The Lessons of Groundhog Day

[First posted in February 2012 on]

A Sunday school teacher was asking her young class about Easter. A 5-year-old boy piped up, “That’s when Jesus comes out of his tomb, and if he sees his shadow, we have six more weeks of winter.”


Yesterday we observed Groundhog Day. And by “observed,” I mean we totally ignored it except to ask at the end of the day, “Anybody know what Punxsutawney Phil saw today?” Apparently the famous-for-one-day-a-year Pennsylvania groundhog saw his shadow and we’re in for six more weeks of winter. Which is a bit ironic since, at least where I live, we haven’t actually had much winter yet. Just one snowfall in late December that melted by noon.

The frogs are already singing antiphonally in the pond. The white snowdrops on the bank have been in bloom for a week. I might not have taken note of how early the flowers popped up, except that last year they appeared with all their splendor and comfort the day after my mother died, on February 14th. Spring has arrived in the western North Carolina mountains about three weeks early this year.

On a global scale, this sort of change is apparently no small thing for the bees and the birds, which depend on the arrival of blooms and bugs synchronizing with their migration and dietary needs. It’s no small thing in my neighborhood, either, as we have to begin a bit early to be attentive to the black bears that are coming out of hibernation and likely to show up hungry at bird feeders and trash cans.

A friend told me last week that this early arrival of spring has thrown off her life rhythm as well. “I’m not done nesting,” she said. She spoke my heart. I’m not yet ready to give up the cozy evenings wrapped in an afghan drinking hot tea by a toasty fire.

Winter is my “solitary season,” when I enjoy heavy doses of reading, journaling, and meditation. I see friends, of course, but there’s a quietness and groundedness that come from hunkering down inside because it’s cold outside. I’m not yet ready to burst out of the nest and take flight with the energy of spring.

Healthy communities need these rhythms of time together and time apart; energy and quiet; attention to group needs and celebration of individual interests. Too much time together can lead to cult-like conformity; too much time apart can mean that our “community” is merely a collection of self-interested individuals who hang out together occasionally.

Groundhog Day may be strange, but it does serve as a reminder that the natural world follows rhythms that feed life. The bees, birds, bears, and blooms—and even a groundhog from Pennsylvania named Phil—can be our teachers.


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