Feb 2, 2009
Happy Woodchuck Day
Today is “Groundhog Day”. That is the day on which Mr. Punxsatawney Phil prognosticates on the remaining length of winter. Or for you optimists, he forecasts the likelihood of an early spring. Now, for some reason, his benchmark is 6 weeks. If he sees his shadow we will have 6 more weeks of winter, if not then we will have an early spring. I don’t know about Pennsylvania but here in Michigan, where April snow is common, we would call spring in mid-March a miracle.
We have groundhogs here in Michigan but we call them woodchucks. You remember the kid’s tongue twister, “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” The name does not come from the woodchuck’s lumber tossing abilities. It actually comes from the American Indian word wuchak.
Phil, the world’s most famous woodchuck, actually lives in the Punxsatawney library year-round with his wife Phyllis and is waited on hand and foot by the “Inner Circle”. Apparently a prerequisite to becoming a member of the Inner Circle is that you are delusional. These elite caregivers are sworn to uphold the absurd assertion that Phil’s accuracy over the last 120 years is 100%. Actual accuracy of Phil is about 60%, which admittedly is better than my local meteorologists but still is a far cry from 100%
The Inner Circle also insists that the same Phil has been making predictions for the last 120 years. The secret to his unusual longevity is the “Elixir of Life”. This miracle potion has kept him going well beyond his normal life span. My advice to the Inner Circle is forget “Groundhog Day”, you‘re sitting on a gold mine if you really do have such an elixir.
Every year on February 2nd, Phil the Woodchuck is taken to Gobbler’s Knob for the ceremony. (I understand from my research this morning that Gobbler’s Knob has a decidedly different and somewhat inappropriate meaning in Britain.) Phil is forced down a man-made burrow only to emerge moments later amid a throng of admirers and anxious journalists. Everybody snaps some pictures, news spreads round the globe and then back to the library with Phil to resume his life of leisure.
Contrast Phil’s lifestyle with that of wild woodchucks. They have thrived as humans expand their territory because they prefer open country and the edges of woodlands. As we clear forests we provide them with exactly the habitat they love. As a result, their population levels can become troublesome for farmers. When this happens their numbers are culled by hunting and in extreme cases by poisoning their burrows. In some locations in the US they are even considered good eatin’. Their normal lifespan is six years which is a far cry from the 120 years of plush living Phil has enjoyed.
Not to be outdone by a rodent, I have my own prediction on how much longer winter will last......too damn long!