Interview with a groundhog on his day

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

Today, most Americans will be reminded – just in case they’ve forgotten – that Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawny Phil is the world’s best-known rodent after Mickey Mouse. Mississippi, however, has its own groundhogs. Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens woke one of his Marmota monax neighbors recently. After enough coffee to overcome the pull of hibernation for a while, the groundhog shared a little about himself.

Q: What do you prefer to be called, and why?
A: You humans have come up with a host of labels for me and my kind, most not particularly complimentary.
“Groundhog,” for instance. The “ground” part is fine – after all, we do live in burrows – but “hog”? On my worst day, I couldn’t smell as bad as those guys do. On the other hand, I’ll never smell like bacon, either, which I consider an advantage to living a long life.
If “whistle pig” didn’t have that same swinish connotation, it’d be an OK name, because we do communicate amongst ourselves with whistle-like sounds.
“Woodchuck” would be my favorite except for two things: I never chucked wood in my whole life until I tried out for that GEICO commercial. (I didn’t get the part.) And Chuck is my brother; my name is Marvin.

Q: Oh, OK, Marvin. While some Mississippians have been neighbors to your species for decades, most of us have only started seeing you and your kinfolks in the past few years. How do you like living in the South?
A: Just as with a lot of humans, living in the South is a love-hate relationship. There’s a long growing season, sandy-clay soil is easy to dig, and living underground means I don’t need air-conditioning even in this climate. And, of course, I sleep like a rock through tornado watches.
I like it that a lot more people down here raise gardens than they do up north. I can move like a buzzsaw through beans, corn, lettuce, and all kinds of seedlings – almost anything anybody has in a garden. My favorite thing is to go down a whole row of tomatoes, tasting just a bite from each one.
On the other hand, a lot of Southern gardeners also have guns. The other evening I was eating bark from some fruit trees – these teeth keep growing, so I have to keep gnawing – and some man started shooting and yelling something about a recipe for woodchuck stew. Said he was going to brown me first with some bacon and onions.
And to think they talk about Southern hospitality!

Q: What are your plans for Groundhog Day?
A: A long nap. Think about it: Humans decide that naming a day after my kind gives them the right to wake one of us rather rudely and extract him from his nice, cozy burrow on what’s usually a miserable morning to be outside. Then they expect us to make a plausible prophecy about the climate while looking cute for the camera. At least you had the decency to offer me a cup of coffee before starting to ask questions. (I really like this dark roast, by the way.)
Actually, I will roust just long enough to meet some of my buddies down at Arthur’s for breakfast. It’s an annual tradition for us to have sausage biscuits on February 2.

Q: Sausage biscuits? What do they have to do with Groundhog Day?
A: You’re not the sharpest spoon in the drawer, are you? Hello – sausage? Ground Hog?

Q: Oh. Sorry. What’s next on your calendar after that?
A: I’m aiming to sleep for a couple more weeks. By then, you and some other folks around here will have some early crops started in the garden, and there’s no spring tonic like a broccoli-seedling breakfast. Don’t tell anybody, but after I’ve chewed up every start in a garden, I always tell all the local Bambis that there are still plenty of plants left for them. They’ll make deer tracks down every row looking for something to eat and get blamed for the damage.
That’s more fun than chucking wood any day.
errol.castens@journalinc.com