Wait a minute. We go through this every Groundhog Day. He comes out and sees his shadow and goes back to bed, and that means something. You're supposed to remember.
What it means is six more weeks of winter. I looked it up. Every year I have to look it up.
(What if he doesn't happen to notice his shadow? What if he is unobservant? What if he sees his shadow and stays outdoors? Don't ask. In fact, shut up).
The people in Punxsutawney, Pa., where Groundhog Day is a major industry, are worried about Punxsutawney Phil, the official groundhog. Phil's first whife, Phyllis, died last year, and even though he has a new wife, Pricilla, no one is quite sure how the old boy is feeling about appearing in public.
"He usually lives in the groundhog zoo here," said Audrey Bidwell, society editor of The Spirit, "but tonight he and Pricilla will be taken up to their heated burrow on Gobblers Knob, and they'll spend the night there. He'll come out about 7:30 in the morning."
And what a sight he will see: at lest 400 fans, including foreign exhange students, tourists, policemen and Jefferson County officials. He and his predecessor, Punxsutawney Pete, have been forecasting for 93 years and were only wrong once.
There are pretenders, of course. There would be. Pothole Pete of New York and Jimmy the Groundhog of Wisconsin will make the papers again. They rarely agree.
Before we go any further, we have to make sure it is not a cuticism invented by those ever-cute Pennsylvania Dutch, though they probably did bring the custom over from Germany, where it was badgers, not groundhogs.
What we are talking about actually is Candlemas Day, the festival of the Purification of the Virgin, thought by some to go back to pagan days as the Roman ceremoney of Februation.
How Candlemas Day got entangled with the weather, no one knows for sure. But as Sir Thomas Browne used to mutter, "Si sol splendescat Maria purificante, Major erit glacies post festum quam fuit ante."
Which he is perfectly entitled to say, anytime he wants. The Scotch translated him in their eccentric way: If Candlemas day be dry and fair, The half o' winter's to come and mair; If Candlemas day be wet and foul, The half o' winter gane at Yule.
The groundhog is a woodchuck. You didn't have to tell that to a kid from upstate New York. It is also at the same time a marmot. To be precise, marmota monax.
It digs its holes on hillsides so that it can burrow upward from the entrance to keep the rain out. In the winter it hibernates (or cohibernates if married), for which occasion it puts on the pounds in the fall, weighing some 14 pounds when it goes to bed. By spring it has slimmed down to maybe 8 pounds and might find two or three babies in the den as well.
"Woodchucks feed chiefly during early morning and late afternoon," says the encyclopedia, "and spend most of the remaining time lying in the sun or sleeping in the nests at the bottom of their burrows."
You could do worse.
Farmers can't stand groundhogs. They call them whistlepigs, or as W.J. Hawk of Tennessee put it, "They're a reduced mastodon that survived the Ice Age."
Because they eat the crops, you see. And cows step in their holes and break their ankles. (The cow's ankles.)
In the Great Smokies, groundhog is considered a delicacy. It's better than possum, which tends to be stringy, they say.
"If you soak it overnight for a day or two in saltwater, take the ribs and back meat and filet them in good clear bear grease, put them in a wood stove oven that biscuit warm and cook it for a half day, it's dam good eating," says one mountain man.
Well, all right. But you just don't get good clear bear grease at the MacArthur Safeway nowadays. They only have the cloudy kind.
What is it about Groundhog Day that makes people do these things?
Rudy Vallee used to sing a groundhog song.
Rep. Ike Andrews of North Carolina sends his friends a Groundhog Day greeting card with a homemade poem He has been sending them since he was in grade school, and it has something to do with his father's birthday.
District Court Judge Lee Paschal does the drawings, and very well, too. Andrews, a Democrat, was influential enough with the state legislature to push through a resolution making Silver City the Groundhog Capital of North Carolina.
There is a West Virginia Groundhog Day Breakfast at Concord College. Every year on this day some citizen gets a special award for "making life here more colorful and interesting."
I am virtually certain that many other states, maybe all 50, have Groundhog Day capers too, but I would rather not hear about them.
Do you realize this is the only time in the whole year when good weather is considered a bad omen?
The thing that appeals to me about the groundhog is that it is so vague. It looks vague. You can't tell whether it is coming or going. It's has all those names. I read every one of the Thornton Burgesss books in my time, but the only face I remember was Johnny Chuck's. He looked quite a bit like my Aunt Edith.
Everyone thinks there was a groundhog in "the Wind in the Willows," but it was mole. There was also a badger. See what I mean? Vague. You think you are seeing someone's cat sidling across the pasture, but it walks wrong for a cat, and it sure isn't a dog, so it has to be . . . you know, that whatchamacallit, you know, like a porcupine, maybe a possum, no bigger than that, and not a raccoon either because it has no ears, and certainly not a skunk or prairie dog. Woops! There he goes, into the hole, melting vaguely out of sight. Oh well.