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I Got You, Babe: Groundhog’s Day Revisited

Did you hear that Punxatawny Phil was in the news again?

Police are searching for him because when weather does what weather does you should hold the largest member of the squirrel family accountable for lying. This reminds me that I wanted to write about Groundhog’s Day.

I love February 2, Groundhog’s Day, a mix of the European tradition, Candlmas, and early American farming advice. Once a year a small Pennsylvania town makes international news by rousing a hibernating woodchuck, yanking it out of a tree stump at Gobbler’s Knob, and holding it aloft to be worshipped and adored by a screaming throng of people that have been up all night waiting in the cold for the squirming mammal to appear. It’s absolutely unnecessary and absurd, but it’s all the weird and wonderful stuff I love the most.

And, I love that Bill Murray movie, too.

I am miles away from Punxatawny, Pennsylvania, but I have been to the town. The holiday was on a Monday this year, and having responsibilities meant attendance was not an option. But Ontario has it’s own groundhog tradition, Wiarton Willie. He is the white groundhog prognosticator of Bruce County, and his unusual fur adds a layer of peculiarity to an already peculiar custom. Since this car brakes for famous white animals, a road trip was in order to witness the festivities.

Phil doesn't live at Gobbler's Knob year round.

Punxsutawney Phil doesn’t live at Gobbler’s Knob year round.

Wiarton is located on Georgian Bay, Lake Huron, with striking similarities to towns in Pennsylvania. The bay, frozen and snow covered, looks like a vast snowfield until you notice the wooden dock. The festival had the usual things expected at a small town festival: a lumberjack/chainsaw show, demonstrations of wilderness survival skills, and a catapult built by the students of the vocational technical institute. With the wooden contraption, kids could launch water balloons on the frozen surface of the bay. Of course, the balloons were frozen, too.

Wiarton Willie Festival, Georgian Bay, Ontario

Wiarton Willie Festival, Georgian Bay, Ontario

Sadly, in preparing for the main event, Monday’s weather forecasting, Willie was not in his glass display burrow next to the visitor’s information office. He was being kept awake with coffee and loud music as groundhogs are usually hibernating at this time of year and not preparing for television interviews and photo-ops. We never got to see the fellow. We left Wiarton without seeing its most famous resident though a taxidermied ancestor was on display.

Wiarton Willie Festival

Wiarton Willie Festival

The next night was the football-game-that-interrupts-the-entertaining-ads, or as my favourite podcaster, John Hodgman, calls it, the SuperB owl. I always watch to the end, and then regret staying up so late to watch something I care about so little.

The morning alarm sounded (not Sonny and Cher’s song, “I Got You, Babe”), and just after, the call came announcing that work was canceled due to the foot of snow that accumulated overnight. Just like Phil Connors finds, life does have a funny way of repeating itself. It was like old times, my own personal Groundhog’s Day, reliving something familiar, part of my past. A snow day! Work canceled due to the weather and an opportunity get a bit more sleep when it was needed. Thank you, beloved groundhog.

Thanks to the Internet, I watched the ceremony live from Punxsutawney, and I do enjoy it tremendously. I am envious of those tuxedoed men in their top hats with their grand titles. Sky Painter. Shingle Shaker. Storm Chaser. Should the Pittsburgh Steelers make it to the SuperB owl, my heart leaps to see the Steelers fans in the crowd, too, waving the Terrible Towel. I searched for the events in Wiarton live on the Internet, but I caught only glimpses. Wiarton Willie is not held aloft, but takes to the stage to make his predictions from the safety and comfort of a clear box. It’s all a bit safer, less dramatic. Just ask this Wisconsin mayor.

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