When I arrived at the rancho I found no mint growing. In Santa Rita one day I bought a sprig of it from a lady who had it growing outside her hut door. The sprig, about the length of my finger, was planted in soil into which a good bit of cow manure was mixed, watered every day, and now we have a lusty, fast-spreading, dog-size patch of it prospering in a large tub, the tub to keep it from spreading into the garden as a weed.

Just seeing the plant's healthy vigor, its crinkly leaves shining contentedly in skin-stinging sunlight, its elegantly pink, squared stems sprawling luxuriously over the moist, manure-smelling soil, the leaves' perfect, classic form with such artfully serrated margins... makes me smile.

Until now I'd not touched the plant, not wanting to interfere with its development in any way but, this week, fascinated by the plant's flawlessness and wanting a cup of mint tea, I couldn't restrain myself. I leaned over the little plant, took a stem tip between my right hand's index finger and a thumbnail, and clipped it off.

Instantly the dusty, overheated air around me ignited with rampaging odor of mint. I'd expected this, of course, but such an immediate, full-blown olfactory assault on the day's unsuspecting indolence, and me, was shocking.

For, that day, instantly I recalled a certain rainy morning back in the late1970s in a sort of hippy community in backwoods Mississippi where the gay cook in an old slave kitchen where right beyond the screen door huge blossoms glowed like little violet suns on rampant morning-glory vines revealed to me the magic that mint conjures in the North African dish I came to know as tabulé.

And then came the mint odor proceeding that French-speaking lady in Belgium in the 1990s, coming through the door carrying a rainbow-confetti salad with dainty little tatters of mint she'd ever-so-expertly and tenderly mingled with peas, lettucy roquette, smelly little melting crumbles of some kind of obscure cheese we liked, and other things from her gorgeous, snail-infested garden.

And, another time, who-knows-when, backpacking on the Appalachian trail in the Smoky Mountains, a little stream dribbling over a high cliff, sitting among ferns and mint watching through blue haze the valley far below, a raven's view, the raven somehow triumphant but alone, alone in chilly, ethereal sunlight, with ferns and mint.

Yes, it was shocking being an old man with a lifetime collection of mental associations with the mint odor.