Even though the winter solstice had passed months before, the days in Lanark County were still short, and dark, and lifeless, for the most part. It seemed as though the cold months ahead stretched out, with no end in sight; like the long, heavy trains that thundered and chugged down the tracks, back the side road.
Frigid, grey mornings were spent shivering at the end of the long lane, waiting for the big orange school bus to come rattling up the Third Line.
Winter in the country looked barren and lifeless. The soft green grass and fragrant flowers were dormant, as they lay forgotten under the heavy blanket of snow. The massive, frozen, white shroud seemed to conceal every trace of life that had ever existed in our yard.
Evenings after school were spent shoveling, pushing and lifting the snow, from one pile to another. Week after week, more snow fell, and it blew and drifted back into the paths that we’d made.
I was always cold, always shivering, cold face, cold hands, cold feet on the floors of the old house. Even with layers of tattered, wool blankets on the bed, the icy drafts snuck into my room, and the windows were coated in a heavy layer of frost and ice. When the wood stove in the kitchen died out overnight, yesterday’s glass of water would be frozen like a miniature hockey rink by morning.
Groundhog Day was finally here. Would he see his shadow? Would there be an early spring, or would there be another two months at least of these cold, grey days? Punxsutawney Phil had predicted the onset of spring since 1890 in Pennsylvania, and his Canadian counterpart Wiarton Willie began his annual forecast in the 1950s. At our house we listened closely to both forecasts, hoping that at least one of these rodents would offer some hope of an early spring.
So, we had two possible groundhog predictions, and two different radio stations. There was CJET in Smiths Falls, and Mother would often tune in and listen to Hal Botham after we left for school, while she did her ironing. CFRA was her usual early morning station and we’d often hear Ken ‘General’ Grant shouting, “Forward Ho!” as we ate our puffed wheat in the mornings, before walking down the lane to wait for the school bus.
I could tell that Mother was also growing weary of the long, cold days of winter and if the ‘General’ didn’t report the prediction she wanted to hear then she’d likely turn the dial to CJET hoping that Hal Botham would have another version of the groundhog’s forecast. If it was cloudy, and the groundhog didn’t see his shadow, we’d have an early spring – just six more weeks of winter. By the first week of February we didn’t want to hear any other forecast. Six more weeks of winter would be enough to bear, without the possibility of the season being any longer!
When I came downstairs for breakfast that Groundhog Day morning so long ago, Mother had already set up the old ironing board and was busy ironing a linen tea-towel. I asked her if she’d heard the groundhog’s prediction yet, and she didn’t look up, but continued to iron. “It’s just a myth, just folklore”, she said, and she folded the tea towel neatly, and started on the next one.
“So, he saw his shadow?” I asked. “Yes they both did.” she responded somberly, still not looking up from her work, and folded up the next tea-towel.
I sat quietly at the old kitchen table, ate my bowl of puffed wheat, drank my orange juice, and took my cod liver oil capsule without even being asked. Six more weeks would have put spring sometime into the middle of March, but now it would be even longer. I finished my breakfast, put my dishes in the old porcelain sink, pulled on my boots and coat, grabbed my wool hat, mitts and lunch pail, and headed out the door.
As I trudged down the long, snowy lane-way to the Third Line, I felt defeated. It was sad how a couple of groundhogs that we didn’t even know could make Mother and I feel so depressed. I didn’t even understand how they could have seen their shadows that morning, because it wasn’t sunny outside at all. I couldn’t see my own shadow, and that meant that our local groundhogs wouldn’t be able to see theirs either.
I didn’t really know where Wiarton was located in Ontario, and didn’t have a clue about Pennsylvania, but I was sure that none of the groundhogs in Lanark County saw their shadows on that cloudy, grey morning in February. Maybe the other groundhogs were wrong! Maybe there would be an early spring after all! Maybe the snow would be gone soon, and I could ride my bike up to Christie Lake again. I had to stay positive. I had to keep hoping. I had to………………
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(an excerpt from ‘Lanark County Calendar: Four Seasons on the Third Line”