Archive for the ‘Absolute Piffle’ Category

yellow-bellied marmot

A yellow-bellied marmot can’t predict the weather. Its cousin, the groundhog, can’t either.

I have not written anything about this in a while, but those of you who live outside of North America need to know something:

Every Candlemas, local news stations across the Anglo-American world will be covering a bizarre ritual. At the local zoo or wildlife center, some people with super-thick gloves will be annoying the resident marmot this morning. In my part of the world, it will be French Creek Freddie, a groundhog, who will be roused from his deep hibernation. He will be taken out into the broad daylight.

And somehow, it will be determined if he saw his shadow or not, and if he sees his shadow, then we’re in for six more weeks of winter.

The big ritual happens at Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and it is supposedly based upon an German custom of annoying a badger or hedgehog on Candlemas for the same purpose. Neither species is found in Pennsylvania, although wandering American badgers have occasionally turned up in Western New York and even West Virginia.

So they went with the local marmot species as a stand-in. The one in Punxsutawney is called Punxsutawney Phil. There is already a livestream set up for his prediction this morning.

In Montana, a yellow-bellied marmot named Bitterroot Bill. He’s not exactly the ground of Pennsylvania, but if the groundhog of Pennsylvania is a stand-in for a badger or hedgehog, shouldn’t a yellow-bellied marmot do just as well?

At least Van Island Violet, an endangered Vancouver marmot, will be left alone to sleep through her hibernation. Canadians, at least on the West Coast, are nicer to their local marmot than most of us are.

Indeed, this is about the only day that groundhogs get any truck with people in my area. Groundhogs are agricultural pests, and during the hot days of summer, they are frequently used as target practice by those hunters with itchy trigger fingers or those who are starting to doubt their marksmanship skills.

But if you ever see the Candlemas rodents when they are roused from their winter naps, they are quite grouchy. That’s why the handlers have to wear such thick gloves. I’ve never hibernated, but I can imagine that being roused from such a state is pretty traumatic.

I’ve always thought this is a bizarre custom for several reasons:

One is that I can’t imagine the groundhog is looking for its shadow when it’s hauled out into the light. I don’t even know that groundhogs even know what shadows are. The main thing these animals seem to be caring about is why they can’t be put back to bed.

The second is that, um, if an animal sees its shadow, that means the sun is out. If the sun is out, then that will melt the snow, and I would think that the sun shining would be a sign that winter is on its way out.

I suppose I’m thinking this stuff out too much.  It is, after all, just a regional folk custom that went viral long ago.

Most people don’t even know that today is Candlemas, because it’s not an Anglo-Protestant holiday at all.

In North America, it is Marmot Day.

The national news will let us know what ol’ Phil saw. Of course, he won’t be interviewed. There will just a proclamation read, and the news will report on his prediction. The local news affiliates across the country will report on the local marmots, and we will go on our merry way.

And then the real meteorologists will produce their forecasts. People will follow those a lot more closely than the rodent predictions.

And we’ll go back to our lives. The marmots will go back to sleep. When the grounhogs arise in spring, the guns will go off as soon as the find the vegetable patch.

But for one day, they are feted, even if they are too grouchy and dazed to realize it.


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The Mandarin of the Closed Road

orange cat

The county closed this road a few years ago. I used to travel it often, for it shaved some minutes off my drive. It was potholed and roughshod and hardly the thing that someone driving a little sedan should venture on, but I drove it often. I knew where the big holes were anyway, and I got only one flat tire on all my years of driving it.

It took me through a bit of wasteground where the trees grew up thick and tall, and on night time trips, I’d often run into raccoons and deer. Their eyes would flash in my headlights and run quickly into the brush. They were my taste of country existence in this graduate school city:  rough rough, thick woods, and the wild.

This evening, I’ve decided to walk along the edge of this road, for there is a trail that cuts off the right and takes me into a nice little park.  The darkness falls hard upon trees, casting shadows along the pockmarked road up the the bright red gate that says “Road Closed.”

I approach the gate in deep nostalgia. I remember driving this road so many times, but now it’s closed to me.  A universe is walled off to me, and it makes me ache a little.  I wish I could traverse the road again, and I feel violated at the redness of the gate.

As I make my approach, I catch movement to my left.  It is a feral cat, a big tom.  He orange and puffed up like some kind of pumpkin beast set loose upon the countryside.

He bolts from me but stops short of the red gate. He stares up at me with his demonic cat eyes, as if he is accusing me for daring to disturb his peace and tread upon his domain.

We look hard at each other. I am not a cat man, and he’s not impressed with me either. We have nothing but contempt for each other.

We look into each other’s eyes for thirty seconds then a minute.

It is the orange tom who breaks the stare and slips under the red gate as if he never noticed me. He slips through as mandarin on his way back to his palace, which might be hidden somewhere in the deep timber.

But I will never set my eyes upon it. My human feet and my car tires are banned from the road beyond the gate.

But the cat is allowed. Indeed, no one knows he even crossed under the gate.  And no one cares.

I feel heartbroken at this development. My little wild road is closed off, and it has been left to the big tom to rule as his own.

Mankind is all about the rules. We regulate ourselves pretty well.

But when it comes to old cats that no one wants or cares about, we don’t have much in the way of rules at all.

We wall of the places to ourselves, but they become the domains of the cats. They rule according to the customs and instincts of cats.

Every walled off place becomes a fortress for a tomcat mandarin, and we mere mortals can only quake in their presence.

Or stare at them with contempt, as I do.

Or maybe it’s not contempt at all, but simple jealousy.

Yes, jealous of a darned old cat.


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Population control

population control

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pepe cat

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lizzard warning

I don’t know where this is, but it seems pretty scary.


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We certainly do have strange birds at the feeder this winter!


It even attacks!


The big family Christmas gift was a DJI Phantom 3 Professional (4k) Gold Drone. Due to a snafu this morning, a second one was purchased as a spare while the original is being worked on!



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rudolph isn't a reindeer

This is a reindeer:


And Neil deGrasse Tyson drops a fact bomb:

neil degrasse tyson reindeer


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