Monday, February 2, 2009

HAPPY GROUNDHOG DAY!

Today is Groundhog Day, which means all across the land, reporters for radio, television, newspaper, and the Internet will be waiting with bated breath, cameras poised, for the weather prognostication of these supposedly prescient furry rodents. According to folklore, if the awakened groundhog sees his shadow today, there’ll be six more weeks of winter; if not, spring is right around the corner. Groundhog Day is simply the North American version of a long line of animals thought to be able to predict the weather—everything from bears to otters, wolves to hedgehogs. Many prophet animals were hibernators. The theory went that if you watched one of these sleeping critters awaken on Candlemas Day, whether they then chose to remain awake or decided to go back to sleep would determine winter’s duration. Various Europeans, including both English and Germans, favored badgers for their seasonal foretelling. When the Pennsylvania Dutch came to the U.S. in the mid-1700s, they brought their custom of animal-based weather forecasting along. Since badgers were not at all common thereabouts, the settlers switched allegiance to the ubiquitous groundhog—also called a woodchuck—which might be mistaken for a badger to the same extent a horse might be mistaken for a moose. But then, most of our early colonists were always a bit shaky when it came to animal identification. In addition to their mistake in telling a groundhog from a badger, they also muddled up the fact the animal was supposed to awaken on its own, and that it was whether or no it choose to stay awake—not seeing its own shadow—that determined winter's duration. The photo above shows the main entry—the front door—of my own resident groundhog’s den. The burrow opening is located at the right side of a big Osage orange tree’s base, to the left of the exposed portion of root. You don’t see it? Well, that’s because it is filled in and covered over with ice and snow. The other three den entrances connecting the tunnel complex are located nearby on the same hillside, and while smaller and always less conspicuous, are now equally invisible beneath winter’s icy mantle. Groundhogs are almost total vegetarians. They eat grasses, leaves, shoots, stalks, certain wildflowers, and almost any plant from the garden. Since winter in a Great Lakes State typically doesn’t offer much in the way of handy eats, groundhogs cope with the season by hibernating. I have no doubt that somewhere on the hillside within a dozen feet of the big Osage orange tree and 5-8 feet underground, in a snug, grass-lined chamber, my rotund resident groundhog is snoozing away—blissfully unaware that he’s failing his annual duties. Unfortunately, a few of his brethren won’t be so lucky, because the news media will insist on a photo op for their stories. Thus groundhogs residing in nature museums, zoos, schools, and kept as pets (legally or otherwise) will be prodded awake, hauled out into the cold, drowsy, confused, and doubtless a bit cranky, and made to participate in this bit of seasonal silliness before being allowed to return to their warm beds. Personally, I hope these displaced groundhogs, each and every, one manage to sink an incisor into the hand of their inconsiderate keepers. And just in case you’re wondering…the sun is shining bright here this morning. Those bright-eyed bushy-tailed rodents awake of their own volition (squirrels) are casting shadows to beat the band. Looks like winter will be lingering hereabouts a while longer. But who am I (sigh) to buck tradition—silly or otherwise. Therefore…Happy Groundhog Day!

12 comments:

The Weaver of Grass said...

Interesting that Groundhog day should coincide with Candlemas Day here - both offering weather predictions! I don't believe a word of it - as the farmer says "we have to take what comes." Here today there is six inches of snow and at present a blizzard blowing - coming straight in from Siberia so we are told. Anyway incorrigible - happy ground hog day to you too.

KGMom said...

Hmmm--what is there about this day that inspires us to post on the lowly ground hog?
I did also, and so did Tom (aka Mon@rch). No doubt others as well.
If the folks allowed the animals to awaken on their own, how would the people know to get dressed up in tuxes with top hats, etc?
Strange humans.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

"If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight;
But if Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again."

Does this old bit of folk verse remind you of anything? Sounds mighty like what our groundhog is expected to accomplish.

And here's another connection…

Most of us have at least a cursory awareness of the four major marker spokes on the yearly wheel—the winter and summer solstice and the spring and autumn equinox. But the ancients also paid attention to four additional spokes—called cross-quarter days—which fall at the halfway points between each of the major events. To them, the mid-mark between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, which occurs on today’s date, was known as Imbolc.

Imbolc was an important festival date in the Celtic year. It marked their beginning of spring and coincided with the start of the lambing season. The first plowing and working of the land also occurred about this time.

Many etymologists think the name "Imbolc" stems from a word which means "I wash," and relates to the cleaning and purification rituals practiced during this pre-Christian festival. What’s curious is how it echoes similar Candlemas customs.

Candlemas, Groundhog Day, and Imbolc. Sacred, secular, and pagan. A celebration of three distinct traditions. And here's another folkloric one…

If, on this second day of February, a young woman chases the first crow she sees, it will fly in the direction of her future husband. Unless that black-feathered Cupid passes a church…which means the poor girl will never marry.

And you thought groundhogs had responsibility!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

I guess that's why we decided on a given date…come February 2nd, time to don the tux and top hat. Although I suspect this attire was only lately conceived by a Pennsylvanian with a camera pointed at him, and whose bloodstream fairly pulsed with unrequited showbiz genes.

Strange humans, indeed!

gig said...

Just a font of information, you are!! Well...now I know!! I always thought all the brou-ha-ha was ridiculous....at least there is now some context!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

I have often billed myself as "a font of useless information…"

Comes from, as my mother used to say, "keeping your head buried in books." Why, with what I know, I can go into Starbucks and pay just five bucks for a five dollar cup of coffee. (Actually, I can't; my thrifty Irish psyche would implode if I paid even half that for a caffeine fix.)

Goundhog Day is still an act of the absurd. But hey, it's February and February is always best faced with a strong sense of absurdity—rodent-based or otherwise.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

I had not heard of Groundhog Day until I read your post earlier today. (Although I do remember a band named after the creatures!)

My interest whetted, I pursued further reading on the subject, and am now aware of the top hats and tuxedos and, as you so wonderfully put it, the people with 'bloodstreams fairly pulsing with unrequited showbiz genes'!

I read that it is an occasion for marriage proposals, dancing and other festivities.

Also that it serves as a distraction from struggling business, the recession and financial crisis.

I like that! I'm sure the furry rodent friends would feel rather warm and fuzzy knowing they were playing a part in keeping folks' spirits up. I totally agree with you that February is always best faced with a strong sense of absurdity - I think I'll stick that on a note over my computer!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Raph…

I'm glad you enjoyed the groundhog lore.

Groundhog Day news has had its moment on every evening newscast. I don't think the groundhogs themselves care, being sound asleep and figuring to remain that way until warmer weather.

Between them and us, on this day, I'd say the rodents were the most sensible.

A Brit in Tennessee said...

I believe in folklore and traditions....it's in my blood :)
So we'll be enjoying another six weeks of Winter, of that I'm sure.
Just discovered your blog, it's lovely, you live in a magical place !

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

A Brit n TN…

Glad you dropped by! You're always welcome.

I know what you mean about folklore being "in the blood." My ancestors, almost every one of them Irish, were a people born and bred in a land filled with folklore. They came over here in the 1600s and later settled in the Appalachians—which even today, is filled with tradition and folklore. So my bloodstream is purely crammed with stories and tales, old proverbs, ancient ways.

Hey, I liked your "parking" joke…and of course, the Chieftains clip.

A Brit in Tennessee said...

Glad you enjoyed the Chieftains, they make my soul "dance"....
My maiden name is Irish, and just found out recently, that my ancestory originated in the Emeralsd Isle's and then crossed over into England, via Scotland, so a bit of everything there !
I love reading about the settling of the Smoky Mountains, and all those early pioneers, what incredible strong and proud folks they were.
Nice to meet you!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

A Brit in Tennessee…

I've spent a lot of time in east Tennessee, and over the line in North Carolina. Was a summer worker in the Smokies back when cave bears ruled the earth. Taught photography for a couple of weeks each spring and fall at Fontana. Fished the Snowbirds, Hazel Creek, and about a hundred other trout streams on both sides of Stateline Ridge.

I'm sure you've read Kephart's book, and those of John Parris. I have a whole shelf of early Appalachian history of that region. I love the area and people, too.