Early Monday the air was fresh and cool, and as I walked across the morning's damp grass toward the kennel, I laid out the coming months in sequence, my mind wondering. A friend a while back deliberated aloud how many autumns he might have left, and if the number were known, how he would spend them. Dogs are above this sort of mental gymnastics, and as I freed them from their nighttime coops, they romped across the pasture like kids.

On these mornings I like to saddle a horse and ride. Whether slipping a boot into a stirrup to induce a meditative state preceded the more popular practice of shaping oneself into a downward facing dog, I'm unsure. I do know that using up open country at a lope limbers the mind as well as the body, especially when, as now, hoof prints lead toward shorter days, longer nights and birds flying.

I got to thinking about autumn recently and the good it portends when I received notice that the Hautman boys, Bob, Joe and Jim, are planning an exhibit of their art. In September.

I know for a fact that unless these three have succumbed to illness they tent in the Rockies in September to hunt elk. So I thought the scheduling of their show at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, with an opening reception Sept. 7 christened by wine poured into fine glass, must be a mistake. As the Hautmans know well, in September not only do elk bugle in mountains, ducks gather in the Canadian parklands in anticipation of flying south, the act of which is itself artistry, plumage in motion, and any painter worth his easel pines to be on site, not rubbing elbows.

Pristine-wise, Minnesota isn't what it once was. But still today its northern lakes, western marshes, southern prairies and southeastern hardwoods inspire random acts of creativity. This is especially true as fall looms. Not everyone can dance, feet syncopated and graceful. But on cool days among dry leaves we all pirouette freely, one way or another, geese gathered overhead in long V's; oaks, maples and birches afire.

Minnesota calls many important painters its own. Born in 1895 in Hawley, Lucille Blanch was among these. Alexis Jean Fournier, born in St. Paul a century and a half ago, was another. Include Francis Jaques, too, and many others, some, like the Hautmans, still upright with brushes in hand. Dave Maass and his two federal duck stamps is among these, also Scott Storm, Bruce Miller, Daniel Smith and Richard Plasschaert, winners also. But the Hautmans, who collectively have painted 12 federal duck stamps, the originals of which will be displayed opening night at the forthcoming exhibit, are the hot rods of the bunch — artists not just from Minnesota, but made by Minnesota.

Their mother, Elaine, is a professional artist who nurtured creativity in all seven of her children. But it was their father, Thomas "Tuck" Hautman, who died in 1995, who perhaps steered Jim, Joe and Bob toward wildlife art. A duck hunter, Tuck's long-ago treks to Leech Lake in October and November in pursuit of diving ducks inspired his own oil-on-canvas painting of canvasbacks in flight, a rendering that captured past hunts while, ghostlike, foretelling the future.

Whether land and water and wildlife and interaction with the physical world will continue to shape Minnesotans as they have in the past is an open question. Farmers no longer pitch hay into lofts with forks, and root cellars are now TV rooms. My grandmother in Frazee with her long dresses covered by long aprons bent all summer beneath a hot sun, weeding her garden. In August and September, she canned tomatoes and put up Mason jars of rhubarb jam, salving her hands, and heart, by feeding birds, petting the neighbor's horse and reading hope into passing clouds, a good preacher's wife.

Dove hunting begins Sept.  1, also bear season and soon thereafter early goose, grouse, woodcock and duck. I appreciate young hunters. But old hunters are the real deal. In the shank of their sporting days, they target roosters that rise at their feet or mallards angling over decoys with ascending dispassion. Mortality lies in wait. Yet life's circle persists, and empty freezers yawn. Fall is filling time.

My friend who wondered how many autumns he has left will chamber a round or two this fall. Then, through a scope darkly, he'll see what he sees, and make a decision.

He is his own canvas, unfinished, and this is how he chooses to color his remaining days.

The Hautman boys can paint. And exhibit. And when they're done, they'll pitch a tent in the mountains, and hunt.

Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.com