Groundhog day

I have to admit – the whole thing of Groundhog day was new to me when I first came to Canada. I had never heard of this and frankly didn’t even know what a groundhog was!
Wiki says “The groundhog, also known as a woodchuck, is a rodent of the family Sciuridae, belonging to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots. The groundhog is a lowland creature of North America; it is found through much of the eastern United States, across Canada and into Alaska”.

Well it is no wonder I didn’t know about groundhog having grown up in Britain and Southern Africa. We didn’t have groundhogs there and therefore didn’t have a Groundhog Day. So how the heck did we know what the weather was going to do?

Well we had other means. Growing up on the Cornish coast in the UK we used to watch the seagulls. The locals believed that when the seagulls are huddled on the beach it means there is bad weather coming. Seagulls usually sleep on the water but if the waves are starting to churn up then they prefer to hunker down on the land. Maybe they get sea sick – never thought of that before. There is the old rhyme –

Seagull, seagull, sit on the sand
It’s never good weather when you’re on land.

Then there were the cows. Cornwall was known as fantastic dairy farming land so there were always lots of cows around.

A cow with its tail to the West makes the weather best, A cow with its tail to the East makes the weather least

Cows (like some of us women) prefer not to have the wind blowing in their faces (plays havoc with the false eyelashes) so they stand with their backs to the wind. A westerly wind means good weather and an easterly wind means stormy weather.

Sheep were always a good indicator as well – another old rhyme says “When sheep gather in a huddle, tomorrow we’ll have a puddle.” So when you saw all the sheep huddled together in a large group then you knew there would be some rain on the way.

Now there was a tradition in old Germany where frogs were believed to be able to forecast the weather. They noticed that frogs would climb up the trees or vegetation in good weather and took that as a sign that it was going to get warm. They were so convinced about this that they started to put these poor frogs in glass jars equipped with a small ladder inside. This was so they could be observed – kind of like a froggy barometer. They were known as weather frogs – or in the German term Wetterfrosch. Today that name is a derogatory term for meteorologists suggesting that their forecast cannot be trusted.

And then I moved to South Africa and discovered THE RAIN SPIDER!!!! Yes that is right. Huntsman spiders, locally known as rain spiders , are some of the largest spiders in South Africa. These nomadic, nocturnal arachnids are called rain spiders because of their tendency to seek shelter in human structures right before a rainstorm. So when these puppies invade your house you just know it is going to rain.

And guess what they eat – lizards – Yes it gets worse and worse. For those with arachnophobia this is the ultimate nightmare. So back in 1959 scientists wanted to check to see if the spiders were poisonous so they got one of them to bite a guinea pig on the nose. I know – hey? How cruel, poor guinea pig. Well the guinea pig died but further research showed that he didn’t die of poison – he died of shock. Well wouldn’t you?

By Lesley Keyter

Lesley Keyter is the face of travel in the fast growing city of Calgary. Every week since 1997 she has has featured live on the Morning News Global TV.

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