Nature has been showing its awesome power lately. Although we haven't had wildfires or flooding, the weather has had an impact on our daily lives - now and in the future - while bear sightings in the area have kept us entertained.

The week of the Fourth of July was one of the hottest in memory with temperatures climbing near 100 for seven days in a row. Dew points in the mid-70s created a heat index of well over 100 degrees some days, which required excessive heat warnings from the National Weather Service.

The heat was a mere discomfort, though, as there were no severe repercussions here. However, the continued lack of rain is something else. Crops are showing signs of stress, even if the area isn't hit as hard yet as is a large portion of the Corn Belt south of us.

The U.S. corn crop was expected to be a record-breaker this spring, but the scorching weather arrived in the Corn Belt just as much of the crop was starting pollination, a key reproductive phase, a time when stress can have the biggest impact on yield.

Pollination in Minnesota is typically later in July, but some farmers got an early start this year due to the unusually warm spring. Therefore, the immediate rain outlook is of grave concern.

Weather isn't the only thing on our minds, though. Local residents have spotted in recent days a black bear north of Spring Valley, in rural Chatfield and on the grounds of Fillmore Central Elementary School in Preston, where photos and video shows the bear strolling across the field.

At one time, the black bear roamed all over the United States, but in modern times, its habitat is considerably smaller. Still, they aren't only up north. They live in forests as far south as Florida and northern Mexico.

The American black bear is found only in North America, and it has always excited our imagination. References to bears are found in literature, folk songs, legends, children's stories and cartoons. The North American Bear Center, appropriately located in Ely, Minn., where bears are as common as deer are here, notes that one problem is that black bears are often not differentiated from the ferocious grizzly bears in literature and folklore.

Folklore and popular culture can be confusing because the bear is often based on caricatures, such as teddy bears, Smokey the Bear or Minnesota Twins mascot TC Bear while in other cases they have been portrayed as villains to support themes of fear of the unknown or man against nature.

Although black bears have been known to kill humans, it is quite rare, only occurring three times during the previous decade in the wild in the United States.

Bears typically live in forests, swamps and other areas with dense cover, but they also venture into clearings to feed, sometimes on crops such as corn. The DNR speculates that the recent bears spotted in our area are young males searching for mates after swimming across the Mississippi River from Wisconsin. Although there are a couple black bears living in southeastern Minnesota, it's not a breeding population.

Here are a few facts about the bears, courtesy of the North American Bear Center.

• Daily activity period: Most bears become active a half-hour before sunrise, take a nap or two during the day, and bed down for the night an hour or two after sunset. However, some bears are active at night to avoid people or bears.

• Running speed: Lean bears can exceed 30 miles per hour. They can run uphill, downhill or on level ground.

• Defense of cubs is a grizzly bear trait: About 70 percent of human deaths from grizzly bears are from mothers defending cubs, but black bear mothers have not been known to kill anyone in defense of cubs.

More information can be found on the center's website at www.bear.org.

Anyone spotting a bear is asked to contact the DNR so it can track the location. Besides that, just enjoy the entertainment from Mother Nature, which any day can turn on us and give us so much misery.