For Punxsutawney Phil and others of his mythically meteorological genus, Groundhog Day is pretty much a win/win proposition.
If he comes out of his little groundhog den and can’t see his shadow, that means that in a relatively short period of time Phil and his buddies will be doing all the fun, frolicsome things groundhogs do in the spring — whatever they may be. And if he does see his shadow he gets to crawl back into his hole, pull the covers back over his head and go back to sleep for six weeks.
See what I mean? Win/win. Play/sleep. Either way, life is good for Phil.
Except for the fact that he’s you know a groundhog.
Which is not to say that it’s a bad thing to be a groundhog. In the world of burrowing, whistling, alfalfa-eating rodents, groundhogs rule. They are hard-working little marmots, moving as much as 700 pounds of dirt around to complete their burrows, which can be as much as 45 feet long and 5 feet deep.
They tend to watch out for each other (which is where the whistling comes in — that’s how they let each other know there’s a coyote about looking for a groundhog hors d’oeuvres).
And they even have a really cool poem about them — one of the most often repeated poems in the entire history of the world. Of course, in order to fully appreciate the poem you have to know that in some places groundhogs are called “woodchucks.”
Oh, yeah. That poem.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I should point out that groundhogs/woodchucks actually have very little to do with wood, chucked or otherwise. But for generations it has been interesting to speculate about how much wood a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood. Hasn’t it?
OK, so maybe the notion of groundhogs/woodchucks chucking wood is mostly interesting to first-graders trying to master their first frighteningly frivolous tongue twister (which is a fairly frisky tongue twister in and of itself!). There is one thing about the little sciurids that I find fascinating. According to my crack research staff (in other words, I Googled a website), male groundhogs stay with their female partners faithfully and attentively throughout most of their pregnancies. The couple hangs out down in their den, where I assume he rubs her back and serves her the licorice ice cream she craves while they watch “Sonic the Hedgehog” on their Marmotini TVs. But just before the birth of their babies, the male leaves the den and as nearly as I can tell, that’s it. He’s gone. Outta there. Hasta la vista, Chuckette. And the mother groundhog is left to raise 2-6 little hairless groundhoglets alone.
Which she seems to do just fine. Her kids are usually ready to leave the den within five or six weeks — without any help from their father. And the way the American groundhog population continues to grow — despite the best efforts of deer hunters trying to sight in their rifles — I think we can safely conclude that the system is working well for the entire species.
But I kind of feel sorry for the male groundhog. Nature has dealt him a poor hand to play. Sure, he’s doing his part according to the primordial order of things. But from what I can see, he’s missing the best part of life on this planet. In fact, it sounds like he takes off right before the good stuff starts.
Oh, sure, he works hard, burrows like crazy and fights off the occasional predator who wanders down his hole. But aside from a few minutes in the limelight — or not — every Feb. 2, his life lacks the purpose and meaning that can only come when you are part of a family.
Which, come to think of it, is anything but a win/win proposition.
Even on Groundhog Day.
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, visit josephbwalker.com.