Groundhog Day’s gotta be just about the dopiest thing ever conceived.
An overgrown rodent toddles out of its burrow and predicts the next six weeks of weather, based on whether or not it “sees its shadow” and skittles back in?
Sounds like something the German-American farmers of Lancaster County dreamed up after drinking too much bock.
Their first choice would doubtless have been to rout the grundsow out of their fields, not to dress up in top hats and celebrate it. But the groundhog — who is not only good at reproducing, but a mean bastard to boot — proved to be at least their equal in tenacity.
Then again, I suppose the groundhog is entitled to be good at something, because it’s not all that gifted when it comes to predicting the weather.
The Stormfax Weather Almanac website says Punxsutawney Phil — or, more accurately, the generations of groundhogs press-ganged into the spotlight as P.P. — has been right roughly 39 percent of the time.
That’s not much better than you’d get by simply flipping a pfennig every February and leaving the rodents out of it.
To make matters worse, the groundhog tradition commonly associated with Punxsutawney has apparently been co-opted by any number of other nondescript burgs.
Wikipedia’s list of groundhog predictions (yes, there is such a thing) cites the likes of Western Maryland Murray, Shubenacadie Sam, General Beauregard Lee (!) and Staten Island Chuck (!!!) among the ranks of animal prognosticators.
Having a groundhog ceremony if you’re not Punxsutawney is like playing “Sweet Caroline” if you’re not Fenway Park. It’s pretentious and unoriginal and lame and stolen and wrong. End of discussion.
But here’s the real reason I hate groundhogs:
The groundhog seems to be the spirit animal of eastern Pennsylvania. You see them all the time around here — especially in the spring, when they waddle hungrily out of hibernation. So familiar are they that the traditional Pennsylvania German men’s clubs in this part of the state are known as Grundsow Lodges.
To my snobbish, Boston-educated brain, the groundhog is a symbol of all that is wrong with Pennsylvania. It is dumpy and stolid and provincial, and retreats quickly to familiar surroundings at the sign of challenge.
And yet, there are those who find great worth in the groundhog, just as there are many who love Pennsylvania.
Robert Frost’s poem “A Drumlin Woodchuck” artfully uses the groundhog as a metaphor for human social discomfort. (I had no idea until I wrote this post that woodchucks and groundhogs were the same animal. Whaddya know.)
And my grandpa seems to have been charmed by groundhogs, or at least by Groundhog Day, because he marked the occasion on his calendar just about every year with some sort of doodle or notation.
So, to counterbalance my acidity, here are some sweet — or at least creative — musings from my grandfather on the annual Celebration of the Rodent.