I apologize. Five weeks ago, I declared winter dead, dead, dead. I was wrong.
In fact, the day that declaration was published, it snowed several inches. The next day was Groundhog Day, and in Woodstock, Groundhog Day is quite a celebration in moderation, especially this year being the 20th anniversary of the release of the film by the same name.
Not only was there snow on the ground, but flurries were filling the air. And when Woodstock Willie was pulled from his lair, he told Mayor Brian Sager that we would have an early spring, and the mayor read a proclamation declaring such. Which would be – at the latest – the end of February by my standards.
This was my first Groundhog Day as a participant. It was on a Saturday, I had been awake for several hours, and, I thought, Woodstock actually has fun with something, and I wanted to experience Groundhog Day in its full glory rather than read about it in the paper the next day.
And the scene was positively like the movie “Groundhog Day.” Snow on the ground, polka music in the air, a large crowd on the Square, and the prognostication by the groundhog, who emerged from his stump at 7:07 a.m., the calculated sunrise for Woodstock, and failed to see his shadow, just like in the movie. My prediction of an early spring was confirmed. Despite the snow.
“Groundhog Day” is one of the best movies ever made, and it’s not because I can recognize almost all of the settings in the movie because it was filmed primarily in Woodstock. We watched “Groundhog Day” on Feb. 2, but we did not exchange gifts or cards. That would be immoderate.
In “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray plays a weatherman from a Pittsburgh TV station who is assigned – yet again – to cover the Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawney, Pa., an hour and a half away. In the movie, an unforeseen blizzard blows in, and a begrudging Bill Murray and his producer and cameraman are stranded in Punxsutawney.
That’s when the movie really begins. Murray experiences immortality, which comes in the form of Groundhog Day repeating itself over and over. We don’t know how many times Groundhog Day repeats itself – it could be thousands of times. And slowly Murray’s character transforms from a cynical prima donna who hates Punxsutawney to someone who embraces life and love and Punxsutawney. Only then does the calendar flip to Feb. 3 – to a scene of a snow-covered Madison Street in Woodstock. Murray is a changed man.
I haven’t been waking up to Groundhog Day every day the past five weeks, but I could have just as well. My certainty that winter was in its last gasps was palpable. It was as if winter had missed McHenry County this year, with no snow and regular irregular highs in the 50s and even 60s.
We were not being prepared for six more weeks of winter. It was not snowing; it was raining. It was not cold; it was temperate. It was not winter; it was an extended fall. I like winter, but winter is supposed to climax in December and January, and begin to taper off in February. We get our early spring or become accustomed to continued snow.
But we have had at least four significant snowfalls in the past five weeks – I’ve lost count – and the temperatures have been in the teens and 20s more often than not. Feb. 26’s 5 to 6 inches of snow was topped off this Tuesday by 7 to 8 inches of snow.
Both were heavy, wet snows to shovel, the heart-attack kind of snow, and I wasn’t looking forward to a heart attack either Wednesday morning as I shoveled because I was not reliving Groundhog Day. I have not been granted temporary immortality.
And people were grumpy even last Wednesday morning; they have had enough of winter. The bus on Washington Street in the Loop got hung up on a pile of snow, and it took several attempts for the driver to get over it.
The bus was overcrowded, and when the driver opened the door for a look, a number of people got off for some reason, only to get back on, complaining to the driver about having to get off and get back on. He complained for several minutes about the reboarding passengers, saying he never told anyone to leave the bus, and the reboarding passengers retorted.
“This is America, land of freewill,” the driver said, mixing his politics with his theology.
I’ve made my public apologies for my failed prediction. I was so sure. What I do know is the first day of spring is March 20, which is well after even the six more weeks of winter if Woodstock Willie had seen his shadow on Groundhog Day. I’m sorry, but I’m not in any hurry to store the shovel.
That would be an immoderate expectation for a spring.
• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.