Why do we have to keep learning the same lessons over and over?
I have been to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, on a pilgrimage to see Phil the Groundhog, his environs, and the infamous Gobbler’s Knob where each year the citizens gather to witness Phil’s winter prognostication. It was not February 2, but a sunny August day in 2010. My mother, Twelve, Nine and I were heading east on a monster road trip against improbable odds. I had signed up to take the Yoga As Muse facilitator training in Hudson Valley, NY, only to learn that I would need to take everyone with me for the week, about two months after major surgery. That meant I would be driving and renting a house, and I would combine an intense week of training with zipping back and forth to tend to my family. We pulled together a plan and even booked the Bill Murray Suite in the Pantall Hotel, just across the green from the groundhog enclosure. On the last day of July, we headed east.
Two days and some 835 miles later we exited south off of Interstate 80 and journeyed a two-lane roadway into the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. Since she had learned about the groundhog in preschool three years before, my daughter had been saying that one day we would “make a trail mix and go to see the groundhog in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.” Before we left Iowa, we assembled all of the ingredients for the trail mix. These snack bags sustained us across Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.
In preparation for our visit, I got Murray’s movie and watched it on my treadmill, thinking the peeps might enjoy it. I had forgotten how dark the film is, the sour nature of Murray’s character turning him first to hedonism and then dark depression, causing him to try all manner of suicides. When at last the film reaches its happy conclusion, in which love conquers even the weird wrinkle in time, Murray’s character has redeemed himself. But I settled for telling the children a version of the story on the drive to see the groundhog.
He was sleeping, nesting in his burrow carved out of the city hall building on the square. One large plate glass window allows visitors to peer in. There were two groundhogs, actually, although we felt sure Phil was the one on the left, a round curl of fur, nose tucked into his back paws. We stopped back several times; the groundhogs, it seemed, were happy to nap right through the summer.
Our entire visit was quiet, in fact, the streets of Punxsutawney relatively empty of visitors, but full of groundhogs. Cheerfully decorated fiberglass Phil statues adorned nearly every corner. The town is set up for tourists—groundhog merchandise for sale in every shop and the route to Gobbler’s Knob clearly marked. Twice a year Punxsutawney fills, once for the summer groundhog festival and once, of course, for the wintery appearance at sunrise by one of the world’s most famous rodents.
Each February 2 since, I’ve been tickled to see the media coverage from the town we visited. Gobbler’s Knob is a reference point on my personal GPS and the shared history I have with my peeps. This year the pictures of this unlikely place we’ve been appeared just at a moment when I was dithering about whether or not to squeeze a journey of opportunity into a schedule that didn’t feel like it would allow it and a budget that doesn’t have an extra dime. The Groundhog reminds me: that 2010 trip east changed my direction in life. So did another trip when I scraped together $600 for airfare to a job interview in 1990. I remember again just how important it is to leave home sometimes, shed one’s routine, and take a chance on something that isn’t a sure thing, even when the circumstances don’t seem ideal. Why don’t I easily remember these lessons? I don’t know, but with gratitude for a furry creature and his messages, I cleave a hole in my schedule and purchase the ticket. Like the Groundhog, I can sleep in August. Look out life, here I come.
Although Phil saw his shadow and it snowed two days later, six more weeks of this mild winter seem doable. The message of a mild winter? Don’t withdraw quite so much; rather, reach out for what you want. Wishing you a lovely full shiny February moon, Rxo