Deep Thought: Random Groundhog Day Thoughts

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A seer thinking deeply, with a towel on his head

Deep Thought: Random Groundhog Day Thoughts

As I write this, it's Groundhog Day. Allegedly, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow. I know this to be a bald-faced lie. Unless the shadow was cast by a tv camera. I don't live that far away from Gobbler's Knob, and there's no way a groundhog could see anything in all this snow. A nor'easter came through yesterday. They are holding out hope for sun tomorrow. From your mouth to God's ear, weatherman.

Now, I don't blame the top-hatted folks over in Punxsy for saying that Phil saw his shadow. There's another snowstorm predicted for next weekend. Meteorologists are fairly sure this is going to be a long winter, and neither large, furry rodents nor wishfully thinking editors are going to change the weather pattern. So we're stuck here today, grey skies and white landscape, grumping at everything.

I'm trying not to let my grumpiness affect my communications with everyone, but I'm afraid there's some spill-over. Particularly when I think of Groundhog Day.

You see, Groundhog Day is an old joke holiday around here. It got started because German farmers brought their Bauernweisheiten with them from the old country. You know, all that 'red sky at morning' stuff. Germans have thousands of sayings like that. Here's one:

Im Hornung Schnee und Eis macht den Sommer lang und heiß.

That means, if there's snow and ice in February, the summer should be long and hot. Modern Germans love to make fun of these farmers' sayings. There are whole lists of joke ones, such as:

Hat der Bauer kalte Schuhe, steht er in der Tiefkühltruhe.

Translation: if the farmer has cold shoes, he's standing in the freezer. This one is guaranteed to make small children laugh.

Anyway, Pennsylvania German farmers had a 'Weisheit' about badgers on Candlemas, but no badgers. So they picked on the Grundsau, also known as the woodchuck or whistlepig. Since whistlepigs often come out in early February to go courting, they made a convenient target for this bogus 'wisdom'. In the 1880s, there was club fever. Everybody and his sister started a club on some pretext or another. They'd have meetings with refreshments, made-up holidays, and events to raise money for charities. That's how Groundhog Day got started.

Nobody paid any attention to it, other than to make jokes and liven up the weather forecast, until some movie people got involved. They probably thought they were being very original with their story about a temporal causality loop. Even though there'd already been a better one, 12:01. Even though science fiction fans and a certain school of philosophy had been discussing temporal causality loops for donkey's years. And so they filmed Groundhog Day   – not in Punxsutawney, oh no, but somewhere convenient for the director. And it made a hit, so now in a non-plague year Punxsy's overrun with very cold drunks every 2nd of February.

I remember when that film came out. My mother wanted to go and see it because it was about a Pittsburgh weatherman. She used to live in Pittsburgh and liked the weatherman there. I took her to see the film and laughed my head off. It's a funny film. My mother was horribly disappointed: the film didn't show that much of Pittsburgh, and the rest of it was, in her words, 'The most confusing thing I've ever seen.'

Over the years, however, I have become increasingly annoyed by the film Groundhog Day. Because when people who aren't from Pennsylvania say, 'Groundhog Day', they usually mean 'something that happens over and over without changing.'

Call it futility, people. Call it the faux-Einstein definition of insanity. Einstein didn't say that. It was probably Rita Mae Brown, but people don't feel particularly clever quoting Rita Mae Brown (with good reason). Call it an exercise in frustration or a temporal causality loop. But don’t call it Groundhog Day.

On behalf of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and all groundhogs, I oppose this cultural appropriation.

See, told you I was grumpy.

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Dmitri Gheorgheni

08.02.21 Front Page

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