2017-01-06 / Opinion

Fly, snowbird, fly

Well, it’s finally happened. My parents, after toughing out decades of brutal Maine winters, are considering moving to a warmer state, one in which a person can grip their steering wheel in the morning without feeling a painful chill shoot up their arms and down into their vital organs. Can’t say I blame them. Come March, I’ll be thawing my knickers in front of a space heater and wondering if the glorious relief of spring is really all that worth it.

Snowbirds. That’s what they’d be called. They’ll enjoy three seasons up north in which they can check their mail without threat of hypothermic death, and then poof, gone to Arizona, or South Carolina or wherever they end up. It sounds like a nice life, if you can swing it: maintain residency in your home state, but skip the one season that makes you wonder why humans ever settled in snowy climes to begin with. And why did people settle here? Did the Mayflower not have the legs to make it down to Myrtle Beach?

Doing the whole snowbird thing is a luxury enjoyed primarily by retired folks. Working stiffs like me have at least 30 years before we can even begin to contemplate that kind of life, which brings up the question of how long we can keep going this way. Shovel, drive, work, drive, shovel, thaw, bed. Sure, it’s only about three months out of the year when this zombie-like routine dominates our days, but it’s psychologically draining nonetheless. It’s as though nature is a gleefully sadistic drill sergeant, testing to see how far we can bend without breaking.

Nature: “You’re slacking, maggot! No hustle, no drive! Here’s another Nor’easter, and when you’re shoveling this time, bend those knees!”

Me: “But I can’t feel my hands! Or much of anything else!”

Nature: “Feelings are for maggots! Here’s some hail, maggot! Bwahahaha!”

Me: “I liked you better when you were autumn.”

It would be helpful if I were a skier or snowboarder, but alas. The only time I enjoy snowboarding is when I’m doing it in a video game. This allows me to get the gist of the sport while avoiding some of its more wintery elements — the chilling wind, the wetness of the snow, the slur of my speech as my facial muscles harden into a stiff gel. All snowboarding should be done on a couch with a space heater blasting on one’s feet. Call me a weenie if you want to, but dammit, I’m a warm weenie.

And I could be perpetually warm if I had the freedom to be a snowbird. Perhaps it’s the fiction-lover in me, but I’m often lost in flights of fancy, and in my wilder imaginings I’m filthy rich because I’ve invented an environmentally friendly car that runs on crocodile breath. In this scenario, I stick around Maine through the holidays — let’s face it, moderately snowy Christmases in Maine are the best — and then beat feet to someplace where people are wearing sandals and saying things like “Man.” It would be a different place every winter. San Diego one year, Charlotte the next, and then to heck with it, three months cruising Africa’s Serengeti in the back of a jeep. While my friends at home are slipping on their icy driveways I’m taking selfies with a pride of lions. It should be noted that, in this fantasy, lions are totally cool and never try to eat me.

While I someday aspire to this kind of freedom (or at least its realistic counterpart), a small part of me still considers the snowbird lifestyle to be a form of cheating — a “life hack,” as the younguns like to say. According to the minority opposition in my brain, living life as a Mainer requires embracing all of its seasons, not just the ones that allow you to sip Pabst Blue Ribbon in your backyard tire swing. You put in your dues from January through March in order to “earn” the other seasons; that’s the theory, anyway.

But the reason this is relegated to the “devil’s advocate” portion of my thinking is that it smacks of youthful braggadocio. Only now, as a 30-something, am I beginning to understand the ravages that time can inflict upon one’s body. Sure, I’m relatively hale at the moment, but a couple dozen more winters and I imagine my joints will be screaming louder than Janet Leigh in “Psycho.” So what if snowbirds are cheaters? I cheat all the time. Whenever I play video games I make myself invincible so I can walk around punching bad guys in the face with total impunity. Which means I have no problem ducking out for a few months while the kids build their snowmen; go wild, children, and don’t forget the carrot.

Becoming independently wealthy would be a great way to skip straight to the snowbird era of my life, but inventing the crocodile car may not be the best way to get there. Environmentally friendly vehicles abound nowadays, crocodiles don’t, and besides, I’m sure a team of climate scientists would examine my creation and find some other damning carbon footprint attached to it — methane emissions, swamp burps, things of that nature. If I want to pioneer a get-rich-quick product, it needs to be something Americans need but don’t know they need. A lawnmower that turns into a nose-hair clipper? No. A bicycle pump that plays Metallica’s “Don’t Tread on Me” when it senses your tire’s inflated? No. A throat lozenge with a gooey nugget of chocolate in the center? Hmmm. Maybe.

I’ll tinker in my workshop until I get some solid ideas flowing. I’ll also get a workshop. Until that time, winter’s here, I’m grounded, and the driveway isn’t going to clear itself. Grab a shovel, folks, and keep your heads down. Time to earn those other seasons.

— Jeff Lagasse is an editor at a Portland media company, which conspires to keep him locked in Maine while flurries pelt his scowling face. Send him scarves by emailing him atjelagasse@gmail.com.

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