It’s winter here in Arizona. Daytime highs in the 60's-70's. Nigh time lows in the 40's-50's. No rain. Ever.
This is the time of the “Birds.” Snowbirds.” Except this year.
As I walk Skeezix each morning - or as he walks me - we note the number of empty houses. Lots of ‘em. Many are the second homes of “Snowbirds.” Under normal conditions, those vacant dwellings would be filled with folks from the Dakotas, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Wyoming and Utah. Also, from Europe and elsewhere.
Not now. Covid-19, you see.
There are several related reasons for the reduced number of birds” this year. First and foremost, Maricopa County has been one of the virus “hot spots” in the nation. To date, about 380,276 cases - 7,200 deaths - 26,500 hospital admissions. In a county of some four-million souls. As I said, “hot spot.”
So, a lot of the “Birds” have cancelled the usual trip South. For good reason.
Also, many from up North usually drive down. But, Canadians - and we have a lot of ‘em - have a problem. They can’t drive across the border because of restrictions on travel in both countries. And, if they fly, many have no car/SUV/pickup for local transportation for 4-6 months here. It’s one thing to own two or more residences and, apparently, quite another to rent a vehicle for up to half-a-year.
So, one way or another, COVID-19 has hampered folks in several countries and has cut into the local economy which is almost entirely dependent on tourism. And the ‘Birds.”
We, who live here year-round, view the “Birds” with mixed emotions. Some are friends. Some brighten up the neighborhood with new faces.
In normal times, they certainly add numbers to activities at our multiple, supremely equipped recreation centers and on the dozens of golf courses hereabouts. A real boon to local economies.
But - they also overcrowd our roads and highways, create long lines at almost every venue, bitch about why they weren’t “consulted” when some sort of changes are made to the community in their absence and fill our roads with even more golf carts. Or, as we call the ones equipped to go 35-miles-an-hour, “neighborhood cars.”
Sometimes, you can feel a little tension between the “Birds” who flit back and forth and those of us who “tough it out” in the Arizona summers when the mercury hits 115 or so. But, for the most part, we’ve found them to be good neighbors, happy not having to deal with low temps of 20-30 degrees below zero as happens often in Dakota-Minnesota winters.
In our unincorporated community of some 29,000 folk, we have more than 130 clubs or hobby groups who, for the most part, use our four excellently equipped “rec” centers. Yep, 130+. You get five or six people interested in something and you, too, can charter a club.
When the “Birds” are here, most clubrooms are full of people doing God knows what. Some of their output is very professional. It could be sewing, quilting, leather craft, woodworking, sheet metal or just about anything you can dream up. A lot of it goes to a “village store” for sale.
We have a computer club that’ll fix your clogged up machine for free. The auto club has a world class garage, paint shop and tools only the pro’s use. Wood workers have a first-class facility with anything needed to make just about whatever you can imagine. Large or small.
Snowbirds are an integral part of it all. But, this year, not so much. I see neighbors going into empty “Bird” homes to check to see if everything’s O.K.. Lines at the gas station and the grocery stores aren’t as long as usual for January.
So, between international travel restrictions and some of the highest local COVID-19 numbers in the nation, we’re not seeing the influx of people normal for this time. Yes, some of the “birds” come from other countries.
So, “Birds” haven’t “flown” South this Winter in the typically large numbers. I’d guess those in North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the rest are grumbling about the snow and cold they usually escape.
But, to be honest, the rest of us are enjoying the peace and quiet.