It is February 2nd, Candlemas, and one of my family’s longest-standing pseudoholidays, Groundhog Day.
A couple of years ago I described how my family, led by my father, used to make a big deal about Groundhog Day (see Groundhog Day, Alaska Style). These days, I mostly try to make a point of watching the Bill Murray/Harold Ramis movie about the day, which I really enjoy, and perhaps listening to John McCutcheon’s hilarious little song about it.
Beyond that, I have to admit, as I have before (see The Circle Turns Toward Spring) that even while my family accepts February as the start of spring, and enjoy Groundhog Day, we really look to a different creature to act as our harbinger of spring. That would be the sooty grouse.
The grouse formerly known as blue, now officially called sooty grouse, has a different colloquial name in Alaska: hooter. In the spring, the male grouse call to the females with a deep hoot, that sounds like someone blowing on a jug. It can be heard for miles. We often hear them on the far shore of Lynn Canal.
Unfortunately, human hearing doesn’t locate lower decibel sound very well, so it’s kind of hard to track hooters by listening. Mostly, I try to remember to take a .22 or air rifle with me when I go out in the woods. Once we even had one come into the yard (see Hunting for Dummies Part 1) which made for a very nice dinner that evening. I should point out that this happened in October. The other time we saw a hooter on this side of the ridge, it was in December.
By the time the hooters reach full voice, we have too many other tasks to complete around the homestead to devote time to hunting. That makes hooters very much an opportunistic meal for us. Better to let them come to us than to go out looking for them.
Maybe the same could be said about spring in Alaska?
By the way, as you can see in the comments below, my friend Angie tells me that we now officially call Groundhog Day “Marmot Day” in Alaska. Apparently, it changed in 2010! I am so out of touch. Here’s a short, funny article about it from Alaska Dispatch News.