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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Willie Woodchuck Misses Groundhog Day
by Chuck

Willie Woodchuck swallowed the last morsel of the tender roots he and his wife had been dining on in the meadow by their home. It was a beautiful fall day but he knew that soon the north wind would bring cola and then snow to the land. However, he didn't care because he and his wife had a nice snug borough among the roots of the old oak tree behind them. He and his wife had been gathering fresh grass and leaves to make warm and cozy beads for their long winter's sleep. The summer had been good and the food plentiful. Now both he and his wife had a large layer of fat around their tummies. The fat would keep their bodies warm and nourished as they slept the coming winter away.

Yes, life was good, but Willie was troubled. As the local groundhog, it was Willie's job to wake up from his winter sleep on February 2nd and check the weather by looking for his shadow. If he crawled out of his borough and saw his shadow he would know that winter would continue for six more weeks. If this was the case he would immediately return to his borough and resume his sleep. But, if he didn't see his shadow he would know that winter was ending and would proceed to start looking for food and starting another spring and summer.

Willie enjoyed being the local groundhog and letting the world know each year how soon spring would come. In the past people and animals would come from all over to see him come out and look for his shadow. He loved that moment of glory each year and had eagerly looked forward to waking up and going outside on February 2nd.

But in recent years fewer and fewer people came to see him. Even the animals stopped coming. Why, this past year only old farmer McGilicudy and his horse Molly came. Oh, yes, Roger Robin also came as did Reggie the fox. But he suspected that Reggie was more interested in the chance to have Willie for breakfast than in Willie's prediction for spring. Even Ajax, farmer McGilicudy's faithful hound, elected to remain behind napping in the barn rather than venture out to see Willie.

As he prepared to go to bed for the winter, Willie was still upset. So upset in fact that he decided not to set his alarm clock for February 2nd. I am just going to sleep in and let everyone guess themselves when spring is coming. "Oh! But you can't do that," said his wife. "It is your job and everyone is depending upon you," she continued. "You have responsibilities and must do what you agreed to do when you became the local groundhog." She snuggled into their warm bed of grass and leaves and ended with, "now set the alarm and come to bed, I'm tired."

So Willie set the alarm and went to sleep.

February 2nd arrived and he pulled himself out of bed, turned off the alarm and quietly made his way to the door leaving his wife to continue her sleep.

Emerging from the borough he looked over toward the hill across the stream and saw only old farmer McGilicudy and his horse Molly. Even Roger Robin and Reggie Fox had elected to stay home. Poor Willie, he was so sad. But, remembering that he was the star of this event, he pulled himself together, stood up as straight as he could, sniffed the air and looked down to see if he could see his shadow. His sharp nose had detected the hint of spring in the morning air and so he was not surprised to see that there was no shadow. Spring was a bout to come.

Mustering all the dignity he could, he looked toward the hill, gave a slight bow of his head to his audience of two and proceeded to begin foraging for food. Noticing some new green shoots on the other side of the old oak tree, he dug up some roots and returned to the borough with breakfast for himself and his wife.

Looking down from the hill, farmer McGilicudy felt a twinge of sadness for Willie. He was certain that Willie was saddened by the lack of an audience. "But that is crazy" he told himself. "He's just a woodchuck doing what woodchucks do instinctively. But in his heart of hearts he felt that the little woodchuck was saddened by the poor turnout.

Despite his long winter's rest and the tasty breakfast he had found, Willie was very sad. "I just don't have a place in the modern world" he told his wife. "They have televisions and satellites and don't need groundhogs to predict the weather." No matter how much his wife tried to reassure him, Willie remained despondent all summer.

What Willie did not know was that once home, farmer McGilicudy would tell his wife about Willie not seeing his shadow and she would get on the telephone and start telling her friends and they, in turn, would call other friends. Then farmer McGilicudy would go into town and meet his friends for coffee at Sam's Restaurant.

Among the group having coffee would be TV weatherman Bob. Weatherman Bob would always dismiss Groundhog Day as mere superstition and explain how, with all of his scientific gadgets could really predict the weather. But, in his twenty-five years as the TV weatherman, Bob had never missed coffee with farmer McGilicudy at Sam's Restaurant on groundhog day. That is because he knew that Willie Woodchuck's prediction was always right and, once he had that prediction he would go on TV and make his prediction for spring – without ever mentioning Willie. In twenty-five years Weatherman Bob had always been right about the start of spring. So right, that TV stations all over the country would re-broadcast Weatherman Bob's February 2nd prediction of the start of spring.

The same with the animals. Once back in the barn, old Molly the mare would tell the cows and pigs and other animals. They in turn would tell others they met in the field and so on. This little network was so good that there was not a person nor an animal in the area that did not know about Willie's shadow, or lack of it, within a few hours of his coming out of his borough. But Willie didn't know this and he felt so un-needed.

Farmer McGilicudy also began to feel put upon by the fact that he and Molly were the only ones who bothered to crawl out of their beds on those cold and dark February second mornings to partake in the ritual. Everyone was eager to know what the results were but, like Weatherman Bob, they would pooh-pooh the ritual as a silly old superstition while secretly making their spring plans based upon whether or not Willie saw his shadow.

It was a good and bountiful summer but both farmer McGilicudy and Willie were both still troubled over the events of Groundhog day. As the days began to turn colder and the leaves fell off the trees the thoughts of both were focused on the coming Groundhog day. One fall day, after finishing his chores, farmer McGilicudy took a ride on Molly out to the hill where he stood each Groundhog day to observe Willie. As he stood there, gazing toward the old oak tree, he noticed Willie and his wife eating the last of the roots they had found that day. Finishing their meal, Willie and his wife headed toward their borough to start their winter sleep. Before entering, Willie stood up on his hind legs and looked back toward the hill and saw farmer McGilicudy and Molly. Farmer McGilicudy gave him a sad wave and Willie sadly shook his head and then turned his back and went in to go to bed. Suddenly, both knew there would be no Groundhog Day next spring. Both also had a feeling that spring would be late next year.

Willie set his alarm for late March and settled in for his long sleep.

Farmer McGilicudy arose on the cold February 2nd morning and rode out to the old oak tree but, as he expected, Willie did not show. Returning home, he went back to bed. Soon people were calling him asking about the Groundhog. He told them that it hadn't made an appearance. "Well, when is spring coming?" they asked. Farmer McGilicudy would always answer that by observing that it was only an old superstition and that they should watch Weatherman Bob on TV as his instruments always gave him the correct answer. But weatherman Bob's instruments were not that precise and he didn't have an answer. But TV viewers all over the nation were tuned in to hear his prediction so he had to say something. So he guessed and predicted an early spring. Since he had been right twenty-five years in a row, everyone believed him and began making plans for an early spring. All that is except farmer McGilicudy. He decided to wait and see. Unlike the others, farmer McGilicudy, did not have that much faith in weatherman Bob.

Well, the days did start to get warmer and everyone began to prepare for an early spring. Coats and boots and jackets were put away. Sleds, skates and skies were packed away and bicycles, skateboards and baseball bats pulled from their basement storage. The town put away its snowplows and people put their snow blowers and snow shovels in their garages and brought out their garden tools. Farmers plowed their fields and planted their crops and homeowners dug up the ground and planted their gardens. All were basking in the early spring that was starting to bloom around them.

Then it hit. One day in late February the temperature began dropping. Then the cold wind began blowing. Finally it began to snow. It snowed and snowed and snowed. All night, all the next day and all the next night. Schools closed. Traffic was jammed in the snowbound streets. Fields with their newly sprouting crops were suddenly buried in snow. It was terrible. They were really mad at Weatherman Bob and would turn off their TV sets when he came on for the weather. Nobody believed him anymore. People were angry and confused. The situation was so bad that the mayor called a meeting of the whole town. Everyone blamed Weatherman Bob for his bad forecast and they blamed the Mayor for putting the snowplows away. Wives blamed their husbands for putting away the snow blowers and husbands blamed their wives for putting away the winter coats and boots.

In the fields and forest the animals were also mad. Like their human neighbors, they had also assumed an early spring and had adjusted their lived accordingly. "We had a comfortable alcove in the barn for the winter" said Roger Robin's wife "and we left it to build a beautiful nest which is now totally ruined by the snow and wind." "I left a cozy cave where I was sleeping peacefully and now I'm cold and hungry" said the local bear. As in the town meeting, the animals were angry.

As the chaos and controversy engulfed the meeting, farmer McGilicudy sat quietly, deep in thought. Finally he stood up and a hush spread over the audience. "Friends" began farmer McGilicudy, "we have only ourselves to blame for this." "For years you laughed at the idea that a groundhog could tell the weather." "But, for the last 25 years that little woodchuck in the meadow beyond my field has always been right". "This year none of us bothered with him and I doubt that he bothered to get up to check for his shadow." "Next year, let us all go out to the meadow, as we used to do in the past, and show him that we appreciate his annual prediction."

And that is what they did. The next year the whole town gathered on the hill opposite the old oak tree to watch the appearance of Willie. Animals from far and near also gathered around the tree to await his emergence. After a severe scolding from his wife the summer before, for not doing his duty, Willie had set his alarm clock for February 2nd and decided to do his job whether or not people appreciated it.

As Willie emerged from his borough he heard a great cheer. Looking up he saw the hill covered with people and the oak tree surrounded by all of the animals. He was so proud and so happy. He stood on his hind legs, sniffed the air and glanced down. Seeing no shadow, he proceeded to gather some food to take back to his wife.

That evening viewers all over the nation watched as weatherman Bob, bursting with new found confidence, predicted an early spring and to prove that he was right this year, he instructed the cameraman to roll the film of Willie's emergence from his borough. "Based upon the best scientific data and confirmed by my fury little college, we predict an early spring." And he was proved right when spring did come early.

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