Trusting a Fat Rodent

By Beacon Staff

Once again, a fat ground-dwelling rodent has told us what we should expect from the weather. Punxsutawney Phil, the Pennsylvanian groundhog with a keen sense of meteorology, predicted on Feb. 2 we will have six more weeks of winter. I’m skeptical, but in the end I have no reason to doubt his well-tested method of emerging from a fake stump and staring at the ground.

Forgive me for questioning a revered American tradition, but Groundhog Day has always struck me as completely bizarre. In past years, I feel a bigger deal was made out of the sacred occasion, though maybe the combination of presidential primaries and Super Bowl hype stole some of its news coverage this year. Sometimes we are forced to prioritize.

Groundhog Day’s most intriguing aspect is probably the choice of prophet. The groundhog also goes by flattering aliases like woodchuck, ground squirrel and marmot, all of which conjure up a sense of weather pattern knowledge and prophetic aptitude. My dog Penny likes to chase squirrels in the yard, though I’m not sure how she would react to an eight-pound mass of moving hair that crawls out of the earth.

This year a record crowd of nearly 30,000 people waited hours in the pre-dawn cold in Punxsutawney to watch Phat Phil predict the future. Phil has done this every year since 1886. To add to the weirdness, Phil’s handlers are a bunch of old men wearing top hats and suits. After the groundhog’s prediction, one of the men holds Phil triumphantly up in the air like the baboon does to Simba in the Lion King. Also, people dress up in groundhog costumes, a wholly frightening spectacle.

There are other groundhogs as well, like Balzac Billy of Alberta, Pardon Me Pete of Tampa and Buckeye Chuck of Marion, Ohio. But there is only one Phil – made famous by the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day. If Phil continues to follow his substantially sized gut, then I’ll follow mine. My gut says, “Trust Phat Phil.” I’m ready for more winter, but maybe that’s just because I live in Montana.