Monday, February 1, 2010

Happy Groundhog Day 2010


To me the two most important holidays in the United States each year are Jimmy Buffett's birthday (December 25) and Groundhog Day (February 2). Buffett's birthday is important because Buffett is "god". Groundhog day is important because its the only day of the year dedicated to a wildlife species.

Just for clarity's sake there is no species of animal called a Groundhog. The real name is Woodchuck (Marmota monax).

The star of tomorrow's celebration is "Phil" the resident of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. This same apparently immortal quadruped has been prognosticating the onset of spring since at least 1887 when a group of Woodchuck hunters from Punxsutawney dubbed themselves the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club and declared their furry oracle, Punxsutawney Phil, the one and only "official" weather-prognosticating Woodchuck. The Punxsutawney ceremony originated around the same time.

Punxsutawney Pennsylvania has a huge party each year to celebrate Phil's inevitable emergence from his burrow. As Bill Murray described it so eloquently in the movie "Groundhog Day" the celebration is "A thousand people, freezing their butts off, waiting to worship a rat." Despite having lived just a few hours from Punxsutawney when I was in Washington DC, I never made the trek up there for the annual party. I stopped in once during the summer while doing field work in that part of Pennsylvania, but all the locals said that Phil was on holiday in Belize that week so I didn't get to meet him.

Despite Woodchucks having a maximum life span of only 3 to 6 years, tomorrow will mark the 123rd year in a row that Phil has told us whether we have six more weeks of winter, or if spring is just around the corner. How this pot-bellied little rodent has stayed alive for 123 years is a feat unprecedented in the rodent world. My guess is that Phil gets extra special treatment from the local veterinarians who want to make sure he's around for many more Groundhog days.

The other special thing about Groundhog Day is the exciting fact that several of the cable movie channels regularly have a "Groundhog Day" marathon, showing the movie over and over again on this sacred day. For tomorrow I've only been able to find one showing of the movie on "Bravo" but that might change. Assuming you are one of the 8 people in America who haven't seen the movie yet, you can watch a trailer here:

So, let me be the first to wish you a very merry Groundhog Day 2010. As the range maps for this species indicate, we don't have Woodchucks in Florida so its not as special a holiday here. However for those of you in the center of Woodchuck range I'd like to suggest, at a minimum, you drink a pint or maybe two of Woodchuck Cider to celebrate this important wildlife holiday. And watch the movie, of course.

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