On Saturday, February 2nd, Groundhog Day at the Ward Pound RidgeTrailside Museum, about 15 children shadowed by their parents came out to put Arts and Crafts to a mid winter celebration that goes back hundreds of years to the middle ages in Germany.
The children learned that half way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox peasants would scout out the badgers to see if they were ready to spring out of their winter holes and get on with the business of badgering. “If the weather was warm enough,” said assistant curator Dan Aitchison, “the badger’s emergence signaled the beginning of warm weather and a new planting season.”
The tradition was transferred to America with a twist when Germans began immigrating here. With Badgers in short supply, they took to the groundhog instead. The shadow applies because sunny skies in February implies cold weather – otherwise clouds will form and the furry faced hog would not be frightened off by its own image.
But what are Pauxitawny Phil and New York City’s Pot Hole Pete doing in the ground anyway, asked the Trailside assistant curator. Wide awake themselves, the children already knew about hibernation and the ground hog’s deep winter sleep. Wiretown Willie of Canada and his kind burrow straight down and to the side where they snuggle in for the winter.
Catching on quickly, five year old Nico Mantione of Ridgefield assertively questioned why the groundhog digs over to the right or left instead of setting straight down to sleep. The side pocket protects Phil from falling rain or snow, Mr. Aitchison told him. Unfortunately, Nico would have to wait until next year to learn that as a fast flying lady bug carried his curiosity off to a Trailside event for maybe another day.
Still, the five year old says he knows enough that when he sees his own shadow that it’s time to go out and play in the winter weather but his school teacher on Monday will not get to hear everything that he learned on this day. “I can’t remember it all,” he said before the ladybug flew back in.
Nico’s Mom, Tizzie, liked the idea of teaching children about Groundhog Day as a means to spark their interest in nature while hopefully developing a healthy respect for the environment. Plus, “Anything to get them outside in the winter,” she said of Nico and his sister Jacqueline, who was also in attendance with Dad.
Grandfather Roy Hermanson didn’t look so deeply into the groundhog hole as he enjoyed the afternoon with his wife and granddaughters, Allison and Amy. “I don’t believe this conflicts with the super bowl,” he joked a day before the big game.
17 year old Trailside intern, Dylan Picker of Horace Greeley High School remembered also to see the lighter side of working with kids at events like this. “They think you’re funny no matter what you do,” he said.
But as an environmentally conscious young man, Mr. Picker sums up nicely how the museum can impact the future by offering learning activities such as these for children. “It’s good to get them caring about nature at an early age because it’s harder to get them to care when they don’t start until they are adults,” he concluded.
Rich Monetti coverage of Trailside Museum’s celebration of Ground Hog Day
From The Bedford Pound Ridge Record Review