Here in the United States, in a place called Punxsutawney (Pennsylvania), a groundhog named Phil will let his faithful followers know if they can expect an early spring or six more weeks of winter.
It seems like a very uncertain way to predict the weather, but Phil has been right at least as often as the National Weather Service, which has Doppler radar and other high-tech prediction tools.
The date is February 2. If Phil comes out of his hill and sees his shadow, it’s winter for sure. Otherwise, people who live in the Northeastern states – once called Pilgrims – can start looking for signs of spring. These include cherry blossoms, crocus, termites, ants, and cockroaches. Ah, spring …
People in the Upper Midwest do not think much of Phil’s prophetic powers. For them, it is almost always six more weeks of winter no matter what. In fact, it’s common to see snow as late as May 3. Since this is also opening fishing day weekend, most dedicated anglers from Michigan to Minnesota tend to regard Mother Nature as a vengeful old witch.
In Arizona, it is pretty much summer all year long. Temperatures range from lows in the double digits across the state, to highs in the 70s at higher elevations. At lower elevations, Yuma – and, to a lesser degree, Phoenix – can see temperatures in the triple-digit range in summer. However, as any Arizonian will tell you, it’s a dry heat, and that does make all the difference.
Arizonians who pay attention to Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions likely do so out of a sense of nostalgia. Representing about 37,000 individuals in 2013, these transplants from harsher climates come for the warmth and stay for the laid-back lifestyle.
So who is Punxsutawney Phil, besides a clearly magical groundhog that has emerged on February 2 for the last 129 years? He may be living in Pennsylvania, but he is clearly feasting on a variety of fresh, nutritious Arizona fruits and vegetables. How else to explain his phenomenal longevity?
Note: if you are thinking of getting a groundhog as a pet – though we wouldn’t recommend it – they pretty much live on greens, fruits, and vegetables. They need very little water and get most of it from their food. Sounds like an ideal Arizona pet, though, doesn’t it?
Did you know that Phil is also:
- Called by his full name once a year? You try saying Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinary more often than that!
- A legend that started with German immigrants, who transformed Candlemas Day into Phil Day? The Candlemas legend goes like this: “For as the sun shines on Candlemas day, so far will the snow swirl in May…”
- Twenty-two inches long, and weighs 20 pounds? Most groundhogs are smaller, at an average 20 inches and 12 – 15 pounds. Again, it’s those wonderful Arizona veggies and fruits.
- More than 18 times older than other groundhogs, which live an average of seven years? How does Phil do that? Rumor has it he takes a magical potion every summer that extends his lifespan by a year. I can’t do the math on that, but I do know the potion has at least a cupful of Arizona-grown spinach in it.
- Named after a Native American Pokunoket Chief called King Phillip (of First Indian War fame)? Before the Phil tag, he was commonly called Br’er Groundhog.
- Sort of like a cat, or a dog, in that he goes “belly up” during hot weather? But he is also a sociable sort, so if you catch his interest by tapping on the window glass of his car – known as the Philmobile – he will gladly roll right side up and say high.
- The sole resident of Gobbler’s Knob, which – while named for the wild turkeys of the region – is now too public for any creature except Phil?
- A big fan of granola bars? Phil even has a favorite brand, but we consider it unethical business practice to name it here. Suffice to say that after every meal of Arizona-grown veggies and fruits, Phil has a dessert that is actually fairly good for him.
Way to go, Phil! See you next spring. Keep eating those Arizona greens.
- Get to Know Your Leafy Greens (fillyourplate.org)
- Little Known Facts About Lettuce (fillyourplate.org)