The Rodent Forecaster
We’re all familiar with the legend of the groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil: that he emerges from his hole on February 2, and if he sees his shadow then there will be six more weeks of winter. Okay. Let’s compare the legend to reality.
First of all, the poor critter doesn’t so much emerge as is PULLED forcibly from his den. Then he is held aloft for the world to see and, presumably at this point, Phil sees or doesn’t see his shadow. Of course it would be hard for him not to see his shadow since his appearance is a media event and there are dozens of television lights pointed at him. The only way that he could not see his shadow is if he did the old Larry Fine routine, "I can’t see, I can’t see...I got my eyes closed!" As far as I know, no groundhog has pulled this joke yet.
I can’t help wondering about the disconnect between the legend of Punxsutawney Phil and how it is played out in public. For one thing, how do they pick the groundhog that is willing to wake up early and go through with this ritual. Do they audition for the chance to be "Phil"? Is there a talent competition ("Ladies and gentlemen, today I would like to do a reading from Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth.)? I believe the swimsuit competition was discontinued some years ago (don’t ask!).
And what does the winner get besides having his winter nap interrupted? Do they get an all expenses paid vacation to a warmer climate where the ground is softer? And what are the groundhog's qualifications to forecast OUR weather? Does he have a degree in meteorology? Is he certified to predict what we will or will not have to put up with for the rest of the season?
What if he cheats? What’s stopping Phil from glancing at the calendar as he is hoisted out of his hole and, seeing that it is February 2nd, realizes that according to his calendar, winter will not end for another six weeks? To us he’s chattering happily on, but he could be saying, "Idiots! I left a wake up call for late March! You do this to me every year, and you never learn! You wake me up in the middle of my winter nap just to check the weather! What, is your fantastic doppler four million or whatever on the fritz again? Ouch! Turn down those television lights! Okay, okay, I’ll fix ya. Just for this it’s six more weeks of freezing cold air, bone-chilling winds, ice on everything, and inches upon inches of snow, snow, snow. There! Are you happy now? Now let me get back to sleep!"
Strangely, many people on site witnessing the event will cheer this news. There could be two explanations for this merriment: they work for a very good union that got them a paid holiday for Groundhog Day, or they realized that they won’t have to witness the groundhog swimsuit competition.