Sunday, February 2, 2014

Groundhog Day 2014

Wild Plants And Wooly Bears

Groundhog Day 2014

Far from being cuddly and inoffensive, groundhogs, or woodchucks, have mean dispositions. A groundhog has no compunction about attacking anything, including other groundhogs and humans who foolishly venture too close. This accounts for why Punxatawny Phil’s handlers wear heavy leather gloves when pulling the sleepy rodent from his den and showing him around.

Phil is celebrity all around the country, not just his home state of Pennsylvania. And Phil saw his shadow this morning, Groundhog Day, 2014. This means that we can expect six more weeks of winter rather than an early spring. But wait, what’s that “we” they speak of? Punxatawny Phil lives far away from Maine. And if any Maine woodchuck were to come out of its burrow today, it definitely would not see its shadow.

So unless you live in a region that saw sunshine today, don’t take an out-of-state woodchuck’s prediction as gospel. Instead, consult your local woodchuck. It just might have a rosier forecast.

The following essay is from a chapter in my book, Hidden World Revealed and I offer it here as an item of seasonal interest. Its title is: Life Goes On. Readers can order Hidden World from the, from the publisher at or from any local bookstore.

It’s hard to think about nature during times of sub-zero temperatures and double-digit wind chills. But nature equips plants and animals to deal with such extremes, and life not only goes on, it remains robust and vigorous.

Consider muskrats. These critters are out of sight, out of mind. Ponds and slow-moving streams are frozen, and we won’t lay eyes on a muskrat until well after the thaw. But the muskrats are not sleeping and they are plenty active. Like some people, muskrats gather food in for the winter. Also, muskrats, normally solitary animals, often spend the winter in large groups, sharing body heat inside their domed lodges, and happily munching on the communal bounty.

Trees become brittle in winter, and the sap ceases to flow. But the roots continue to grow under the snow. Only if the ground freezes below the roots, will the entire organism go dormant. So look at that stark winter landscape, with the frozen branchlets of birch and maple whipping around in the winter wind. But don’t think that life has fled. Chances are, those roots are extending their range, reaching out in search of more ground from which to extract nutrients and moisture.

Under a coating of ice and snow, dragonfly nymphs crawl about, hunting for smaller insects and tiny minnows, and fish of all kinds slowly cruise the bottom, searching for dragonfly nymphs. The chain of life continues, and it is rich and vibrant still.

So take hope. Although cold winds and snow rage and snarl, life goes on and it doesn't miss a beat.


1 comment:

  1. I think it's time to pull out Hidden World Revealed and read it again. It surely can remind us that our Maine spring, summer and fall (and even winter) have many interesting things to observe. We won't be seeing much wild plants yet, but we can start planning for them. Dreaming, helps, of course.