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DICKSON WEATHER

A belated salute to whistle pigs

Larry Woody's Woods & Waters


Punxsutney Phil doesn’t look happy about having his nap interrupted. Groundhog.org

Caught up in the rat-race of life – which the rats seem to be winning – I recently overlooked one of our most cherished holidays: Groundhog Day.

Every Feb. 2 we salute Mr. Groundhog, the only critter with a national day in his honor, just like George Washington.

Up on Gobbler’s Knob in Pennsylvania, world-famous Punxsutawney Phil – the Taylor Swift of groundhogs – was hauled out of his cozy den and held aloft by the town’s mayor as part of the annual Groundhog Day Festival. Phil always looks sleepy and grumpy, and some day he’s liable to take a chomp out of hizhonor’s nose.

Groundhogs are also called woodchucks and whistle pigs. They get the latter moniker because they are chubby-cheeked and emit shrill whistles as warning alarms when danger threatens.

The derivation of “woodchuck” is less clear. We don’t how much wood would a woodchuck chuck, because a woodchuck won’t chuck wood.

According to folklore, if a groundhog pokes his head out and sees his shadow, it means six more weeks of bad weather. Sometimes I suspect that’s the same way our weatherpersons make their forecasts.

That’s how dreary and blah February is: we celebrate a groundhog.

Groundhog Day and Valentine’s Day are the only events in February. One year I got confused and instead of candy and flowers I gave my sweetheart a groundhog. I never saw her again.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency classifies groundhogs as undesirables, along with coyotes, skunks and armadillos, and declares open season on them. They once were prime targets of varmint hunters until coyotes took over.

As a kid I dispatched a groundhog my old dog Kazan cornered in a fence row after it raided my grandma’s garden.

Since the groundhog ate our veggies, it seemed only fair that we eat the groundhog. My good-sport grandma stewed the meat which, best I recall, tasted like mutton. It satisfied my craving for groundhog.

That’s why I don’t hunt groundhogs. I’ve never liked the idea of whacking a wild animal unless it’s causing problems or going on the table – and as I said, I lost my yearn for stewed whistle pig.

In terms of problems, other than pilfering a few beans and turnips, the only trouble groundhogs cause is burrowing. They can displace tons of dirt excavating their vast tunnel networks. That can undermine foundations of barns and other buildings.

In the spring groundhogs produce a litter of 4-6 kits, and the youngsters live with their mom for a few months before striking out on their own. Pop is no help. He’s off loafing with his buddies.

For years a family of groundhogs has lived under a shed in my back yard. It’s interesting to watch them perch on their hind legs, munching clover and whistling a warning when a hawk swoops overhead.

Every groundhog has its day, and next year I’ll try to remember it.