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A snowbird in spite of myself

Every year around this time, as winter tightens its grip on Toronto, my husband pointedly draws my attention to the various people we know who’ve decamped for condos in Florida and won’t be back until the crocuses sprout. “I like my routines here at home,” I’ve always said. “Besides, winter in Toronto is pretty tame stuff. Think we’ve got it bad? You should see winter where I come from! One year we had a blizzard so brutal, the snowdrifts were as tall as my parents and everyone took photos for their grandkids.”

My husband spent his early childhood in England and Wales, where little boys wore short pants in winter. I grew up in New Hampshire, snowsuit country. I walked to school with wind whipping my face and ice crystals clinging to my eyelashes. Much as I longed for a ride, I’d been taught that heated cars were for mollycoddled softies. That’s what everyone believed in my town. And we in New Hampshire, the Granite State, were anything but soft. Yet it was widely acknowledged that hardier souls did exist. They scorned heated cars, preferring the rigourous adventure of a journey by dog team over frozen wastes. The winter warriors had a name: Canadians.

When I enrolled in the University of Toronto back in the 60s, my American friends carried on about the harsh weather “up there” (never mind that Toronto is south of my home town). They seemed to think I’d be skiing to class and smoking up in long johns and a tuque. But in the pantheon of winter cities, Toronto is a mere pretender. Sure, we did once have a series of legendary snowfalls after which our doofus mayor called in the army to clear away the white stuff. But according to an unwritten law that no one tells you in Toronto, the year you get serious about snowshoeing is bound to be a year of half-hearted flurries that barely glaze the grass.

The most notable thing about winter in Toronto is the zest with which the locals vent their annoyance. For instance, my husband, who last year stepped up his snowbird refrain after a particularly messy thaw. “We have water in Toronto, too!” he said. “Dirty, cold and all over us!”

Resisting the snowbird routine has been a matter of principle for me. True to my New Hampshire roots, I am no weather wuss. Besides, I must be walking distance from a book store and a cafe. Florida, the getaway that everyone drives to from here, has never struck me as that kind of place. To me it’s a wasteland of mega-malls, gated communities and early-bird buffets where oldsters line up at 4:30 for salad bars featuring those brilliant but flavourless Florida tomatoes, as plastic as a swizzle stick.

Then last winter I was persuaded to spend a few days in Sarasota, just to check it out. Lo and behold, I liked what I saw. Sarasota has intriguing museums, a lush botanical garden and enough classical concerts to keep a music lover busy every night of the week. Truth is, I’m not that serious a music buff. But I like to think I could become one if the spirit moves me. And this year it just might. Tomorrow we set out for a three-day drive to Sarasota, pausing on our way to ring in the New Year with friends in South Carolina. We’ll spend January in a downtown condo that’s passes my cafe/bookstore test. Once we’re settled, I’ll be keeping you posted—the idea behind this journey is not to escape our daily rhythm, but to enjoy it somewhere warmer. Guess it’s time to dig out my pink linen pants. Winter? Something tells me I won’t miss it.

Click here and here to read about our most exotic trip so far—to China.


Posted by Rona

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