Monday good old Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks
tell me you’re surprised. After all, it’s the beginning of
February, seven weeks before the spring equinox, which around
here is on the early end of when you can expect anything properly
called spring. It’s a wonder we ever expect him to say anything
Poor Groundhog Day. Such an underappreciated, misplaced little
Thanks to the Gulf Stream, early signs of spring—particularly
lambing—are in fact usually underway in the milder-climed
British Isles right about now, which is where the Celtic holiday
known as Imbolc, of which Groundhog Day is a secularized descendent,
Imbolc is celebrated by modern-day pagans all over the Western
world as part of the “wheel of the year” that includes the
equinoxes, solstices, and “cross-quarter days” halfway between
them, of which Imbolc is one.
But outside of pagan circles and Punxsutawney, the day gets
little attention. And in our particular climate, this doesn’t
surprise me. Even though I’m fond of the wheel of year rubric,
around here talk of buds and thaw and preparing the ground
for planting on Feb. 2 can feel a bit like celebrating Christmas
in Florida (or even worse, in the Southern Hemisphere), gamely
decorating with snowflakes and evergreens and Santas bundled
in red fur and singing about snowmen and sleighs while wearing
T-shirts and enjoying a sunlit late-evening meal.
Globalized holidays leave us with some cognitive dissonance.
Still, my family celebrated Imbolc last weekend by baking
bread from scratch, which is a traditional observance. I had
planned to go ruffling through my poetry collection for some
relevant poems to recite, since the day honors Brigid, who
is goddess of, among other things, poetry.
The day snuck up on me though, and not just because everything
does when you have a toddler. It was also because I rarely
come to this point in the winter feeling anxious for spring,
or like there’s any likelihood of it being on the horizon.
Winter has become the norm, the Way It Is.
I imagine that if I hadn’t been one of the lucky few not to
lose power in the ice storms (so far) this winter, or if I
had a driveway or more than an itty-bitty sidewalk that it’s
not usually my job to shovel anyway or a long driving commute,
then I might well be more tired of this particular winter
and its abundance of cold and white stuff.
But the point is, and don’t hate me for saying this, we’re
only about halfway through, roughly.
So what’s to celebrate right now anyway? One way I’ve heard
it phrased is that this isn’t the beginning of spring, but
it’s the beginning of the end of winter. We’re now in winter-becoming-spring.
This appeals to the part of me that likes to notice subtle
Every year I am struck again by how suddenly birdsong reappears
in the mornings in February, no matter how frigid the air.
Long before we see the geese flying north, the sparrows are
looking ahead, it seems. They are, presumably, responding
to the lengthening days, which are now noticeable to our eyes
too, easily measured in little bursts of “Hey, now it’s still
light when I leave work/walk to yoga/get home/take out the
In her book The Teeth of the Lion, which covers all
you didn’t know you wanted to know about dandelions, local
author and environmental educator Anita Sanchez reports that
they can start to photosynthesize underneath a substantial
layer of snow, absorbing the sunlight filtering through from
above and getting ready to shoot off the starting block when
things warm up.
Conveniently for me, on that theme, Feb. 2 is also the due
date to get in on the bulk order of garden seeds through the
Honest Weight Food Co-op. Even when I make it in just under
the wire like I did this year (everyone who has read a seed
catalog, especially Fedco’s, knows that it’s awfully hard
to proceed through efficiently and without distraction), it
forces me to look ahead and start thinking about plans for
the spring long before it remotely feels like gardening season.
Put this all together, and I’m coming to think of Imbolc/Groundhog
Day as a reminder about living with ever present, but sometimes
background, change. New Year’s, even with all its resolutions
and plans for the new year, doesn’t quite hit this note for
me. Those are changes I’m initiating, that are under my control,
and they mostly look backward, comparing to last year.
Spring following after weeks of winter that seemed misleadingly
unchanging is dramatic change that comes in its own sweet
time, one step forward, two steps back. I’ve found that changes
in many things—relationships, children, bodies, minds—often
come this way. They may be impatiently anticipated, ambivalently
welcomed, feared and resisted, or neutrally ignored, but the
choice to be made is how to prepare, whether to adapt or plow
through, work with or against, live as if on a moving planet
or in a climate-controlled bubble.
Reminding us of all that is a lot to put on the humble groundhog.
But I’m guessing it’s still easier than predicting the weather.