I don’t put much stock in the weather-forecasting ability of small, furry, hibernal animals. To wake up a grumpy groundhog on February 2 is asking for trouble, never mind that the statistics say that Phil has only been right 39% of the time over the years since he first had his moment in the sun, so to speak. To my knowledge, burrows don’t have windows so anything above ground must look pretty enticing to a groundhog that has been dozing for several weeks. Plus: after his performance on the stump, Phil goes right back to bed and whether he sleeps for six, seven, or eight more weeks…what difference is it to him?
But geese are different. Theirs is an aerial perspective, much closer to weather of any kind. This morning, two days after Phil retook to his bed, I saw a large flight of Canadian geese heading due north. “Aha!” I thought. “Spring is on its way.”
If you think about it, geese have a lot more reasons to pay attention to the weather. They’ve got a lot further to go than a groundhog that has never even applied for a passport or heard of something as remote as the arctic tundra. Moreover, those geese that have made it through another hunting season have every reason to want to get out of Dodge; the pickings are getting slim and the memories of companions missing in action must be quite painful. But on one morning that looks not all that different from any other winter morning, instinct knocks and Mr. and Mrs. Goose and all their friends answer. It’s time to load up the formation and head home, back to Canada. Somehow, they do the math, calculating exactly when to leave so as to arrive several weeks and a thousand miles hence at precisely the right time when food is on the table up north.
One more thing: groundhogs may make some small noise, but they don’t speak a language I understand. Geese, on the other hand, are noisy critters: I heard the formation this morning long before I actually saw it. Geese announce the imminent arrival of spring like the herald on the loudspeaker at Grand Central station: “Now arriving on track 9…” Good; now I can finish up all those indoor tasks I’ve been putting off and sharpen the blades on my lawn mower.
It was Paul Simon who sang “I get all the news I need on the weather report.” I bet it was a goose, not a groundhog, that gave the forecast the morning he penned that line.