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Prose & Comments: Snowbird conversion



Bah humbug to wimpy snowbirds who head South because they cannot deal with a little dipping in the thermometer, a few lovely flakes, a NASCAR driving experience on black icy roads, and the cardio-healthy workout of mastering the snow shovel.

They even have their own shmaltzy little anthem, “Snowbird” sung by Anne Murray.
Spread your tiny wings and fly away/ And take the snow back with you/ Where it came from on that day.

They are so smug with their perfectly-timed escapes to the warm South. My wife, Kathleen, and I thought of unsophisticated, conservative Florida, and its evangelical-fundamentalist religion, and couldn’t imagine how our friends could live there, albeit for only a few months in the winter.

We weathered through many Shelter Island winters with no complaints. Part of that magnanimity was due to our having previously lived in Chicago, which teaches one to appreciate the term “wind chill,” or as the weathermen (back then they were always men, now they seem to be always women) loved to say, “feels like ___” and then insert some number at least 20 degrees lower than the actual temperature.

We watched our friends annually pack up and drive South at the first sniff of cool air. It seemed they would leave earlier each year, hoping to time it so they would leave before the rare hurricane would hit Long Island and after the more likely one had already hit Florida.

We did our winter preparedness trials, getting firewood, one last caulking episode with loosely secured windows and doors, and of course mousetraps.

When the snow did come, there were always delightful hikes, skating on frozen creeks and ponds, and cross-country skiing with rewards back home of hot chocolate or even better, hot toddies, a mysterious drink which always brought out great recipe debates (“Cloves, of course” …  “No, you have to be kidding”).

Winter always brought more time in front of the TV, which often required purchasing additional channels and services. I fondly recall falling asleep watching live Australian Rules Football at 2 a.m., a 16-hour time difference from Down Under.

But then came the blizzard of January 2016. The record setter. The frozen pipes downed electric wires, impassable roads, all of which lasted for days, which seemed like weeks.

Kathleen and I looked at each other, needing no words, we both knew what that look meant. As soon as we got power back on and internet service, we had booked a rental in Fernandina Beach, Florida for the rest of the winter.

The fastest booking in rental history, no photos, videos, descriptions, to entice us. Just a credit card.

We felt a little guilty about abandoning our Shelter Island home and the few friends who still weathered out the winters, but that guilt lasted about 10 minutes. We joined the snowbird flock, something we were certain we would never do.

That stereotypic group of wimps that we had so decried in the past. How quickly we discarded our principles in exchange for comfort.

Stephen Gessner is a former president of the Shelter Island Board of Education