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The groundhog will come out of its burrow tomorrow and think he’s in Cancún

By Paul Viau | Feb 01, 2017
Photo by: File photo ME AND MY SHADOW — Groundhog Day is tomorrow, and Punxsutawney Phil is warming up to an early spring. 'According to folklore, if it is cloudy when the groundhog emerges from its burrow, spring will arrive early, before the vernal equinox; if it is sunny, the groundhog will see its shadow and retreat back into its den, and winter weather will persist for six more weeks.'

Punxsutawney Phil — the official weatherman of the rodent family — is due to make his annual appearance/predictions tomorrow, Feb. 2, but I think he’s going to be overdressed.

Given the unseasonably warm January weather we have been experiencing in WNC, Phil should: 1) shed his fur coat; 2) throw on a Speedo; 3) slather up with Coppertone; and 4) catch some rays.

I’ll let you ponder that visual image for a few sentences, as I explain some factoids about groundhogs and their day. Did you know? These lowland creatures go by several names — woodchuck, whistlepig, marmots, etc.

They go by many names, but they don’t pass many opportunities to dive into any available culvert. At least, that’s been my mountain experience.

Groundhogs can be found as far north as Alaska and as far south as Georgia.

South of Georgia, they are called by different names — gator-bites, puffy squirrels, speedbumps, lunch, etc.

I actually have a friend at the golf course who claims that groundhogs make ‘good eats.’

“You need to cook them low and slow — just like they move,” he said. (Name omitted for his protection)

So when the mayor of Punxsutawney pulls Phil from his air-conditioned burrow, he could end up as ‘pulled G-hog.’ (Just kidding) They would never do that to Phil, right? Otherwise, no one would ever want to eat in Punxsutawney.

But a food source is not why we celebrate Groundhog Day.

Did you know? Feb. 2 — the day designated as Groundhog Day — marks the mid-point between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. That’s midway between winter and spring, and for centuries people have celebrated the significance of this day — but not always with rodents.

The people of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, however, saw an opportunity.

Punxsutawney is a small town in west central Pennsylvania, not-so-colorfully named after the Native phrase that describes it — ‘town of the sandflies’ (aka: mosquitoes).

So, years ago, town leaders cooked-up a public relations stunt to put Punxsutawney on the map — without any insect reference. They made a papier-maché burrow, captured a groundhog, named him ‘Phil,’ called the media and the mayor yanked him out on Groundhog day. Fortunately for Punxsutawney, the stunt worked and Groundhog day caught on, and one of my favorite movies is all about it.

Of course, I’m referring to ‘Groundhog Day,’ the 1993 comedy featuring Bill Murray and Asheville’s own, Andie MacDowell.

To this day, it is one of only a handful of movies that I watch every time I encounter it on TV — and watch to the very end —from no matter what point I channel surf into it.

I have listened to Bill Murray’s repetitive wake-up call to Sonny and Cher’s, “I’ve got you babe.”

Hundreds of times. I even purchased that song on Apple iTunes for my own wake-up alarm, even though I’m not particularly a fan of Sonny & Cher.

The song just reminds me of Bill Murray’s reaction — waking up, day after day, to the same scenario — and making the best of it.

My other ‘must-watch-every time’ movies include: Top Gun, anything James Bond or Jason Bourne, and any of The Hunger Games series.

There’s just something about Hunger Games that troubles me, but demonstrates the resilience of Americans — even when oppressed.

Back to Groundhog Day. Punxsutawney Phil isn’t the only rodent making weather predictions. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, the groundhog is named Chattanooga Chuck. In Asheville, Nibbles the groundhog passed away last year and the WNC Nature Center has not found a replacement. RIP, Nibbles. Chimney Rock’s groundhog of many years, Grady also passed away and has been replaced with Greta. In Liburn, Georgia, the groundhog is none other than General Beauregard Lee. In Boulder, Colorado — home of my alma mater, the University of Colorado, the groundhog is named Flatiron Freddy.

And my favorite groundhog name, among the many, hales from Raleigh, North Carolina, and goes by the historic name of Sir Walter Wally.

As I mentioned earlier in this column, I have my own groundhog that lives in the culvert under my driveway. I call him Woodrow — and I hope it's a cloudy day on Groundhog Day, with no shadows.

That way the spring bulbs that are peeking up in my wife’s garden will be saved.