Groundhog Day has come and gone.
This year the little-rat-bastard saw his shadow implying six more weeks of the dark and dreary cold of which many are weary.
Now I know that few people actually, truly, believe that some overgrown ground dwelling squirrel can actually predict a seasonal shift with any meteorological certainty, however the mere staying power of the tradition says something — we demand assurances. Assurances make us feel safe, warm and certain — in short less fearful.
Perhaps more to the point is that the tradition of yanking the sorry rodent from his den offers an opportunity to scapegoat. As we all know, America loves its scapegoats. We need to know that spring will sprung, preferably sooner rather than later, and if it doesn’t we know who to blame: Punxsutawney Phil.
If you hate the fact that high and low pressure systems are duking it out and dumping tons of late-February snow over the Great Lakes before heading straight for New England, blame that chubby marmot down in Pennsylvania. If only he weren’t rattled by his own damnable shadow, right?
Maybe there’s a lesson embedded in the groundhog superstition: jumping at your own shadow results in nothing but anguish. The shadow can take many forms aside from the actual shape cast by one’s own form. It can be anything that aggravates the region buried within our brains. One theory holds that the amygdala might be the key to unravelling our “fight or flight” responses. Other researchers suggest it’s more complex than that.
Either way, we respond with cartoonish contempt towards anyone, or anything, that jumps and scurries away at the sight of its own shadow. How can it be that something as intimate and as connected to us as our own shadow makes the hair stand up on the back of our neck our heart skip a beat?
For the groundhog at least, there is a slight explanation. Turns out that males emerge from their dens in February to mate. Females stay in their burrows waiting for the males to find their dens. The male groundhog running around, all amped up, sees his own shadow perhaps mistaking it as that of another male competitor.
And listen, if said boy groundhog successfully finds said girl groundhog’s den, then certainly he should say upon entering, “Listen there’s something big and dark chasing me so we better just stay inside for, like, another six weeks. Whadaya say?”
That’s one way to get the girl.
So, maybe the repercussions of flinching at the shadow aren’t all bad. That is if you have another like-minded groundhog with whom to burrow beneath an afghan while bingeing Netflix and downing chocolate chip toffee cookies.
If that’s the case then I will certainly run from my shadow more often than I already do.