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
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
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