Furry Monks

In a few hours the sun will rise and the groundhog will get to exercise its one prognosticatory talent, letting us know how much longer winter will last. It’s an important question, especially for those of us who live in northern climates where winter could last into April. Every day I touch the weather button on my iPhone, hoping I can leave the wool socks at home, but for several weeks now spring has seemed remote. Today I will put my faith in marmota monax.

Monax sounds like a software company. Because it sounds like it might be Latin, I looked up the word in my Lewis and Short unabridged Latin dictionary, but didn’t find it. I suspect that it is related to the word monachus, a monk, which comes from the Greek monax. I suppose groundhogs like to live alone.

How the groundhog developed this ability to predict weather is unknown. As far as I know hedgehogs, prairie dogs, chipmunks and other small rodenty critters that stick their noses out of holes in the ground are not similarly endowed. Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks or whistle-pigs, are the furry oracles of the woods. In ancient Europe, badgers were similarly responsible for forecasting the weather. Maybe the badgers were wrong often enough that people switched over to groundhogs.

If we can believe Wikipedia, the Pennsylvania Dutch are responsible for this belief. Wikipedia, however, though it has an endless store of wisdom, has never been able to forecast the weather — or anything else.

In ancient and not-so-ancient times people sometimes practiced bibliomancy, divination through books. The practice is simple: open the book, point your finger at a passage, read it, and it will answer your question. Like fortune cookies, what you read won’t always make sense, but that’s the thing about divination. The sybil didn’t earn her reputation by giving straight answers. If you need clear directions, Mapquest is what you want.

Though bibliomancy doesn’t work with e-books (as far as I know), Wikipedia would be an excellent tool for this. There is a link you can click on that will call up a random article, which is perhaps the Wiki answer to bibliomancy. My random link today: biomechanical art. Maybe a hip replacement is in my future.

Groundhogs are better than books, though, for they also have the interesting and uncanny ability to put you in a time loop, endlessly reliving the day. At least, that’s what happened in the movie. And you only get to relive a really crappy day; if your day goes well, you just move on, and regardless of how bad February 3 is, you don’t get a second chance to straighten out your karma. I’ve had bad days, but fortunately always woke up to another equally bad day.

As we await the furry oracle, let us be careful what we wish for.


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