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January 3, 1995

By this point in the winter, my bodily thermometer is usually so well calibrated that it comes within a few degrees of the weather reports. But the drop this year has been so sudden that I'm not yet capable of accurately feeling the difference between seven above, as it was this morning, and seven below, which was more what it felt like, probably because the windchill then was eighteen below. Sometimes, I wonder if I'll also get attuned to the onset of the mortal chill, so I can track its progress as calmly as the falling temperature.

I'm not yet adjusted to the cost of the store-bought vegetables either, as I discovered from a trip to the local supermarket this afternoon. Just a month or so ago, we were still eating the last of the fresh peppers I'd harvested from the garden in early November. But now, a medium-sized green pepper with a few telltale wrinkles on its shoulders cost me 89 cents. And the lettuce situation is even more disturbing, especially when I think about all the greens I was gradually harvesting just a few weeks ago-buttercrunch heads, green leaf, purple oak leaf, arugula, and endive, all flourishing under row covers until the night of December 10, when the temperature plunged below zero, froze all the greens, and then just as quickly warmed up again, as if to taunt me for hoarding all my produce under row covers. Now, the spray-soaked stuff at the supermarket is selling for $1.89 a pound.

During my Depression-era childhood in Cleveland, Ohio, one couldn't get fresh peppers or lettuce in January for any amount of money. So perhaps I shouldn't be complaining about the cost of supermarket produce. Maybe I should be celebrating the elaborate national and international network of growers and wholesalers and refrigeraters and shippers and merchandisers that make it possible for me to buy a green pepper to put in the creole baked snapper I'm planning to cook this evening. But then again, there's a part of me that likes to get my produce closer to home. So, after all, the most tasty and satisfying parts of the baked snapper will be our homegrown, home-canned tomatoes that I fetch up from the basement and the fresh thyme I've already harvested from the row-covered herbs at the end of the gazebo. When I brought the thyme clippings into the house, they smelled as dusky and rank as if it were still midsummer-and it still was, at least in my nose, at least for a moment.

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