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Groundhog Day, you say? Where? When?
Or So It Seems

The marmota monax, a cousin in the sciurid clan, is indigenous to approximately half of the North American continent.

I hope that's enough scientific jargon to shake off any first-graders who might otherwise have read this column. You see, today's topic is groundhogs, and we are not going to pet those pests today. Far from it. I have no fond memories of groundhogs. Nor would anyone who has encountered a woodchuck on its home turf.

We don't see many groundhogs around here. The exception, of course, is Feb. 2, when the whole world, including fans of Gen. Beauregard Lee in Lilburn, Ga., swoons at the sight of a megasquirrel that just wants to be left alone for another two-month nap.

Just check the map and you'll see why very few McDuffie or Warren counties schools have the woodchuck as their mascot. Go online. The Chattanooga Nature Center's map has the chunky marmots halting their southern domain at a line from Lincolnton on the northeast to Cuthbert in southwest Georgia. So groundhogs are welcome in Washington and Crawfordville and to the north half of Macon, but certainly not in Sparta.

Go to the National Geographic site and you'll get a slightly different picture. The border runs from Lincolnton to Bainbridge, so groundhogs could venture as far south as the north loop of the Warrenton Bypass. Oh, sure a groundhog could dream of waddling downtown and burrowing beneath the Warrenton Oak, but no dice.

I retraced these borders very scientifically, by waving a folded newspaper over a blurry screen. So there is a margin of error of plus or minus two counties.

So folks around here might not appreciate the game that is played between groundhougs and soybean and corn farmers. One little animal can nip off an acre of beans as they emerge from the soil.

So from time to time farmers' teenage sons tend to wait in the tall grass near the beanfield just before sunset holding groundhog-discouraging instruments of no less than .22-caliber. Hey, don't say I hadn't warned you. Those would-be bean-protectors learn that a 13-pound mini-bear can hide beneath a fist-size clump of muck. But at least it was a lovely sunset.

And at least once in recorded history a farmer's industrious teenage son decided to block the path of a groundhog being chased toward its den by baying dogs. The consequences involved a bloody shin, torn jeans and a very well fed but indignant groundhog.

Thus, when the farmer's son thinks about groundhogs, "aw, cute" is not the first phrase that comes to mind.

I've checked ads, and I didn't see much partying around here Wednesday. I guess you celebrated Groundhog Day in your own special way. I celebrated by staying a safe four miles south of the groundhog's kingdom.

Web posted on Thursday, February 03, 2011

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