Monday, February 1, 2016

GODS AND GROUNDHOGS


 
A Groundhog Day teaching 
 

In various traditions the beginning of February contains: Candlemas, Imbolc, St. Brigid’s Day and/or The Feast of the Purification of The Virgin. Chinese New Year, which sometimes coincides, is a little late in 2016, because that observance is tied to the arrival of the new moon. Therefore, on February 8th, we will enter The Year of the Red Monkey.  (Look out below.)
 
Here, however, in my neck of the woods, this festival celebrating our sun's big Northern Hemisphere Comeback is about the groundhog and whether he/she sees (or doesn’t see) his/her shadow, either predicting the dreaded six more weeks of winter or an early spring. This year her prognostication will (we pray) be for an early spring. Weather World from the Penn State Department of Meteorology has just forecast of a "Groundhog Heat Wave,” for it’s supposed to be a sultry 46 degrees on Tuesday. If Punxsutawney is overcast and shadowless, there will be an early spring. Whatever happens, this warming trend should help melt the snow left after our recent humdinger Nor’easter, which dumped 30 inches of the fluffy white stuff.

 



 

Credit: Steven Earnshaw, Imbolc Celebration in West Yorkshire


Occurring at the mid point between the shortest day and the spring equinox, this is also one of the ancient “cross-quarter” days. In the middle ages, people hired workers, made contracts and paid debts at these seasonal markers. There were fairs, and a saint's festival in the Christian calendar to mark the occasion and to conceal a pagan past where the sun was a deity and closely observed. We seem in the heart of winter, but actually, if you check times of sunrise and sunset, you’ll see that the days are speedily lengthening.

If you are a sheep farmer, you know that the lambs are here and coming, dropped into an inhospitable world. Other species give birth as well. I’ll never forget watching a calf being born during a February snow storm and finally dropping into a lanky, steaming pile atop frozen mud.

(Happy !#@%* Birthday...)

In fact, the groundhog sticks his head out of the burrow around this time because he's looking for love. He needs locate the nearby ladies and to size up the competition. The young (called pups) will be born later, when there's plenty of yummy green stuff growing.  
 
It is sometimes jokingly asked whether “red or white” goes best with groundhog. You won’t get an answer to the question here, even if my Depression Era Joy of Cooking does explain how to clean, stuff and bake Marmota Monax--but, Lord, I hope things never again grow so dire that I have to!



Although I know they can be a menace to equipment and livestock, I can't help but like them. It's interesting to watch these chubby critters in high summer, roly-poly butts trundling between fields, or standing up, on the lookout, sounding  the shrill warning which gives them the name "Whistlepig." Groundhogs are fierce fighters, to which many a bloody-faced dog of my fifties childhood could attest. They are also dedicated parents and excellent housekeepers, carpeting their dens with leaves, and keeping both a summer den—sometimes tucked under an old barn or shed—and a safer winter den for hibernation, in the woods or in a hedgerow between fields. 

 
~~Juliet Waldron
 
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1 comment:

Kim Headlee said...

For the ancient Celts, the first day of spring was Imbolc -- on Feb. 1st. Never could figure that one out, unless it harks back to the age when the polar caps had receded way back and spring-ish biological processes really did start that early.

As for groundhogs, we don't see them around our farm much now that we have a pair of Great Pyrenees guarding our goat herd. Last year we had a set of goat twins born on Groundhog Day. Their names, of course, are Punx and Tawny. :D

Here's to Spring, whenever it shows!
Kim Headlee
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