Posts Tagged ‘Groundhog Day’

View from Mattie’s Pillow

February 3, 2009


Groundhog Day and the temperature is sinking again, though there’s more light, brighter sun to give the illusion of approaching–so far away–spring.

The horses, the dog, and everyone I know are getting restless with the return of deep cold. Every afternoon around 4, as the sun slips behind the hill and the corral sits in pale blue light, Mattie and Sam play a game where they walk around their fenced areas (they each have half a corral, separated by metal portable panels) until they meet at the fence. The first one to reach the fence stretches his or her head over the top rail, open mouthed to nip at the neck or rump of the other. If the first horse makes contact, the other kicks at the fence, making a satisfying crash, then they both trot away, circling back at a canter and crow hopping till they get back to the fence where they go back to an oh-so-casual walk. I watched them do this for a half hour today.

The groundhogs didn’t agree on spring, I hear, and one even bit the mayor of New York on the hand. In another blog, I found a history of the holiday, Candlemas, a vague predictor of spring–but like the celebration of the solstice, an important marker for our hopes. I remember spring in Pennsylvania, growing up. About now, the ground would still be frozen, but towards the end of the month, it would tend toward mud. By March, there would be green in the lawns and pastures, and crocuses, with daffodils and tulips not far behind.

But here, spring is an abstract concept. In six weeks, mid-March, we will be nearly in the same light cycle as anywhere else in the Northern Hemisphere. For a few weeks, we all feel in synch with the places in the lower 48 many of us grew up in, except for the deep snow, the continuing cold, the possibility that we could still hit 30 below. Still the light glitters off the long-frozen crystals, birds flit between the trees, or cluster around the birch seed dusting the white ground, the ice carvers arrive for the annual competition, and the long-distance mushers return from the Yukon Quest, scraggly-bearded, hollow-eyed, triumphant, and ready to go out again.

But knowing that, somewhere, real groundhogs stir beneath the corn fields, imagining green shoots, gives me permission to look at seed catalogs for real and to imagine, again, what luscious things could grow in our short, intense season.

View from Mattie’s Pillow

February 1, 2009

Groundhog Day

More light now. The horses have time to doze in the sun without having to move as much to keep the light on their coats. We missed the deep cold we were scheduled for; we look at each other in the Post Office or at the grocery store or across the kitchen table and say how grateful we are that it’s only 20 below.

The town where I went to high school, Quarryville, Pennsylvania, had a social club, the Slumbering Groundhog Lodge whose members marched in local parades wearing choir robes and top hats, beating a bass drum, and proudly carrying a well-preserved stuffed groundhog. Every February 2, the Lodge went out in the corn fields to the official hole of Marmota Marmot (the official groundhog) and waited in the dark for the groundhog to appear. Every year, the local paper would report on the event-at 5:40 am, the groundhog would poke its nose out of the hole to see what all the fuss was about; a blinding flash of light would come from unexplained sources; the groundhog would duck back in the hole; and there would be six more weeks of winter. If the groundhog, for reasons known only to him, stayed above ground, it would only be six more weeks till spring. After the event, the Slumbering Groundhogs would trek back to their lodge to refill their flasks and warm up and report the news.

The Groundhogs had competitors, however, who believed that the only true sign of spring was the singing of the bull frog in the spring: The Singing Bull Frog Lodge. They wore green choir robes and would plan sneak attacks on the Slumbering Groundhogs in their lodge during the long winter months. Their reports of spring’s arrival were also reported in the paper. By then, of course, it was obvious to everyone-gardens and fields were tilled and seeded, the cows and horses were spread out, nibbling at the pastures, flowering trees-remember them?-were flowering.

Here in the Interior, the ground is somewhere below a couple feet of accumulated snow, fine and light on the top layer, packed densely as glacier ice close to the ground. We have no groundhogs. We have ground squirrels, regular squirrels, and voles. The ground squirrels hibernate; the tree squirrels live in the trees in nests made of scavenged material such as pink fiberglass insulation. The voles borrow in the hay barn, where they stash bits of dog food, bird seed, horse pellets. February 2 comes and goes, and if any of these critters pokes its head out, an owl may be the only one to know.

We putter on through winter, shoveling the driveway, chipping horse manure out of the snow and piling it, chopping wood for the stove, picking ice balls out from between the dog’s toes. But we hear the groundhog’s report-even if it’s the false groundhog from Punxatawney-and remember spring. I’ve bookmarked the garden seed sites; I’m saving yogurt containers for the greenhouse. Either way, I’ll be ready.

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