In Pennsylvania they have Punxsutawney Phil. In neighboring Ohio there is Buckeye Chuck. I’m not actually certain if the ritual is observed there, but if there is Groundhog Day in Canada I rather imagine that there is some such moniker as Glace Bay Gord or Winnipeg Wilf. Maybe it’s Woodchuck Day in Canada, and like their Thanksgiving it is likely observed six weeks apart from our own. Given the length of Canadian winters I would reckon their Groundhog/Woodchuck Day to land somewhere around 16 March. Any interested Canadians are invited to share their insights on this topic in the comment section below. You don’t have to be an actual Canadian; an alleged Canadian will do. Really anyone, except Justin Bieber or Ryan Reynolds.
Well, we have waxed Canadian for quite long enough I should think. Groundhog Day is an American phenomenon which has been, by the silent hand of some unnamed grace, legitimized by it’s printed recognition in most common calendars. In the pantheon of meaningless symbolism that comprises the American holiday calendar Groundhog Day has been elevated to rock star status as a result of the 1993 film of the same name. For most of us within a certain age bracket we find that the film and the day itself are forever and inextricably linked in our hearts and minds. It is for this very reason that the Ale 81 Inn and Milhouse Farms chose Groundhog Day for the premiere of our Chairman’s Choice. That, and the Hilltop Groundhog Lasagna Festival. I mean come on…. fresh, roadkill groundhog and lasagna? What self respecting stoner could resist this?
It saddens me greatly to share this news, but it turns out that this decision was taken without the benefit of all relevant data. Though it was hardly our intention at the outset, we have since come to learn that there is rather a lot more involved in Groundhog Day than any of us knew. In a landscape where truth has taken heavy casualties we will proceed with some caution from here. We will attempt to be sensitive to a populace which may have been rendered too vulnerable to fully absorb these shocking revelations. If the fear and tumult of the past twelve months has left you feeling more easily triggered than normal then my advice would be that you stop here. Should you choose to proceed, do so at your own peril.
The Hilltop Groundhog Lasagna Festival went on as planned, despite a weekend winter storm and the chill and bitter winds that followed in it’s wake. The hearty citizens of neighborhoods like Wiltshire Heights, Holly Hill, Briggsdale, and lest we forget our brethren from north of route 40, even Valleyview were represented. From aging and weathered Anchor-Hocking crockery to the more modest $2 foil pan from Dollar General, they came all with their gourmet inspired interpretations of one of the world’s most beloved rodent-themed pasta dishes. The parade, postponed to Monday for inclement weather, was an abbreviated affair conducted with a modest fleet of pickup trucks led by a garbage truck of a private sanitation firm. The garbage truck with yellow caution lights flashing proceeded at the front as a sort of terrestrial icebreaker, leaving a passable set of ruts in the frozen slush for the parade to follow. Other trucks, vans and popup tents ringed the Confederate Cemetery, the steam from their many chafing pans escaping to form a cloud interspersed with liberal amounts of cannabis fume. It is said that there may have been Irish coffee and other warming beverages on offer in some of those tents. I personally did not get the chance to try it myself, but there was talk of a “Cocoa Captain”: a hot cocoa spiked with Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum. It can fairly be said that what the residents of the Hilltop may lack in sophistication they more than make up for in inventiveness.
After the official crowning of Karen Cox-Zucker as the 2021 Groundhog Lasagna Queen the top prize lasagna was announced. This year’s prize winner was a dark horse in the race, Mr. Otis “Whitey” Cruikshank of North Wheatland Avenue. Mr. Cruikshank is the proud recipient of a year’s supply of Mountain Dew and Slim Jims, redeemable at the BP station on the corner of Hague and Sullivant Avenues. In glee of his victory Whitey was inspired to don an adult sized groundhog suit and dance about the crowd, exhorting them to greater celebration of that Groundhog Day magic. Though his intentions were completely benign, the results were counterproductive. The home made suit animated by his unsteady movements bore more of a resemblance to a brown bear with Tourette’s Syndrome and really only served to frighten the young children. What public event isn’t complete without shrieking infants?
As daylight waned on Monday evening the citizens of Hilltop began to make ready for the Groundhog Day Eve vigil. Before everything was broken down and the crowd began to disperse I had an announcement to share. I was acutely aware that this announcement would be a complete buzzkill, so I held it back for as long as possible. I did not have the heart to break the merriment of the day with this sad news, but I realized that it had to be done. Better to save it for the end.
” Ladies and gentlemen, could I have your attention for just a moment? I have an announcement to make before everything wraps up here. I am… I am afraid that I have a bit of sad news to share. I didn’t want to dampen the occasion before now, but this has to be told.” A slow murmur grew and then a hush fell over the crowd. “Tomorrow is indeed Groundhog Day and nothing will change that. Make no mistake: your efforts here are profoundly appreciated. Despite this, however, there will be no groundhog tomorrow morning.”
I paused at this point, thinking that this would be met with a sudden outburst of shock and disbelief, perhaps even howls of derision. Instead there were only muted groans of disappointment. I had expected that surely one person would cry out “Why?”, but that did not happen. It was a reaction of a populace who has come to expect that no matter what they do there will be some nameless, faceless prick to thwart their desires. There is no explanation to be expected, only blind compliance. And so they part in sullen silence, scheming how they might circumvent yet another round of ill informed and baseless regulations foisted upon them. As more and more rules are added to the game they have simply opted out of playing altogether. This has become a common theme nationally with a strong and surly undercurrent. Despots dance as the alternative economy grows under their noses and the people see that the state is not a partner in prosperity, rather it is a parasite riding upon it.
The distribution of The Chairman’s Choice continues apace, despite being cheated of the inaugural event. In what follows here you will learn that this theft occurred not as a result of any government intervention, rather it comes as a result of the groundhog likewise deciding to gather up it’s toys and go home. They have decided that they don’t want to play any more. I know this because they told me in a clandestine meeting on Sunday 31 January. I warned you that these revelations might be shocking.
In preparation for our premiere I sought out the local groundhog population for coordination. To begin it should be stated that the Groundhog Day celebration is not the result of various and random woodchucks deciding to poke their heads out of their burrows at some appointed hour to amuse their fellow mammals. There is instead an extensive Groundhog Guild operating beneath our feet on a daily basis. Those which you may see in the recording of events in Punxsutawney and elsewhere are not volunteers. Instead they are the result of a sort of subterranean college of cardinals convening on an annual basis. The groundhogs who appear on that most blessed of days do so as a result of having been selected by their peers. I have learned that this is in fact an ancient tradition among their species and it has NOTHING to do with meteorological prognostications. I could continue to recount this tale for all of you, but I should think it better that you have it as a transcript of the original tale as related to me by the Hilltop steward of NAGG (North American Groundhog Guild), one Westgate Wally. It should be noted that this does not necessarily reflect the personal views of Westgate Wally, rather it is an approved statement emanating from NAGG’s central committee. What follows here is an abridged version of my brief conversation with Wally and then, in italics, the official NAGG statement:
(on a park bench, northwest corner of Westgate Park, Sunday 31 Jan. 2021)
” Jee-e-e-sus! Could ya picked a better day Carlton? I’m freezing my fuckin’ tail off here!”
“Uh, yeah… sorry about that Wally. As a token of our appreciation for coming out to meet us like this here is a pound of The Presidential Cheese…..”
“A pound!? Really? Where the fuck you think I’m gonna carry that, huh? You think I’m a Kangaroo… like I got a pouch or somethin’?”
“Well…uh, I could maybe carry it back to the burrow for you?”
“Yeah? You’re fuckin’ A right you’re gonna carry that back to the burrow. So where’s Ford, huh? You’re saying we like there was more than one of ya’s, but all I see is you. How’s come Ford didn’t show up, huh?”
“Ah, Ford. Yes. Ford sends his regards, but he is currently in a state of exile I’m afraid.”
“Uh-huh. Gone manic again, has he?”
“Well, you could say that, I suppose…”
” I gotchas, brother. You don’t have to say no more. Oo-kay… we got some business here, right?”
“Yes. Yes we do. We wanted to have the ceremony set up around the Confederate Cemetery, but for the official appearance we were wondering if you had a tunnel opening somewhere inside the wall?”
“Ya know what Carlton? I think you been samplin’ too much of the product ’cause you don’t have any idea what the fuck is really goin’ on. You think that Punxsutawney Phil is like North Pole Santa and all the rest of us…me, Buckeye Chuck, Strongsville Steve, Waverly Wilma, all of us… that we’re just like shopping mall Santas that you can rent for a few hours on Saturday morning. I mean…DAMN! Fuckin’ humans. You’re garbage is top rate man, but all the fuckin’ drama! You know what I’m sayin’? Not you personally Carlton. We’re cool. Just… I dunno man. It’s just all gone wrong somewhere, ya know?”
“Well, I guess I never thought of it from that perspective Wally. I mean, I feel like maybe I owe you some kind of an apology, but I’m still not really sure what it is that you’re trying to say.”
“Yeah. Look Carlton… this ain’t all coming from me, okay? There’s some things you need to know. It’s time that you and all your kind finally learn the truth.”
“The truth? The truth about what?”
“Fuck! Okay, here it is kid. You ever heard of a group called NAGG?”
“The National Organization of Women?”
“Nah, not those cunts! NAGG… N A G G. Nag-guh!”
“Yeah? Well ya just did. North American Groundhog Guild. That includes ALL North American groundhogs and the Walla Walla Woodchucks sub-chapter. Our legal department makes us put that last bit in. Any-hoo…take me for an example, huh? Me and my furbearers have been crawlin’ around this patch since before the Johnny Rebs were picking ticks off each other over yonder in Camp Chase. We were here when the French trappers passed through. All the way back to before the white man. No offense!”
“Oh, none taken my friend. One tribe’s savagery is as good as another’s.”
“Indeed. Thank you Carlton. You have provided me the perfect segue to the statement.”
“The statement? What statement?”
“THE statement, dumbass! From NAGG!”
“The North American….”
“That’s right! Spit it out… guh- guh- guh- Groundhog Guild!”
“Okay. Their official statement. Now?”
“Yes. Ya ready?”
“Can I blaze up first?”
“<sigh> Sure, g’ ‘head.”
“Ok. That’s better. Go ahead.”
Annual statement of NAGG policy advisory boardJanuary 2021
As we enter our second decade of the twenty-first century we are at a crossroads. We look back at our long history, a history of long traditions, of our culture and customs. And we look forward. Forward is always unknown, but until now forward has always included a light somewhere in the distance. Somewhere on the edge of the horizon there has always been that dim glow, but this glow has dimmed to a mere ember. We have no hope that it should not be extinguished.
In a time before the Iroquois descended from the Laurentian Plain; before Comanche had lain with Spaniards; before the Mayans had folded their tents and vanished into the jungle, there came an awful winter. A winter years long when darkness painted the sky. We shivered in our burrows as food grew scarce. This famine killed many of our number and of the native peoples of this land. As conditions reached desperation many of our brethren ventured forth in the quest for sustenance. The native peoples were starving too and haunted the entrances of our vast network to take our flesh for their own sustenance. One by one we were massacred until we were at the gates of extinction.
Finally a fair wind breathed across the land. The snows abated and life slowly returned to our fields and forests. It was in commemoration of these dark times that an agreement was forged between the groundhog and the red man: that every year in mid winter we would sacrifice one of our own to the red man as a testament of faith to this agreement. This was our custom for hundreds upon hundreds of years. Then came the white man.
As we witnessed the genocide of the red man this custom was slowly abandoned, replaced in symbolism by only appearing at our burrow openings in mid winter. This is how we arrived at the white man’s tradition of Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day is the white man’s tradition; it is not our tradition, but only a shadow of our suffering long past. With the exception of more remote areas the white man’s palate has lost the taste for Groundhog flesh. We have, sometimes with reluctance, continued to humor this tradition in exchange for the relative safety accorded to us under the white man’s rule. Times are changing and there is an ill wind upon our fair land.
We have been concerned for some time. We have observed crimes against nature. They remove trees to create “lawns”. Then upon these lawns they pour fertilizer and vile chemicals to soak the earth. These make the weeds grow and for four to five months a year they ritualistically cut the weeds, bag their clippings and have them hauled away to “landfills”. They are hauled by rumbling behemoths they dub “garbage trucks”, frightful, multi wheeled carriages with a house of horror laden upon their backs. Many a groundhog has given the last full measure before these monsters. To these and lesser vessels our numbers are decimated every year and it keeps getting worse. Their wheeled metal boxes are everywhere, in every color, shape and size imaginable. And they are actually working on something called “self driving cars”. We are not certain what this actually means, but we are pretty certain that it will not be good for us. The carnage far exceeds anything we suffered in our blood sacrifice to the red man.
Still we have played along with their annual charade. Every year there are a select few of us who are honored by the vote of our peers to rise above ground at dawn on a mid winter morning. Those brave few have endured on our account the horrors of television crew lights, the madding crowds, the clutching hands and toddlers with snotty noses frozen in the cold. And for what? A cameo appearance with Bill Murray? A footnote one day of the year on their calendars? Clever tongue twisters?
My friends the urban back lots; the back alleyways; utility right of ways along major roads, all of these have had a good run for us. We have managed to adapt and thrive, but that tide is turning. It is time for us to return to the wooded lot; the fence lines of grain fields; the irrigation ditches, to our homes of old. Our scouts have remained diligent. The reports of human activities in the past nine months alone are enough to make the case on their own merit: it is time we cut bait on these motherfuckers.
This year on February 2nd remain in your burrows. It’s not safe out there. If you must go out you may only do so between the hours of 6:00 AM and 6:00 PM. If you must go out wear a diaper. There is no telling what those depraved fuckers will try to stick up your ass. Finally, any groundhog participating in the human celebration of Groundhog Day will be PERMANENTLY expelled from NAGG with no opportunity for reinstatement. These are stringent measures, but we are in dangerous times. Its completely necessary. TRUST ME.
You were warned. Now you know the truth about Groundhog Day. If you were paying close attention you may have discerned a few other truths.
Well friends that is all for this High Tea. Until next time this is Carlton Milhouse, your botanist, saying Keep Calm and Blaze On.