Canadians and other inhabitants of northern climes love to brag about how hardy we are in winter weather. We boast about successfully navigating icy roads and blizzards in our cars. With bravery and cheerfulness, we talk about our skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing exploits as though we are great explorers. Honestly though, winter, with its snow, sleet, grayness and cold wears on us after awhile, at least that’s what I’ve noticed. By midwinter, snow on the pines and groomed cross-country trails don’t seem so idyllic. They seem like a bleak decoration on a dormant land. So to seek brief refuge from the dullness, many of us northern folks take whatever time and money we can get and go looking for palm trees and beaches instead.
Florida is a big destination for warmth-seeking Canadians and North Country people too. It’s a decades-old phenomenon, especially among retired people. I’m far from retirement myself, but I just joined the ranks of Canadian winter short-term sun-seekers. I didn’t grow up in a family that went to Florida. We camped in Ontario or visited family in Nova Scotia. We only saw Walt Disney World on TV and the closest we went to Miami was by watching The Golden Girls. The long-term Florida retired visitors from Canada are known as “Snowbirds.” To me, that was always just Anne Murray’s first big hit. I remember retired folks I knew as a kid going to Florida in the winter. They always brought back odd crafts made from seashells or fridge magnets from Busch Gardens in Tampa.
Since arriving in Florida, I’ve noticed the family dynamics are usually set up around retired couples who spend the winter here. Their children and grandchildren come and join them for whatever time they have. If they don’t fly, they drive. Every other licence plate is from a northern state, Quebec, or Ontario. Attractions are geared to families, but the general public seems mostly retired. Today, two women were overheard by the pool arguing about which brand of raisin bran cereal is best. This isn’t an argument millennial hipsters usually have.
We northerners go south in the winter to enjoy what we can’t at home. I’d only ever seen fake palm trees until last Saturday. I saw a flamingo standing in a highway median. On January 15, I put my feet in the ocean by a beach of powdery white sand without risk of hypothermia. I went out for dinner and didn’t have to scrape ice and snow off the car windshield before leaving. Many would find these things insignificant, I find them as major small pleasures to be savored. I know that a week from now, the only flamingoes I see will be faded plastic ones half-buried in snow in someone’s yard. I’ll get annoyed when my driveway entrance is filled with heavy slush after the city snowplow passes. I’m going to enjoy these seemingly insignificant things in Florida while I still can.