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February 2 Writer Birthdays

February 2 Writer Birthdays

  • 1882 - James Joyce, acclaimed Irish modernist author, known for his command of the English language and his provocatively complex works of fiction.

  • 1895 - Joseph Seamon Cotter, Jr., U.S. poet and playwright.

  • 1905 - Ayn Rand, Russian-American novelist, philosopher, and Conservative/Libertarian political activist.

  • 1916 - Ngô Xuân Diệu, prominent Vietnamese poet more commonly known by the pen name Xuân Diệu.

  • 1940 - Susan Wittig Albert, American mystery writer, author of the China Bayles series.

  • 1921 - Jan Slepian, American author of books for children and young adults.

  • 1931 - Judith Viorst, American journalist, psychoanalysis researcher, and author of popular children's books, including the beloved picture book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day.

  • 1948 - Ina Rosenberg Garten, American cookbook author, food columnist, host of the Food Network program Barefoot Contessa, and a former staff member of the White House Office of Management & Budget.

  • 1970 - Santa Montefiore (Santa Palmer-Tomkinson), British novelist and socialite of Argentinian background; her father, Charles Anthony Palmer-Tomkinson, represented Britain on the Olympic ski team and is a close friend of Prince Charles.

petrini1 [userpic]

Bad News From Punxatawney Phil

Chief Groundhog Punxatawney Phil saw his shadow this morning, as he usually does on Groundhog Day. I suspect that the lights from the television cameras make it almost inevitable. That means six more weeks of winter. Bummer. I'm not surprised. According to the AP, Phil has predicted an early spring only 18 times since 1887. And our unseasonably cold weather lately makes it easy to believe that winter is not yet finished with us.

A few years back, I compiled some Groundhog Day History for this blog. In the spirit of the day, I'm reprinting part of that post here:

A Little Groundhog Day History
Every year on February 2, the groundhog -- let's say, Punxsutawney Phil -- emerges from his winter hidey hole, bleary eyed from his long winter's sleep. According to legend, if the groundhog steps outside and sees his shadow on this morning, he will be frightened back into his burrow, and there will be six more weeks of winter weather. If the day is cloudy so that he does not see his shadow, spring will come early.

The Groundhog Day tradition grew out of Medieval European beliefs associated with the Christian holy day, Candlemas Day. Candelmas, also celebrated on February 2, marked a milestone in the winter, and the weather that day was important. According to an old Scottish poem:

As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and snow
Winter will be gone and not come again
A farmer should on Candlemas day
Have half his corn and half his hay
On Candlemas day if thorns hang a drop
You can be sure of a good pea crop

Roman soldiers spread the Candelmas tradition to the Teutons, or Germans. They expanded on it by concluding that if the sun shone on Candlemas Day, an animal -- the hedgehog -- would cast a shadow, predicting six more weeks of bad weather. Eventually, descendants of those Germans emigrated to the United States and settled in Pennsylvania, arguably the hub of all modern Groundhog Day activity. European hedgehogs were in short supply in the settler's new home, but Pennsylvania was home to a large population of groundhogs. Soon, the settlers realized that the groundhog possessed the wisdom and good sense to know that it should scurry back into its burrow, hedgehog-like, if its shadow appeared on Candelmas Day. And a new holiday tradition was born.

Phil Becomes Famous
Groundhog Day is celebrated throughout the United States and Canada, but the holiday's biggest fans know that the real party is at Gobbler's Knob, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the home of Punxsutawney Phil. In fact, The Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper is credited with printing the news of the first Groundhog Day observance in 1886. Phil's handlers claim that today's Phil is the same groundhog that prognosticated an early spring that year, and that he is now more than 120 years old. They attribute his longevity to the magical Elixir of Life, a secret recipe that Phil sips every summer at the Groundhog Picnic. Standard-issue teetotaling groundhogs live up to 6 years.

Phil has met presidents and governors. He starred with Bill Murray in the 1993 movie Groundhog Day and has appeared on Oprah. During Prohibition, Phil threatened to impose 60 weeks of winter on the community if he wasn't allowed a drink.

Fun Facts About Groundhogs

  • The average groundhog is 20 inches long and weighs 12 to 15 pounds. Punxsutawney Phil is indeed a giant among groundhogs, measuring 22 inches long and weighing in at 20 pounds.

  • A groundhog's diet consists of lots of greens, fruits, and vegetables and very little water. Most of their liquids come from dewy leaves.

  • A groundhog can whistle when it is alarmed. Groundhogs also whistle in the spring when they want to attract groundhogs of the opposite sex. For that reason, they are sometimes called whistlepigs. Other names for the groundhog include woodchuck and land beaver.

  • Groundhogs are one of the few animals that really hibernate. Hibernation is not just a deep sleep. It is a deep coma. During hibernation, the body temperature drops to a few degrees above freezing, the heart barely beats, blood scarcely flows, and breathing nearly stops.

  • Despite their cute, cuddly appearance, groundhogs can be quite aggressive and will defend themselves if threatened. They are much faster than they look, and they have exceptionally strong jaws.

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