You know when spring begins because of your calendar and the weatherman on the television and the app on your mom’s phone, but a long, long time ago, everyone had to wait for the daffodils.
People don’t always notice the workings of nature. They go to work and go to school and go to soccer practice, or the coffee shop. They carry in their groceries and carry out their recycling and always passing over the curb, but never really looking at it, they don’t see the underground efforts to bring the burst of yellow forth.
It’s just, “Look! The daffodils are up!” and spring is here.
But you and I know: that’s not the whole story, is it?
The real story of Groundhog Day occurred a long, long time ago. It began with Philbert the Groundhog, and, of course, it began while he was sleeping.
Yellow was Philbert the Groundhog’s favorite color. Philbert’s birthday was in March and his friends hoped that he’d wake from hibernation to a grand birthday surprise. Philbert always ended his hibernation on his birthday, and his friends wanted to be ready.
They all worked together. Underground, the bunnies and the squirrels and the mice pushed sleepy bulbs upwards. Above ground, the fox and a few neighborhood cats dug gentle wells in the cold ground, giving the tender stems a soft opening for their grand entrances. They hoped that when Philbert awoke on his birthday and came up to say hello to the world, he’d be greeted everywhere by the daffodils’ merry, golden trumpets.
And it worked! All of Philbert’s friends worked cooperatively to plan his surprise, but as you know it isn’t really that hard to surprise someone (or some animal) who stays asleep while you work. Philbert awoke on his birthday to a beautiful golden spring day, fields of beautiful flowers, and the love of his friends. He was one happy groundhog.
Image via Property#1
He was so happy, in fact, that his friends remembered his delight, and nudged the daffodils again the next year. They did so for many, many years, and Philbert awoke each year to a warm, green world. “What a birthday,” he always thought. “What wonderful friends I have.”
Then, the was the year where it all went wrong. Looking back, Philbert’s friends thought he probably hadn’t eaten enough in the fall. He was probably too hungry. That year, Philbert awoke early.
He poked his head above ground and was bothered. A gruff blast of cold air rattled him. His eyes squinted to see. Everything was too bright. There were no flowers to be found anywhere. The earth was blanketed in snow. And he was all alone. His friends who always greeted him, who always waited for him to awaken, were nowhere to be seen.
Image via thmx
Philbert took a few hesitant steps. The snow grew painfully cold on the tender pads of his winter-soft feet. The wind swirled around him, and so did his loneliness. He took one look around and dove back inside, feeling sad, cold and hurt.
Where were his friends? Where were his beautiful flowers? Philbert didn’t know what to think, so before he began to cry, he quickly ate a small meal of the last winter hay and lulled himself back to sleep.
When he awoke again at the proper time, he was nervous to look up outside. But there were his friends; there were his flowers; and there was the warmth and love he had been craving.
That bad day six weeks earlier — it had all been a misunderstanding. Philbert hadn’t realized, of course, that he had woken up so early. He hadn’t found his friends to ask what they were up to, or asked a bird when the next migration would start. He just got upset, but you know how easily one can get upset when one doesn’t get enough sleep.
And that’s the real story of Groundhog Day. In the years that Philbert woke up too early, it was because there were still six more weeks of winter. In the years that he woke up on his birthday, everyone celebrated by conjuring up the first signs of spring.
Over the years, people – grownups, mostly – who never noticed the real signs of spring did begin to notice Philbert. They thought he was in charge of the beginning of spring! That’s silly, really, because as you know, it wasn’t him at all — it was his dear friends.
But the elements of nature do love to work to make people happy. (How else could you explain honey? or fireflies? or flower shops?) So the animals were delighted when the people built on the birthday tradition they had created for their friend Philbert. After a while, sometimes Philbert would even jump out early on purpose, just to give the people a reason to squeal in delight. He wasn’t really ready to wake up, but sometimes he did need a small sandwich.
Today Philbert’s great-great-great-great-grandson continues the tradition, even though you now have your calendar and the weatherman on the television and the app on your mom’s phone. His name is Phil, and he’s such a good sport.
Did you see him this morning?