Kill Phil Vol. I
February 4, 2009

By Roger Emile Stouff

Phil, that obnoxious little tunnel-digging rodent in Pennsylvania, announced Monday there’ll be at least six more weeks of winter.

An utterly useless creature. Has he ever been right? Records show he has not seen his shadow 97 times, and seen it 15 times, since 1887, with the remaining years "undocumented." The records do say he has always been correct. However, they also claim Phil is 110 years of age, so go figure.

Phil is a media celebrity, along with the townspeople who dress up in top hats and tails and listen to a fat dirt rat who doesn’t even have a degree in geology, much less meteorology.

Why do we humor the little varmint? Groundhogs! What does that name mean, anyway? It doesn’t look like a hog, it looks like a cross between a beaver, a badger, an otter and a chipmunk (which might explain its rotund diameter.) Tradition, I guess, guarantees the miserable rat’s continued existence.

But this is different. Pux has so dadgum much control over feelings, depression and bliss. Just a few words from that burrowing cousin to a nutria and I can rise to the heights of delight, or sink into the greatest depths of despair.

Certainly, if Phil had predicted an early spring, I’d be lauding his name. But he did not. Therefore, I say: Take a scattergun to the rascal! As I braced against the biting wind and frigid rain this morning to race for the warmth of my truck, I blasphemed his name:

"Darn you, Punxsutawney! You miserable, flea-bitten vermin! How dare you deem to predict the change of seasons? Only the Great Spirit knows how near spring may be, not you, you cartoonish, overstuffed refugee from a taxidermist! Come by my place looking for a pat on the head for your gloom-ridden prophecies, I’ll sic my dog on you faster than you can say ‘how many chucks would a woodchuck chuck!’"

One of my favorite animated features of all time is Riki Tiki Tavi, Chuck Jones’ interpretation of the Rudyard Kipling tale. You’ll recall that Riki was a mongoose, in India, living with a British family that saved his life after a flood. Riki returned the favor by killing Nag and Nagaina, the cobras who lived in the garden and were planning to kill the family.

Well, if ol’ Riki’s still around, I’d suggest a new career for him: Groundhog eradication, starting in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania soon as possible before the vicious beast convinces us a blizzard will be hitting Bayou Sale by the weekend. You’re laughing, but that’s the power the dastardly escapee from a fur coat factory has over people, particularly the media, the same media that follows Jessica Simpson and Britney Spears around, so what does that tell you?

I think Phil should relocate to some place like Abbeville, or Houma. First time he messes up somebody’s sac-au-lait fishing or boucherie with his maniacal seasonal predictions, it’ll be groundhog jambalaya at some Cajun’s house, I gah-rohn-tee. First you make a roux…

To paraphrase the immortal words of Yosemite Sam: "I hates that groundhog."

Without the Putz – er, I mean the Pux – to let us know there’ll be at least six more weeks of winter, we might be able to remain content in our day dream that, come say March 1 or at the latest March 15, we’ll be sleeping through 60 degree nights and frolicking within 72 degree days. Without the rodent, we might be able to pray against all hope that we’ll be catching bass by March 3, planting tomatoes by April 1. But no. He won’t even commit to "Six weeks, tops," it’s "at least six weeks" more. Wishy-washy miscreant.

Oh, yeah. Put an end to that gypsy’s fortune-telling careers real quick, and the fishermen and hunters and gardeners and soccer moms of the world can rejoice.

Groundhog Day. Bah!

It’s dumb how we make certain animals celebrities like that. Peter Beagle once remarked through a character in A Fine and Private Place that if you gave a decent, hardworking soul like the bluejay half the publicity a robin gets he’d be the national bird within a week.

Take turkeys. Your average turkey is pretty dumb. Turkeys have been known to drown themselves staring up at the rain, trying to figure out what it is.

Groundhogs, on the other hand, are a type of squirrel, and I don’t know if you realize how I feel about squirrels, but ask me sometime after they’ve half-eaten a half-ripe tomato off the vine, dug up Suzie’s flower bed or are doing a trapeze act on the bird feeders out back.

According to Wikipedia, us indigenous persons didn’t have a problem – nor revere and make Hollywood starlets out of – with groundhogs prior to 1492. "Since the clearing of forests provided it with much more suitable habitat, the groundhog population is probably higher now than it was before the arrival of European settlers in North America. Groundhogs are often hunted for sport, which tends to control their numbers. However, their ability to reproduce quickly has tended to mitigate the depopulating effects of sport hunting."

Yeah. That’s about right. Firewater, small pox and increased populations of groundhogs. What was that, the "Blue Light Invasion Special?" Buy two, get one free?

Even the groundhog trainer at the Staten Island Zoo (one wonders what you would want to train a groundhog to do, other than leap off skyscrapers) speaks of their legendary ferocity: "[Their] natural impulse is to ‘kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out.’ You have to work to produce the sweet and cuddly."

You go, boy. I’ll stick with Labrador retrievers, calico cats and if I want any more sweet and cuddly than that, I’ll buy a down pillow.

Six more weeks of winter. At least.

Off with his head! Throw him in irons! Put him on the rack! Thumbscrews! Draw-and-quarter the beast.

Dumb groundhog, anyway. Hand me my coat.