Snowbird, Sunbird or No-Bird, That’s the Question?

Snowbird, sunbird or no-bird, that’s the question my wife and I have struggled with recently. She retired late last year, and we agreed that those nine-degree winter nights that have hit Virginia in the past few winters are no longer acceptable. We’re of an age where the severe cold slows the circulation and makes the joints feel in need of oiling. We went in search of a solution.

My preference was snow-birding, where one lives in a place with a four-season climate and escapes to the beach in winter. My wife, on the other hand, prefers sun-birding. This is where one lives in a warmer climate for eight months out of the year, and flees to a cooler climate July through October. Either approach would, theoretically, provide the optimum climate all year-round. Kind of like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, not too hot, not too cold, just right. I was intent on standing my ground for snow-birding. Then, a couple of my friends reminded me of the old adage ‘happy wife, happy life’. So, we set about planning to sun-bird.

This raised a couple of important questions. First, where do we move that would be a good permanent home from which to sun-bird? Second, since one needs two places in order to sunbird, where is the second location to which we would flee July through October? Third, should we purchase, or rent at this second location? Suddenly snowbird, sunbird or no-bird became much more complicated.

Our family has repeatedly traveled to St. Augustine, Florida over the years for vacation. We are familiar with the area. The beaches and downtown are beautiful. So, we downsized to a condo near the beach as our main home. This was no small feat. We prepped and sold our home of twenty-five years and moved to the beach in two-and-a-half months. Keep in mind that we are in our late sixties. We had raised three children in that home that was chocked full of ‘stuff’. This should give you some idea of how determined my wife was to get this done. I’m still dizzy, and exhausted, just from that part of the adventure.

This is where snowbird, sunbird or no-bird got more complicated. Although, we did get answers to important questions. First of all, where should we flee to in order to escape the summer heat of Florida? By early September, one month after moving, we had settled into our comfortable little condo near the beach. As it turned out, flee was the right word.

The national weather service announced that Hurricane Dorian would make a direct hit on the Jacksonville/St. Augustine area as a category five. Mandatory evacuation was ordered. So we fled, to Asheville, NC. It’s only a seven-hour-drive from our condo and it reminded us of our previous home near Roanoke, Virginia. Both cities are located in the same mountain range with the Blue Ridge Parkway nearby.

The next question with respect to snowbird, sunbird or no-bird was whether we should rent or buy the second place. Sometimes, God isn’t all that subtle at answering those life questions. We rented a house just outside Asheville for the entire month of September, to miss the peak hurricane season. Keep in mind that, since we were fleeing from Dorian, we had two cars full of important stuff, including our sweet little eighteen-year-old cat.

This brings up another issue with respect to snow-birding, and sun-birding. Whether you are headed to Florida, or to Asheille, NC, you are driving on I-95 and I-26. Both of these major roads remind me of NASCAR, but with tractor-trailers, Chevy Suburbans and Tahoes, the rolling houses of SUVs. Even with thankfully light traffic, the number of near-death experiences had my nerves on edge for the entire trip. This included dozing truckers, SUV drivers addicted to their cell phones and one guy that lost his Big Mac as it flew out the window due his inability to drive, eat and drink at seventy-miles-per-hour with his window open.  

We arrived at the address for the rental house mid-day on a Saturday. The road that the real estate agent described as reasonable, not requiring four-wheel-drive, was actually a washed-out gravel road at an eighty-degree angle upward, with two dog-legs. We have two Subarus, so we made it alive, but this was not someplace where you wanted to come and go a lot.

When we first entered the house, my wife found a note on the kitchen counter stating “Watch out for the ant infestation. The exterminator was just here. If it gets any worse, call him again.” No phone number provided or clue who the exterminator might be.

The carpenter ants just kept coming. We called the rental realtor, who finally called the exterminator. He came twice over the course of the month, and the ants kept trying to carry him off. He finally said the carpenter ants were in the walls, eating the house, and the only thing he could do was insecticide bomb the place. If he did so, we would have to go somewhere else for three days. We had no place else to go. If we had tried to sleep in the car on that gravel road, we’d have kept sliding out the back.

Then, there was the preponderance of large cob webs, suggesting presence of gigantic spiders. And, did I mention there were bats in the ceiling of the master bedroom? We could hear the scratching of their claws and high-pitched screams as they went in and out through the ceiling vent leading to the master bathroom. Halloween was rapidly approaching, and I began to feel like we were in a slasher movie.

There were also no curtains on any of the kajillion windows provided to reveal the views of the mountains. This included no curtains on the bedroom sliding glass door or large bathroom windows. Each and every night I woke up in the middle of the night, expecting to see a bear, a mountain man, or Freddy Kruger peering in at us.

The realty rental company was unwilling to offer any help. They ominously told us, “You just need to persevere. It’s that time of year.”

We thought maybe we’d stumbled onto some religious group that worships ants, or bats, or…well…Halloween was approaching. We took this as a sign from God that renting was not a good option for sun-birding.

We are currently in the process of buying a nice little condo in Asheville that is a) not on the highway to hell, b) insect and bat-free and c) had nothing to do with the realtor that rented us that equivalent of the House on Haunted Hill.

We learned several valuable lessons from this experience. I prefer to think of it as research because if makes me feel smart, instead of not smart for getting myself into this mess in the first place. First, if you sun-bird in Florida, it’s a good idea to have a place to flee to when the hurricanes cometh. Second, renting a house can be loads of fun, especially if the realty company throws in lots of extras, like dust, dirt, cobwebs, carpenter ant and bat infestations. So, buy the second place, pick an accessible location and set it up for yourself (you might want to vacuum and dust once in a while too). Third, when a realtor says you don’t need a four-wheel-drive to get to a house with purported mountain views, you should really hear, “Jeep, Land Rover or tank.”

So, where does the ‘no-bird’ thing come in? As mentioned earlier, the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears included soup that was too cold (Virginia in winter), too hot (Florida in summer) and just right. In geographical terms, the ‘just right’ would include someplace like southern California, where the weather is perfect all the time. That’s the one place we thought of going where we could avoid the snowbird or sunbird thing, and just stay put all year-round, thus ‘no-bird.’ But, I have a friend out in sunny southern California who is always talking about ‘too damned many people’ (translated no-birds), severe draughts, massive fires and earthquakes. Maybe sun-birding isn’t so bad after all. (Please, don’t tell my wife I said that.)

If this article made you laugh, you might enjoy reading PLEASURIA: Take as Directed (Koehler Books). You can buy it on Amazon at                and at bookstores everywhere.