WASHINGTON, February 2, 2016 – As crowds gathered at Gobbler’s Knob early this morning, Punxsutawney Phil failed to see his shadow. Well the Groundhog Club emcee did not see Phil’s shadow. In reality, Phil did not respond, other than to blink.
But then Phil is a groundhog. But what is a grounhog? Their official name is Marmota monax, slightly more lyrical than groundhog, the largest sciurid in its geographical range. They are a member of the rodent family and can get fairly large measuring 16 to 26 in long including a 6 in tail. The round, lumbering animals weigh from four to nine pounds. Those Phils (and Phillies) blessed with living someplace not on the side of the road, have few natural predators. With non-stop appetites feed with large amounts of alfalfa, groundhogs can grow to 30 inches in length and 34 pounds.
Though their most recognizable second name is Woodchuck as in “How much wood can a wood chuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” the lowly (really they are very short) groundhog is also known as a marmot, ground squirrel, Chuck, Wood-shock, Groundpig, Whistler, Thickwood Badger, Canada Marmot, Monax, Moonack, Weenusk, and the Red Monk.
Poking fun and having fun with the yearly event is Bill Murray’s popular movie “Groundhog Day”. Today Netflix has a full compliment of Bill Murray movies for your festival entertainment including the aforementioned as well as Ghostbusters, Lost in Translation, Where The Buffalo Roam and the Hunter S. Thompson inspired Where the Buffalo Roam.
Groundhog days brings plenty of sunshine to the day with groundhog hats, groundhog toys, and groundhog cookie cutter to make groundhog cookies.
Where our two primary predictors, “Phil” in Pennsylvania and “Beau” in Georgia, have made predictions through the years, the odds appear to be in Beau’s corner. Last year Beau out-guessed an early spring 60% to Phil’s 30% of the time ; and as to the Atlanta weather in particular, Beau was again correct with 50% while Phil managed 40%.
Even though the national weather agency (known one year for a prediction of no snow while residents got 5” of “partly cloudy”) says there is no validity in the groundhog seeing or not seeing his or her shadow resulting in the early arrival of spring, it takes only a few ounces of common sense to belie that assertion.
Bears, groundhogs and some other mammals routinely hibernate each winter, and routinely somehow know how to come out when spring begins to approach. So much for NOAA or Chicago’s John Coleman.
Enter the appearance of some dozen or so additional groundhog counterparts from north to south, each as theoretically capable of predicting the arrival of spring as the two main contenders, Phil (@#GroundhogPhil) and Beau,(@#ghdbeau.) Even modern day groundhogs must have a twitter account, it seems.
House Bill H2864 passed in Massachusetts’s and now “Ms. G.” the official State Groundhog of the Old Bay State, led by a TV meteorologist, Mish Michaels. MS. G. resides at the Drumlin Farm, an animal sanctuary in Lincoln, Mass.
“Buckeye Chuck” who resides in Marion, Ohio has been handling the Groundhog Day duties since the 1970s, which would make him 44 and the oldest groundhog in captivity. As befitting the craggy old man of the group, Chuck harrumphed six more weeks of winter before heading back to the warm nest he was so rudely removed from.
“Malverne Mel” (like Laverne only different) holds court in Malverne, NY and has extremely pretty coloring. Then there is “Jimmy the Groundhog,” he of extremely hefty incisors, located in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin and said to be only understood by Sun Prairie’s mayor, “who speaks groundhogese.”
Again on the distaff side is “Woody” of Howell, Michigan, whose trainers describe as a real “prima donna, but that’s what you get for messing with her beauty sleep.” Like “Beau” in Georgia, “Chattanooga Chuck” is another Southerner, and has a charming demeanor.
Understandably, she has her own twitter account and a FaceBook page, and is based at the Tennessee Aquarium.
For those of you among the uninitiated, this fairly ancient day has its roots in the idea that 40 days after Christmas and 40 days before Easter was the traditional beginning of spring. When that met the Christian symbolic day of Candlemas, a new day was born.
Again, bears came out of hibernation, and groundhogs did likewise.
Interestingly enough, there are several prognosticators in our northern neighbor. “Wiarton Willie” in Ontario is a beautiful snow white, albino groundhog, who fortunately can easily hide in the snow. He is a picture of rodentia grace and beauty. The original Wiarton Willie died in 2006. Today he is followed by his progeny.
And Nova Scotia has its own pet groundhog with his own festival as well, “Shubenacadie Sam” who has a home similar to “Beau” in which to spend his hibernating weeks. No information as to their twitter (should it be “chatter”?) accounts was forthcoming but thanks to a cousin up that way for the Canadian information. Poetry even acknowledged the day: in an old English poem, it says:
If Candlemas be fair and bright, Winter has another flight.
If Candelmas brings clouds and rain, Winter will not come again.
And in Scotland they learned:
If Candle-Mas Day is bright and clear,
There’ll be two winters in the year.
So regardless of what part of the country is involved, today eyes turned toward dawn this morning for the best idea of when Spring will come.
Until then, save me a groundhog cookie, please!
Martha Boltz contributed to this annual Ground Hog bit of frivolity and fun