A gardener finally realizes it's going to be a long time until spring

I faced the row of well-groomed fruits and vegetables, a shopping basket in one hand, my other hand poised over a head of romaine lettuce. Tiny sprinklers misted the produce from above, chilling my hand. I felt as if I were standing in front of a board of inquisition.

Shoulder to shoulder, the lettuces looked like horse-faced soldiers arranged in formation, a shiny purple belt cinched around each waist. I picked up a heavy clump and slipped it into a plastic bag. As I cradled it in my hands, my shoulders slumped a little.

The lettuce felt foreign, as though I had picked up the wrong baby from a bassinet. When something's not right, you can feel it. I stood there, facing the displays of cabbage and grapes. Shoppers politely reached around me as I tried to make sense out of why I felt so cold toward this head of romaine.

The $2 price tag wasn't the problem; neither was the quality. It would make any salad tosser proud. So why was I getting emotional about a vegetable?

Outside, snow and ice dominated the parking lot - and my garden, which was two miles away. Face it, girl, I told myself. It's over; no more garden until late spring.

This head of romaine represented the first time in six months I'd had to succumb to buying grocery-store greens.

I felt guilty, taking this California stranger to my home here on Kodiak Island, Alaska, as if I were cheating on my spouse.

Driving home, I felt a little sad, so I tuned the radio to an oldies rock 'n' roll station. Then, a block away from my house I paused at a stop sign and lowered the visor to block the winter sun.

Call it a blink of awareness, the passing of dark clouds, or simply a change of heart, but I glanced over at the lettuce perched on the passenger seat. "It's not your fault," I whispered. "How'd you like to join us for dinner?"

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