Two weeks after Jimmy The Groundhog predicted an early spring, winter has finally come to Wisconsin. A little explanation to non-Wisconsinites. The Madison area has its own groundhog, Jimmy The Groundhog, located in nearby Sun Prairie, which declared itself the Groundhog Capitol of the World over fifty years ago, setting off a rather interesting and mostly good-natured rivalry with the more well-known rodent in Punxatawney, PA.
Which is funny because according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac website, the Groundhog Day tradition was brought to Pennsylvania by German immigrants in the 1800s–except that back in Germany, the small mammal that gave the sign of whether or not spring would come early was a badger. Finding no badgers in Pennsylvania, but lots of groundhogs, the groundhog became the bearer of the prediction for spring. But not only are badgers native to Wisconsin, Wisconsin is nicknamed the Badger State. Also, the badger is mascot for the University of Wisconsin, and all over Madison one can see little icons of a badger walking on its hind legs with a puffed out chest and a scowl on its face.
But nevertheless, we have a groundhog, too, and he didn’t see his shadow this year, thereby predicting an early spring. But that didn’t stop us yesterday from us getting our heaviest snowfall thus far this season—ten inches. I talked to a co-worker about this and she told me that Jimmy has four more weeks to be right. Who knows? Three days ago it got up to 50 degrees and I walked a couple of miles with my winter jacket open. Tomorrow night it’s supposed to plunge to –12.
It was an odd day yesterday. Madison has been known to stop its bus service when the snow gets too heavy, and so I went to work 30 minutes early just in case I had to leave early. I was checking the Internet site of a local TV station every 30 minutes today so that if the buses decided to stop, I’d have advanced warning. A woman in the cubicle next to me commutes to work from Dodgeville, about an hour west of Madison, and she joined many others in staying home. We were surprised to find out that Madison public schools had closed their doors, and most of the surrounding area as well. Since the kids were staying home, many parents were, too. The malls were closed, and many other businesses as well. The parking lot outside our building was half empty as was our cafeteria.
I left work at my normal time of 4:30 p.m. and I was surprised to see not much traffic on the roads. The bus driver suggested that maybe the city was trying to minimize the number of people on the roads to minimize the number of accidents and also make it easier for the snowplows to do their job. Well, that makes sense. Two co-workers some years older than me were talking about how easy kids have it today, and how schools never closed when they were kids. But, then again, Madison didn’t have traffic problems or a population of over 200,000 then like it does now.
I was going to run a couple of errands after work, but both places I was going to go to were closed. I was going to get together with a friend, but he cancelled. I found myself with a surprisingly free evening.
I walked into my co-op house, and it was surprisingly dark, with nothing but the refrigerator lights illuminating the dining room and kitchen. (We have a commercial refrigerator not unlike what one may see in stores or restaurants. It has glass doors and is lit up inside.) This was kind of unusual for 6 p.m. on a weeknight. It was sort of weird—stores closed, traffic surprisingly light for rush hour, an empty house. I began to think that I was in a scene out of Steven King’s book “The Stand.”
But I rather liked the quietness. There’s nothing like the weather to force you to slow down and relax.
Nevertheless, I hope that Jimmy the Groundhog is proven right about an early spring—and soon.