A Series of Groundhog Days

Groundhog Day 1: In Praise of the Groundhog

Did he see his shadow? What did it mean? For a couple of hours every Feb. 2, a  lot of the country is focused on this quasi-predictor of spring, making the lowly groundhog prognosticator par excellence for a day. As we write this on Monday, some are predicting that Evanston will have a foot of snow by the time the paper is delivered here – so maybe any local groundhogs had to dig a little deeper to get out. Or maybe they just stayed inside an ever-cozier den. (Or maybe, as often happens, the storm went south of us.)

But for a moment the fancy holds: We pretend that the little groundhog will predict the coming of spring, leaving the meteorologists to predict only whether he will see his shadow.

Groundhog Day 2:  The Groundhog’s Reprieve

If the groundhog did not see his shadow this morning, but instead popped out of his hole and walked around, we take it as a sign that spring is coming. If he saw his shadow and crawled back inside, we assume six more weeks of winter. Simply – probably too simply – put, if a cloud cover would not only block a shadow, it would also provide comparative warmth on a late winter day; conversely, high clouds and bright winter days – with shadows abundant – are generally colder. 

In either case, we get a reprieve: Either we have six more weeks to get all our winter things done and to keep our winter promises, or we can abandon them, plan our gardens and otherwise prepare for the arrival of spring.

Groundhog Day 3: The Universally Applicable and Adaptable Harbinger

That wily groundhog and his shadow: Either he saw it or he didn’t; either spring will come early or it won’t. The difference is a week:  Six weeks after Feb. 2 is March 16, and the vernal equinox is March 20. And if, for example, the Colorado groundhog saw its shadow and the Pennsylvania one did not, most of the rest of the country is left to choose. Wouldn’t it be great if all predictions were so clear and so universally applicable and adaptable?

Groundhog Day 4:  We All Saw a Shadow

Like the ground hog, perhaps we were pulled out of our comfort zone this morning to contemplate the shadow of violence: uprisings in the Middle East, repressive governments elsewhere, and, here at home, another exhibit in the culture of violence that is closing in on our young people.  We don’t have the option of crawling back into a hole and waiting it out.

We need to stay out of our comfort zone in order to help rescue our children from the seductiveness of something they really do not understand. Violence for some is seductive – it speaks of strength and action and immediate results, and too often our youth do not see beyond that to its insidiousness: It blocks constructive thinking and brings impulsiveness to the fore.  All too often the next step is violent – either  retribution, which perpetuates violence, or the accountability of the criminal justice system, which  tosses our youth into the violence of our prisons.

This community offers our youth plenty of alternatives to violence: education, art, physical training and restorative justice. It is up to us to show them the long-term worth of such things. In the movie “Groundhog Day,” the date repeats itself until most everyone gets it right. This is an appealing notion: We can keep at it, pulling our children from the darkness of violence to the light – keep on going until we get it right.