Not Really...
Off the Wall, February 17
, 2012

Two weeks ago, as I stood looking out through the glass of my old store door, I began to meditate upon a statement a fellow made to me earlier. He said, “Hey, did you hear, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow?” With the way weather has been lately, it matters not to me, and for all intended purposes, really, to me, what’s the big deal anyway. I can’t do a hoot and flanilly thing about it.

But that is not why I’m writing this column today. My thinking, as you probably guessed, exceeded that. And as many of you probably have figured out by now, my brain waves don’t stop with the normal, but pretty much fall along the lines of something that may be considered abnormal.

So, there I stood, looking out, more so having my eyes fixed upon the clouds than on anything else that may have stirred that time of the morning. Then it hit me. If there were clouds when dawn seemed to make its appearance, then there could have been no way in the world Punxy (short for Punxsutawney) could have seen that dark outline that covers the ground off to one side.

Many know that in bygone days I was a professional photographer, so I understand three things – highlight, shadow and the combination of both which creates impact. That’s all I’m going to say about that, other than to emphasize, we folks in that biz had to understand that stuff or our pictures fell “flat.” And many photographers that I knew in the past went by the wayside for they knew little about creating sensational photos.

Here’s what I want to talk about today. So Punxy saw his shadow, did he? Did you ever take into consideration that fat groundhogs can barely turn their heads around themselves to begin with, let alone to look for a shadow? Maybe in Gobbler’s Knob the weather wasn’t overcast like it was here in Latrobe since the wee hours of the morning. I will tell you this. If the fury four-legged “friend” to some would have been outside my window or along my alley, there would have been no shadow to cast, because it takes sunlight to cast a shadow. A flash from the cameras of onlookers would definitely cause shadows to appear. But no light from above, no shadows below.

I looked at that wonderful photo on the front page of the Latrobe Bulletin last Thursday, Feb. 2, with John Griffiths eyeing his beloveth creature and thought, what a wonderful photograph Ernie Sistek snapped. It was perfect.

What really troubled me was this. Put yourself in the shoes of Phil. O.K., he doesn’t wear shoes, I understand that. But you know what I mean. Normally, he lives in a very quiet environment with little to do, other than make an occasional trip maybe to the White House or places where celebrities hang out, but never a crowd, at least to my knowledge.

So, here is this animal, from all understanding, kind of doing its own thing all year long, feeling at rest in its comfort zone, maybe in its “mancave” fenced in so it can’t leave the premises. All of a sudden, the second of February enters the picture. Removed gently from its heavenly haven, it is introduced to shrieking, shouting sightseers who aim rectangular devices in its direction, light flickering with sudden bursts of illumination that last at intervals some very short, while others, seconds apart.

Can’t you just feel for Phil? Do you think what is going through its mind is, “Do people think I am some kind of freak or something?”

One more thing. What would you do if you were Phil? Probably, the very thing he actually did – stand firm and gawk at what going on. He would be checking out everyone he could see. Of course, I’m not sure how far a groundhog can view in the dead of morning (if there is such a thing) just as the light was making its presence known. But in any case, it would be looking straight ahead or slightly to the left or right, mystically shivering a bit in its boots (just an expression. I know it doesn’t wear boots, either). Just look at Ernie’s picture. It says it all. It is said, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Was Phil “looking at his shadow?” Not really. Not this “hog,” I guarantee you. You wouldn’t either if you were he. If thousands were making noises at you, as I see it, you wouldn’t be looking around on the ground for a shadow. You’d be too freaked out. Do you think this annual event should be given another name? I don’t know. It’s your call.

- Paul J. Volkmann
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