Thursday, February 02, 2006

Nostradamus, Call your Office...
Today is Groundhog Day, a unique slice of Americana, the origins of which I know not, nor do I care to delve into them. Normally, whether or not a small, furry ground mammal sees it's shadow wouldn't interest me in the slightest, except for the nagging little itch at the back of my tiny mind that sometimes provokes me to something resembling thought.

The purpose of Groundhog Day, so I've been told, is to divine whether or not winter will last past a certain date, irrrespective of the actual Spring Solstice. In this bizarre ritual, a Groundhog is released from his burrow or cage or other contrivance, and if said groundhog "sees" his shadow, this somehow translates into another "six weeks of winter" or maybe it doesn't. I don't know the mechanics of groundhog vision, but I would assume all animals see their shadows, in one way or another, maybe just subconsciously taking note of a contrast in light and shadow. Who knows? Who Cares?

Apparently, a lot of people.

Watching the news this morning, one of the leading stories was the continuing saga of Punxsutawney Phil, a perennial staple of February 2nd newscasts. Phil (and let's face it; I don't know exactly how long a groundhog is expected to live, but this certainly can't be the original Punxsutawney Phil. My guess is that were on the umpteenth generation of shadow-spotting groundhogs) apparently saw his shadow, and so we are told, divined that winter weather will hang around for another 6 weeks or so. Some people swear by this method of forecasting the weather, but I'm not convinced. Totally. I mean, I could be, but it might be wrong. Or right. Who knows?

Staten Island Chuck, Phil's rival in prognostication, and local favorite, didn't see his shadow, or maybe he did but just couldn't find the words to convey that thought, and thus, we are assured that winter weather will not be hanging around that much longer.

What makes this slightly interesting is the crowds this sort of event draws. Here we are in the 21st century, and there are those of us still convinced that a rodent has better weather-predicting capabilities than Al Roker, he of the vast array of radars, technological crystal balls, and satellites. Why Al is so technologically advanced that, on the average day, he's probably 90% correct. That Al doesn't necessarily go out and take measurements of temperatures, atmospheric pressure, precipitation, et. al., matter not (he actually gets these figures from the National Weather Service. You know, the people who collect this information and run the satellites and radars. Considering that the figures and forecasts the Service generates are generally more correct than not, this may be the only arm of the government that is actually worth the expenditure).

Yet somehow, people all over America are apparently fascinated by this ritual of groundhog watching, granting it the slight favor of paganism, and imbuing it with some sort of legitimacy. They must enjoy it; they keep showing up every year.

It's just an intersting tidbit that makes you stop and think for a second or two; superstition and follore are not completely dead. Which, in a backhanded way, is a bit of a relief. I would hate to think that every aspect of our lives was ruled by some hard-and-fast rule developed in the antisceptic realm of the laboratory, or regulated by some black-magic device turned out in the millions in factories. Progress is nice, but it's also pretty cool to know that old traditions, no matter how stupid, always seem to survive.

Perhaps there's a muskrat out there somewhere who can tell us the results of the 2008 elections, or a beaver who can forecast gold futures.

No comments: