They travel south by car, car train, recreational van and plane. They travel alone. They seek warmth and comfort as rewards for lives spent working and rearing families. They are intent on escaping cold weather, snow and ice.
Some view Florida as ideal. Some don’t. Some prefer South Carolina. Some seek Caribbean islands or the southwest. They nestle down either in second homes or rental units (or RVs).
They consider the Eastern Shore their home base. Yet, they have roots and friends in their winter communities. They seem content. They don’t look back, except at weather maps to confirm their winter choices.
Of course, I am describing snowbirds who flock annually and mainly to southeastern United States. They make no notable noise as they leave their primary residences. They welcome friends to visit them and vacate, albeit briefly, the winter “up north” and its sometimes miserable weather.
Like actual birds, snowbirds from a geographic area in fact do flock to the same town or even the same housing community, as I’ve learned. Call it a nest, an oversized one, where the human birds savor familiarity as well as pleasant temperatures.
Simply, longtime friends spend all year together. I’d like to think that transitional visitors would make new friends, and maybe they do. Common bonds provide the glue that brings and keeps friends together, regardless of the locale.
Does it sound like tribal instincts? It feels that way to this home-bird.
Readers may wonder why I care enough about the snowbirds to spend so many words on them? Who gives a darn? Life isn’t static.
In my retirement career as a non-profit volunteer and status as a full time, all-weather Shore resident, I miss the snowbirds. Yes, I admit it. They sometimes call into meetings. They sometimes fly in for medical appointments—and then vanish again. Conversations that I would like to have with them are consigned to emails, texts and mobile phone calls.
Now, I’m not complaining. I’m just observing an annual anthropological phenomenon. A passage, as it were. Movement can define life.
Did I say I’m a bit jealous, particularly during snowstorms and accumulation of annoying ice? Easy to discern, I bet.
The term “snowbird” became commonly used in 1979, though used first in 1923 to describe seasonal workers who went south for the winter.
In recent years, when I have visited Florida, I’ve noticed a large number of Canadians. Understandably so. I can’t imagine enduring freezing temperatures when you have the option to spend four to six months in Florida.
Last year, when a friend, Paul Cox, and I traveled to Dunedin, FL, near Clearwater and Tampa, we watched the Toronto Blue Jays play thrice, including once in Sarasota against the Orioles. In the latter instance, I was struck by how much louder was the Canadian anthem than our Star-Spangled Banner, as sung by fans in the stands. Those north of the border have staked their claim in Florida, mining it for a respite and recreation.
Supposedly, Canadians comprise the largest percent of winter visitors in Florida.
Two years ago, as Paul and I watched the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros play in a brand new shared ballpark in West Palm Beach, including a game against the St. Louis Cardinals, I was amazed how many retirees wore team jerseys. Gray hair and paunches around the middle don’t hide a childlike enthusiasm for baseball.
Hometown loyalties are alive and well, however much money one has spent relocating to the complex state of Florida. You can’t forget your roots, right? Sports generate lasting loyalty.
Retirees are an economic development force in Florida. That’s been true for at least 100 years. According to the Aging and Research Center of Broward County (Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood), senior citizens’ spending power is $135 billion, $15 billion more than residents 49 and younger.
Unless Florida sinks underwater, it still will be an irresistible draw. Miami must cope with surges of water caused principally by global warming.
This trend has grown with the retirement of the baby-boomers, born between 1946 and 1964. I missed the outset by a year. Nonetheless, I still qualify, I think, at least by association with my younger wife.
The snowbird migration began for some in December, even earlier. They are settled by now in their comfortable nests. Friends are nearby. Life is good. Temperatures are pleasant. Snow and ice are in the rear view mirror.
Keep in touch, my friends the snowbirds. Do not send pictures. Try not to gloat about awful weather back here.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.