I smell a rat, or maybe just a groundhog

Punxsutawney Phil being hoisted high as he has been for many years until his expected retirement this year.

Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania was settled and named by the Delaware Indians as a campsite halfway between the Allegheny and Susquehanna Rivers. When German settlers arrived in the 1700’s, they brought with them a tradition known as “Candlemas Day,” celebrated in Germany on Feb. 2nd, which happens to be the midpoint between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, (winter and spring.)

Tradition held that if Feb. 2nd were sunny, the last half of winter would be nasty and cold, and vice-versa. In Germany, for whatever reason, hedgehogs were observed to see if a shadow was cast. In Pennsylvania, given the absence of hedgehogs, groundhogs were selected to assume that role. An old German saying read: For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, So far will the snow swirl until May; For as the snow swirls on Candlemas Day, So far will the sun shine until May.

 Pennsylvania’s first official celebration of Groundhog Day was in 1886, when the legendary groundhog was named Punxsutawney Phil, and the first trip to Phil’s mythical home on Gobbler’s Knob, was made the following year. For years, Phil’s handler has been local funeral director Bill Deely, who says that Phil currently weighs fifteen pounds, and thrives on dog food and ice cream in his climate-controlled home at the Punxsutawney Library. Each Feb. 2nd, he is carried up to Gobbler’s Knob and placed in a heated burrow beneath a simulated tree stump before being pulled out at 7:25 a.m. to make his annual prediction. Common sense says there have been several Phil’s since 1886, but no one has fessed-up.

I try hard to maintain faith in mankind, but as I cling to the last vestiges of hope, I’m given news that dashes any remaining confidence I had in my species. Recently a story from The Associated Press let slip the fact that Phil’s prediction is actually determined ahead of time by a shady group of top-hat wearing guys known as the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club’s Inner Circle. I guess to me it’s kind of like magic; I know full well that David Copperfield could never really make the Eiffel Tower disappear, but it would be fun to think so. Just like I know full well that Phil the groundhog would have no idea if he was even seeing his shadow, let alone predict how soon spring would arrive, but it was always fun to think so. Now to hear that Phil is a sham is like a kick in the gut; it will never be the same again. Is nothing sacred anymore. 

I smell a rat; this all smacks of conspiracy theory to me.  After all, anyone that would mess with a time-honored tradition like Phil’s prediction is capable of anything.  But what could possibly be in it for that shadowy group of hucksters to ever predict 6 more weeks of winter? Kickbacks from ice melt and snow shovel companies? Six weeks of free snowmobile rental or hot chocolate? Who knows, but I think there needs to be a committee appointed to conduct an investigation, and if our congress would extract their heads from where they shouldn’t be, I’ll bet they’d have plenty of time to do just that. 

The same Associated Press story also revealed that Phil is not the only game in town. There are 6 other groundhogs that claim to share Phil’s gift. West Virginia has French Creek Freddie, Georgia has General Beauregard Lee, Michigan has Woody the Woodchuck, Ohio has Buckeye Chuck, Staten Island New York has Charles G. Hogg (Chuck for short), Ontario, Canada has Wiarton Willie and Nova Scotia has Shubenacadie Sam (seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up.) 

Anyway, maybe we in Kansas should come up with our own figure-head to predict something, say a coyote for instance. We could call him Carl the Coyote and put him in a big pen in the middle of a CRP field where he’d be comfortable. Kansas Dept. of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism could appoint their own group of guys and gals wearing Make America Great Again hats to tend to Carl’s needs. We’d use his big fluffy tail to predict the weather. For example, if his tail was sticking straight out, it was windy; if his tail was wet, it was raining, and if Carl was suddenly gone, there was probably a tornado and we’d just have to get another Carl. After all, we’ve got plenty of them. Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors. 


Steve Gilliland can be contacted by email at stevenrgilliland@gmail.com.

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