Rosemary is thought of as an herb, but it's really a shrub that can get quite large here because it usually survives the winter in south Louisiana, with our climate similar to its native home in the Mediterranean.

By the time my birthday rolls around at the end of each January, the big sycamore in our front yard has finally lost its last leaf for the season. It’s as if the old tree has cleared its head so that it can rest awhile and dream of spring.

In these late winter days, what I long for most is a clear head, too. Weeks of worry over a pandemic and political strife have put a premium on mental clarity, a scarce thing in our national life even before COVID-19. We’ve gone through a confusing time for Louisiana and the world.

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I often calm my thoughts by going outside, looking around to see what there is to see. Thanks to Robert Michael Pyle’s “Sky Time in Gray’s River,” a book on my nightstand this winter, I’ve learned about a curious way of taking stock.

“Some villages in England,” Pyle tells readers, “still adhere to the ancient practice of ‘walking the bounds,’ whereby the people, on the first day of the year, saunter all the way around the parish boundary, usually a distance of a few miles, checking walls and fences and noting what’s going on as a fresh year gets underway.”

Pyle, who lives in rural Washington state, suggests that all of us could benefit from walking our own small part of the world from time to time, mindful of how things are holding up.

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I thought about this the other day as I stood just beyond the shadow of our bare sycamore, teasing a few store-bought plants from their plastic pots so I could tuck them into the small herb patch we keep in a big garden pot. I get some new herbs each Christmas as a holiday gift to our family, though winter isn’t a great time to buy that kind of nursery stock.

I like the thought of something green and tender and alive under the Yuletide tree, no matter how ragged the tiny containers of dill and mint might look as they stand guard near the creche. After all the Christmas things have retreated once more to the closet, those little plants can cheer the gray weeks between New Year’s and Mardi Gras.

Into the garden pot went a new bit of rosemary, its clear, sharp, scent a tonic for the blues, along with some chocolate mint, so named because it smells like a candy bar. I dug holes with the trowel for basil and chamomile, too — the pot as packed as a lifeboat before I mulched everything with pine straw and called it a day.

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The brightest thing in our living room right now is the cover of a seed catalog, which sports a huge tomato that hovers over my thoughts like a private sun.

“In With the New,” the headline on the seed catalog proclaims. Not a bad thought, I guess, as spring slowly walks toward our embrace.

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