climb out along it until both spider and thread are carried off by the wind. When the adventuring spider comes to ground again it releases the thread that carried it along, and the thread, continuing on its way, is often seen drifting with the breeze and shimmering in the "Goose Summer" sunlight. It seemed appropriate to call it goose summer" thread or, as we know it, gossamer.