That Nature Show: The Power of the Lowly Groundhog

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Photo courtesy Wik
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

This column, That Nature Show, is about the nature right under your nose: in our backyards, playgrounds and parks!  Stop and look around, you’ll be amazed at what surrounds you.

This Sunday, February 2 is Groundhog Day (GrundsaudaagMurmeltiertag) a holiday in the Pennsylvania German folkloric tradition of assessing when spring is coming based on the emergence of a ground-dwelling rodent.

They are my people, the Germans (not the rodents) on my mother’s side. My grandfather’s grandfather was a brewer outside of Pittsburgh, so as a child I was a big believer in the predictive abilities of Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog, Punxsutawney Pennsylvania’s most famous resident and a star of the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray.

Groundhog's Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Photo by Aaron Silvers.
Groundhog’s Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Photo by Aaron Silvers.

My outerwear was determined by a groundhog. In late February with ice still on the ground I’d say to  my grandma, “I don’t need a cardigan, Punxsutawney Phil said its going to be an early spring.” Like that carried weight.

Like you should trust the largest member of the squirrel family? Most certainly you should not. Research shows Phil’s “spring predictions are less accurate than chance.”

But don’t write groundhogs (also called woodchucks and dubbed “underdogs” by my daughter, 6) off altogether. They mess up your garden with their burrowing, and  they’re s*%t as weather forecasters, but did you know? Groundhogs are one of the few animals that really hibernate, according to National Geographic. “Hibernation is not just a deep sleep. It is actually a deep coma, where the body temperature drops to a few degrees above freezing, the heart barely beats, the blood scarcely flows, and breathing nearly stops.”

Deep coma. Wouldn’t it have been nice to go through this Canadian Arctic winter like that? Forget snow pants. 

I’d like to wake up to wildflowers and birdsong and the temperature in this 60s, and then to tear up people’s lawns and eat their bulbs ( a third of my weight in vegetation daily) and be called a whistling pig. 

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