I was surprised to meet Larry and Betty on my run yesterday, walking with their sticks down into the trees on Edgewood. Last winter, they hired me to fetch their mail and water their houseplants while they flew with the geese southward. Mrs. Betty is a gardener who does her best work in springtime, hedging their Tudor home with patches of hydrangeas, peonies, roses, and potted herbs. Bordering her brick walk is more lavender than I’ve seen in one place. The most wonderful and terrifying job I’ve ever done was the day I deadheaded Mrs. Betty’s flowers for her.
But winter turns the patches brown and the cottage dark. Larry and Betty usually fly South till March, and so does Dave, who lives next door. Whenever we host our annual neighborhood board meeting, Larry and Dave sit by each other, and when they’re nominated to serve on the board, they raise their hands to protest:
“Can’t. We’re gone half the year.”
Snowbirds, they’re called.
Sometimes — usually on Tuesdays in January — I watch the geese arc across the slate skies and wish I could catch flight on a southerly wind, too. But for the most part, I’m learning to be more like a rabbit— to don a thicker coat when the winter comes, burrow deep, and rummage for the heartiest foods I can find: soups and breads and berries and things.
A snowstorm hit last February, when I had to wade down Larry and Betty’s walk to the front door. The house was cool and dark, the plants thirsty. I stood filling a watering can at the kitchen sink and looked out to see chickadees playing on a red feeder. Tucked at the back of the house is a study with paneled walls made from barn wood, a stone fireplace, and an armchair in the corner, where the light came through the lattice windows. I poured water onto a big plant, while outside, the cedars were heavy with snow.
When I left, I closed the old, green door behind me, clicked the key in the lock, then dropped it into my pocket. I stood on the walkway in the kind of hush only snow can bring, tucking itself around the cottage like a quilt, and I was glad to be there and nowhere else— with the bunnies I could hear rustling in the hedges.