Here it is, the first week of March, and I am so ready for winter to be done. Itís toying with me, of course, warming then cooling, pleasant and sunny one day, rainy and cold as the dickens the next.

Any of you who have been following this dribble for any length of time at all know I hate winter. Thereís no secret there. I hate the cold, but even if itís not cold, I hate the muddy water, the lack of fishing and the threat of foulness. I mean, I have a brand new bamboo fly rod at home made by Harry Boyd of Winnsboro, La., and all itís seen so far is the dew-soaked clover in the back yard. Lemme tell you though, I can lay out some line with that baby.

Winter. What a concept. Itís like, did the earth really have to wobble on such an elliptical orbit around the sun? Couldnít it have been a perfect circle, steadfast and true, and weíd have perpetual spring? Be my luck the distance would have been just right for perpetual winter and Iíd been born Aleut instead of Chitimacha.

Though Iíve bragged here that I was never a hunter, I guess memory is shorter than bravado. In fact, there was a time I recall doing some wingshooting, quail and woodcock, but that was during my teenage years and I was quite done by the time I was 20 or so and I never looked back. Fishing, you see, consumed me completely. What, didnít you notice?

So I trudge along and, since I quit smoking 10 Ė count Ďem, 10! Ė months ago, the pounds ainít coming off because I just ainít got much to do.

"Exercise, you need exercise!" you say.

Of course, youíre right, but that means getting outdoors, for me. Iím stubborn, Iím silly and Iím obtuse, you donít have to insist on this, I admit it. But when you start talking Bowflex, aerobics, yoga or weight-lifting, youíre not talking exercise in my dictionary. In my world view, exercise is working in the yard, fishing, training the dog for wingshooting again if I decide to, building a boat, etc. Low impact stuff, I admit, but effective when the weather allows. So sue me, Iím no Richard Simmons. Thanks goodness for small favorsÖ

Not smoking has changed my lifestyle in other ways, too. For instance, itís rare for me to stay up past 10 oíclock, even though I used to stay up until midnight or so on work nights. I donít know what this has to do with smoking or not smoking, but since I quit, come about 9:45 my lids get heavy, I start yawning like crazy and jerk awake from my own snores there on the sofa. Yawns are immensely more satisfying since I quit smoking, too. Iím serious. Yawning used to beÖI donít knowÖtight in the chest, incomplete, sorta. Like when youíve been sitting too long in one place and you need to stretch but youíve only got half as much room as youíd like, so you try it anyway, and only achieve half a stretch. Thatís what a smoking yawn feels like. A post-smoking yawn feels like a full, vigorous stretch. Thatís as good an explanation as I can come up with.

Hereís another thing about not smoking: Sneezes are much more enjoyable. Also, when I want to, I can actually sing from way deep down in my chest without erupting into gales of hacking coughs.

I still hang around with my friends that smoke. It doesnít bother me at all. Once or twice a month I still enjoy a cigar with my pals, but I donít inhale Ďem. Really, the only downside to not smoking is my inability to downsize. There is no upside to my upsizing, either, though Iíve tried my best to find one.

Anyway, we were talking about winter. Itís been a strange one, no doubt. Still havenít had a good freeze, not that Iím complaining. Okay, maybe I do kinda want us to have at least one good freeze. It keeps things right with the world, keeps things balanced and in order. Itís good for the lands, and itís good for the waters.

In less than 40 days itíll be Easter. Were I still a gardener, Iíd be starting tomato plants indoors, but now Iím just watching my pecan tree for buds to indicate to me for certain that winter is over. You canít fool a pecan tree, they know. I used to grow tomatoes and peppers and yellow crookneck squash like a madman. Cucumbers, pole beans, radishes and more. Loved those days but my father taught me a lesson that proved more true than I realized for many years:

"The most important thing you need to know about gardening, boy, is this: When that garden needs tending, thatís when the fish are biting."

So ended my hobby of gardening.

My father was a gardener though: He grew earthworms. Had long rows of raised beds in the backyard where he fed them corn meal and sold them in the little stores around Charenton, like Sopranoís and Wilmer Josephís old places. Of course, we always had worms for ourselves to fish, too, so I think selling them was just a means to an end for my dad. Anyway, that was all the gardening I knew him to do. I planted my first garden over where those worm beds had been located and let me tell you, Iíve never had a more productive one. I was still getting tomatoes, big and juicy, the following February when we got first frost.

Month and a half from now, two at most, I should be up to my neck in spring. Oh, joyous day to come!