From: Maya Salem <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: S <email@example.com>
Subject: Is spring coming yet?
O Groundhog Day, the holiday lost in the 21st century. I remember when Groundhog Day used to be about making construction paper pop-ups and learning about the changing of the seasons. A little brown scruff of hodge-podge paper emerges from the snow-covered ground to say, “Six more weeks of winter!” Likely misspelled and in a seven-year-old’s handwriting. Now, as my dearest friend, you must know that I still have a soft spot for Groundhog Day, a holiday that I find outdated and just a little bit silly.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the tradition, based on the deep and long-running mythology of Dutch Pennsylvanians. The superstition of the groundhogs joins the ranks of unlucky black cats crossing your path or sleeping under moonlight whose touch will distort your features. Groundhog Day also coincides with Candlemas, an ancient Christian tradition celebrating purification after the darkness of winter has ended. Based on no scientific instruction, the appointed groundhog (Punxsutawney Phil) “emerges” from his burrow (where he was supposed to be hibernating) to look for his shadow. If he finds his shadow — or in other words, if it is sunny — spring is declared to arrive early. If it is cloudy and he cannot see it, six more weeks of winter are predicted.
In the land of endless sunshine, however, when does spring arrive? In Isla Vista, we watch the sunset begin to drift west after its wintertime stay a few degrees south. The white egrets and their long necks can be found lulling in the slowly warming sun. When nobody is looking, little squirrels claw through the bushes of leaves, grasping the yellow daisy blossoms in their paws, chomping away at breakfast on the lagoon island. The fuzzy, pink ears of baby bunnies soon show themselves among the brush and succulents before scampering away at the sound of approaching feet. And, when our favorite monogamous mallard couple makes their rounds, proudly displaying their love, we know to soon expect their little trail of ducklings parading behind. After the rains, a symphony of frogs croaks in the North Campus Open Space. Mushrooms appear from their earthy nooks. The little birds return to their nest with food for their even littler birds. I suppose we don’t need Punxsutawney Phil here, where animals fall back into their normal routine after the mild winter winds and waves of rain taper.
Nevertheless, this is an ode to Groundhog Day. To the little rodent and his handler in a top hat, I hope you keep searching for your shadow. Though the science of forecasting has surpassed you, I think there’s something special about holding onto this tradition, letting an animal mark the passing of seasons. It signals both our distance and our closeness to the wilderness around us (all in good fun, though through potentially unethical practices).
After all this rambling I feel I should ask you, S, when do you see spring arriving at UC Santa Barbara? Is it during your brisk morning walk, watching the storks and sea birds wade in the tame waters of low tide? Or do you follow the words of Phil, burrowing with blankets and chai for another six weeks?
#1 Punxsutawney Phil Fan,
A version of this article appeared on pg. 12 of the Feb. 2, 2023 edition of the Daily Nexus.