27 January 2011

Let's chuck it all!

How much winter would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck winter?

How much spring would a groundhog hog if a ground hog could hog spring?

And -- what’s it worth to you, anyway?

The job market, the economy and global warming have left us all feeling pretty much in the hole right now. But consider the plight of Punxsutawney Phil, the iconic prognosticating rodent who is consigned to spend every winter there for most of his life. Market conditions, tastes in music, art and fashion, and even the growing popularity of the iPad have little impact on him. He stays out of chat rooms and you cannot follow him on Twitter. Don’t even try: Down below the ground he goes in autumn. And up he comes every Feb. 2, on the date that celebrates such a rodent-centric occasion.

Punxsutawney Phil is a kind of Reverse Santa Claus. He is equally fat and his arrival is much-anticipated but he is not so jolly, it seems, for having had his sleep disturbed. Cranky and bleary-eyed, this notorious resident of the North Hole possesses no elves or reindeer. And he climbs up into the light from down below instead of sliding down from the roof into the dark. No milk and cookies await him. Wide-eyed children pen him no letters (not even any e-mail or, more appropriately, G-mail). And sadly, the gift he leaves under our collective holiday tree is not always a welcome one.

So do we chuck the winter, Chuck? Do we go whole hog for spring?

The answer is only days away. Meanwhile, for the next few days, tread lightly on the earth where, only a few feet below, the most important player in the Weather Underground is quietly rousing from a long winter’s nap.

Perhaps, this year, it is best to let sleeping chucks lie.

20 January 2011

In appreciation of Appreciation Day

First, the bad news: Jan. 21 can no longer be called Squirrel Appreciation Day. Now, the good news: It’s time to rechristen this sacred occasion as Squirrel Appreciation Day Appreciation Day.

If you really want to do your part, take the next 24 hours to appreciate the fact that 10 years after it was founded by a North Carolina wildlife rehabilitator, this holiday not only still exists but, like an acorn sprouting through the soil, it is branching out and growing strong.

So you're chagrined at being caught unprepared? You forgot to hang the wreaths, to string the holiday lights, and you never bought those plane tickets to grandma’s house?

Worse yet, your stockings are still on your feet, instead of being hung by the chimney - with or without care.

Worry not, you can still head over the river and through the woods – in fact, you should, because that’s where you’ll find all the squirrels.

And you can still leave presents under the tree. That’s the easy part, by the way: Every tree, you see, is as good as the next when your gift list includes walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans and almonds. These are happy one-size-fits-all surprises that don’t need wrapping or bows and aren’t likely to be exchanged one day later for a Sony PlayStation, a Wii or a pair of diamond earrings.

You see, squirrels are easy to appreciate, even if they aren’t particularly appreciative themselves.

On the other hand (which in this case, happens to be the other paw), squirrels don’t seem to mind that their special day falls on the winter calendar sandwiched between Penguin Awareness Day, Jan. 20, an observance that mandates only the most formal attire, and National Blonde Brownie Day, Jan. 22, an occasion that spawns unfettered, nonstop, sugar-laced carbo-loading (but only as a warmup exercise for the next festival, Jan. 23, which is National Pie Day). Squirrels have no problem playing second banana to these holidays (even though National Banana Lover’s Day doesn’t come until sometime in August.) Actually, squirrels like bananas. They could celebrate along with the rest of us.

There is, however, one special celebration going on in Corvallis, Oregon, that has taken squirrel appreciation to new heights – though, in this case, it’s not the treetop kind. A popular local establishment, known as Squirrel’s Tavern, is hosting the third annual fundraiser of the nearby Chintimini Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. Chintimini not only appreciates squirrels but takes them in and cares for them, along with assorted other wild neighbors. Celebrants at this fundraiser are cautioned not to drink and drive, and definitely not to drink and drive and feed the squirrels.

For especially overzealous festival observers, an even stronger holiday warning has been posted on the web site of the National Wildlife Federation. It notes that National Squirrel Appreciation Day coincides with another observance: National Hug Day. While the two gestures of affection seem, at first glance, to be a natural pairing for wildlife lovers, don’t be fooled.

"Please don’t combine the two," the web site warns. "Keep your appreciation at a distance."

Otherwise the fur that flies may be your own.

08 January 2011

The walk of fame

Behold the glory of the celebrity signature: A one-of-a-kind, genuine article, unique in all the world, rendered right out there in the great outdoors in the unfortunate impermanence of a snowbank.

But don't be fooled -- this is a real superstar article, nonetheless.

Just as in Hollywood, the big names in our neck of the woods show up wearing glorious fur, except theirs is attached to their bodies for real (and let's face it, they wear it so much better). And just like in Hollywood, these stars are elusive, fast-moving and occasionally camera-shy.

Lacking a Grauman's Chinese Theater as a backdrop, these footprints of the famous are encased instead in snow from a storm that fell from the sky just two days ago. These tiny paws are welcome calling cards, letting everyone check in and announce that everyone, once again, survived.

This is winter's Walk of Fame.

Just don't expect any of these signatures to be offered at auction by Sotheby's. Fast as the snow vanishes, so shall these happy signs of coming and going.

Celebrities, after all, still prefer glorious anonymity, no matter the weather.

02 January 2011

Weight, weight! Don't tell me!

They have big butts, fat necks and haven't stopped eating since the holiday season started more than a month ago. They make no apologies for their excessive avoirdupois: Finding a ready stash of goodies, they would eat it while upside-down, if need be. And often, they do:

Squirrels are going heels-over-head for any chance at a fast-paced, no-holds-barred eating binge, whether at the bird-feeder, the exposed garbage pail or even a picnic table in spring. They'll hang on your back door. Your front door. Your pants leg, even.

It's 2011 and you won't find any self-conscious squirrels sucking in their midsections or squeezing their lard-upholstered back ends into some fashionable workout suit just to impress other squirrels. They are at their fattest at this time of year, which also happens to be the season for squirrel dating and mating. And mid-winter flab does not stand between any squirrel and the chance to have a hot Saturday night any day of the week.

Their motto: "Love thy blubber as thou wouldst love thyself."

And so they have no time for bench presses, laps around the track or even crunching their abs. As they shuttle between orgies that orbit around either food or fertility rituals, these libidinous little lardbutts are playing to the point of exhaustion, as if the Roman Empire never fell at all.

Sooner or later, I suspect, they'll weigh in (so to speak) and tell the rest of us how things went. They'll find most of us waiting to hear - in the far end of the parking lot outside the fitness club.