Every February 2nd, like most citizens north of the Mason-Dixon Line, I await Phil’s arrival. Will he bring an end to my gloom or tell me this sad state will last for awhile?
Southerners probably shake their heads in wonder at the sight of their fellow citizens waiting patiently for answers from the world’s most unusual and famous weatherman. But how can they understand, when their chances of seeing two-foot snow drifts and -2 temperatures are so slim. And though Maryland, Northern Virginia and Washington, DC may be south of the Mason-Dixon, 2009’s Snow-mageddon, placed them in the ranks of the snow states.
How did it happen that this cuddly, furry weather prognosticator holds the hopes and dreams of the Northern part of our nation in his paw each Feb. 2? And that we stand by and watch him crush those hopes into the ice around his den every year?
I know there are people who actually like winter, who revel in the snow and enjoy cold weather sports. I am not one of them. Growing up in Western Pennsylvania I got to experience plenty of long, cold winters. As a child I embraced the snow, mainly because it meant a day home from school spent sledding with friends with plenty of hot chocolate or Ovaltine supplied by my mom. But as an adult working in Pittsburgh, I put away those childish views. Snow meant long slogs in traffic to work, icy blasts blowing up my stocking clad legs and slush in my shoes.
Then I experienced something new when we were stationed at Fort Hood, Texas – sixty degree weather in winter. I remember calling my mom in Pittsburgh to tell her I walked to Christmas services without having to dress for an Arctic adventure. Her “How nice for you,” was said in the same way I respond now when she calls from Hilton Head to tell me about how warm it was walking on the beach. (My folks got smart many years ago and now winter in South Carolina.) Two moves to Fort Polk allowed me to enjoy more warm winters in between some chilly PCS’s to Omaha, Boston, Germany and Kansas.
Those opportunities to enjoy snow-free winters spoiled me forever, I am afraid. But who really likes being cold? It’s natural to long for sun and warm weather at this time of year. Our bodies crave light. In a Woman’s Day article by Sara Reistad-Long on surviving winter (http://www.womansday.com/health-fitness/your-winter-health-survival...), Dr. Rubin Naiman, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Arizona and director of Circadian Health Associates noted that “Darkness prompts our bodies to produce the sleep hormone melatonin, making us feel fatigued.”
Reistad-Long also quotes Judith Wurtman, PhD, research scientist at MIT and coauthor of The Serotonin Power Diet, who says, “The long hours of darkness and short hours of light affect serotonin, the brain chemical that keeps us in a good mood and turns off our appetite. In fact, seasonal affective disorder, in which depression caused by lack of light persists day after day, affects about 5 percent of Americans, with 10 to 20 percent experiencing a milder form of winter blues.”
Read more: Health Tips for Winter at WomansDay.com - Seasonal Mental Health - ...
So now you know; it’s not abnormal to want to just stay wrapped in your quilt through these long cold days. Don’t blame yourself, blame Old Man Winter! And like me, turn your gaze towards Gobbler's Knob on Saturday and cross your fingers Phil doesn’t see his shadow, predicting an early Spring.
This year, with Groundhog Day falling on a Saturday, you have a chance to see Phil in person. Punxsutawney, PA, home of the famous Phil, is only a few hours drive from Northern Virginia, and would be a fun way to spend a winter weekend. The town draws thousands for this annual celebration that features ice and wood carving competitions, music, and crafts and the furry weatherman. The Groundhog Club – those top-hatted members of Phil’s inner circle – offers the following advice on their website http://www.groundhog.org/:
The website offers lots of helpful information and links for area lodging and dining. If you want to stay closer to home, visit the Groundhog Day celebration at Black Hill Regional Park in Frederick, Maryland. Beginning at 11 am, the park will recognize the state’s second largest rodent with stories, crafts and a nature walk. The family program is geared for children ages 1 & up and tickets are $5 each. The Mother Nature Network has some fun activities for Groundhog Day that you can do at home as a family listed on their website: http://www.mnn.com/family/family-activities/blogs/5-ways-to-celebra....
Or, fix a big mug of hot chocolate, wrap yourself in a quilt, and put on the greatest movie about winter ever – “Groundhog Day.” It may be cold outside, but you’ll be laughing inside!