By Bruce Stambaugh
I’ve never been a fan of Ground Hog Day. It’s like February’s equivalent to April Fools’ Day.
I see Feb. 2 as an artificial holiday. It is more marketing ploy than weather prognostication, designed to pump up a small Pennsylvania town to help distract those living in the country’s colder climes from cabin fever.
That was a long sentence.
I am pretty sure no one, other than the mayor of Punxsutawney, Pa. perhaps, takes the event seriously. Winter after all is driven more by calendar and climate than it is one day’s sunny or gloomy weather. Whether the groundhog sees its shadow or not, winter will continue until it really is over.
I hope I don’t sound too bitter.
Besides, Punxsutawney Phil has developed some competition over the years. Not to be outdone by the silliness, Ohio has Buckeye Chuck, who is more or less the Avis of rodent forecasting. He tries hard, but doesn’t draw the crowds or paparazzi of his Keystone counterpart.
Where am I going with this? For one, back in time.
Many years ago when I was a young man in college who thought he knew everything, one of my roommates and I got into a mildly heated discussion about groundhogs of all things. And yes, we were both sober. We might have been bored or stubborn perhaps, but definitely not delirious.
Nevertheless, we did indeed disagree about this four-legged furry creature. My roommate, Joe, claimed that groundhogs and woodchucks were two entirely different animals. I said they were one in the same.
We didn’t come to fisticuffs, but Joe was pretty sure that he was correct. I was just as certain that I was right.
Finally, after too much verbiage for too long a time, we decided on a neutral determinant. We would look up the two words in my heavy-duty Random House dictionary. The thick reference book was my one major college personal investment. I was, and still am, a notoriously bad speller. Being a journalism major, I knew I needed to have my assignments completed with proper spelling. This was long before personal computers and word processors with built in dictionaries existed.
Since my parents had taught me to share, the dictionary held a prominent place in our little off-campus abode. It sat atop a desk in the dining room for anyone to use. It wasn’t uncommon for us to invite fellow students over to study together. At least we were supposed to be studying.
Since “groundhog” came before “woodchuck” alphabetically, I turned to my word first. I placed my index finger beneath “groundhog” and read, “Groundhog. A woodchuck.”
My roommate was in denial. I stepped away while he turned to “woodchuck.” “A groundhog” the dictionary declared, Joe’s voice cracking in disbelief.
If I recall correctly, the dictionary was closed rather suddenly. Joe surrendered, a bit grudgingly.
I learned much later in life that in Maine groundhogs are colloquially called whistle pigs because of the whistling sound that they make. In other locales in North America, groundhogs are labeled land beavers.
That brings us back to the present.
Just remember that Feb. 2 when you see a man dressed in a top hat and tuxedo holding up a groundhog, woodchuck, whistle pig or land beaver for the cameras, it really doesn’t mean a thing. Spring will officially arrive March 20 shadow or no shadow.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2013
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