We can see the flocks of gray-headed snowbirds through our high-powered binoculars, as they make their annual trek back up the I-95 eastern migration corridor to northern climes, where they will spend the spring and summer months babysitting their third and fourth generation of progeny. For free. Science has yet to figure out the logical reason for this: the best guesses involve some kind of imprinting.
We are close enough to hear the rumble of their RVs and see the “license plates” that they have been tagged with by the government agency that keeps track of their numbers and habitats. Each night on their annual week-long journey north, just before sunset, snowbirds will take freeway exits, looking for a safe places where they can secure food, shelter and rest to prepare themselves for another long day’s odyssey. By dark, the parking lots of diverse Wal-Marts and Cracker Barrels will be thick with flocks of snowbirds returning to their ancestral homes, driven by blind animal instinct. Trained birders will chuckle at the awkward dance of the short-legged toilet runner, stare in awe at the blue-haired mahjong player, enjoy the rolling gait of the bald iron-seat as he climbs from the cabin of his Winnebago after putting 500 nonstop miles on the road in a single day.
Despite the overpowering homing instinct, there are some snowbirds that never return. Rumors exist of entire flocks that never leave Ft. Myers and Naples. Many western snowbirds spend the entire year in Phoenix and Tucson instead of returning to the northern United States and Canada, even though the temperatures in the desert climes can reach the triple digits in the summer. Scientists think that air-conditioning and the fact that many other members of their flock also choose to remain have had a drastic effect on migration patterns.
“’I’ve had it with going back and forth,’ seems to be their attitude,” said one lab-coated scientist-looking person. ”When someone tells them it gets hot in the summer in Florida or Arizona they say, ‘It gets hot in the north in summer, too. And what are we going back for? To visit the grandkids? So we can watch them Twitter their friends for four hours straight? Are we supposed to enjoy that? Let them sit in a car for three days and come visit us. They’re younger; they can handle it better than we can. It takes my colon a week to uncoil after being in a car that long. Are we going back to see our friends? Most of them have already moved south. Every time we come back we find fewer and fewer of our friends remaining. They’re all living in the Sun Belt.
‘Each year the trip back is less and less fun. For the money we spend on gas we could have joined the local country club. Every time we come back north, we wonder if our house will still be there or if squatters will have taken over. Our kids have been out of school for 30 years, and they want us to pay school taxes! We’ll buy a house in one of those gated communities that doesn’t allow children. They don’t have any schools, so they don’t have any school tax. We’ll spend the money we save having our golf cart customized to look like a ‘56 T-bird.’”
But thousands upon thousands of snowbirds will still make the long and arduous yearly trek; risking their lives in traffic, trying to remember the exact route that takes them past the roadside restaurant they liked so much last year, pumping endless gallons of high-priced gasoline into gigantic vehicles as they lumber their way back to the cold, desolate, unforgiving lands of their birth.
Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2011, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.