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Ground Hog. Illustration by Tim YearingtonGround Hog Day?

by Penny Gumbert

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 Willie’s 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 they’d only hire a groundhog? They’d done that last year. Surely that was against fair hiring practices. Hopefully the lawyers got to them, told them they couldn’t 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. She’d known enough to fill her larder for this past winter, turning out to be one of the coldest in a long time. Isn’t that what they were after, an ability to predict the seasons? No problem. Look at the number of litters she’d had through the years. She’d 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?” Bernice asked.

“Too long. My eyes are starting to hurt. Too much light in here.”

“What are our chances?”

“I don’t know about you, but I’ve sure got the right skills. I’m someone in the know. After all, I’m 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.

“Shouldn’t 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 I’m pretty cute!” Bernice had her own opinion about that. If looks counted and it were up to her, she might pick that beautiful buck she’d just spotted. She hopped over.

“Think we’ll be seen soon?” she asked.

“They don’t seem to have any organization. I’ve been here quite a while, but three guys who came in after me have already had their interviews. I really need this job, too.”

“How come?”

“A lot of us have lost our homes. They’ve cleared acres and acres, taken everything away. Nothing left for us. Where are we supposed to go?”

“That’s sad.”

“Tell me about it. I lost two nieces and my sister. They ended up being killed crossing the new highway.”

“That’s terrible! Do you think you’ll qualify for this job?”

“Got nothing to lose, the way I see it. I’ve got good hearing and I can smell out a forest fire miles away.”

Bernice didn’t 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 don’t 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 you’re still interested, you’ll have to try on this costume. We’ll 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?” asked Bernice.

“Aw, he’d kicked the bucket months before. They just didn’t want to admit it. Remember? They took his picture dressed in that costume, lying in a little coffin.”

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 way.

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 won’t 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 didn’t 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 paws—was nestled in a little pine casket. A drastic solution? “People needed closure,” explained Tom Ashman of Wiarton Willie’s publicity team.

Wiarton Willie’s 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.



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