It comes ‘round once a year, but the older I get, the faster the years fly by. Sound familiar? By the time most of you are reading this, we’ll know what the little guy …
It comes ‘round once a year, but the older I get, the faster the years fly by. Sound familiar? By the time most of you are reading this, we’ll know what the little guy “predicted,” but it’s Saturday, January 28, as I write this column, and I just got home from Roscoe Beer’s WinterFest in (duh) Roscoe, NY, so I still won’t know for a couple of days, so you all beat me to it. Again.
WinterFest is always fun, but was it different this year than before? This year, 2023, marks the eighth annual event; it features fantastic live music, oodles of comfort food, a bonfire of epic proportions, the Stump Devils ice-carving demos (amazing, as always) and plenty of beer on tap. In other words, business as usual.
Maybe I’m jaded, but I was hoping for something more. Oh sure, there were hundreds of friends out for a good time (again) and I saw lots of familiar faces (again) and folks were having fun (again)—but different? Not really.
Feeling a tad “been there/done that,” I was reminded that Groundhog Day was approaching and that I know very little about it.
I’m sure that someone keeps track of whether the famous groundhog known as Phil is accurate, but I’m also fairly confident that nobody really puts much stock in his prognostication. Still, inquiring minds want to know (IMHO) so naturally, I asked the Google. “What’s the story behind Groundhog Day?” I tippy-tapped, having only a rudimentary knowledge of the bogus holiday.
“On February 2 each year, Punxsutawney, PA holds a civic festival with music and food. During the ceremony, which begins well before the winter sunrise, Punxsutawney Phil emerges from his temporary home on Gobbler’s Knob, located in a rural area about two miles southeast of the town. According to the tradition, if Phil sees his shadow and returns to his hole, he has predicted six more weeks of winter-like weather. If Phil does not see his shadow,” the Google informed me, “he has predicted an early spring.”
“Hmmm,” I mused. “I guess I knew that much anyhow.”
Delving deeper, I learned that “Punxsutawney’s event is the most famous of many Groundhog Day festivals held in the United States and Canada,” and that the event formally began in 1887, “based on Pennsylvania Dutch folklore, although its roots go back even further.” There’s more than one? That I did not know. Nor how to spell “Punxsutawney” for that matter.
“You know something, girl?” I wheezed to the dog, “I’m not even sure what a groundhog is.” More tippy-tapping.
“The groundhog (Marmota monax), also known as a woodchuck, is a rodent of the family Sciuridae, belonging to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots.”
“Well, there you have it,” I sighed audibly. “I had no clue that the critter was a woodchuck, much less related to squirrels!” Hearing the “S” word, Dharma became alert, eyes darting about, as if there might be one in my office. “The groundhog is a lowland creature of North America,” I read to her aloud, “and it was first scientifically described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758.”
Spotting no squirrels in the house, the dog looked unimpressed and went back to her boney.
Not only is it the same animal as a woodchuck, but I now know that the groundhog is also referred to as a chuck, wood-shock, groundpig, whistlepig, whistler, thickwood badger, monax, moonack, weenusk, red monk, land beaver, and, among French Canadians in eastern Canada, “siffleux.” Leave it to the French to make it sound less like a rodent and more like a dessert.
The groundhog, being a lowland animal, is exceptional among marmots. Others, such as the yellow-bellied (I’ve been called worse) and hoary marmots, (good name for a band) live in rocky and mountainous areas. Groundhogs play an important role in maintaining healthy soil in woodlands and plains.
The groundhog is considered a crucial habitat engineer. Additionally, they are considered the most solitary of the marmot species. That might explain why I didn’t see any at WinterFest.
Groundhogs do not form stable, long-term pair-bonds, and during mating season, male-female interactions are limited to copulation. In Ohio, however, (according to my sources) adult males and females associate with each other throughout the year and often from year to year. Oddly, only in Ohio. Hmmm.
I also learned that groundhogs are an extremely intelligent animal that forms complex social networks, and is able to understand social behavior, form kinship bonds with their young, understand and communicate threats through whistling, and work cooperatively to solve tasks, such as burrowing. So, like me and my dog, basically. Except we’re bonded for life in all 50 states.
Perhaps I should propose a Groundhog Day celebration in Sullivan County next year. Possibly at WinterFest to shake things up? Then again, maybe not. Wait—is it over? Did I miss it? Again?
Fun Fact: “Groundhog Day” is a 1993 American fantasy comedy film directed by Harold Ramis and starring Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, and Chris Elliott. Murray portrays Phil Connors, a cynical television weatherman covering the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, PA, who becomes trapped in a time loop, forcing him to relive February 2 repeatedly. I know the feeling.
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