Groundhog Day, next Tuesday, the 2nd of the month…Aim high and aim well! To hell with letting a rodent, who should be hibernating, rule our lives with fanciful, and doubtlessly misinterpreted, predictions about the coming months!! Punxutawney Phil is no longer an accurate barometer of the weather; how do we gauge his reaction when he emerges from his burrow? Do we let him casually stroll out into the open? No, every February 2nd he gets unceremoniously yanked from his habitat, held up in the air for closer scrutiny by the assembled throngs of townfolk and national media teams, and then the predictions start flowing to the network video feeds.
What’s wrong with this picture? First of all, I can’t imagine that any self-respecting animal, acting on pure instinct, would be afraid of it’s own shadow. Now, fearing the shadows of a few hundred onlookers, most with hunting licenses, seems like a perfectly natural fear, if not just the survival instinct! And, is he actually showing fear or just trying to shake away the purple dots that block your vision when you enter bright sunlight from a darkened room? I’m certain that groundhogs the world over live their lives side-by-side with their shadows–I see them year-round foraging for food or mischief in broad daylight. I’ve even been charged by a few of them when I’ve wandered onto their turf–they’re not the timid critters that the television personalities make them out to be–they’re wild animals, out and about on their daily routes just attempting to survive in a world of ever-encroaching humans. Even in full-body camouflage, chances are that a groundhog’s brain says, “Hmmm…looks like a tree, but stinks like a predator…decisions, decisions…time to go!
And what’s the deal with hoisting the critter into the air like the final baby scene from Alex Haley’s “Roots”? It’s unnatural. It’s the last place I’d ever expect to see a groundhog–at eye-level or higher. Does no one stop to think that the first part of “groundhog” is “ground”? I don’t think it’s meant as a culinary adjective,though I have wondered what the folks in small-town Pennsylvania might eat when the national spotlight goes away. No, the term “ground” refers to where you’re likely to find them–on the ground or under it. If you were born with the least smattering of common sense, or were advised by your parents, you know full well that it’s inadvisable to stick your hand into a hole in the ground–if you can’t see what you’re reaching for, you might just end up with a logical reason for wearing mittens instead of gloves! It’s a groundhog, people, not a flying squirrel!
So, just where am I going with this? Well, I’m sure that nearly everyone in this Internet-connected world of ours has heard of or played the popular carnival-arcade game of Whack-a-Mole. Personally, I always get a case of the giggles at watching people racing about with jumbo-sized plastic hammers, swinging away at ever-elusive pop-up moles. And no, I’m not actually advocating the whacking of groundhogs…though it’s quite possibly a great stress-reliever in mid-winter. If you have a groundhog in your neighborhood, or living on your property, I’m willing to bet that you know exactly where it’s hole is located. Imagine yourself standing over the hole on a freezing cold February morning, waiting patiently and armed with a long-handled shovel, anticipating (with muffled giggles) the joy of bopping an unsuspecting groundhog square on the head with the flat side of a shovel! I mean, you know how much damage these critters can do to a property, not to mention the fact that their presence is driving off the squirrels and songbirds and making your housepets a little nutty. So you see, not only could this be fun and entertaining, but also justifiable as pest control–you might even qualify for a rebate on your homeowner’s insurance!
Hold on, there’s no need to call the local chapter of the SPCA…I’m about to derail this freight train. Herein, I ask you to remember and retain the ever-building, giddy enthusiasm of a moment ago. Now, hold onto that feeling and make a visual switch from the fuzzy and furry, buck-toothed cartoon image in your head to the face of your local weatherman. He’s ruined a lot more days of your life with his shot-in-the-dark guesses about the field he’s supposed to be trained in–he’s got all the fancy gadgets and the inside track on weather patterns, forecasts and alerts from the national experts and satellites. And yet, how many times have you been caught out in the open without an umbrella? Or out in a light jacket when the blizzard rolls in? Let’s just refocus a little bit of that animosity toward a suspect more culpable than an unwitting rodent. Hmm…imagine yourself standing outside a door on a freezing cold February morning, waiting patiently and armed with a long-handled shovel, anticipating (with muffled giggles) the joy of bopping an unsuspecting meteorologist square on the head with the flat side of a shovel! Think the forecasts might improveconsiderably once accountability comes into play?!! And it’s justifiable, especially from an historically-progressive viewpoint. In this day and age, meteorologists have replaced old wives’ tales, superstitions and popular maxims about the weather–we no longer have to seek out woolly caterpillars crossing the road to divine how cold the winter is likely to be, not to mention toward which direction it happens to be travelling! Weather forecasters are the new experts in predicting everything from crop harvests to voter turnout and as such should be held liable just like any other professional. Or punished for perpetuating this quaint, though thoroughly unprofessional, urban myth. I sincerely hope that the mayor of Punxutawney gets bitten on an annual basis or more frequently “just because”.
So, this year, when that highly-anticipated moment arrives on the 2nd, forget your past misgivings and superstitions, grasp your long-handled shovel firmly and Aim High and Aim Well–this could still be fun and entertaining!