The time has come to change Groundhog Day to Woodchuck Day, which is celebrated every year on February 2. The popular myth is that if the woodchuck sees its shadow on the second, warm, sunny days will follow. And if the woodchuck does not see its shadow, it will freeze to death. Should have stayed put, hibernating.
The first version of this story appeared in the Stowe Reporter and in my book, Nothing Ever Happens in Colbyville, Vermont
A woodchuck, in the original meaning of the word, is a rodent; marmota monax is its Latin classification. It is also known as a groundhog, marmot and a whistle-pig.
The Vermont woodchuck, animal species, has reddish brown hair, lives in pastures, whistles at the approach of strangers and is a good digger. It lives in dens at the end of tunnels. The woodchuck, a native Vermonter, hibernates from late November to late March and never, in Vermont, appears on Groundhog Day.
A woodchuck can eat a quarter ton of hay a year and that is one reason farmers are prejudiced against the animal. Cows also can break a leg in the woodchuck’s hidey-hole (a woodchuck’s escape route, hidden in the grass. No pile of dirt surrounds the hole.).
The late Boots Cornell of Cabot, Vermont, was the greatest woodchuck hunter the world has ever seen. In his lifetime he killed over 15,000 woodchucks and should be in the Guinness Book of Records. Farmers loved him. He kept a notebook in which he recorded his annual kills.
The Vermont woodchuck, human species, has some similar traits. It prefers to live away from people and would hibernate if it could. The definition, in the past, for a Vermont woodchuck, was a person born in Vermont and it was a term of pride.
The term has been sullied in recent years by flatlanders who have imported themselves into the state with an attitude. They think of woodchucks as rednecks, which displays their ignorance of semantic nuances. A redneck does not have the wit, intelligence, or humor of a woodchuck, and although there are certainly rednecks living in Vermont, many of them are from out-of-state.
There are sub-species of the Vermont woodchuck
Wood Charles are flatlanders with a trust fund or Ivy League education and an affinity for environmentalism. There are also native-born Vermonters who went to the right schools and never worked with their hands and are politically correct. They are referred to as Wood Charley’s.
A glitterchuck is a native Vermonter who is obsessed with money and has a self-entitlement ego. Usually they are real estate agents, developers, contractors or financial advisors who cater to the Wood Charles, who always overspend for land or houses.
A glitterchuck can also be an out-of-stater who dresses like a Vermont woodchuck and is very aggressive in extracting as much money as possible from whoever they come in contact with. They wish they had a trust fund.
There are many women who are glitterchucks but that have always been the case.
The days of woodchuckery are rapidly passing, for the state began mandating Wood Charlesism. For instance, a true woodchuck owned a woodchuckmobile, a vehicle bought for a couple hundred bucks from a junkyard and held together with duct tape until it no longer ran, when it was recycled back to the junkyard for a similar vehicle.
Then auto junkyards were forced to hide their vehicles from the public and state officials, prodded by glitterchucks who ran car dealerships. Wood Charles who became legislators mandated that duct-taped cars could not pass inspection. They did this at about the same time that they outlawed the town dump.
To “woodchuck it” was an honorable way of repairing something so that it worked as long as it did not look pretty. Again duct tape was usually the anecdote to repair lamps that were falling apart, to hold together loose gunstocks, to wrap on heels to prevent blisters with new boots, to close holes around doors and windows.
In many Vermont resort towns, a more aggressive animal has replaced the woodchuck. It is the fisher cat, which feeds on hedgehogs (porcupines), which they eviscerate and eat inside out. They also have a fondness for woodchucks and pet cats. The human species of the fisher cat often runs for local office to manipulate the laws and regulations, particularly in zoning, planning and education. This nasty animal is replacing the woodchuck, esteemed for years as a friendly neighbor who likes to whistle on a fine summer afternoon. So goes the neighborhood.
The Hing Boys’ Jeep Club Oath
I come from Vermont, I do what I want
I won’t mow my lawn, and you won’t complain
I’ll go fishin’ at night, and walk in the rain
You can call me a woodchuck, I won’t be offended
If my pants have a rip, they will some day be mended
My friends all drive Jeeps and four-wheel drive rigs
They all have long hair and chew on grass twigs
We spend our spare time just driving’ the ground
From here until there, then turn back around
I might chew tobacco or drink a few beers
I really am harmless, don’t have any fears
So give me a wave when you pass by
I’ll probably wave back, I’m that kinda guy
Randolph C. Phelps
St. Johnsbury Center, Vermont
Published in Nothing Ever Happens in Colbyville, Vermont
and in the Green Mountain Trading Post