Thoughts on Groundhog Day
On February 2nd each year, groundhogs across North America (the two most famous being Wiarton Willie in Wiarton, Ontario, Canada, and Punxsutawney Phil in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, USA) emerge from their dens to see if they can see their shadows and thus predict (probably as accurately as most human meteorologists can) how much longer winter will last.
According to the legend (which was adapted from ancient European weather lore about animals and their shadows predicting the arrival of spring by Pennsylvania Germans in the late 18th century), if the groundhog doesn’t see his shadow, spring will arrive early (although he never provides us with an exact date); if he does see his shadow, winter will last another six weeks (a prognostication that, conveniently, brings us very close to March 20, the ‘official’ first day of spring). Earlier today, both Wiarton Willie and Punxsutawney Phil saw their shadows (while several other groundhogs across Canada and the U.S. did not). Considering the extreme weather we’ve been experiencing this winter, I’m not surprised at the news (is winter EVER going to end?!?!?!?)
When my oldest son was very young, he used to actively watch for groundhogs in the grass next to the railway tracks across from the mall. Whenever we’d drive that way, there was almost always at least one fat, furry rodent foraging along the berm near the fence. Whether it was the same groundhog each time, or just one of many that apparently lived there, I have no idea, but we gave ‘him’ a name (Smiley Buck) and began making up stories about him. For instance, if we didn’t see him – and it was particularly cold – we’d devise scenarios where he’d taken a mid-winter vacation to the south, or perhaps gone skiing in the north. We imagined what his den might look like, and who his friends were, and whether or not he had parties or celebrated Christmas with his family. There was no end to the stories we created about our beloved Smiley Buck.
One fine spring day, we spotted two groundhogs foraging together and realized (happily) that Smiley Buck had a girlfriend (we named her Lashes). For several years, groundhog spotting was a favourite activity of trips to that part of town (unfortunately, in the late 80s, the city initiated a ‘groundhog removal’ program in that area – apparently there were so many tunnels along that stretch that they were threatening to undermine the nearby rail lines; sadly, I haven’t seen a groundhog along there in many, many years, although I do spot the occasional one in other grassy areas around town).
In Grade 5, my son had to create a computer-generated ‘storybook’ (using a program called Storybook Creator) for one of his classes; he chose to write a story about Smiley Buck and Lashes. Using the tools provided by the program, he designed their ‘den’ as a cozy space furnished with tables and chairs and a nice fireplace; there was a ladder leading up to an ‘exit’ hole at the top. If I recall correctly (and we’re talking almost 25 years ago, so my memory is a bit fuzzy) there were ten or twelve different ‘scenes’ in the story (I do recall one showed their skis neatly stacked against a wall, another featured a ‘backyard’ swimming pool next to a chaise and sun umbrella, and one was of a birthday party for Lashes, complete with cake and candles – I think she was three). Unfortunately, I remember nothing about the actual text of the story – but knowing my son, it would have been both carefully plotted and (darkly) humorous. I do know he got an A+ on it (for visual creativity and storytelling). I wish I’d printed it (it was stored on one of our earliest computers, and disappeared with it). NOTE: groundhog clipart above from webclipart.about.com
Every year on Groundhog Day (and, I must admit, occasionally when I drive along the road near the mall) I think about Smiley Buck and Lashes, and wonder what happened to them (groundhogs only live five to six years in the wild, but I like to think they had lots of offspring, who had lots of offspring, and that their family lives on somewhere in town), and I recall all the wonderful stories my son and I created and shared during those very special years – and I wish I could relive it all again. Time has rushed past far too quickly on the way to … the other side of 55.