Then, today, cleaning my refrigerator, I came upon a head of Romaine lettuce that I bought perhaps a week before Thanksgiving, in mid-November. Now before you scold about my housekeeping, imagine this. That head of lettuce, still in its original bag, was as fresh as green as the day I bought it -- no greying outer leaves to peel away, no browning stalks -- just Romaine looking for all the world like Romaine. Why have I keep it for so long? Now you can tut-tut-tut about my housekeeping.
But my housekeeping is not the story here. I held that lettuce in my hand, looked closely at its still perfect leaves, and then carefully laid it back in the crisper. I have no intention of eating it, but I'll keep it. I'll just watch it -- see how many more months it stays fresh and crisp and green. It startles me to see lettuce so old and so green. Makes me wonder . . . what are we eating these days? Why -- how -- does lettuce stay fresh for two and a half months?? Is that even possible? The bag reads 'organic' 'no preservatives.' Say wha? No preservatives and this ancient head of lettuce looks like it was just cut from the field? Why? Was it watered with liquid plastic?
Cabbages can last that long naturally -- just peel off the limp outer leaves and the center is still sweet, but lettuce? Lettuce was the treat of the spring, fresh greens, new greens, tender greens that might soon wilt. Romaine lasted just a little linger. Pick it in the morning; it might still be fresh for the evening meal, but who ever heard of 2 1/2 month old Romaine still fresh. . .
Our world has gone strange. Butterflies birthing in January. Eternal lettuce that will never wilt.
I'm not much interested in eating ever-crisp-always-green lettuce grown sometime in 2010. My liver might be suddenly as crisp and green. I rather prefer the real and the ephemeral -- baby lettuce that settles flat onto the plate (eat it quickly!), fog that disappears by noon, sun that skips gold on water, children's chalk drawings on sidewalks that will wash away with the rain.
The imagined and the dreamed -- as real as real can be.
and butterflies, what a child dreams
. . . or sees, could be, beneath
a waterfall of green January leaves.