Larry Groundhog

Once a year, Punxsutawney Phil is a celebrity.

I’m sure you, as I, have Feb. 2 circled on your calendar.

It’s Groundhog Day, when we find out how much more bad weather is in store.

According to an Old Wives’ Tale, if a groundhog pops out of its hole and see its shadow, we’re in for six more weeks of misery.

I’ve always wondered how those Old Wives knew. Did they hunker outside a groundhog den waiting for one to peek out? If so, the Old Wives had ‘way too much time on their hands.

But the Groundhog Forecast is about as reliable as some of our TV weather-persons. And a groundhog doesn’t even have a Doppler.

What it DOES have is a day named in its honor, complete with an annual festival in Punxsutawney, Pa. Every Feb. 2, a town big-wig in a top hat drags a sleepy groundhog out of its snug bed and holds “Punxsutawney Phil” aloft as a band plays and crowds cheer.

Everybody gets a kick out it except Phil, who always looks grumpy. You know what he’s thinking: he’d like to take a chomp out of Hizhonor’s ruddy nose and go back to sleep.

I figure the reason why Groundhog Day gets so much attention is because there’s not much competition in February. The month’s only other notable occasion is Valentine’s Day.

One year I got them confused and sent my sweetheart a groundhog.

Groundhogs are fascinating critters. They’re also known as woodchucks, and we’ve long wondered how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck would chuck wood.

They also go by “whistle pigs” because guy woodchucks often whistle at pretty girl woodchucks as they stroll past construction sites. (Actually, it’s because they emit a shrill warning whistle when frightened or startled.)

In addition to whistling, groundhogs can make a loud clacking sound by snapping their big sharp teeth together. It’s a warning for intruders to back off.

Groundhogs are, like Paul McCartney, harmless vegetarians. About the only trouble the chubby-cheeked little rodents cause is raiding a vegetable garden or tunneling under a fence and letting the chickens out.

In Tennessee, groundhogs are classified as furbearers (although groundhog-fur coats somehow never caught on in the fashion world) and can be hunted and trapped year-round, without limit.

Before coyotes moved in, groundhogs were the No. 1 quarry for varmint hunters. But I’ve never liked killing a wild critter that wasn’t edible. So, the only groundhog I ever dispatched, I ate.

Well, I took a bite or two.

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