Here we are on the eve of yet another major holiday. Well, at least it’s major in the world of rodents, since Thursday on Gobbler’s Knob, the veritable rock star of furry creatures, Punxsutawney Phil, will come out of his burrow, perhaps with a little coaxing from some human types, well before the Jefferson County Pennsylvanian winter sunrise and surmise the weather situation in an effort to provide us with some indication as to just how much more of this winter nonsense we have to tolerate.
Sure, there are some other versions of prognosticating woodchucks, such as Alberta, Canada’s Balzac Billy, Georgia’s General Beauregard Lee and even Marion, Ohio’s Buckeye Chuck, but let’s face it. They are as much knockoffs as the type you’re likely to get from that shady-looking guy on a Times Square street corner who’s up to his elbow in Rolexes enticing potential buyers.
Each year, I’m amused by the elevation in stature for an animal that at any other time of year is the mortal enemy of landscapers and gardeners everywhere. Deriding rodents isn’t what Thursday’s all about when thousands will gather on The Knob, including reporters, photographers and film crews.
In case you’ve forgotten, here’s the drill and the significances. Less than a 100 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, the famous ground squirrel will emerge. If he likes what he sees and feels and remains out, the worst of the winter is over. But, if he is startled by his own shadow and beats a hasty retreat down under for a continuance of his hibernation, well then, zip up the old LL Bean outerwear for another six weeks’ ride on the old Polar Express!
Of course, the veracity of using a series of Punxy groundhogs dating back more than a century to pin down something as capricious as the weather is certainly more than a little suspect. According to the preeminent source that separates fact and fiction, our friends at Snopes.com, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration charted Phil’s prognostications over time and found the fur ball really doesn’t possess a very strong resume when it comes to predicting winter’s duration.
As for the first time groundhogs in this region of Pennsylvania became chubby little items of interest, according to Snopes, that happened long before there was a Groundhog Day, either the holiday or the movie with Bill Murray’s character living the exact same day over and over.
In the 19th century, German settlers migrated to the US’s northeast sector noted for a plentitude of groundhogs. It didn’t take long before those settlers realized that what they called whistlepigs (which instantly makes my growing list of favorite words) were edible. Groundhog hunts each spring when the hibernating animals emerged became popular and, in Punxsutawney, the carnivorous fruits of hunters’ labors were presented at a big feast at a local Elks Lodge beginning in 1889.
Those who ate the meat, of course, thought it tasted like chicken, adding to the long list of many other off-the-beaten-path meats that taste fowl!
As for other animals besides groundhogs that may provide us with some weather-related information, despite the fact that scientists tell us that it really hasn’t been proven that animals can predict anything, many people, especially those who spend a lot of time outdoors, have some beliefs. One such individual is author Kacey Herlihy, who posts for the website survivalbased.com.
She opines that when birds fly high, the weather should be clear for the foreseeable future, but when they fly close to the tops of the trees, a storm is imminent.
She also opines that the longer and louder a frog croaks, the more likely a storm is on the way. Similarly, when cows tend to huddle together, they aren’t telling bovine secrets, rather bracing themselves for an approaching storm.
A final one I can’t wait to try when warm weather returns involves crickets. According to Herlihy, if you can listen selectively and differentiate one cricket’s chirps, count how many chirps there are in fifteen seconds and then add 35, and that should give you the temperature in Fahrenheit.
While all of this animal-behavior business is sort of fun, I doubt if we’ll discover much Thursday on Gobbler’s Knob that we don’t already know. Of course, that is, for those of us who’ve set up our shops in cold-weather climes, it will be cold for as long as it takes to warm up! And for that, we’ll be thankful because we’ll continue to have the one topic absolutely indispensable to our ability to converse with one another, the weather!
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected]