The groundhog has spoken.
For those living in North America, and anyone who visits for that matter, February 2nd marks an important day in the proliferation of prognostication. Never mind the Farmer’s Almanac, each 2nd of February, Americans and Canadians predicate their annual battle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, on the predictions of a rodent.
This year’s outcome is indecisive. A split decision, dividing a continent.
With foreseeable backlash, scandal and media frenzy inevitable, one can only hope the global outcry and ensuing protests remain peaceful.
For those unfamiliar, the science behind Groundhog Day is sound. Each February 2nd, the groundhog awakens from hibernation and emerges to inspect its surroundings. If the rodent sees its shadow (which in layman’s terms means the sun is shining) the animal returns to its burrow for a further 6 weeks of hibernation. Conversely, if no shadow is seen (cloudy with a chance of golf balls), spring is imminent.
Who can argue with science?
This year, in Pennsylvania, perhaps the most famous of all prognosticators, star of film and television, Punxsutawney Phil made his appearance. And to the dismay of many, Phil saw his shadow and abruptly returned to his lair. Six more weeks of winter.
In Ontario, Wiarton Willy made his debut in style, tantalizing his fans by proudly declaring that spring was on its way.
And in eastern Canada, the relative newcomer to the category of furry celebrities, Shubenacadie Sam, concurred with his Ontario cousin, declaring winter to be over.
2 to 1.
So who’s right?
Before we make a decision, let’s delve a little deeper, turn over a rock or two, and uncover the seedier side of prognostication, warts and all.
Punxsutawney Phil is not without a scandalous past. Aside from the usual non-flattering Tabloid exposé one can expect of a Hollywood celebrity, one of the more contentious issues surrounding Phil is the claim that he is in fact the original rodent from the very first Groundhog Day event in 1886.
You heard that right.
Despite the fact that the average groundhog’s lifespan is 7 years, folklore claims Phil has been kept alive for 131 years by ingesting a special groundhog elixir, fed to him once a year during the annual festivities. Remarkable when you think about it. And while skeptics challenge the science behind the claim, festival organizers remain adamant Punxsutawney Phil is the original specimen. Asked if perhaps the state of Florida and Ponce de Leon may have played a role in these extraordinary circumstances, Pennsylvania’s official spokesperson had no comment.
Wiarton Willy’s prognosticative success rate is said to be 90%. Nothing short of astounding. According to some, this extraordinary statistic is due in part to Wiarton Ontario being situated on the 45th parallel, exactly halfway between the Equator and the North Pole. A metaphysical hotspot, so to speak. Add to this the fact that Willie is an albino, an extremely rare marmot, the mysticism and folklore surrounding his abilities are legend.
However Willie is not without his demons.
The original Wiarton Willie lived to an impressive age of 22 years. Unfortunately, he died in 1999, two days before the big event in February. Unable to find a suitable replacement in time for the festival, organizers were left with few options. Ultimately, they decided to display a dead Willie, complete with coffin, tiny tuxedo, coins on his eyes, and a carrot between his paws.
The outrage was instantaneous.
And it only got worse.
Shortly thereafter an unknown source leaked information that blew the proverbial lid off the entire sordid affair. It turned out that the actual (dead) Willie was too decomposed to be put on display, so festival organizers substituted his corpse with that of a poorly stuffed replica, a taxidermy school reject. The saga grew even more ghastly when it was later discovered that before his (un)timely death, Willie, in a fit of rodent rage, attacked and killed both his albino understudies. Apparently, unbeknownst to his caregivers, Willie was an aging Diva, willing to do anything to protect his career.
You can’t make this shit up.
Nova Scotia’s groundhog situation is a bit different. Their famous furry resident lives in a local Wildlife Park, and is not formally enticed out of his burrow on February 2nd for festivities, as are his counterparts. Onlookers merely attend and wait him out. While there is no scandal that we know of surrounding Shubenacadie Sam, it is interesting to note that he is the star of his own rodent-reality show. Yes, Sam’s daily adventures can be viewed 24/7 via live webcam coverage.
Which begs the question – is there a hidden agenda here? Is Sam perhaps secretly auditioning for a shot at Groundhog Day 2 – The Sequel, right under the nose of a hibernating Punxsutawney Phil?
Regardless of motive, along with Sam’s Internet fame, stardom comes with perks, including a fulltime human caregiver, and breakfast served up fresh every morning –yogurt and melon. Not bad for an east coast marmot.
Is it a coincidence that Shubenacadie Sam just happened to choose the response his adoring fans wished for? Might we consider preferential treatment a form of ‘inducement’?
Is this a scandal in the making?
You tell me.
Any way you look at it, whatever your take on animal prognostication, remember this; even the best meteorologist will predict a 50% chance of rain, and still get it wrong.
So who’s to say?
Until next time,