Our National Holiday


Finally, the day you’ve been living over and over again for almost a year is officially here! I’m referring, of course, to Groundhog Day, hitherto an obscure and underrated holiday whose elevation I’ve proposed as an apt celebration of the American character.

But I didn’t quite intend this level of elevation, this much capturing of our experience! Seriously, I could do without Groundhog Day as a national meme baked into our collective unconscious because of COVID Times. Like Bill Murray in the famous film, the alarm goes off and we are eternally trapped in the same day. Also with the same people, same four walls, same conversations, same Zoom screens, same Netflix stupor, same quiet unraveling. And that’s if we’re lucky!

The tedium is broken up by panic attacks about paying the bills, homeschooling the kids, elderly parents dying alone, sniffles spelling death–you name it. Not to mention anxiety about armed anti-maskers storming state capitols and militant anti-reality mobs staging an insurrection at our nation’s Capitol under the direction of Donald Trump. So much for subscribing to the “What’s the downside to humoring him?” theory.

This got me thinking about whether groundhogs are harmless hibernators who sometimes bite people who haul them out of their slumber, or if there’s a darker side to these reluctant rodent celebrities. As one gardening website asks, “Can that cute groundhog really cause damage?”

Yes, as it turns out. Much like insurrectionists and their leaders, “If not properly controlled, groundhogs can cause serious structural damage when burrowing. Their tunnels break apart building foundations . . . ” An easy Google ramble further reveals the answers to some of the most vexing questions, including my favorite: “Are groundhogs good for anything?” This is artfully evaded with a sort of “All God’s Creatures” vibe, plus a passing note that they’re vegetarians.

More pragmatically, we learn how to get rid of a groundhog:

Sprinkle blood meal, ground black pepper, dried blood, or talcum powder around the perimeter of your garden.

Puree and strain hot peppers and garlic, mix them with water and enough liquid soap to make it stick, and spray it liberally around the garden.

Would that these methods worked with insurrectionists and conspiracy theorists!

Anyway, today’s news is that the groundhog foretells 6 more weeks of winter. Had it been cloudy, it would have been slightly shorter. Since the daffodils are currently blooming where I live, and since the calendar notes that Spring will be here no matter what in about six weeks, I smell a hoax. Or some kind of rodent.

At any rate, we did wake to a slightly new day on January 20. President Biden has a plan to bring us out of our long, dark winter. No groundhog can tell how long it will take to emerge from Covid Times based on the presence or absence of its shadow. Assuming vaccination rates continue to improve, here’s a better predictor of how many more deaths will occur depending on how we (and Congress) all act in the meantime.

As Bill Murray learned in Groundhog Day, he had choices within his trap, choices that led to remaining stuck or breaking free. So do we.

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