One day at the Tribal Adventures R.O.P.E.S. course Tom Payton and I looked out at the end of the Tecumseh Park and saw an animal that puzzled us. He stood up proud to be in such a beautiful place right near Lost Creek on Eastern Shawnee Tribal land. He stood and we wondered for quite awhile what exactly he could be. He didn't have a long tail, so he was not a beaver. He was much more substantial than a squirrel. Was he a badger? a woodchuck? We decided neither of us had seen a badger or as for myself, never a groundhog or a woodchuck, not understanding then they were one in the same. We decided on the spot that he must be a groundhog.
We were used to seeing animals on that property especially on the hill. There were chipmunks up on the course, but they were small. I remember resting one morning up on the course on the swinging log. The ground was covered with piles of leaves that fall and out in front of the log suddenly one at a time chipmunks popped their heads up only to hide again, rather like Jack-in-the-Box animals. We had had red foxes come up in the evenings as we were putting away ropes and harnesses. One day Tom took a teenager who had never been in the country up on the course to help set up for a group that was arriving later. They walked up quietly and startled a group of deer, Tom had to laugh when the boy exclaimed, “Look BIG DOGS!” But the Groundhog was a one time visitor and I was determined to learn more about them since there weren’t observance days for chipmunks, red foxes or deer, other than official legal HUNTING days!
After looking up pictures of groundhogs, it had been a confirmed sighting that day, he was right where he should have been where the woodland met the open space. Groundhogs are the largest in the squirrel family and are sometimes referred as a type of badger(thickwood) but got their “Indian name” wuchak from the Algonquian or the Narragansett languages.
The groundhog is a marmot, or a rodent and one of the only animals that actually hibernates during the winter. It is the hibernation that spun off the popular custom in America of Groundhog Day when he sees his shadow it is forecast six more weeks of winter.
That day is always February second and the famous Punxsutawney Phil did see his shadow this week and as such predicted six more weeks of winter. (Funny thing: no matter what in six weeks winter will be over and it will be officially Spring!)
I wonder if anyone was out in Tecumseh Park to see if their groundhog saw his shadow, and if no one was there to view the shadow, what kind of forecast do we have?
People my age remember the tongue-twister: How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? And the second line, which I never got to: A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could if a woodchuck could chuck wood. And thinking back to tongue-twisters, wonder why we thought that was fun to challenge each other to say?
In times past nature worship helped guide beliefs in the area where Germany is now. Farmers watched the badger to predict spring planting time. When Germans immigrated to Pennsylvania they brought that belief but without badgers, began watching the groundhog for guidance on when to plant their gardens. For 130 years the Punxsutawney Phils have been forecasting the coming of spring, and about 30% of the time, correctly.
The Lost Creek groundhog might be getting it right and we are blowing it by not gathering to find out. With climate change all bets may soon be off for both the groundhogs and badgers around the world. Hope these guys survive extinction, we will need our own guidance from them on how to garden in the decades to come.
But the woodchuck still won't be chucking wood.
Respectfully submitted ~ Rebecca Jim