In the Shadow of Winter

Shadow9This past weekend, we had planned on running the Groundhog Jog in Punxsutawney, PA. One of the many winter storms that marched through the area made us decide not to chance the 2 hour drive there to run to Gobbler’s Nob and back, We had enjoyed the run a couple of years ago and were really disappointed to not get to run with such great people again.

I doubt anyone is missing my weekly updates like I did last year. I have been running a lot less this winter. My work has sapped my energy and I am taking on as much of it as I can to help pay for my tuition for summer school. Yes, I have committed to going back to school, for a week. This time for the the interest and focus I should have stuck with in the first place, the arts. I will be spending a week in Vermont for an intensive on making comics and cartoons at the Center for Cartoon Studies.

The comics on this page are a few from what I drew on February 1 as part of a challenge to draw a comic every hour you are awake. It is called Hourly Comics Day and I have been wanting to try it for years. I ended up drawing 18 different panels and of course it had to be the day the storm cancelled our trip to Punxsutawney. As you will see at the bottom of the page, we swapped the 4 mile race for a nice 8 miles around the neighborhood as the winter storm set in.

I can say I really enjoy a break from the added commitment of making time to write, it has allowed me to try some new things and shift my focus. Obviously we are still running and one of the new things is a monthly, podcast style recording of running in central Pennsylvania called Run Pennsyltucky. For those of you who are interested, there is a week to still enter our contest that gives away an entry to Harrisburg’s Capital 10-miler. Listen in on our most recent recording as we run along the first half of the course in Harrisburg and describe the race.
Shadow9-11
We didn’t get to see the groundhog. The next morning Punxsutawney Phil, in the middle of the winter storm, still saw his shadow. Not early spring for us but we will try to make the best of it here in central PA.

Groundhog Jog

A real (unwritten) bucket list moment for me, I met Punxy Phil and his handler John Griffiths!!

A real (unwritten) bucket list moment for me, I met Punxy Phil and his handler John Griffiths!!

Supported by Gingerbread Man Running this year was the Groundhog Jog in Punxsutawney, PA. It was set to be run the day after Groundhog Day and the course had runners actually take a turn through the famous Gobbler’s Knob.

Punxsutawney Phil uncharacteristically predicted an early Spring this year. This was because he didn’t see his shadow in the series of snow storms that have been hitting Pennsylvania this weekend. They were so significant that we almost decided not to go to the race at all since we had attended the festival in years past.

At 7:30 this morning, we saw that we would have a safe window of travel and carefully set out on a 2 hour drive to Punxsutawney. Although there was some snow and wet road conditions all went well and we arrive in town in time to warm up and check out where the cute groundhog makes his home most of the year. We saw him deep within his burrow in the local library. I was happy just to see his eye and continued to get ready.

Punxy Phill and his followers.

Punxy Phil and his followers

Jimmy the Eye shares our good fortune just before the race:
One of the advertised features of this race was having Punxsutawny Phil and his handler, John Griffiths, at the start of the race. I spotted them heading toward the start line as we finished our warmup jog around a couple of nearby blocks. I hustled back to the car to drop off my hearing aids and told Terri I’d be right back to join her. I assumed the handler would be holding onto Phil for a few photos before the run, but as I rounded the corner, I saw Phil standing the handler’s shoulders with his forepaws gripping onto Mr. Griffiths’ top hat! Terri was right beside them the handler shifted a bit to allow us to get some great photos of Phil. That was so very crazy, because Phil was so very comfortable up there, and it reminded me of our cat Birbanto and how he needs to ride up on our shoulders around our home. I assumed that Mr. Griffiths would have had him in a gentle but firm grip the whole time he was outside since Phil is wild animal acclimated to people. What a thrill for the start of the race! Apparently Phil does this trick all the time; I found this photo on NPR.

The run was very cold and the “trek” up to Gobbler’s Knob was quite a hill, much like Struble Hill going up Nittany Mountain.

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This little run in the snow was pretty hard for me today and I may have more energy to update it with our finishing times later. I really wanted to share the photos and what a great time we had. It was pretty in the snow and the 20 some participants were all very pleasant folks. It was an enjoyable race with some terrific swag. No t-shirts but check out the slideshow above to see the great stuff!

Groundhog Day

What might compel us to consider taking part in the annual trek to Gobbler’s Knob? Held by some as the most insipid of holidays, Groundhog Day is one of my favorites. Pennsylvania’s own famous weather predicting groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, seems like an odd icon for a holiday to be formed around. It’s said that the holiday stems from the ancient belief that hibernating creatures were able to predict the arrival of springtime by their emergence.

The German immigrants, known as Pennsylvania Dutch, brought the tradition to America in the 18th century. They had once regarded the badger as the winter-spring barometer. But the job was reassigned to the groundhog after importing their Candlemas traditions to the U.S. Candlemas commemorates the ritual purification of Mary, 40 days after the birth of Jesus.

Candlemas is one of the four “cross-quarters” of the year, occurring half way between the first day of winter and the first day of spring. Traditionally, it was believed that if Candlemas was sunny, the remaining six weeks of winter would be stormy and cold. But if it rained or snowed on Candlemas, the rest of the winter would be mild. If an animal “sees its shadow,” it must be sunny, so more wintry weather is predicted:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

What’s not to love? You have to celebrate the fact that day light hours are noticeably longer. Badger, gopher, groundhog, marmot, hedgehog or what ever, they are a cute way of recognizing the end of hibernation is near.

In 1994 we met Tracdc to attend Punxsutawney’s Groundhog Day festivities. It was the year the town helped the video game Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (with the shadow-like demi character of Knuckles) debut and the year after the famed Groundhog Day movie. Ravenboy was nine years old and totally addicted to his Sega video games. Sonic the Hedgehog was his favorite. I remember a rap he made at the time:

Sonic and me are friends
We like to play to the day’s end
Sonic and me
Especially

I think you can catch the general feeling that we were a family that was a bit more sedentary than we are now. There is no parking at Gobbler’s Knob proper and none of us were up to hiking back country roads at 2:00 AM. We caught one of the many shuttle busses before 3:00 AM. It was about 12° that chilly February night as we stood for hours near where Punxsutawney Phil was in his cozy little temporary enclosure. Tracdc reminded me that the cold effected her asthma and that her inhaler froze. We had to go into a nearby building to thaw it out so that she could use it.

Eventually the marmot was pulled from his hut and made his prediction, an obvious one. I then remember waiting in the line for the returning shuttle bus for what felt like the predicted final 6 weeks of winter. When we got back to town we grabbed some watery hot chocolate at a Burger King. Ravenboy’s hands were so cold he spilled his hot drink all over my legs. After the initial burn it felt really good and I thanked him.
The call of Gobbler’s Knob is strong this year. The holiday is on a weekend and the crowds will be fierce but that hasn’t deterred my interest. I called yesterday to ask how many folks actually trek to Gobbler’s Knob. The fellow at the Community Center said only a few young people did it, most catch the shuttle busses. I confirmed that the roads to the Knob were eventually out of town and that flashlights might be recommended. I asked what route he suggested to walk and he seemed to draw a blank. Something tells me that he has never made the actual “trek” to Gobbler’s Knob.

We know the weather is supposed to be dicey until midday Friday but it is not until then that when we are planning on heading out. There are a few activities that sound like a lot of fun in town, including a scavenger hunt. We will also be taking a huge cut out of Punxsutawney Phil to wave on a stick (see below) so try to pick us out us on the sometimes national morning news coverage of the event. It will be early, Phil makes his prediction about 7:25 AM. After that I will go back into hibernation. updated information on our trip in comments

Here are some fun links for those of you who can’t make the trek this year:
Visit PA :: Grounhog Day
Groundhog Day 2008 Schedule of Events
Punxsutawney Phill’s page
Punxsutawney’s Page
2007 Groundhog Crossing – a cross country adventure trying to reunite the groundhog with his shadow
2008 Groundhog Duel – Groundhog and Shadow’s continued adventures and battle
Plush – A tabloid style blog dishing dirt on celebs Groundhog and Shadow
PA Highways Groundhog Day page