February 2nd is Groundhog Day. School children will craft groundhog masks from construction paper and popsicle sticks, and adults will gather to watch some guy in a top hat yank Punxsutawney Phil from his state of hibernation in Pennsylvania. While turning Phil into a tourist attraction boosts the economy and watching adults dress up as groundhogs is a hoot, forcing Punxsutawney Phil out of his peaceful, natural hibernation in the name of tradition is cruel.
Punxsutawney Phil is not alone in his predicament. He is a member of an elite group of weather-predicting groundhogs (including but not limited to Balzac Billy from Alberta, Canada, Buckeye Chuck from Marion, Ohio, Shubencadie Sam from Nova Scotia, Smith Lake Jake from Alabama, Sir Walter Wally from North Carolina, Wiarton Willie from Ottawa, Canada, General Beauregard Lee from Georgia, and Staten Island Chuck), who don't always agree on what they see. In 2010, Punxsutawney Phil opposed General Lee and Staten Island Chuck by predicting a long winter. In 2011, however, all three famous groundhogs did not see their shadow and foretold an early spring. The groundhogs approach their annual responsibility differently: Punxsutawney Phil predicts the weather at dawn; Staten Island Chuck reports for duty at 7:30 am while General Beauregard Lee takes things a little slower, reporting for work at 10:00 am but going the extra mile by tweeting his findings.
Groundhogs, unite! It's time for you to assert your rights and protest your poor working conditions (though General Lee resides in a rather nice, little southern mansion, I must say)! You fellas aren't the only creatures that can predict the weather! Frogs croak longer and louder in anticipation of foul weather; birds fly higher on clear days, lower when a storm system approaches. Farmers claim cows nervously swat flies with their tails when inclement weather is ahead or lie down on the ground to save a dry spot. Sheep, they say, seek the protection of their peers in bad weather; “when sheep gather in a huddle, tomorrow will have a puddle.” Similarly, “when ladybugs swarm, expect a day that's warm.” Groundhogs, this year, why not sleep in and hand the dubious honor of weather prognostication to some other creature?
I nominate the groundhog residing in my backyard, tearing up my husband's garden, feasting on the plants, digging unsightly holes everywhere and successfully eluding capture. It's time he earned his keep! Perhaps I should change his name from Mr. Groundhog to...Middletown Marty? Furry Frank? Waddling Wally? Smart Alec? I rather like that one, since Mr. Groundhog has been winning the hubby vs. groundhog war for years. After Smart Alec looks for his shadow, I could give the good folks of Punxsutawney a run for their money and sell commemorative Smart Alec photographs, groundhog t-shirts, baseball caps, cupcakes, cookies, groundhog tea towels, postcards, bookmarks, travel mugs. I could use Smart Alec to bolster my bank account! The possibilities are endless!
Seriously, Groundhog Day is all in good fun. As long as the animals are handled with care and respect, no harm, no foul, but sometimes I wonder. What does Punxsutawney Phil think when he is suddenly pulled from his home each February 2nd? Just look at the poor guy's expression in this photo (courtesy of L.A. Times 2/2/11). Phil looks as enthusiastic as I do when I see my reflection in the harsh florescent bathroom lights each morning. Now I know what he's thinking!
Ah, Phil, you have my sympathies.