Reflections from the Swamp
Richard van Duyvendyk

Dear Reader,

Have you tried dancing with your snow shovel yet? Let me know how it went. Gloria is out there on the snowbank waiting for more.

Today is Groundhog Day. Welcome to a day, a day full of anticipation and hope. This is the day where we’re invited to enter the world of mythology, commune with groundhogs, and find meaning in the universe from the comfort of our warm and safe burrows. Our part of the planet, hurling through space, is caught midway between Winter’s solstice and Spring’s equinox. Like ships caught in the doldrums, we wait for the warm winds to move onwards towards a New World. Hope springs eternal.

As we wander on our journey through the snow towards spring, we wonder how much longer the trail is. Look, a groundhog is emerging from its snowy burrow for the first time. Let’s ask the groundhog and see what he thinks. Oh, wise and knowing Groundhog, how much further down this path is spring? We know that you of all the creatures in Creation can best answer this mystery. Like the prophets, Nature has given you special powers of seeing into the future. How much further does this path go before we can feel the warmth of spring? When will we smell the flowers blooming along our trail? We have so many questions. What obstacles still remain on our path before we get there?

For those unfamiliar with Groundhog Day, the groundhog emerges from its burrow and either can see its shadow or doesn’t see its shadow. If he sees his shadow, we’ll have only six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t see a shadow, we’ll have a more prolonged winter, maybe seven or more weeks. How could we possibly endure our interminable winter without the hope afforded by our beloved groundhogs?

As an armchair scientist, I’m with Theresa Tam; we need to follow the science. It’s essential to listen to renowned groundhog scientists such as Wiarton Willie and Shubenacadie Sam. If it wasn’t for science, we’d still be guided by myths and folklore. On the other hand, myths enhance our collective consciousness. Maybe we should embrace both science and mythology.

My bride and I belong to a tribe of gardeners whose history stretches back to Adam and Eve. We connect through the airwaves with our mentor, Ed Lawrence, every Monday at noon while dining on squash soups that taste like summer gardens. Our garden friends form a community filled with belonging, sharing, and trust. Sure, we squabble about organic or inorganic methodology doctrines, but we are united in our love of Nature and gardens. We also have common enemies. Beelzebub, the groundhog, is foremost amongst them. It’s a hard sell to include groundhogs among those creatures worthy of our love. We suffer from systemic “Gardener’s Privilege” and can’t see Nature’s beauty in groundhogs. Groundhog’s lives matter, but don’t get in our way or expect to share in our bounty. How do we set-right these conflicting perceptions?

Our own experience with groundhogs has been less than pleasurable. Being avid gardeners, we find ourselves competing to harvest the broccoli with the groundhogs, usually losing the large rodent’s battle. My bride insists that we don’t exterminate any critters because we all have to learn how to share Mother Earth with other species. This view seems idealistic but conflicts with my tribal gardening instincts. (My marital advice, based on years of experience, is to pick your battles.) I held my views to myself and wrestled with her broader perspective.

I do my bit for family unity and drive the live-trapped, flea invested, gluttonous groundhogs over the Champlain Bridge to La Belle Province. I rationalized that Quebec was by far the more picturesque side of the river and would feel like paradise to a groundhog. Once I got caught releasing a groundhog in Quebec by a passerby. I explained the groundhog was a beloved pet, and I was just letting him out for a pee by the side of the road. He laughed and told me that he knew of several Quebecers who brought their garden groundhogs to Ontario. There nerve of those people! Our groundhog may have been a Quebecois or a descendant of a groundhog I once smuggled over the bridge. I should take a saliva sample and send it to Ancestry.com. Learning to live with groundhogs remains one of my challenges to become a better steward of Creation.

Let’s turn our attention to that beautiful movie called Groundhog Day, filmed in 1996 with Bill Murray playing the role of a cantankerous meteorologist. If you haven’t seen it for a while, it’s worth a fresh look.

Bill Murray is caught in a loop of time where he wakes up to the same day., over and over again. Each day, he has the opportunity to change his behaviour, which he does to make his life have more meaning and purpose. The resemblance to our own time alone at home during a pandemic is uncanny. Each day, many of us awaken to a similar day and follow our routines as if they were scripted.

This repetition of each day isn’t much fun. February is known as a month laced with depression and a lack of purpose. We need to challenge ourselves to move from hoping for a better tomorrow to creating a better today. This may seem impossible, but it’s not. Let’s take a lesson from Groundhog Day. When the alarm goes off in the morning, let’s awaken to a new fresh day.

First, thank The Creator for giving us life through meditation or warm thoughts. Then give our partners a loving squeeze and tell them that we love them. Then, have a fresh coffee, stare out the window, and make a new plan for the day. Why not freshen up the menu with a candlelight dinner, or bring a meal to someone who needs some cheering up? Do something fun, like going for a walk with a friend. There are literally a thousand things we can do to make this day a celebration of life. We might not ever reach perfection; however, trying to live each day entirely is a worthy goal worth pursuing.

Thank you, Creator, groundhogs, and Bill Murray, for reminding us that we can change our lives and the lives of others to make each day meaningful. We can escape the loop and awaken to a new day full of hope. Groundhog Day ends later today, we’re not stuck in a circle, and our lives are just beginning anew. Let’s embrace it!