Groundhog Day 2013
This is Groundhog Day weekend. The actual day is Saturday, of course, but maybe we should just make a weekend out of it! I suppose elementary school kids around the country, and certainly a lot of adults, will be curiously waiting to hear whether the groundhog sees its shadow.
It might seem surprising, but the history of celebrating February 2, goes back to before Christ. February 2 was the “Feast of Lights,” because it was recognized as the midpoint of winter, being roughly half way between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Then in the early Christian church the second of February was Candlemas (“Candle Mass”), or the day of the year when candles were blessed. “For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, so far will the snow swirl in May.”
Somehow the Germans then concluded that if the sun shone on February 2, and the hedgehog cast a shadow, there would be six more weeks of winter. This tradition came to American with the settlers, the hedgehog was replaced with the native groundhog or woodchuck, and as the rest, as they say, is history!
Vernon Bailey in his A Biological Survey of North Dakota (1926) mentions that groundhogs were found in the Red River Valley and as far west as Devils Lake. He described their abundance as common or occasional. Today they can also be found in the Turtle Mountains as well as along the Missouri and Souris Rivers.
Woodchucks are known to be species of the edges of woodlands. They prefer a mixture of wooded areas (for denning sites) interspersed with open areas (e.g. meadows) for feeding. Perhaps the Turtle Mountain forest lacked sufficient forest openings before settlement to provide good habitat. Maybe they just had not arrived here yet. At any rate, they are certainly here now.
There is a woodchuck denned up somewhere around our home in the Turtle Mountains. We met a couple summers ago, and he introduced himself as Metigoshe Mike. He told me he has never come up out of his burrow to see what was going on during Groundhog Day. He said that early February in the Turtle Mountains is far too early to start thinking about spring, plus he would rather sleep in a few more weeks anyhow.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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