Winter’s over, says Phil, but let’s celebrate Family Day

Reckonings column by Della Mallet, Feb. 10 Grand Forks Gazette.

This past Groundhog Day, most of the furry prognosticators we look to for our winter outlook declared winter over.

The State of Pennsylvania is famous for having the most well-known groundhog out there: Punxsutawney Phil. He did not see his shadow and with great pomp and ceremony, the townspeople declared his determination.

The findings were independently verified by a groundhog in Canada, where Shubenacadie Sam also saw no shadow.

Shubenacadie Sam lives in Nova Scotia at the Shubenacadie Provincial Wildlife Park, where he tweets about what he does the other 364 days a year. He didn’t see his shadow this year! More spring!

There’s a dissenter in the bunch, and it’s the very special Wiarton Willie of Ottawa. He’s special because he’s an albino! Willie also tweeted out his result the morning of Feb. 2, and he said it’s six more weeks of winter for us.

An untimely death has cast a shadow over this year’s Groundhog Day festivities in Winnipeg. Winnipeg Willow, the Prairie Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre’s resident prognosticator, died on Friday just preceding Groundhog Day on Tuesday. As a result, Groundhog Day events have been cancelled. Willow was dearly loved.

Willow, who was five when she died, came to the centre in 2010 after her mother was killed by a dog. The centre intended to release her back into the wild, but she broke her leg and after healing, had become too attached to the staff to survive on her own. Staff said in a Facebook posting that they had “tears coming down our face” and were in “complete shock and sadness.”

There are other groundhogs that assist us with this long-standing tradition called Groundhog Day.

A midwinter celebration involving an animal with predictive powers was an element of Celtic culture. The link between weather prediction and the day is said to have been inspired by an old Scottish couplet: “If Candlemas Day is bright and clear/ There’ll be two winters in the year.”

I don’t know if winter will be over in Eastern Canada, but it certainly seems like it is here in the Boundary. Hopefully we’ll have snow in the hills for a while yet—a good snowpack is critical for spring and summer (and skiers, boarders and snowmobilers aren’t ready to quit yet!). We’ll also get days of snow and/or rain; winter doesn’t transition to spring in a single day. But animals are shedding, birds are more plentiful, and bright daylight shining through my windows tells me I should start my “spring cleaning” now.

It was bright and clear for Family Day, the whole weekend in fact. Whether winter is on the downside or not, February is a great time to have a celebration. Festivities included skating, swimming, skiing and bowling; events held downtown featured rides on a fire truck, a movie at the GEM, a fun mudder, ATV rides, street hockey, Nathan the Magician, hot dogs, cotton candy, hot chocolate… I’m sorry I’m likely forgetting something, there was so much happening.

The weekend also featured the Wilgress Lake Ice Fishing Derby, which is well known as a family event. Not an angler? Snowcarving, snowshoe races, beverages and snacks—it’s not just about fishing about Wilgress Lake.

Thank you to the City of Grand Forks; to businesses and groups such as the GEM Theatre, Sunshine Lanes, GFREC, Border Bruins, Phoenix Ski Hill and ATV Club; to Wilgress Lake derby organizers for adding greatly to the weekend; and to everyone who took part in what’s fast becoming a fun winter break. Even if there’s not a lot of winter left, a relaxing day in February is most welcome. And turning it into a whole weekend? Even better!

We don’t have Groundhog Day festivities, but I reckon our own special Family Day events the weekend right afterward are something to be proud of, and to look forward to each year. Winter’s over only when Mother Nature says it’s over—we’ll celebrate family instead.