The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


February 1, 2013

Did you know prognosticating rodents help save lives?

Point Blank

Let’s open the mailbag, shall we? We got a letter the other day from a guy who claims to be a groundhog.

He wants to know if there is anything positive to be said about the gluttonous rodents that weigh as much as 14 pounds and can devastate a carefully tended vegetable garden in a matter of minutes.

Says I should examine the life history and ecology of groundhogs, both of which he considers fascinating.

Says all of the holes the groundhogs dig provide homes for a lot of other animals like foxes, raccoons, opossums and cottontails.

Says reporters around the country should admire the groundhog.

He seems to think that groundhogs may be North America’s least-loved native mammal.

Let’s pick up the letter right there:

“Farmers consider us a nuisance. When people build their dream houses in woodchuck country, they call a local exterminator when we tunnel under their carports.

“Why, the striped skunk gets more respect, especially from motorists who, judging from the carnage along rural routes, rarely brake speed for woodchucks licking salt or munching newly mowed grass on the roadside.”

Let me pause to stop laughing before I crack a rib. I mean, really.

The letter continues: “Even on Groundhog Day, it’s an annual moment of limelight, but we are portrayed as a dumpy, dumb woodchuck who is mainly the butt of bad jokes no less.

“TV weather persons, or silly articles by reporters who get stuck with the assignments no one else wants, all portray us as fat, waddling fur bags who couldn’t tell their butts from a hole in the ground.

“What a joke. No matter whether we see our shadow or not (like that has anything to do with the second half of winter) we get the blame for those bad prognosticators’ predictions that always seem to turn out lame.

“We get death threats of all kinds because half of the folks who listen to this happy bull, actually take it seriously. Some of our friends had to be put in protective custody. At least, that’s what those dumb journalists said on what must have been a slow news day ...

“Get this: Woodchucks can’t foretell the weather because of the presence or absence of a shadow. And why would a sunny day rather than a cloudy one mean six more weeks of winter. Go figure?

“What’s more, most groundhogs, except those living in the South, are sound asleep on Groundhog Day — unless they’ve been doped and dragged from their dens for a photo op.

“The whole thing is a farce. A hibernating woodchuck won’t come out of its den in midwinter even if the temperature were to hit 70 degrees.

“For your information, Mr. Columnist, we big rodents are helping to save human lives.

“Yes, that’s right. Wild woodchucks often are infected with a virus very similar to hepatitis B, which can hasten death from liver cancer and cirrhosis.

“Humans don’t get hepatitis from Woodchucks. No sir. The point is, some people raise disease-free woodchucks for medical research — people who are studying hepatitis in humans. Now, what do you think of that? Until we came along, research on the disease was difficult.

“But enough. We’re just getting tired of being the butt of bad jokes and being hauled out of our dens by disguised caretakers in penguin suits on Feb. 2. Just look at the facts, in 125 or so predictions since 1886 the groundhog has only forecast a short winter 10 times.

“And according to the residents in that wacky Pennsylvania town where Punxutawney Phil is holed up, he’s always right — 100 percent. I say that’s a bunch of bull ...

“But what am I doing? If people really cared, they would drop a few carrots or radishes or cabbages outside our dens and leave us in peace.

“Oh, by the way: It looks like it’s going to be a longer winter in the United States, especially around Beckley and southern West Virginia. I hope you freeze from record snowfalls and late season ice storms.

“Smoke that in your pipe on Groundhog Day ...”

Yours truly,

Harvey Woodchuck

Beaver, WV


Top o’ the morning!

— Blankenship is a columnist for The Register-Herald. E-mail:

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