Written by: Guy Graybill
Here comes another six weeks of silliness. Again, we’ll hear: “I told you: Punxsutawney Phil said that we’re going to have another six weeks of winter.” Please… spare us this annual dopiness. How many spectators will withstand the predawn iciness of Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, this February 2nd, in order to see a groundhog being lifted from a hilltop burrow for a couple of seconds. Then, a tall man in mortician’s garb will solemnly proclaim the critical ‘news’. We will, or won’t, have another six weeks of winter.
Why a groundhog… or marmot… or woodchuck? Why not a rabbit? Or a raccoon? Or a yardstick? Anything to cast a shadow. One year, the story goes, the groundhog was basking in a downtown Punxsutawney store window when it suddenly died! That woeful woodchuck likely died from the humiliation of having to participate in a silly ritual. Even varmits have limits on their dignity! That year, I was told, the promoters of Jefferson County’s best-known city satisfied the crowd by raising, from its burrow, the last-minute substitute: a cloth groundhog! I wonder if it alsoate cloth critter food and left behind some denim pellets. Anyway, wouldn’t it be just as effective to check for a shadow, or lack of one, using a pool cue or a nice, gnarly wooden cane?
Some argue that it’s an old Pennsylvania German tradition. However, as a certified Pennsylvania German (with a bit of diluting along the way) I’d argue that some traditions don’t need to be perpetuated. The notion of using a marmot to predict the weather was so absurd to begin, that there’s no justification for clinging to the tradition. Perhaps any town that carries an Indian name meaning “town of gnats” needs a bit of diversion; but I happen to think that light-hearted promotion should always have some basis in reality.
I need a disclaimer, here. I’ve held these thoughts about the silliness of Groundhog Day for many years. I had them long before the dark space beneath our deck was claimed by some groundhogs that burrowed beneath the wooden trellis and broke the trellis several times because they couldn’t break through the extra blocking that I kept attaching. I don’t want to upset anyone’s sensibilities; but I must say that no groundhogs currently reside under our deck. I also believe that the 2 X 4 s and the chicken wire enhance the architectural integrity of our deck.
Ultimately, this is what we’re asked to believe: A groundhog can predict six week’s weather, depending on whether or not the sun shines on just one square yard of the Keystone State for just one minute during just one winter morning! We love to condemn the weather forecasters’ predictions, even when their predictions are for a brief 24-hour time span, and even though their predictions are based on scientific probability; yet we accept the six-weeks’ weather forecast of a mindless marmot. That is pure, unadulterated silliness.