Thursday, February 2, 2012

It's Groundhog Day!

Woodchuck (groundhog) from Purdue University
Photo by: Lesley Mattuchio, http://www.treknature.com/
It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for me to like this holiday, given my gardener’s instinctual antipathy toward the bristly rodent, but I do. I like the fact that it represents a turning point toward Winter’s end. Sure, we’re still apt to get some last gasps of cold, bad, weather, but I always get the feeling this time of year that we’re on a downward slope toward Spring renewal, and I get warm fuzzies from the fact that, even in the worst case, if Phil sees his shadow, we only have six more weeks to go. So, here are some links, factoids, and other fun stuff celebrating the day.

Here’s a Website dedicated to Pennsylvania’s own, Punxsutawney Phil.

From Cornell, some factoids:
  • Woodchuck and groundhog are common terms for the same animal, the rodent with the scientific name of Marmota monax. Most closely related to squirrels, woodchucks actually can climb trees and also swim.
  • Celestially speaking, Groundhog Day on Feb. 2 is a "cross-quarter" day, about halfway between the winter solstice in December and the vernal equinox in March, and is celebrated in some cultures as the midpoint of winter. It's not far from the time many groundhogs end their hibernation anyway, around the second week of February.
  • Groundhogs go into profound hibernation, greatly reducing their metabolic rate, and their body temperature drops to just a few degrees above ambient temperature. Because their hibernaculum, the deepest portion of the burrow where they hibernate, is below frost line, that produces a body temperature as low as 39-40 degrees F.
  • The groundhog's internal clock is believed to be affected by annual changes in the amount of daylight. Hormonal responses to cyclic changes in production of melatonin, a sleep-related hormone, are thought by some to be the signal to wake up.
From the Missouri Folklore Society we learn:  

  • Groundhog's Day is a secularization of Candlmas, a Christian feast of the middle ages which in turn baptized such pre-Christian observances of the returning sun as Imbolc. Since the winter solstice, by Candlemas, the sun has gained one whole hour. In the Catholic tradition, Candlemas commemorates the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of Jesus in the Temple at Jerusalem, and is named after the candlelight procession which precedes the mass. Candles are also blessed on this day.
  • The American traditions for this day come to us mainly by way of Germany. In the Black Forest the spinning wheel would now be put aside: "Lichtmess, Spinnen vergess, bei Tag zu Nacht ess" (Candlemas, forget spinning, eat supper by daylight).
  • Sunny weather in early February is a bad omen for the arrival of Spring and German sayings abound: "Wenn's an Lichtmess stürmt und schneit, ist der Frühling nicht mehr weit; ist es aber klar und hell, kommt der Lenz noch nicht so schnell" (When it storms and snows on Candlemas Day, Spring is not far away; if it's bright and clear, Spring is not yet near).
  • The groundhog forecast is based on a German tradition brought to Pennsylvania in 1887. "Wenn der Bär zu Lichtmess seinen Schatten sieht, so kriecht er wieder auf sechs Wochen ins Loch" (When the bear sees his shadow at Candlemas, he will crawl back into his hole for another six weeks.) The bear has been replaced by the badger (Dachs) or hedgehog (Igel) and in the U.S. by the groundhog.
More at the link. From this site, we learn
The name Punxsutawney comes from the Indian name for the location "ponksad-uteney" which means "the town of the sandflies."  The name woodchuck comes from the Indian legend of "Wojak, the groundhog" considered by them to be their ancestral grandfather. 
And a special link for the summer interns at Wilson's Fulton Farm.

Enjoy the day.  And by the way, he saw his shadow.

Update 4:50p.m.:  Some folks have a different point of view, of course:

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