Be it a sub-tropical seaside villa in Florida, a rugged mountain chalet in Montana, an Upper East Side condominium, or a Duck-Dynasty-esque Louisiana creekside doublewide — everyone has their own idea of the perfect paradise. And everyone hopes that someday they’ll end up retiring there.
As a military family, we have lived north, south, east and west. We’ve lived in the heat and we’ve lived in the cold, we’ve lived where it’s wet and lived where it’s dry. After more than 20 years of marriage, we still haven’t decided where we want to end up someday. But we have learned that, no matter where we find paradise, it always comes at a price.
The purple mountain majesty and fresh-caught wild salmon of Alaska will cost prolonged darkness and gargantuan mosquitoes. The Painted Desert dawns and star-studded dusks in the Southwestern states will cost egg-frying temperatures and poisonous critters that like to hide in the garage. The flip-flop friendly retirement mecca of Florida with its endless palm-studded sandy beaches and cornucopias of coconut shrimp will cost seven months a year of stifling swampy humidity, not to mention throngs of turkey-leg munching theme park tourists.
The anatomically flawless people, golf-perfect climate, and Spicoli-surfer vibe of California will cost damaging earthquakes, cray-cray politics, and jaw-dropping cost of living. The salt-of-the-earth folksiness and charming farming towns of the Mid-West will cost land-locked monotony and trailer-tossing tornadoes. The quaintly clapboarded Northeast with its Technicolor seasons will cost frigid, salt-encrusted, pale, chapped, winters that seem to go on forever.
We’ve lived in New England for six months now, and strangely, I love it here. Even though, as I write this column, a Nor’easter is howling through our base housing neighborhood in Newport, Rhode Island, caking our windows with blown snow, depositing four-foot drifts in our yard, and causing the trees to strain ominously against the gusting winds.
Ensconced in umpteen layers of clothing and copious applications of Chapstick, I stare out our frosted window and wonder how I could consider this place paradise. Why don’t I think, as many do, that long winters are too high a price to pay for this lobster-fed, leafy New England lifestyle?
Apparently, somewhere in my snowy Western Pennsylvania childhood, I was brainwashed.
I loved winter. The sledding, the skiing, the skating, the icicles, the hot chocolate, the itchy wool sweaters, the waffle-woven long underwear, the runny noses, the cold toes, the roaring fires. To me, winter was nothing short of a total blast.
In fact, one of the worst things that ever happened to me was when I broke my femur tobogganing one night in fifth grade. Sure, the broken leg was extremely painful, but what really hurt me was missing out on the entire 1977 blizzard because I was laid up in the hospital in traction for six weeks.
While all my friends were having the time of their lives slipping and sliding down every slope, embankment and drift in town while schools were closed for two weeks, I was watching “The Don Ho Show”, avoiding another Salisbury steak on a pink Melmac hospital tray, and trying to learn how to balance on a bedpan.
After all that childhood conditioning, I now react to cold weather like Pavlov’s pooch when a bell rings. When those first flakes fall from the sky, a certain nostalgia wells up in me, and I get excited about everything winter brings.
Like pots of hot soup and mittens drying on the radiator. Like rosy cheeks and paw prints in the snow. Like black leafless branches silhouetted against clear blue skies.
For many, winter’s dirty chunks of ice, slick roadways, salt-hazed cars, and unrelenting chill are too much of a price to pay to live in northern climates. Sure, I’ll admit, when March rolls around I’ll be envying our Navy friends who are nursing their first sunburns in Hawaii and Florida.
But the bright saffron and violet crocus heads will dot the northern landscape soon enough, heralding the much-anticipated arrival of spring. And besides, winter is a small price to pay, when you consider that finding your own perfect paradise is priceless.