Illustration by Tim Yearington
The ad was tempting.
Permanent part-time employment for six
weeks each year. An entry level position for a self-motivated
individual. The winning applicant will have highly developed
sight, smell and hearing skills, plus a knowledge of weather
patterns and the cycles of life. Job includes a permanent
website, parades and honours year round. Meagre remuneration
but a highly satisfying position for the right applicant.
An understanding of Groundhogese an asset. Nepotism no problem.
So it was true. Reports of Wiarton Willies
death a couple of years ago were not exaggerated. She was
a little worried about that nepotism no problem
bit in the ad. Did that mean theyd only hire a groundhog?
Theyd done that last year. Surely that was against fair
hiring practices. Hopefully the lawyers got to them, told
them they couldnt limit the field. A rabbit definitely
had a chance this time around, in her mind.
Speaking of climate, Bernice was a real
expert on that. Shed known enough to fill her larder
for this past winter, turning out to be one of the coldest
in a long time. Isnt that what they were after, an ability
to predict the seasons? No problem. Look at the number of
litters shed had through the years. Shed never
lost any of her offspring, birthed at just the right time
for the warmth of the sun and the promise of crops.
There were a lot of applicants. She decided
to check out the opposition and sauntered over to a mole who
was busily preening his fur.
How long have you been waiting?
Too long. My eyes are starting to
hurt. Too much light in here.
What are our chances?
I dont know about you, but
Ive sure got the right skills. Im someone in the
know. After all, Im used to sussing out information.
I work underground all the time. With that the mole
closed his eyes and went to sleep. She looked down and saw
a mouse scurrying across the floor.
Shouldnt you be more careful?
You might get eaten, Bernice warned.
No way! the mouse squeaked
curtly. They need someone quick on his feet. And photogenic
too. You have to admit Im pretty cute! Bernice
had her own opinion about that. If looks counted and it were
up to her, she might pick that beautiful buck shed just
spotted. She hopped over.
Think well be seen soon?
They dont seem to have any
organization. Ive been here quite a while, but three
guys who came in after me have already had their interviews.
I really need this job, too.
A lot of us have lost our homes.
Theyve cleared acres and acres, taken everything away.
Nothing left for us. Where are we supposed to go?
Tell me about it. I lost two nieces
and my sister. They ended up being killed crossing the new
Thats terrible! Do you think
youll qualify for this job?
Got nothing to lose, the way I see
it. Ive got good hearing and I can smell out a forest
fire miles away.
Bernice didnt think that would be
necessary, but said nothing. An official appeared and shouted
an announcement that reduced the numbers.
Because of problems with living
accommodation, those over 40 centimetres tall and those under
15 centimetres are not needed. That got rid of quite
a few, including the buck, defeated. Those with coats
other than white dont fill the requirements of the website.
Very few applicants now remained, giving Bernice a burst of
hope. The official went on. He held up an eye chart and within
seconds several more applicants left. If youre
still interested, youll have to try on this costume.
Well go on from there. Startled eyes stared at
what he was holding, a little white suit of fake fur complete
with cap and perky ears.
That looks suspiciously like the
one in the paper that time, muttered a weasel.
You mean when Wiarton Willie died?
Aw, hed kicked the bucket
months before. They just didnt want to admit it. Remember?
They took his picture dressed in that costume, lying in a
Gulps all around. Murmurs of alarm. Much
whimpering and the wringing of paws as the remaining candidates
weighed their options. A costume was bad enough. But a coffin?
No way! Survival instincts clicked in and, as one, the mob
of tiny mammals scampered out of the building, Bernice leading
The room was empty, save for the official
still holding up the faux fur outfit. He heaved a big sigh,
then muttered. I guess spring will be a little late
this year. Again.
As told to Penny Gumbert by Gary the
Groundhog in Kleinburg, Ontario
Legend has it that a white groundhog
in Wiarton, on the Bruce Peninsula between Lake Huron
and Georgian Bay, can predict the end of winter. If,
on leaving his den on February 2 the animal sees his
shadow, spring wont arrive for another six weeks.
It seems being born on the 45th parallel, halfway between
the Equator and the North Pole, guarantees a superior
ability to predict the weather.
The original groundhog, an albino,
died during hibernation, but the citizens of Wiarton
didnt realize this until moments before Groundhog
Day 1999. What to do? As the animal was too decomposed
to present to the public, a stuffed facsimile
complete with fake fur, pennies on the eyes, and a carrot
clutched in the pawswas nestled in a little pine
casket. A drastic solution? People needed closure,
explained Tom Ashman of Wiarton Willies publicity
Wiarton Willies successor
is Wee Willie, another albino groundhog. Well, to be
honest, there are two, Wee Willie and Wee Willie 2.
An heir and a spare, so to speak.
This is an original story,
first published in The Country Connection Magazine,
Issue 48, Winter 2005. Copyright Penny Gumbert.
TO STORY INDEX
TO BACK ISSUE PAGE