I want to believe the groundhog.
I am lying on my back, struggling to breathe. The pounding in my head is like that of the pistons in a John Deere 4430, the incessant rhythm interrupted only by spasmodic coughs that sound like a dog with distemper. Blinds pulled low, covers pulled high, I can hear the wind keening across the open fields like the proverbial freight train. From the front porch I hear the sound of two rocking chairs crashing forward in quick succession and I am startled into wondering whether they have managed to remain on the porch or have been thrown into the overgrown shrubbery.
In the moments when the wind dies down, the sound of wind chimes — normally melodiously soothing — is irritatingly cacophonous, and with this wonder I question whether I have enough strength to open the door, climb up on something — anything — and take them down from their perch so they will just. Shut. Up.
It is at this moment that the news at the top of the hour includes the announcement that General Beauregard Lee did not see his shadow and we — or at least those of us in Georgia — can expect an early spring. It is a measure of how badly I feel that I am willing to place my hope for the future in a rodent dressed like a Civil War general.
Having determined, in fact, that I do not have the strength to disarm the wind chimes, I am left with nothing to do but contemplate the silliness, the irrationality and the ultimate irresponsibility of not just my, but everyone else's, need for a tangible sign that the end of darkness and coldness and isolation is within sight. We are enlightened people. We no longer panic when the sun slides dramatically behind the western horizon. We know it will show up again on the other horizon in just a few hours. And yet, before dawn on Monday morning, there were 11,000 people in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the home of the original prognosticating woodchuck, awaiting the appearance of Punxsutawney Phil. This has been going on since 1887.
I think I make my point. And, if not, consider that at least six other communities across the country (including the Yellow River Game Ranch where General Lee lives) produce their own versions of the big reveal on Feb. 2. And at each of these productions there are not just observers, but sponsors and journalists and, in some cases, politicians. Last year Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City went to the Staten Island Zoo for their ceremony involving Staten Island Chuck. The rodent of the hour slipped from His Honor’s grasp and fell to the ground. It died weeks later of internal injuries, a fact zoo officials did not make public for months.
What it means is that regardless of how well one knows the 11th chapter of Hebrews, the evidence of things not seen sometimes needs to be punctuated by a thing seen, the absence of a shadow made obvious by the presence of an eight-pound rodent, with or without historical costume.
Three days later, having responded to antibiotics and the house call of my friend the doctor and his wife the angel, I am once again among the living. I am, to coin a phrase, breathing and walking around — and longing, yearning, aching for spring, encouraged the slightest bit by the fact that the General came outside his burrow just long enough to see absolutely nothing.