By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Did you hear that sigh of relief, that collective exaltation of "whew" from people, animals and crops alike?

That, I'm here to tell you, is a sure sign of fall.

It's a subtle shift, but one that builds in intensity as the days get cooler and shorter.

Where before the birds gathered in groups of one or two, they're now starting to bunch up into groups of six, eight or 10, flushing together at the slightest sound, only to take up residence on the nearest power line.

Unfortunately, after that short bit of relief, we're back into the high heat.

But it's a glimmer of hope that yes, fall is on the way, and winter won't be too far behind.

The approach of fall, before the cool spell, was difficult to see because daytime temperatures remained at or above the century mark, making, well, everything difficult.

Yes, it's warmed up again, but these below-100-degree days now seem almost tolerable. We'll tire of them again, and quickly I'm sure.

But I'm here to tell you that rain will one day fall again, fall will be upon us, and the temperatures will drop.

To be honest, it won't be any too soon.

I'm simply dreaming of 60-degree-anythings. Day or night, such a temperature would be especially refreshing.

I only suggest 60 degrees so the abundant mourning dove crop of 2010 isn't pushed south too early, as in anytime before Sept. 1.

OK, so that's another harbinger of fall -- the onset of anxiety about the approach of dove season.

As always, the season opens Sept. 1 -- not that hunters are creatures of habit.

After all, virtually everyone complained, and loudly so, when the state's pheasant season was switched to the first Saturday in November. Everyone was quick to say the season rightfully should open on the second Saturday, just as it had for years before.

It does again, for those of you who worry that another conspiracy might be afoot.

As is my annual rite of passage, I've started watching the sheer number of doves that burst up ahead of approaching vehicles on county roads, showing their mastery at zig-zagging their way to safety.

From what I've seen so far, it's going to be a good -- make that great -- dove season.

The birds are there, the region isn't awash in water (bad for farmers, great for dove hunters) and the doves should dive bomb the water supplies that remain available.

That's going to make for some ideal shooting, if a person is armed with plenty of shells. They are, after all, a challenge for even the best wing-shots in the country.

When the time comes, I'll pick up my bucket, shells and shotgun, head to the pond's shore and set my mind free.

There, I'll gaze in amazement at what Mother Nature gives us, and sometimes takes away. I'll dream of cooler days to come and how we'll all complain about how ready we are for summer.

But for now, I'll take a bit of that cool weather. A little moisture wouldn't hurt either.