Sunday, February 2, 2014

Happy Groundhog Day

Remember the tongue twister:
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck
if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could
if a woodchuck could chuck wood.
But I learned a slightly different variant of the ditty (sung like a livestock auctioneer's croon):
How many chucks could a woodchuck chuck
if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
I learned that woodchuck is a Narragansett Algonquian word: wuchak. Whatever you call the harbinger toothy rodent of spring, Happy Groundhog Day. Hope the blasted critter stays underground, we need more rain. Good news: I awoke to a drizzle. Every little bit helps, but it'd have to rain in biblical proportions in order to make up for the deficit.

Punxsutawney Phil Wiki
I guess Phil didn't see his shadow. Six more weeks...  Go back to bed, Phil. Now. No shadows to be seen here. Move along. Move along.
"Since the Groundhog’s first prediction in 1887 (through 2013), Phil has seen his shadow 100 times and not seen it on just 17 occasions. There are nine missing years in the record, but Phil has issued a forecast without exception. No one questions Phil’s dedication to prognostication, but his accuracy is an unending source of controversy."
 —Wa Post
How did we ever adopt a hairy, hoary groundhog, aka a woodchuck, as a harbinger of spring? In the north, he's known as Punxsutawney Phil or that Southern imposter, General Beauregard Lee. The name of a lowly burrowing rodent preserves vestiges of old Civil War lines. I can't even pronounce Phil's name. His official abode is on Gobbler's Knob, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
According to  tradition, if Phil sees his shadow and returns to his hole, he has predicted six more weeks of winter weather. If Phil does not see his shadow, he has predicted an "early spring." The date of Phil's prognostication is known as Groundhog Day in the United States and Canada, and has been celebrated since 1887. Punxsutawney Phil became a national celebrity thanks to the 1993 movie Groundhog Day. A select group, called the Inner Circle, takes care of Phil year-round and also plans the annual ceremony. Members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle are recognizable by their top hats and tuxedos. —Wiki
  Suspension of disbelief much?
According to lore, there is only one Phil, and all other groundhogs are impostors. It is claimed that this one groundhog has lived to make weather prognostications since 1886, sustained by drinks of "groundhog punch" administered at the annual Groundhog Picnic in the summer.According to the Groundhog Club, Phil, after the prediction, speaks to the club president in "Groundhogese", which only the current president can understand, and then his prediction is translated for the entire world.—Wiki

So what in blue blazes is a groundhog? The groundhog (Marmota monax), is a very large rodent, a kind of ground squirrel—otherwise known as a mountain marmot
during the rest of the year. A groundhog is one of 15 species of marmots—there are six species in North America (once there were nine). 

According to Wiki:
There are marmots in the Alps, Apennines, Pyrenees; Eurasian steppes, Carpathians, Tatras, and northwestern Asia; the Deosai Plateau in Pakistan and Ladakh in India; the Black Hills, Rockies, Cascades, Pacific Ranges, and Sierra Nevadas in North America. Four marmot species of western North America—Alaska to California—are a subgenra—Petromarmota. Bigger critters. Yellow-bellied marmot, the most common. 
Apparently Nevada and Arizona had two distinct marmot species, as did Nebraska, and China. I bet they wound up in a lot of stewpots during the famine months.

Wiki goes onto say:
"Herodotus described the golden Himalayan marmot of the Deosai Plateau, as "gold-digging ants" because the Minaro tribes collected gold dust excavated from marmot burrows.The etymology of the term "marmot" may have arisen from the Gallo-Romance prefix marm-, meaning to mumble or murmur; or from post-classical Latin, mus montanus, meaning "mountain mouse." 
and on another Wiki page:
The Groundhog Day celebration is rooted in a Celtic and Germanic tradition that says that if a hibernating animal casts a shadow on February 2, the Pagan holiday of Imbolc (known among Christians as Candlemas Day), winter and cold weather will last another six weeks. If no shadow is seen, legend says, spring will come early. In Germany, the tradition evolved into a myth that if the sun came out on Candlemas, a hedgehog would cast its shadow, predicting snow all the way into May. When German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania, they transferred the tradition onto local fauna, replacing hedgehogs with groundhogs. Wiki
I'd say the Teutons and the Celts have it over the Romans. A wildcat-sized marmot resembles no mouse, not even a dormouse! And can they ever scream bloody murder. Make you yellow-bellied scared shitless to boot, if you're not expecting that blood-curdling scream.  Enough to shake the gold out of your fillings.

Happy Imbolc, and Groundhog Day. And let's hope that Bill Murray finally gets it right.

From a Facebook memory
February 2, 2014
added and revised 2/2/2017

Visitors Are Surprised By A Screaming Marmot video taken by hikers at Blackcomb Mountain in Whistler, British Columbia.
Screaming Marmot | Know Your Meme On July 14th, 2015, Instagram user @lonegoatsoap uploaded a video of a marmot making a loud squeaking noise while standing upright at Blackcomb Mountain in Whistler, British Columbia (shown below).
Marmot Sings Mozart's Queen of the Night Aria Perhaps the best marmot meme send-up of all.

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