Groundhog Days ~ And Nights

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For those of you with a touch of Groundhog energy, here’s some new info to flesh out your understanding…

Woodchucks aren’t forecasting the weather when they emerge—they’re looking for love

The Truth about Groundhog Day
http://www.nwf.org/news-and-magazines/national-wildlife/animals/archives/2006/groundhogs.aspx

Stam Zervanos, a biology professor at Pennsylvania State University’s Berks-Lehigh Valley College has made a discovery that could, um, cast a shadow on Groundhog Day. Male woodchucks, as the animals are also known, aren’t checking the weather when they wake up in early February, says Zervanos. They’re scoping for potential mates.

Yes, Groundhog Day is more like Valentine’s Day. When a male groundhog wakes up in February from its three-month-long hibernation, he leaves his burrow and goes for a stroll around the ol’ territory—a tract of about 2 to 3 acres. When he comes to a female’s burrow (there may be several within his territory), he ducks inside and stays the night. The next morning he continues on his tour. “Each male visits two or three females,” says Zervanos.

But he is pretty sure the sleepover parties are tame. “We know they are not mating because no baby groundhogs are born in early March,” he says. (The groundhog gestation period is about 30 days.) After the February cuddlefest, the male goes back to his own pad, rolls up in a ball and sleeps for another month.

So what’s with the rodent sleepovers? “They’re a chance to bond,” Zervanos suggests. The February visits may serve as “getting to know you” sessions—obviating the need to spend lots of time exchanging biological details in March. As far as Zervanos knows, this speed-dating behavior is unique to groundhogs. “I think it’s a major find,” he says.

When the groundhogs wake up for good in March, the males drop in on the females again for a week of wild groundhog mating.

Zervanos still has questions about groundhogs. He wonders if females are ever visited by more than one male

Between Charm and Magic

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Snowflakes, pouring down out of the boundless darkness of the night sky. Snowflakes, brilliant white in the headlights, accelerating willfully into the windshield. Big, silver dollar snowflakes, swirling into gentle collisions with each other, lacing together into strands of delicate snow garlands, that tumble down from the black void to the earth below.

Sitting in the backseat of the big station wagon, wedged between a bevy of sisters, I lean forward, over the front seat, over my younger brother’s head, leaning forward as though to meet the snowflakes in their headlong rush toward me.

My entire world is windshield and snow flying out of the darkness, framed by the bundled shoulders of my father and mother. Encased in a traveling snow globe, traversing the short distance between charm and magic.

Behind us, our tracks in the new fallen snow lead back to grandma and grandpa’s house, to rice pudding, cousins, aunts and uncles, back to the cozy, candle-lit charm of elder-family tradition.

Before us lies the untracked road to the magic of our glowing Christmas tree. From under its tinseled boughs spills a cascade of packages, awaiting our return.

Each Christmas Eve of my childhood, this same moment recurs. The same snowflakes, the same slow, gentle ride down the empty, white country road, the same suspension of all noise and haste. It is an enchanted moment, where contentment and anticipation merged into holy bliss.

The lingering contentment now sustains us as we ride, shoulders hunched in the frigid car, leaving behind us grandma’s warm house, with its dark aged furniture and pantry filled with foods she had canned herself, and old pictures upon the walls, a living shrine to family and heritage. We sat in ladder-backed chairs around the formal dining table, with china plates filled with rice pudding, white as snow, until buttered, cinnamoned, and brown-sugared into a luscious puddle of ocher goo, sipping heavy grape juice from cut glass goblets, partaking of the last supper from another era.

Anticipation builds as we approach our farmstead. We shall open the door of our simple home and spill into the quiet of the house, all eyes leaping to the tree – and the wonders beneath its blessing branches. There is a scramble to remove mittens, hats, coats, and boots; followed by a swarm into the living room, to form a ring of seven gaping children, taking in the gifts, wondering what each of the magnificent packages might contain.

But still, I am riding in the station wagon, gazing upon the holy white rain that falls from the heavens. Through some incantation of the nature sprites, this holiness has emerged from some high flung, amorphous mist, suspended there until that mystical, infinitesimal moment when out of it crystallizes the six-dimensional perfection of Snowflakes. And I am suspended there, in the car, in the heavens, in that holy moment, poised between charm and magic.

 

(I wrote this in 2003, inspired by the Dylan Thomas prose poem, A Child’s Christmas in Wales)