What can we tell you on Groundhog Day?! Straight up, it’s been a winter that would give a weather forecaster whiplash. A long, luxurious fall that eased into a slightly snow touched holiday season. Then the inevitable snapback to reality with low temperatures that saw new, fully charged car batteries giving up the ghost. And now a precursor to spring with warm southerlies bringing up winds that would inspire a Jimmy Buffet song.
It’s the kind of winter that a groundhog would have trouble making sense of, let alone predicting. So, in that spirit, and in a nod to the classic Harold Ramis flick “Groundhog Day,” we invite you on a trip back in time to a couple winters ago as we revisit Muenster Max in a winter that was what a winter was supposed to be.
I’m not sure how much allure Groundhog Day ever had in Saskatchewan, but after a winter like this one, any cachet it did have is gone. Let’s face it, the prospect of 6 more weeks in winter would be welcome at this point.
When the town foreman appears from behind a veritable mountain of snow just dumped from a loader bucket and says, “I don’t know where I’m gonna put it,” and the only response you can sensibly offer is “Up,” you know you’ve got the makings of an old-school Saskatchewan winter.
So along comes Groundhog Day to elevate the spirits of a winter-weary population that’s moved as much snow as the north wind. Against the advice of safety experts, I’ve surfed the ridge line of my roof twice this year, waist deep in snow to shovel it off, and it may be bucking for a third climb.
Meanwhile our friends on the east coast are uprooting Shubenacadie Sam from his winter slumber, dodging the next Nor’Easter. And a bit further west, Wiarton Willie peers out from the latest Lake Effect deluge to chime in. Even further west, Balzac Billy, a town official dressed up as a cartoon rodent, basking in the trade winds of another Chinook, tosses the coin for warmer weather.
If you’re in central Saskatchewan, and in the grip of a winter that ranges from polar vortices to Alberta clippers every fortnight, it’s hard to put a lot of faith in our soothsaying marmotte friends who dwell in other climates. After all, no self respecting gopher would do the necessary 3 to 6 feet of additional drilling through the white stuff to make a prediction. They’d just wait until late May when we’ll finally be able to see their lawns.
Saskatchewan needs its own barefoot barometer. Enter Muenster Max! He bears a passing resemblance to a groundhog and even more of a likeness to the gopher from Caddyshack. Being part Havanese, he’s built as a bit of a “low rider” with a slight side to side gait - except when he’s coming at you. Then it’s head-on.
In summer, Max patrols the back yard warding off unwanted starlings and hapless pedestrians. In the winter, with a deep layer of snow on his beat, Max’s pup parents carve a snowblown maze through the drifts so he can maintain his watch. And the depth of his maze track is the basis for his springtime prognosis.
Far from squinting in the sunlight or drowsing in a cloudy shadow like his rodent colleagues, Max alertly checks the snowpack, it’s depth, density, moisture content, rate of sublimation and ease of navigation. Next the furry forecaster calculates the solar load on his black-furred back and the ambient temperature when he’s out. Finally he determines the date on which he’ll be able to peer over the icy walls of his confines for a clear view of the neighbourhood and resume his usual long range defense of its perimeter.
With every snowfall this winter being followed by a northerly flow of icy air, Muenster Max spins out the number of weeks until anything resembling spring will appear on the horizon.
As of this Groundhog Day, Max was twirling like a whirling dervish, pretty much spelling out that we'll see our lawns sometime in mid-May. Either that or he was just happy to see me.
So tuck away your buck-toothed friend for another year down there in Punxsutawney. Here in the icy grip of a prairie winter, and it’s going to seem like a long one, we’ll put our faith in a short, furry bundle of energy who’s itching for spring as much as any of us. So, relax because Max has got our backs.