The snowbird thing makes a lot of sense. Montana is a land of immeasurable pleasure in summer, but winter can be pretty lousy. Some folks, when they retire, or if they have a portable career, live part-time in both places.
My ideal snowbird calendar includes a southward migration in the fall, right around Thanksgiving. The return is a bit harder to pin down. March 1 probably, or maybe as late as June.
March 1 wouldn’t have avoided some of the worst of what was a particularly brutal winter this year. That’s the price one pays to be north when you actually have a shot at hitting just right the elusive skwala hatch on the Bitterroot.
By June, there’s certainly no good reason to linger in the desert southwest, as the temperature begins its summer-long flirtation with triple digits. Still, it’s June, and once again I find myself where, by the logic of climate, I really shouldn’t be: Southern California.
Familial logic trumps climate, however, and this is often when I can fit time in to see my mom, siblings and friends from when I was actually a Californian. I remained a Californian, in the eyes of many locals at least, for years after I moved to Montana. I’ve since wandered around the West enough that I’ve laundered the history of my residency so thoroughly my origin story hardly ever comes up anymore.
When I came to Montana in 1992, my relocation was still somewhat unique. Today, you can hardly walk down the aisle at the grocery store without bumping into an expatriated coastal type.
There has always been plenty to do outdoors in SoCal. We fished for bass in lakes in the early spring when the North was still snowbound. In the summer, ocean party boat fishing was a great way to fill the freezer with fish taco fodder.
I never lived in San Diego, but since I moved away from California I’ve developed a great appreciation for this city. Along with Seattle, it’s one of the few metropolitan areas I’d consider living in today. We stayed a night in San Diego, in Little Italy, in a high rise with a great view of downtown. From the balcony I could hear sounds from the streets 20 stories below and watch ferry lights crossing the harbor.
When I view a city from that height, I can almost imagine myself living there. Then I recall how I replied to an old friend on social media the other day when she noticed my appreciation for San Diego: “I like it, but too many people, not enough bears.” It’s not that I care to see bears at anything but long range. It’s just that these days, the odds I might have a chance encounter with a bruin increase exponentially whenever I’m in a place that seems more suitable for habitation than my old California haunts.
It’s been almost 30 years since I left California, and when I reach the three-decade milestone, I will have lived away from my native state for as long as I was there. I’m back once or twice a year now, and at times I barely recognized the place. The other day I stepped into what is now the best grocery store in my old neighborhood. It’s a Mexican joint, where most of the customers and employees speak Spanish and sell chicharrones the size of a car door. I resisted buying the deep-fried skin of what might have been half a pig, and instead, I went for a stack of freshly made blue corn tortillas and some squash blossoms. Once home, I whipped up tacos for dinner.
They went down just fine, accompanied by a cold San Diego IPA.
If I could get that stuff in Montana in January, I might not need to migrate.
Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com, which covers outdoor news in Montana.