By Scott Morris
Every day of 2020 is Groundhog Day.
Those of us who want to live through the current pandemic to see if tomorrow is going to be another Groundhog Day are mostly staying home, mostly staying to ourselves. We’re scared of our own shadow.
When we venture out into public long enough to buy bread and milk, we wear masks that hide any hope of human connection. The people we encounter from six feet away don’t know if we’re smiling or scowling. We scan the COVID-19 battlefield for coughs, sniffles and sneezes.
Under the monotony of house arrest, we test some of the adages about absence making the heart grow fonder and familiarity breeding contempt.
At our home, Groundhog Day has taken on literal meaning. We receive daily visits from the fat and furry critters eating clover and wild grasses on the steep slope heading down to our side yard.
Daughter No. 2 names all the woodland creatures and neighborhood cats around our cottage. There are Dave the possum, Kuperu and Max the cats. Some of the various foxes, deer and chipmunks haven’t received names yet.
When our daughter spotted the first groundhog shuffling through the English ivy, she named it Fat Scrat. She explained he was fat and scatted away, but she figured “Fat Scrat” sounded better than “Fat Scat,” so she went with it. Can’t argue with that.
Recently, she made the exciting announcement that Fat Scrat has a female partner. The name of the newest groundhog is still under consideration.
“Mom likes Mrs. Fat Scrat for the smaller one,” Daughter No. 2 said, “but Fat Scrat’s Lover sounds funnier to me.”
More recently, things got weird on the groundhog romance scene. We spotted a third little fatty dining with the Scrat family. We’re not sure what to make of this disturbing discovery. Maybe the French could explain it.
During the monotony of the coronavirus pandemic, the Scrats provide a nice diversion from Netflix, books, crossword puzzles and incessant smartphone-scrolling. From the air-conditioned side of the windows, we watch the animals scurry through the yard, munching green stuff and occasionally striking a prairie dog pose on their hind legs.
In case you’ve never seen a groundhog, think of a beaver with a rat’s tail.
According to nationalgeographic.com, groundhogs are the largest members of the squirrel family, averaging about 13 pounds, with bodies up to 24 inches long. Add another seven to 10 inches for the rattails.
“These rodents live a feast-or-famine lifestyle,” the National Geographic article states. “They gorge themselves all summer to build up plentiful reserves of fat, then after the first frost retreat to their underground burrows to snooze until spring, drawing their sustenance from body fat.”
The emergence of groundhogs after hibernation led to Groundhog Day, held every Feb. 2. If a groundhog sees its shadow that day, expect six more weeks of winter.
Groundhogtologists link the origins to the Germanic tradition of Candlemas Day, a Christian feast day. A sunny Candlemas Day means a longer winter.
Groundhogs truly are masters at predicting spring weather. They have a short window between leaving their hibernation chamber and raising a family while abundant food is available.
The animals are loners, only seeking one another out when it’s time to mate in March. A litter usually contains about six babies, which stay with their mother for several months before leaving the burrow for good.
These independent social tendencies don’t seem to hold true with the Scrat family. Unless the big guy we call Fat Scrat is really Mama Scrat, and the smaller two are her offspring.
I’m sure we’ll get plenty more chances to watch from the window and solve this great mystery. Because every day is Groundhog Day.