Ah, yes. February 2. Groundhog Day.
Oh, I can figure out why it’s in early February. Groundhogs or woodchucks or whistling pigs – there’s no cultural, geographic, or linguistic reason why different people call them by different names, at least none I could find – are “light” hibernators. If the winter weather warms up for a day or so, as happens during “normal” winters unlike this one, when the weather has been unusually warm all season, they’ll pop out of their burrows to have a snack. Judging by their summer eating habits, the snack will probably be one of my favorite plants rather than poison ivy or pokeweed or Jimsonweed or some other noxious, invasive weed. Before they return to their solitary burrows to go back to sleep, though, they’ll also engage in a bit of amatory reproductive activity. In that way, by the time the kits (or are they pups?) are born, it will be spring and food, aka my favorite plants, will be in abundance. Deer do the same thing, which is why they run amok trying to mate with cars during the early winter.
Here’s what I can’t figure out: If Punxsatawney Phil or another local celebrity groundhog sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If it’s cloudy out, there will be an early spring.
Huh? Six weeks from February 2 is March 16, which is pretty early for the winter to be over. In fact, it’s a few days before the Spring Equinox, which is the astronomical spring but not the meteorological one. In this area, the frost-free date used to be May 15 – it’s now closer to May 1 – so anything before, let’s say, mid-April is already an early spring.
In other words, it doesn’t matter whether or not Phil sees his shadow.
Why my fascination with groundhogs/woodchucks/whistling pigs? I have an on-going battle with them. Or, rather, with it. There’s only one at a time in my yard – they’re solitary creatures, except during mating season, as they’re not into parthenogenesis – but I can’t tell if it’s the same one all the time or several different ones. The only time I could tell one was a female was when Mommy came with her two babies, Chuckles and Chucklet, to show them the free salad bar.
Why am I at war with it? It digs holes. Deep holes. The exit holes from its burrow aren’t too noticeable – just a nice, neat round hole, exactly the right size for me to put my foot into. This time of year, the holes are filled with leaves, making them effectively camouflaged. I don’t fill them with stones to block Chuck from using them, because it will just dig another one. At least I know where the current ones are. I still step in them, but I know where they are. The entrance holes, on the other hand, are surrounded by piles of excavated dirt and easy to see. I’m thinking of using the hillocks as raised flower beds. But the plants will undoubtedly get eaten.
That’s my other problem with Chuck. It eats my plants. I no longer grow veggies. It’s an exercise in futility. Containers aren’t the answer, as Chuck climbs the steps onto the deck, pulls itself into the container, and sits there munching away. Coneflowers are beheaded within hours of going into the ground, although to be fair, it may be the chipmunks eating them.
One year, at the Philadelphia Flower Show, I asked someone at the Rodale exhibit how to get rid of woodchucks. “You mean non-lethally?” he asked. He went on to say that if I could find a way, I’d become a millionaire. Even that incentive wasn’t enough to help me come up with a technique.
So I live with Chuck. I watch it emerge in the spring, sleek and hungry, and gradually become plumper, as my plants dwindle in number. By the end of summer, Chuck can barely waddle across the yard. But it has no problem digging holes.