Before I started tracking the sun, Groundhog’s Day baffled me. There will always be at least six more weeks of winter in Chicago whether 2/2 is sunny or cloudy. It usually feels more like sixteen. Our spring is a slug fest between December and June. Perhaps Punxsutawney Phil sets the odds, while the vernal equinox simply marks half-time, indifferent to the score. Before I started tracking the ground, I was anything but indifferent. Like so many others, my mood was tangled in the temps. I compulsively checked the forecast for any promise of warmth. After the first balmy afternoon shook off the gloves, I cried foul at subsequent highs below 60 and protested rain showers in the 40’s. Weather stats brought out the taunts: “Get it together, April 17th! In 1976 you set the record at 85 degrees. Now you’re letting icy death grip lake breezes reach all corners of the city!”Now that I focus on the predictable growth of shadows and sprouts, I don’t mind the melodrama of spring. A lifelong Cubs fan, I can handle its shitty record. No matter what coat we need on April 17th, the sun will rise at 6:07am and set 13 hours and 26 minutes later, the crocuses will be yielding to the tulips, and Wrigley Field will host the Padres at 1:20pm.
Last week closed with the first 5 o’clock shadow of the season. Today, the sun will set at 5:09pm, and nautical twilight will extend to 6:12pm. It doesn’t matter that Monday’s blinding sun on thick snowbanks startled the critters back underground, and that the temps will plunge tomorrow. We are halfway to the spring equinox—only six weeks. I finally understand why Groundhog’s Day is on February 2. It signals the start of the 2nd quarter. While writing this, I discovered a wealth of fun facts and conjectures about traditions related to this time of year, too many to do justice here. I’d like to write more soon, or at least before the next Super Bowl.
- Did you know that, in the late 1800’s, after the groundhog prognosticated, it was prepared for dinner? Or that it used to be considered good news if six more weeks of winter were predicted?
- Then there’s the classic case of the unclean woman. After giving birth to Jesus, Mary couldn’t go to church for 40 days, i.e., until she had completed her first postpartum menstrual cycle. February 2nd is 40 days from Christmas Eve. It is celebrated as Candlemas.
- And, what a coincidence. . . those dates just so happen to align with the Celtic celebration of Imbolc (ewe-milk), which honors the earliest signs of spring, such as lambs being born.
- It’s also curious that house-hunting usually ramps up after the Super Bowl, as if the end of the football season marks the end of weekend hibernation.
- Oh my goodness! I just realized spring training opens on Ash Wednesday and that Opening Day is about 40 days after that. My mind is boggled.