Groundhog Day

"I am thinking about biting a politician."

This Groundhog Day, we mourn the passing of Winnipeg Willow, who died just 15 days before her moment in the sun (or not—we’ll never know because this year’s celebration has been cancelled). Let us take this occasion to ponder the perils of fame and the joys of ordinary living.
Wiarton Willie, Shubenacadie Sam, Malverne Mel, Holtsville Hal, Smith Lake Jake, Dover Doug, Dunkirk Dave, Lawrenceville Lucie, Chatanooga Chuck, Jimmy the Groundhog, and that Kardashian among groundhogs, Punxsutawney Phil, all serve to remind us that there is more to life than photo ops and free carrots.
For 364 days a year, celebrity groundhogs live in captivity, typically in zoos. Admittedly, many of these animals were incarcerated because they were deemed unable to live in the wild, and they are better off where they are. But they pay for their home-delivered meals by allowing themselves to be pulled from their burrows one day a year, even if they are still weeks away from the date on which they would have naturally emerged from hibernation.
As a species groundhogs are famously introverted -- shy except when threatened, in which case they are aggressive. Not surprisingly there have been at least two incidents in which celebrity groundhogs bit people who tried to hold them up for photographers on Groundhog Day. However, since both masticated persons were politicians, everyone sided with the groundhogs.
Career prospects for a celebrity groundhog are dicey. Many CGs are rumored to have been replaced by lookalikes. A couple of communities have tried to replace groundhogs with nutrias. Manitoba Merv is a hand puppet.
In 2014, Staten Island Chuck attempted a daring escape while being lifted by the then mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio. Chuck fell six feet, and--many people believe--died of his injuries a week later. Amid allegations of a coverup, Staten Island Zoo claimed that Chuck’s death was unrelated to this fall. The Zoo’s credibility was undermined, however, by the revelation that Chuck had actually been a Charlotte.
Incidentally, the real Chuck had previously bitten another Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, which is why the Zoo replaced Chuck with his daughter Charlotte.
Mayors of New York ("if you can bite it there, you can bite it anywhere") are no longer allowed to come anywhere near the Staten Island groundhog.
While celebrity groundhogs are embroiled in controversy and subjected to untimely annual wakings, your ordinary groundhogs go about their ordinary groundhog lives. Though frequently reviled for eating garden vegetables, groundhogs help other animals by providing abandoned burrows for use as homes. Farmers and gardeners may benefit because these animals eat species that eat more vegetables than the groundhogs do. What's more, groundhog burrowing improves the soil.
Groundhogs also make cute, amusing visitors to a garden, especially if (as I do) you have one living under your shed. In other words, like most non-celebrities, they deserve a lot more appreciation than they get.
Groundhog Day celebrations help to ensure that all groundhogs, even the ordinary ones, are looked upon more kindly by the public. On the whole, I think the sacrifices made by celebrity groundhogs are well worth the price they pay. 
Groundhog photo copyright © 2004 by April King, aka Marumari, donated to Wikipedia under the GFDL.


Sarah O. said...

I am so glad I am still subscribed to your feed, because it means I didn't miss this post!

Very occasionally we will get a groundhog wandering through the yard (once about 10 years ago, and then for a week last summer). I wonder where they come from, because environmental conditions seem so unfavourable to them around where I live (coastal, shallow, wet, clay soils, etc)--and indeed they never stay long, just long enough to mow through the veg garden--but where do they originate from?!? And I know their home range is a few acres, but how far will they travel looking for territory?

Wild Flora said...

Hi Sarah O., and thanks for leaving a comment! You're right that your soils don't sound ideal for groundhogs and that groundhogs don't usually stray far from home. However, my understanding is that young groundhogs who've recently left their moms do wander widely looking for territory to call their own. During the warm season, they don't have to be fussy about where they bed down, and are attracted by good food sources. So it would make sense that you would get occasional visitors, especially when you have veg on offer. Thanks for being patient with them. I know it's hard to lose vegetables from your garden. (Been there!)