Buds of Spring - Photo Collection by Chuck Nafziger
by Brigid the Groundhog
I heard this legend from my mother and she heard it from her mother.
There was a time when humans would do their own work at predicting whether spring would come early or late and they would plant their crops accordingly. They made their planting decisions by looking at the emerging shoots and flower and leaf buds on branches. The traditional time for making their observations was the beginning of February, half way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Frosts were still likely and it was still too cold to plant, but the days started to get noticeably longer, the path of the sun across the sky was starting to get higher, and thoughts of spring danced around. By observing and listening to the flowers, trees and shrubs, people could predict if gardens could be planted early. By February, much of the browse for animals has been eaten and winter food supplies had become depleted. There often was snow on the ground making hunting difficult. People were hungry, looking for wild plants to forage, and anxious to start gardens We groundhogs just slept through this difficult time.
By February, many humans, hungry or not, became tired of winter and got anxious for spring. They are were smart enough to sleep through this month as we do when we are not interrupted by them. Instead humans threw a celebration with lots of fires. They burned old dry greenery they had dragged in for color around the winter solstice-and lots more. One human tribe called the Celts named the celebration Imbolc or Brigid's Day. In those days, Brigid was their goddess of almost everything. She was famous for teaching humans how to gather and use herbs for their healing properties, how to care for their livestock, and how to forge iron into tools. She was a goddess of childbirth and protector of all children. She kept sailors from drowning and people from getting burned. She was the goddess of poetry and song. She even taught humans how to whistle. We groundhogs taught her how to whistle, and my name Brigid is a very old groundhog name that she adopted.
Other humans came along and thought that the Celts were having a bit too much fun during the last dark days of winter. They pushed for more subdued excitement, toned down the celebration and called it Candlemas. They called Brigid a Saint instead of a goddess. Fire was still included in the subdued celebration, but it was with candles.
Some humans had watched hibernating animals to predict spring weather. In Europe some watched badgers and some watched a holy bear. In the mid 1800s in the eastern US, we groundhogs got dragged into this mess. That silly thing about us getting up in February is wrong to start with. We don't get up until March. It does not say much for humans if they have to wake up a groundhog to tell them if the sun is shining. Look at your own shadow if you think that tells you spring will come early or late. It makes no sense to me and the predictions you come up with are only about 35% correct. And if you have to wake up a groundhog, at least give her some good drugs with good visions to keep her from biting the weird person who cannot tell if the sun is out.
I would just as soon have humans go back to the old way of looking for signs of spring themselves and let us sleep. The accompanying photos are of signs of spring taken in early January by a human friend of mine; one of saner ones. I hope the humans who read this go out in early February, see how things have progressed, and figure out their planting schedule without me. I need my beauty sleep! Besides, you people in northwest Washington do not have any local groundhogs. Our closest relatives out there are marmots. They live high in the mountains, sleep late, and care not a whit about your planting schedule.
~Chuck Nafziger, January 2016