February 2nd Letter

Dear Wiarton Willie,

You don’t know me, but I felt compelled to reach out to you today. Being Groundhog Day and all it seemed appropriate. Necessary even.

Growing up – back when winters were really winters when snow banks towered over my hat and hooded head – I was as guilty as the next, waiting for the annual prediction-by-groundhog. Could I expect more of the white stuff in the coming six weeks or were my snot-nosed trudges to school almost over? I can be excused (perhaps) as my concept of Groundhog Day was born of gorgeous picture books like Williams Shadow - where an adorable dress-wearing William the woodchuck (which we thought nothing of incidentally) was waylaid in his snug little cubby-home by his furry friends who tried to keep him in bed all day “with great heaps of good things to eat” to make sure he didn’t see his shadow.

I confess I even read the book to my kids many years later, spawning another generation of prognosticating-groundhog-lovers. I’m embarrassed to admit that it’s only recently that I recognized – or thought enough to fully appreciate – that these groundhogs weren’t out in their natural habitats, with us watching from afar to determine if they saw their shadows each February 2nd. No, nothing so innocent. In fact, we humans have been holding these furry critters captive for our own capital gain – for festivals from coast to coast, from Shubenacadie Sam to Balzac Billy. I understand, Willie, that in Ontario you share the stage with Gary the Groundhog out n Kleinburg. But you are by far the most popular Canadian groundhog, being the only albino – as touted and exploited by Wiarton town councilors and community hype. In fact, protecting your reputation is so important to the economy of your town that rumour has it the town officials covered up a double murder when your predecessor slaughtered his understudy competition.

And while I understand the motivation – I mean what town wouldn’t rather be known for its adorable unique albino groundhog predictors than the tainted water stain on nearby sister-town Walketon – the fact remains that we are holding these creatures hostage, in pens, to serve our commercial needs. But hasn’t that always been the stain on our humanity? We devalue lives to satisfy a misguided ‘greater’ economic need. From Egyptian slaves, to African slaves, to global outsourcing, to puppy mills, isn’t the basic premise the same fatally flawed purported rationale?

So on behalf of myself, my family, all Canadians, and all humankind may I extend my humble but sincere apologies to you and yours. Maybe one day, we will rediscover our humanity and your spawn can enjoy life in their natural habitat without interference from our foolish and arrogant species.

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