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Of Groundhog Day and shadows

By Bryan Stevens

It’s Groundhog Day, 2022. 

It feels a lot like Groundhog Day 2021 and Groundhog Day 2020.

There was a movie along those same lines. That film, appropriately enough titled “Groundhog Day,” is a 1993 American fantasy comedy film that starred Bill Murray as a cynical television weatherman covering the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Murray’s character becomes trapped in a time loop, forcing him to relive Feb. 2 repeatedly. 

I dare say many of us can sympathize with Murray’s character. We’ve certainly been here before. That much is painfully true.

In 2020, the mood I remember was suspense and the uncertainty of whether a newly emerged disease in China would spread far and wide.

In 2021, the mood was turning more hopeful, although a lot of uncertainty remained. Vaccines had been developed and deployed. The end was nigh, as they say, until summer’s delta surge, followed this winter by omicron. 

As for Feb. 2, 2022, I’m right back to feeling uncertain. Most of the news sounds optimistic for the vaccinated and boosted, but that might only last until the next variant.

There could be much pointing of fingers as to how we find ourselves reliving this slow-motion nightmare, but I’d rather focus on the groundhog. It is certainly one of the more beloved members in a family of wild creatures that doesn’t easily win love and affection. After all, the rat, one of the groundhog’s cousins, helped spread the bubonic plague across Europe and Asia in the 1300s. 

I prefer to think of the groundhog as the forecaster of whether we can expect a late or early spring. This year will the presence  of a shadow signal six more weeks, or months or even years of the pandemic?

The groundhog’s reputation for seasonal prognostication is, of course, whimsical nonsense, but I’d rather be dwelling on the weather than on the coronavirus and all its variants. 

In natural history instead of nature lore, groundhogs are a member of the rodent family making them kin to rats and mice, as well everything from squirrels to beavers to capybaras. The groundhog has gained an incredible variety of common names ranging from wood-shock and woodchuck to whistle-pig, land beaver, ground-pig and marmot. As a matter of fact, the groundhog is simply a large, terrestrial squirrel. However, they can climb trees if pressed by a predator.

Luckily for them, groundhogs don’t face many predators. They have good reason to fear coyotes, bobcats, red foxes and, in some areas, badgers. 

Sticking with the natural world for the moment, I recently read an article that detailed how white-tailed deer can catch COVID-19. I wonder if groundhogs are susceptible. Can groundhogs get vaccinated?

I usually watch a couple of groundhogs from afar every summer season. I am usually fond of them, but I wasn’t too enamored of an individual that dug under the base of a rock wall in my yard late this past summer to form a burrow. In the process, the groundhog piled up a mound of dirt that buried hostas, lilies and other perennials planted in front of the wall. 

But maybe the industrious burrower had the right idea.

I’d like a nice Hobbit hole where I could hibernate for awhile. Maybe I can take a nap like old Rip Van Winkle and wake post-pandemic. 

Check back with me on Feb. 2, 2023.