by Glen Birbeck
Before I became one I thought snow birds migrated because of weather. I might have started that way, choosing perpetual spring down south over the cold up north.
With time my memories of commutes through snow have faded. After a few years I’ve gotten used to not stomping boots in the mud room or shaking snow crystals from heavy coats. These I exchanged for tee shirts, sneakers and fewer seasons.
But winter lives on in legend. Stories of winter are just the thing to swap with other old codgers on a warm afternoon in Vilcabamba. Sitting on the edge of a raised sidewalk, legs dangling over the cobblestones. There is ice and slush, but it’s stained with raspberry or lime and in paper cones carried by children.
Anywhere between six and nine months of the year I live in Ecuador. The rest of the year I’m in the mid coast of Maine. So why a snow bird, why go back and forth? For the same reason members of the Polar Bear Club leap into the icy water in January. For the shock! A splash in the face.
Swapping countries every year I also swap customs, language, food, clement weather. Some years there’s enough money for a side trip. Two years ago, I stayed two months in Krakow Poland. It’s better to acquire experience than stuff. Even traveling light there is room for more experience.
I’ve met travelers of several nationalities who never set down anywhere for long. They’re not snow birds but rather Frigates; birds who stay aloft months at a time. I couldn’t do that. I need a balance of stability and change. A ration of the varied with the familiar.
Half a century ago, when I was kicking around Europe, freshly sprung from the USN, it was different. You could get away from home. Now it’s the same INTERNET everywhere. Back then I might go a month without seeing an English language newspaper. Now no matter where I am I check the headlines several times a day.
In Ecuador I see twenty year old’s traveling as I did fifty years ago. They have nothing like the experience I had. Instead of the Paris Herald Tribune now and then they have an hour every day on Skype with mom. I don’t miss the old way of getting money. Hand to mouth is now ATM cash dispenser to wallet. As further evidence of a divine hand guiding all, the US Dollar is Ecuador’s currency. Still, I do miss the mental exercise needed to convert from one currency to another. The day’s “peg” and the money changers “spread.” My time in Poland brought it all back. I mentally changed Zloties to dollars and dollars to zloties.
Only old people do arithmetic in their heads, or read maps, my daughter tells me. When I visit her she drives me around Tampa. There are three of us. Her, me and the voice of the navigation app. I ask, “How’s the boyfriend?” Turn left, “I dumped him,” continue straight a quarter mile, “Too bad, I liked him,”turn right at the next intersection.
When she is my age the car will drive itself and the computer will ask about the boyfriend. More change. This age (the world’s) adopts the new so rapidly._ The old naturally resist change – the young embrace it. But Midcoast Maine preserves what it can of yesterday. The old New England charm draws the visitors. In Vilcabamba, hints of an ancient way of life can still be seen. In both places, with some suspension of disbelief, you can travel back in time.
Glen will Join us this Wednesday from 5 to 6 pm on WRFR’s Rockland Metro Show, for a conversation about travel in space and time. Join us in the ether, and call in with your thoughts. WRFR broadcasts on 93.3 fm Rockland and 99.3 fm Camden, and streams online at
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