It’s a Lovely Day to be a Little Groundhog

Posted February 3rd, 2012

My parents apparently intended to name me “Maggie,” but settled on “John” when they became convinced I would be a boy; my mother, in a postnatal stupor, responded to a badgering nurse that my name was “Ellen” and that’s what stuck. They still like the name Maggie, though, and went out and bought a toy Manchester terrier puppy shortly thereafter and named her Maggie. Maggie’s birthday was February 2, Groundhog Day, and I have never gone by that date without thinking about her.

John Emms, toy Manchester terrier, Ch Benham Busybody (1900)

While it’s something of a chicken-and-egg proposition, memories of Maggie make me more aware of Groundhog Day and the hope of an early spring.

Punxatawney Phil is dragged annually into the glare of television lights so that his weather prognostications—or the assumptions about what those prognostications might be—can be announced to all and sundry watching a national morning-news program. I always feel sorry for that furry fellow as he’s held aloft, sleepy and obviously taken aback by all the fuss.

woodchuck and wildflowers

I like groundhogs, or woodchucks as we tend to call them around here. One—or maybe it’s a few—have dens nearby. Not long after we moved into this house, I stepped out on the patio in time to see a sumoesque specimen, sleek umber fur gleaming in the afternoon sun, undulate down the garden slope, fat from a summer spent chowing down on the plenty of gardens and woodland. Our late and much-loved Corgi, Morgan, enjoyed chasing them around the golf course on the Aberdeen Proving Ground—back before 9/11 when the Proving Ground’s golf course, woods and shoreline were playgrounds for local folk.

Groundhog Day is the hump-day of winter, that moment when the vernal equinox is only a week shy of being closer rather than farther from the winter solstice. While I much prefer winter to summer, and would gladly exchange those months of sultry heat and humidity for persistent snow and freezing temperatures, I yearn for the damp mildness that I know is on the way. I love what the Irish call a “soft morning” when my skin loses the dry itchiness of winter and all the world is a sponge, saturated with rain. I am mesmerized by the light that suddenly takes on a tint of palest green as it shines through branches dotted with not-quite-visible buds.

I feel the intense aliveness of springtime, the activity in the woods as birds migrate through and frogs vocalize their love, and sense the acceleration of time and the imminence of summer’s torpid grip.

Groundhog Day is a happy day for me.

Lucy's hands

It must be for Lucy Holstedt, too. Lucy was a classmate at Emma Willard School and has been for a good many years a faculty member at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Music—organized and spontaneous, classical, popular and uncategorizable—infused those years. Lucy was one of the most gifted students in the school—and even then a serious musician who never took herself so seriously that pure and sometime silly pleasure wasn’t important.

Lucy let us know this year that “it’s a lovely day to be a little groundhog.” (Here’s a link even if it doesn’t look like one, so mouse over and click: “It’s a Lovely Day to be a Little Groundhog” by Lucy Holstedt.) Ain’t it wonderful?


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