I hate to be the bearer of bad news for all those who believe that Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog decides if winter is really over or not.
It ain’t so.
The seasons, especially spring, comes when its ready, just like a head cold is destined to last a week whether you medicate it or not. So when Old Man Winter blows his last cold breath and you see the yellow daffodil blooms bobbing their heads in the fields, then spring will bless us with her warm sunshine.
The woodchuck, popularly called the groundhog, is a small mammal falsely accused of being able to predict the weather. It is said that the groundhog comes out of his burrow on the second day of February to observe the weather. If he sees his shadow, he decided that spring is still six weeks away and crawls back in to sleep a few more weeks. The story has no basis in fact, except for this: the woodchuck does hibernate during the winter and it does live in a burrow.
The first official trek to Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Penn., was Feb. 2, 1887. That’s when a woodchuck named “‘Punxsutawney Phil” became world famous and delivered his first weather forecast. Folks in town actually started celebrating him in 1886, making 2018 the year of the 132nd prognostication of this now famous groundhog. Events surrounding the celebration can be viewed at www.groundhog.org.
The scientific name of the common groundhog is Marmota monax. Its closest relative is a marmot although it can claim the squirrel as a cousin. Groundhogs found in the eastern United States are about 15-18 inches long with coarse fur — blackish-gray above and chestnut-red below. Their legs are short and thick, and their tails bushy. They have a broad flat head with long whiskers.
When he digs his burrow in a sparsely wooded place, he makes sure it has several compartments, or rooms, digging the dirt with his front paws that have sharp claws. He scrapes the dirt out with his hind feet. Groundhogs are considered a pest by farmers who grow red clover, alfalfa and early garden vegetables, all among the woodchuck’s favorite foods. Another strike against them is that they carry the ticks and fleas responsible for spreading spotted fever.
Most woodchuck’s have no edible or economic value. Those who have tried them find their flesh does not have a good flavor. It’s said to taste like a cross between pork and chicken. Some compare it also to a squirrels flavor. Their coarse hair does not good furs
The groundhog isn’t the only thing that is celebrated on Feb. 2. The day is also known as Candlemas Day, a Christian holiday celebrated annually. It celebrates three occasions from Christian beliefs: the presentation of the child Jesus; Jesus’ first entry into the temple; and the Virgin Mary’s purification. It falls 40 days after the birth Jesus, known as the Christmas-Epiphany season.
The legend of Groundhog Day was founded on traditions of the Romans, who carried the myth to the Germans. It was also based on this Scottish couplet: “If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year.”
But there is one sure-fire way to know spring is here — when you can write ‘March 20, 2018’ with your finger on a dust covered table-top.
That means it’s definitely time for spring cleaning.
Contributor Jean Tanner is a lifetime rural resident of the Bluffton area and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.