Minnesota summers to many of us seem short, but even much shorter are our Indian summers. They might last as little as a day or perhaps for several days. They are frequently made up of days scattered intermittently across the calendar.

An Indian summer day is one with an above-normal temperature and little or no wind. These warm, sunny, hazy days always follow autumn's first frost and occur when a high-pressure system is passing through.

The origin of the phrase "Indian summer" is as hazy as the brief "season" it refers to. Some sources say it was born in New England and referred to the period when Native Americans made their final preparations for winter. They often burned grassy areas in late fall to flush out game for one final hunt before winter. The burning grasses would give the still autumn air its extra hazy appearance.

Indian summer is rare and that's why people relish it. Golfers, bicyclists, picnickers and hikers will be out in numbers. The added lure of autumn colors will bring out leaf-watchers, photographers and landscape painters.

Other things I am thinking about:

  • Expect to see patches of fall leaf colors. Sugar maples in forests have golden-yellow leaves. It's the peak of the leaf-raking season, as a good share of deciduous tree leaves are down.
  • The picking of late-season apples such as Prairie Spy and SnowSweet continues.
  • Watch and listen for big Vs of tundra swans migrating southeast over the Twin Cities area.
  • Farmers continue combining soybeans and corn. Franklin's gulls follow farmers' plows to pick up worms and other small animals.
  • Rafts of American coots still are being seen on some lakes, but soon they will head south.
  • It's spawning time for brown and brook trout in southeastern Minnesota streams.

Jim Gilbert has taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.