Welcome back, snowbirds.
I know lots of you are here already because I rode bumper-to-bumper with you on Interstate 75 this weekend as our family returned from North Carolina, where we went to get a taste of what you are fleeing — winter.
Yes, I know all about the appeal of Florida this time of year. The fantasy that sold a few million homes here — that you can walk outside in shirtsleeves in December and pluck a ripe orange from your very own tree? We're living it right now.
Still, it seems strange to see so many of you racing south, so intent on missing the best season of the year.
Because here is what the northern winter (which really starts Dec. 1) has that we don't:
Christmas: Even to believers, this is more than Christ's birthday party. It's a victory celebration. It's a way of saying our society is so rich and we are so invulnerable that we not only don't have to hole up during this traditional season of survival, but we can save it for our biggest splurge, our annual greed fest. Take that, nature! And away from the defeated foe — frigid weather and long hours of darkness — it seems as pointless as an end zone dance in an empty stadium. Walking two blocks in a mountain town in North Carolina on Black Friday — Christmas lights twinkling, sidewalks packed with folks in down vests and scarves — I got more holiday spirit than I'll get the rest of the month in Florida.
Cold: I must be half polar bear because I like being out in it and always have. Stepping onto the porch of the house where we stayed at dawn, exhaling a slow "haaa" to see my breath, checking out the readings on the thermometer: 21 degrees, 15 degrees (twice) and, on Thanksgiving morning — jackpot — 9 degrees! There was a hike when the fresh snow clung to rhododendron leaves and a run the next day when it had turned to an icy crust, which, because my father was a runner and I grew up in the North, made me think of him. Maybe that's one reason I like the cold.
Bourbon: Or coffee. Or even hot tea. Because you might not like the cold, but everybody likes coming in from it. Think back to braving a snowstorm to meet friends for a drink around a fire. Or settling in for a hot breakfast in a diner with windows fogged by the cold and a waitress who keeps your cup full. And tell me, honestly, that any comparable experience in Florida is nearly as welcoming and convivial.
Bare trees: Without leaves in the way you actually get to appreciate oaks, hickories, tulip poplars for the grand structures they are, the trunks as stout as any Greek column, the twisting branches reaching a hundred feet or more into the sky — bright blue or a just a lighter shade of gray than the branches, it's melancholy and beautiful either way. On the drive home, we passed through quaint little Georgia towns with trees that were still displaying almost a full range of fall colors, and I must say, it was a bit of a letdown.
Icicles: We were treated to the entire range of winter weather, including a day of cold rain, which created long rows of these big, glittering stalactites hanging off rock faces. It's hard to think of any regularly occurring natural feature in Florida quite so gem-like and spectacular.
Yes, we got everything you could possibly want out of winter. All in one week.
Which, really, is just long enough.