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Upper Valley snowbirds stay in northern nests during COVID-19 winter

  • Volunteer Patricia Dwyer, 82, of Quechee, Vt., sorts oranges at the Upper Valley Haven in White River Junction, Vt., on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. "This place saved my life," Dwyer said, because it gave her a place to interact with others during the COVID-19 pandemic. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, David Bisno, 82, of Hanover, N.H., has spent time over the winter working on his model railway display at his home. Bisno usually travels with his wife to California during the winter. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Volunteers Patricia Dwyer, 82, of Quechee, Vt., and Jim Ludwig, 71, of Tunbridge, Vt., sort produce at the Upper Valley Haven on Wednesday, Fed. 24, 2021 in White River Junction, Vt. Both have worked together for years, helping in the food pantry. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Retiree David Bisno, 82, of Hanover, N.H., has created books about his interests with an online platform during the COVID-19 pandemic. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/27/2021 10:20:10 PM
Modified: 2/27/2021 10:20:09 PM

QUECHEE — On Wednesdays, Patricia Dwyer makes her way to the Upper Valley Haven to sort and shelve produce for the nonprofit organization’s food pantry.

The 82-year-old Quechee resident has been volunteering at the Haven for around a decade, but this is the first winter she has done so: For the last 15 years, she and her husband, Bill, have gone to California (and last year, Arizona for a change) from mid-January through mid-April. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they decided not to make the trip.

“I don’t think we even discussed it. It was just a nonstarter,” Dwyer said. “Frankly, I think Vermont is the safest place in the country.”

Each year, hundreds of retirees leave the Upper Valley during winter for warmer regions in the country. While it’s hard to quantify how many of these affectionately dubbed “snowbirds” stayed in rural northern New England this year due to the pandemic, anecdotal accounts show that more are remaining up north where they are embracing — or enduring — extended periods of colder weather for the first time in years.

Dwyer and her husband usually rent a home in San Diego. Last year, they returned to Quechee in early March when lockdowns began. In addition to volunteering at the Haven, Dwyer has been keeping busy by cooking, going for 3-mile walks when the weather permits, listening to audiobooks and joining her daughter every Thursday night on Zoom to take on the New York Times crossword puzzle.

“I thought it was going to be a horrible winter, frankly, when we decided this was where we were going to be,” she said, adding that she’s not used to being homebound. “The days go very fast.”

Dwyer is no stranger to winter: She grew up in Massachusetts and is enjoying winter this year.

“I missed the beauty of it,” Dwyer said. “It’s really so amazing to wake up and see everything covered in snow.”

Hobbies in Hanover

For nearly 20 years, David Bisno and his wife, Fay, spent January to April in Santa Barbara, Calif., where two of Fay’s children live. Last year, the couple flew back to the area in May. They were initially reluctant to travel but wanted to make it back to their Hanover home. After they both receive their second vaccine dose in March, they plan to return to the Golden State.

“I don’t mind the cold and I like the white (snow), but I’m very apprehensive about falling,” the 82-year-old Bisno said.

During this time, Bisno has found joy in his hobbies. Last year while still in California, he researched his family’s genealogy and created a book that he mailed to 165 living relatives. Back in Hanover, he has created multiple books using Shutterfly, one of which details his teaching activities and people who have impacted his work since he retired as an ophthalmologist in the mid-1990s.

“It’s a thank you to each of them,” Bisno said of the 75 people who received copies. “That was good because it filled my days with doing something productive and constructive.”

Bisno is also an avid woodworker and has used his time in Hanover to create a book about the projects he made beginning in elementary school. He’s also made a rocking footstool and a canoe table, and he’s working on his model railroad display — the subject of yet another book.

“I’ve been grateful for these hobbies during this pandemic time,” Bisno said.

The couple go out for walks when the weather is good and have a taken a few short trips to remote inns farther north. Fay Bisno has been playing the piano more, participating in a remote book group, cooking and keeping up with her four children.

“I love the snow,” she said. “It’s been a nice winter.”

Skipping Florida trip

From 2013-19, Jim and Ellen Antell, of Grantham, rented a condo in Florida to take a break from New England’s mud season for six weeks in March and April. Last February, as the COVID-19 pandemic began, they decided not to go. This year, they made the same call.

“We just made the decision for our own sake before we could get a vaccine and all that; we certainly did not want to be going anywhere out of state this year,” Jim Antell said, adding that they also wanted to be closer to their medical care providers.

The couple, both 84, are typically pretty active, regularly attending OSHER@Dartmouth classes and productions at the Hop. This year, they’ve been going for a lot of walks on the trails at Eastman where they live, having small socially distanced visits with family members and taking on home improvement projects.

“I don’t really mind winter, only this intense cold is getting us down, not even being able to get out and walk and feel comfortable,” Ellen Antell said, adding that she’s taken on sewing projects such as making curtains.

She is grateful for technology that allows them to visit with their family, particularly their grandchildren.

“We’re frustrated with the COVID, we’re frustrated with weather, but we are certainly in no way living a negative life,” Jim Antell said.

West Lebanon resident Carolyn Stone has gone to St. Augustine, Fla., from January to March for 25 years. She and many of her friends did not return to the state for winter this year. Stone in particular was concerned about flying and the less-strict regulations in Florida. Additionally, many of the activities she would look forward to have been canceled due to the pandemic.

“My thought is, “Why pay a lot of money and go rent somewhere for three months just so you can have something warm?’ ” said Stone, 87. “To me it was a win-win situation to stay up here.”

Her family also lives nearby and she wanted to stay closer to them during the pandemic. If the weather is nice, she will walk outside. If not, she has a treadmill set up. She is also keeping busy with a plethora of virtual classes including tai chi, Zentangle and watercolors.

“Sometimes I think I have too many Zoom classes,” she said with a laugh.

The weather has largely been inconsequential to Stone because she’s had so much to keep her busy. She’s also taken on activities she wouldn’t otherwise, like learning to play the ukulele.

“I just thought, ‘What’s the downside? I’m never going to perform in front of everyone,’ ” Stone said.

She’s also embracing an ethos shared by the other snowbirds who stayed home.

“I can make myself happy wherever I need to be,” she said.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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