Monday, February 02, 2009

Groundhog Day

By Annette Dashofy

As a farm girl from Pennsylvania, Groundhog Day has been a part of my life long before Bill Murray made it a piece of pop culture back in 1993. I’ve long heard the tales of forecasting the weather using animals and “signs.” And of course, the Farmer’s Almanac. But I don’t remember all the hoopla over that much-photographed woodchuck, Punxsutawney Phil until the movie hit it big. In fact, my earliest memories of the whole groundhog-as-weather-forecaster thing are of simply spotting one of the beasts looking groggy and skinny, grazing on the dead grass of late winter. There would be an announcement (made by one of my grandparents) that the groundhogs were out of hibernation, so spring must be just around the corner.

So forgive me, good citizens of Punxsutawney, if I cast some doubt on that rotund rodent you hold so dear. But I’ve heard rumors that the “forecast” is decided on well in advance.

It would have to be, wouldn’t it? You drag the hapless creature out of a manmade burrow at the crack of dawn with news crews’ lights shining in his eyes. I’m surprised the dude in the top hat hasn’t been bitten. Severely. On a yearly basis. Of course he’s going to see his shadow. Of course he’s going to dive back into his hole and slam the door for six more weeks. It takes that long for him to get over the trauma.

Seriously, though, I’ve done a little research. Prior to Groundhog Day, sixteenth century German settlers brought with them the tradition of Candlemas Day. And the saying goes:

For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow swirl until May.
For as the snow blows on Candlemas Day,
So far will the sun shine before May.

The old English version goes something like this:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

There is also rumor that the early Germans watched a badger to see if it spotted its shadow before the Pennsylvanians chose the awakening groundhog for the task.

I wonder if anyone told those sixteenth and seventeenth century groundhogs that they and their offspring and offspring’s offspring were expected to wake up precisely on February second every year for eternity.

I’m writing this on Sunday afternoon, February first, and for the sake of my research I went for walk to where I knew there was a colony of groundhog holes. I wondered if any of the little weathermen were stirring in anticipation of the big moment. Here is photographic evidence.

The only tracks are rabbit tracks. I didn’t hear any digging sounds. I think I may have heard some snoring…

So apparently Farmyard Fred has chosen to sleep in and leave the prognosticating to his more northern cousin.

The forecast is due to be announced at 7:25AM.

Personally, I think, if he sees his shadow it’s six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t, about a month and a half.


Joyce said...

I'm with you Annette. The calendar says spring begins around March 20-something, so it really doesn't matter much what Phil says.

I do love that movie, though.

Annette said...

It's official. He saw his shadow. I'm tellin' you, it's the news crews' lights, because no way could you see your shadow here, this morning.

Karen in Ohio said...

The irony of Groundhog Day:

With a shadow, winter ends on March 21st.

Without a shadow, winter ends on March 21st.

I've never understood the hoopla.

Annette said...

Karen, while as I mentioned, the original tradition came from early farmers and their attempts at weather forecasting (they had to be at LEAST as accurate as current meteorologists), I think the modern day festivities are nothing short of an excuse to get out of the house during the peak of the desolate winter season.

Anonymous said...

I'm not too fond of that rodent anymore since it ate my tomatoes last year. We had to put some repellent around our plants to keep it out.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Whatever the groundhog is named here at the St. Louis zoo, they couldn't get her to wake up from hibernation. The substitute saw his shadow here, also.

Patg said...

Ya know, Annette, I grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania and never heard of ole Pete until I moved away.