OhN Groundhog Day always reminds me of another holiday: the Fourth of July, and specifically my first Independence Day on this piece of land, decades ago. In honor of Groundhog Day, I present a vintage essay on trying to fool Mother Nature, and being fooled instead.
It was a different winter then, and in many ways a very different era, but I think there’s still something left in that old writing, anyway (although there’s no definitive answer about leaving Woodchuck behind. , sorry; it ended here instead.) Enjoy
(From ‘Newsday’ newspaper Bagh column, 1989)
TOday is the day when thoughts officially turn to the possible arrival of spring, but on Groundhog Day, my troubled mind can’t let go of memories of the Fourth of July. In fact any mention of a groundhog, and my sinful synapses take me back to that Independence Day not too long ago and an ill-advised display of underground fireworks.
I tried to take out the groundhog with a smoke bomb.
There, I feel better now that I shared it.
At the time, like many people in the city, I fought, or at least vigorously objected to, the way things were. The first year in the country house, we fought everything, I remember, not just the groundhog (or woodchuck, as we knew it to be called). The morning after a severe snowstorm, for example, we attempted to travel back to the city, and in this self-made adventure, learned a whole new meaning of the term respect.
We fought the deer, which for generations had been coming to feed under the apple trees we now insisted were ours. Rats, who only asked for a warm place to raise their young, the wall of our bedroom. We fought the logic that says moss, not flowers, grows on the north side of the house, and we fought.
Neither skiers nor kids on the front lawn are fond of frosty fashion, we moaned about the snow only because it was painful, because it slowed us down. Now, over many winters, we pray for supplies. It is nectar, sustenance. We have seen the havoc that a winter gale can wreak upon a bare garden, where there is no white blanket to soften the blow. When it melts around this time of year, we pray with all our might for more.
Beneath it, all kinds of plant and animal life—even groundhogs—can sleep safely until spring. Without it, they are like the homeless on the city streets.
On this February morning, Punxsutawney Phil, Punxsutawney, Pa. I’ll nod my sleepy head out of my human-made bedroom bill, assisted by a human handler tasked with predicting the coming season. The blob, which looks like a groundhog, will, for the most part, either see its shadow or not, depending on the strength of the sun in late winter. If he does, he’ll be back in bed for another six weeks. Sorry, no early spring. The whole thing comes from an old Scotch poem: “If the sun be bright and clear, there will be two winters in the year.”
I, for one, hope the winter lasts a while. I hope that the rest of the season, which doesn’t feel like winter to me yet, will bring water to earth in whatever form, however painful, however dirty it may be. I hope there will be snow and sleet and rain every day over the whole country if necessary, for the recent drought is so vivid in my memory that I cannot hope otherwise.
I remember the years when a third of the United States, or more, lay dry deep in the ground, painful for these healing waters. Any gardener who’s ever lost a lettuce plant to an unexpected April heat wave, or a cruciferous plant to ripen on a radiator, should understand what this means: without proper sequencing of the passing seasons. , without “suffering” weather such as rain. And snow and even snow, there will be no tillage and no gardening, no flowers and no food.
I know, recent mornings have been bright and beautiful, and you don’t have to fight strong winds to get to work or school. Besides, in your opinion, the trouble is worse in some other area, not mine, and so it’s okay to feel safe and happy that spring is two months too soon.
It’s not right, and it’s not safe.
My groundhog didn’t die by the way, that unpleasant memorable Fourth of July didn’t even put a lid on the pair of idiots who barricaded the doors of their burrow with huge rocks after dropping a smoke bomb from one end. . He simply sat high on his haunches, as his race is inclined to do, looking through the distant third door to his underground home. If we had had more experience, or if we had asked just one of the many local farmers, we would have known that there were probably more than two holes in the pit. We may know that a groundhog makes more sense than two flatlanders, because we city-street folk are sometimes not so fondly invited into our unfamiliar country home.
The rest of the summer – or was I going crazy? – He seemed devoted to me watching the garden, a kind of hairy conscience hanging over my shoulder. All will be well in the garden when, suddenly, a rustle in the brush on a nearby hillside announces his arrival.
“He’s planning his revenge,” I’d say to myself, wondering what delicious morsels he had planned for the day. After a sunny day, he looked at me, until I lost him, and began to shout at him with the conviction in my voice that he should hear, that he should understand, that he should answer.
I was fighting again, a sad sight, and although he never ate anything from the summer garden that year, woodchuck had already won.
The picture of me and my pet woodchuck (kidding!) comes from an old “Popular Science” magazine, when I finally gave in, and invited him inside.