By Amy McCollom
‘In 1886, Clymer Freas, editor of a western Pennsylvania newspaper, published a weather report that stated something to the effect that “the groundhogs had not seen their shadows, thus there would most likely be an early spring” that year. That is how it all started, this Groundhog Day that is now printed on February 2, on every calendar that you buy.
Of course, the imaginary “Punxatawney Phil” came about from that first weather report, and as they say, the rest is history. Now, every major city has their own specially named groundhog and hoopla to go with it to stir up excitement and news coverage on February 2 each year.
As you know, I love animals, and count them all my friends. As much as I enjoy celebrating the awakening of the groundhog (or whistle pig, groundchuck, mouse bear), I am saddened by the handling of the little guys and feel that there needs to be something said about it.
Groundhogs are one of just a few true hibernating animals we have in this country. The little furry marmots build elaborate dens underground, some expanding up to 20 feet long. They have multiple rooms for different purposes, sleeping, bathroom, nursery, storing food, relaxing…just like us.
They live solitary lives, keeping to themselves, except to mate or raise their young. In the warmer seasons, they spend most of their time eating vegetation and packing on the weight for a long winter’s nap. They spend 150 days in suspended sleep, with a body temperature as low as 37 degrees and a heart rate at around 5 beats per minute.
At the end of their hibernation, they awaken and leave their burrow to search to meet a female nearby. Being a gentle creature, the groundhog spends some time getting to know his new found mate before consummating the union sometime in March. The babies are born in April.
Groundhogs must be careful when they are out and about, as they have many enemies. Since they are chubby and run slower than most other wild furry fellow, (top speed of 8 mph), they do not travel far from the safety of their burrow. Foxes, coyotes, dogs, and other carnivores find a groundhog meal quite the delicacy. Humans also are afraid or intolerant of the small furry fellows, and are also dangerous to their well-being, often setting traps, or leaving poison in or near their burrows. I know none of you would be harming a groundhog, though, would you. (As I stare sternly into your eyes)
So, I said all of that to say this: instead of making a fiasco out of Groundhog Day, why not use that day to educate people on what the groundhog really is, instead of pulling some poor creature out of a cage and scaring it half to death in front of a thousand flashing cameras and roaring crowds! No wonder some “famous” groundhogs have bitten and attacked people during these festivals. That is not how groundhog hibernation awakening occurs. It happens naturally, slowly, on its own. I feel sorry for every groundhog that is put through those shenanigans.
If people are so interested in when the groundhogs hibernation awakening day is, and if he sees his shadow on that day, then someone should find a burrow, and place a livestream camera there for us all to watch, without disturbing the little fellow or his natural routine. But that isn’t the real purpose of GroundHog Day, is it? It’s just a tradition, one that has gotten out of hand, like perhaps a lot of traditions that started out pure and meaning well, but now have become too commercialized to mean anything, and only hurts the one pure thing that started it all.
That is why traditions die off. They are not kept pure. The meaning is lost in the folly, over time. People and animals get hurt. And then there is a split of those who love it and those who hate it. The essence of wars. Traditions and meanings that have lost their purpose and began hurting others. Yet, keeping it all pulled together with love, love for all, could have kept it pure. From a silly little groundhog, to civil war, Christmas to Easter, to world peace….grounded traditions must always be embedded in love for all, so the pure meaning is not lost, and no one suffers pain. P.S., protect the groundhog, because they are awesome.