Photo: Barred Owl by J. Wilder Bill

Happy Ground Hog’s Day!

For anyone puzzled, I don’t have a photograph of a groundhog. That’s a picture of a barred owl. The little fellow sets the mood, just as well as any other wildlife animal. Like the groundhog, owls at my house let me know what to expect from the weather.

I’m not the only person who improvises with the early Christian Candlemas Holiday. The concept began with preachers passing blessing candles around the congregation. It was the townspeople who decided whether or not a shadow appeared as the candles burned.

In early Germany, Candlemas was celebrated alongside animals, and eventually the flame of candles weren’t the determining factor. The tradition shifted to observing the animals’ behavior in planning spring activities. The Germans who settled in Pennsylvania relied on the behavior of the many hedgehogs living in the area. All wildlife, including birds, insects and mammals, react to the sunlight, and we can pick February 2 as the decisive date. The wildlife notices the nuances in nature, and their instincts guide them on how to plan their time throughout February and March.

In the old country, farmers relied on the intuition of hedgehogs and badgers. If the critters saw their shadows at the harvest celebration, it meant winter still lingered in the air.

Then again, if the badger eagerly dashed out of its home, it was letting the farmers’ know the season for frozen grounds and sparse resources was over. The key signal the animals follow revolves around an intense sunlight at the end of winter being too bright to cast a shadow in the morning. Sunny skies heated the ground and melted the reflective snow.

The significance to farmers in having sunlight on February 2 determined when they could transition from a survival plan for the cold season to the period of new growth. Their ability to time how many weeks they needed to ration the grains and vegetables they kept on reserve translated into survival. The number of remaining cold days determined when the earth would thaw and farmers could begin churning the soil for the next season’s crop.

The warmer weather let the farm animals know when to start smooching. With their food sources becoming easy to access, they could support a larger number in their animal family, same as the farmers.

With the global changes, understanding our environment is as critical to our survival today as it was for our primitive ancestors. You don’t have to travel to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania and stand among tens of thousands of frozen tourists to witness a critter’s instinctive reaction to the climate. At the infamous ground hog’s hole, a man in a top hat tosses a hundred year-old groundhog named, Phil, through a hole filled with electric heat. Little Phil predicts the future.

Anywhere on the globe, you can venture outside before sunrise in time to interpret nature’s hints about the coming months. If you study the trees and discover droopy leaves, you can expect a rainy season this spring. Where the buds are barely visible, you can plan for a floral Easter. Bountiful leaves flourish where a few cold days may come but the worst of winter is over, but the sky will likely be overcast for a few weeks.

For city dwellers, manmade structures are a haven for tiny climbers and birds. Where critters stay close to buildings, and resist venturing into the sidewalks and traffic, they are still relying on the manmade warmth and the ground temperature is remaining low for a while. If rodents or birds build homes in your interior walls and attic space, they likely are unable to find water outside, which translates into additional cold days.

Aside from pigeons and crows, flying overhead, an active bird life reveals an early spring. They are able to find food in the trees and plants. Resources, such as inspects, become active once the cold drought has finished.

If you also are in an area where you hear birds singing to each other, and your pet dog lingers outside the door with his nose tipped into the wind, head straight to the gym. Beach season and pool parties will come early that year.

For anyone who goes outside to stillness and quiet, with no inspects buzzing around your head and little chirping from the treetops, you can expect six more weeks of wearing fuzzy clothes, those adorable boots, and layering for your chic moods. If the ground hog runs and hides, consider this a wonderful time to plan a cozy Valentine’s celebration in front of the fireplace with hot cocoa and freshly baked cookies. With football season coming to an end, now is a smart time to reconnect with hugs and snuggles.

This year, the ground hog was puzzled by the sunlight. He has only predicted an early spring eighteen times, and this year he didn’t change his impulse to avoid the outdoors until the end of March. As for us Groundhog’s Day observers, we can rest assured in Phil heeding us to grab those blankets and wear thick socks for six more weeks.

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