Tuesday, February 2, 2010  
   Volume 80 - Issue 5 Website:www.passherald.ca   email: passherald@shaw.ca   $1.00   
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Quote of the Week
“The gallery is for the community, so this is a show essentially for people in the community who want to put something in.”
- Belinda Belseck  
- on the open community   
exhibit at the Art Gallery   

 

A Fragile Lens- Nathen GallagherLooking at it objectively, North America is home to a lot of interesting customs that have grown, changed, and been passed on along the years, some stretching back much further than anyone alive can remember yet still attended to faithfully by people everywhere.
We eat turkey, we hunt for painted eggs, we wear green, we give people presents, we dress up in costumes and ask for candy. We do these things because we've always done them, because we learned them when we were young, and because they give us an excuse to share in a specific type of fun with other people.
But on February 2, the day of this paper's publication, we annually engage in perhaps the strangest of our formalized traditions. On February 2, we watch a rodent come out of a hole and use his shadow as an indication of how much longer winter will last.
How did we reach the point where animal shadows predicted the weather? According to Wikipedia, Groundhog Day began in Pennsylvania as a Germanic custom in the 18th and 19th centuries. The origins, I read, are in "ancient European weather lore, wherein a badger or sacred bear is the prognosticator as opposed to a groundhog."
According to lore, if the groundhog sees his shadow on February 2, it will be frightened and retreat into its burrow, signifying that there will be six more weeks of winter. If, on the other hand, the groundhog does not see its shadow, it will venture outside and spring will come early.
Though this is a rather strange custom, you could argue that it's as good a way as any to predict seasonal weather trends. The accuracy is surely comparable to any other method -- the Farmer's Almanac, the weather channel, the feeling in your bones, visiting a fortune teller, reading fish guts, et cetera.
As many as 40,000 people attend the Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania every year. Think about that number. An estimated 30,000 people come to the Crowsnest Pass every year for Thunder in the Valley, and that's a lot of people. But even more people gather to watch a groundhog waddle out of a burrow to see if it's sunny. That's pretty incredible.
In fact, that's more than incredible -- that's the money-making opportunity of a lifetime, and this glorified gopher isn't even taking advantage of it. Sure, the official groundhog has an easy life, at least as far as groundhogs go. But think how much it could do with a proper agent.
 
Can't you see it? Groundhog appearances in Las Vegas, an exclusive interview with Katie Couric, licensed merchandise, a debut musical album featuring the vocal stylings of everyone's favourite groundhog, a groundhog store in New York City. Then the inevitable celebrity slide into drugs and adultery, culminating in the groundhog apologizing to America on national television and swearing that it will put in the effort to be a better rodent, for the sake of all its fans, friends, and family. Followed by an official biography, book signing tours, and a heartwarming movie starring Robert Downey Jr. as the groundhog and Morgan Freeman as the agent.
The money would go toward constructing the largest groundhog burrow in the world, a maze of tunnels and dens the size of a mansion, so that the groundhog could sleep in any seven hundred themed groundhog rooms. With a smaller human mansion on the side for the agent.
Better yet, why does it have to be a groundhog? Only muddled tradition dictates that a groundhog gets all this attention, after all, and traditions can be changed. If 40,000 people are going to show up to watch something look for its shadow, why not me?
Every February 2 I could emerge from my burrow (or apartment), stretch lazily, and look around at the ground. If I see my shadow I'll yelp and run back inside, and winter will last six more weeks. If I don't see my shadow I'll assume all is safe, walk down to the store for some food, and everyone can rejoice that spring will come early.
I guarantee you that this would be just as accurate as the groundhog method, with the added benefit of me being able to make lots of money off it. This is what you call win-win.
According to a Canadian study of 13 cities over the last 30-plus years, the groundhog's success rate is a mere 37 percent. The National Climatic Data Center puts the groundhog at 39 percent. I am confident that I could match this, and propose that we immediately declare a Groundnate Day and invite 40,000 people -- for the good of us all, and most importantly for the good of me.
Happy Groundhog Day!
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