Meet Wood Charles

Wood Charles

It’s February 2nd, also known as Groundhog Day.  I personally put my faith into the groundhog’s predictions for the length of winter-like weather. Any animal which faithfully comes out of his burrow each year must have some knowledge of the season’s future, otherwise why would we, or he, even acknowledge his shadow, or lack thereof?

We hold no celebrations up here on the mountain, such as they do in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, which is the largest and most famous gathering of groundhog watchers. Their groundhog is called Phil (after King Phillip) and he’s been faithfully doing this job for over 125 years! No wonder he knows the correct forecast.

The groundhog is also known as the woodchuck. Why he’s called one thing in one place and another elsewhere raises some good questions. My theory is that many, many years ago there was a groundhog rebellion of some sort – maybe fighting over territory and boundaries, maybe a dispute in the weather forecast techniques, maybe vanity issues of who looked handsomer and spoke more eloquently when delivering the weather predictions; or maybe some groundhogs proposed that the name “woodchuck” was more elite sounding than “groundhog”. It was the “hog” ending that bothered them.

We agree about that “hog” ending. At least with the “chuck” ending one has an option to upgrade one’s name; therefore our woodchuck is known to us as “Wood Charles”. In fact we’ve taken the liberty of just calling him “Charles” – a much more dignified name, although he is not named after any king. He waddles all over our property, and he especially likes the back hill by the radio towers. His main burrow is up there. He comes out in the mornings, his tummy wobbling as he walks through the tall grasses.

We see him standing on his hind legs to view the scenery, smell the flowers, or possibly to view the antennas.

There are times he burrows under our deck – and no use trying to block his entrance because he quickly removes any rocks, no matter how heavy, and goes back under, squeezing through the opening. Maybe this is his vacation home, although we hope he doesn’t get carried away with his digging.

For such a fat creature, Charles roams easily all over the mountain. We see him going down the road, we see him on other properties, we see him at the foot of the mountain, and we see him at the top. In fact we see him miles from home. Wherever he is, he’s still our “Charles” as far as we’re concerned.

Dwarf Albert, who outgrew Wood Charles

Of course we don’t know if he’s been around for 125 years, as long as Phil has, but we can vouch for the past 20. I do remember back then, right after we had planted a small, one-foot Dwarf Alberta tree, looking out the window and seeing Charles on his hind legs looking at the tree. They were both the same height. It was as if they were having a conversation. I thought at the time it would have made a good title for a children’s book, “Wood Charles and Dwarf Alberta” – I wish I had written it – maybe I will someday!

Our tree, for some reason is now known as Albert instead of Alberta. Albert is now over six feet tall – Charles hasn’t grown, except in width.

So this year we once again counted on Charles to come out on February 2nd to give us his weather report. We stood at the window awaiting his arrival from his burrow. I can picture him in there waking up from his hibernation, stretching and yawning, wanting to push the snooze button on his alarm. To be honest, we haven’t seen him at all. What a disappointment! However, we know his prediction, because the heavy morning fog lifted early and it’s a sunny day. I went out and saw my own shadow. Besides, Phil has already been out up in Punxsutawney to proclaim:


“As I look at the crowd on Gobbler’s Knob,

 Many shadows do I see,

So six more weeks of winter it must be!”

I think the good news is that our winter has been unusually mild with little snow. We can live happily with six more weeks like this!

But where were you, Charles?

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