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Groundhog Day good time to reflect on past

Some of us remember a time when Groundhog Day had greater significance than it does today — back when Denton County was home to more agricultural operations than subdivisions and parking lots, nature did, indeed, influence lives.

People who made their living from the land by raising cattle or growing crops watched the skies and searched for signs of pending weather changes. It wasn’t possible to check a smartphone application or turn on a television or computer to get the latest weather forecast, so many of our ancestors paid close to attention to charts and tables in the almanacs that they picked up each year at area feed stores.

Back then, the legend surrounding Groundhog Day probably made a lot more sense. We’re not saying that our grandparents actually based any of their plans on what a Pennsylvania groundhog saw or didn’t see outside his den on Feb. 2 — there was little chance that folks around here would get that news anyway.

But following traditions and folklore and relying on natural indicators to decide when to plant or take care of other important tasks did make sense — that’s the way things had been done for years.

Punxsutawney Phil’s forecast might not have had much value outside of the region where his fame began, but farmers and ranchers here knew that if certain indicators were present when they turned the calendar from January to February, they could predict with greater accuracy if winter was on the wane or about to return for another few weeks.

And, like we said, people who lived close to the land learned the value of paying close attention to what nature had to tell them. Considering the fickle Texas climate, signs that it was safe to plant early could mean the difference between success and failure at harvest time.

Thanks to modern technology, most of us will be able to quickly learn if old Phil saw his shadow today or not and whether he hustled back inside his den or got ready for an early spring.

The myth of Groundhog Day has nothing to do with actual weather forecasting, but at the very least, it provides an enjoyable break in a long and dull winter. Generations of Americans raised in climate-controlled houses may not fully appreciate it, but Groundhog Day does provide an opportunity to celebrate history and tradition and pay tribute to our ancestors.

If we can’t recall a time when families grew much of their own food or made a living from the land, we can talk to men and women who do remember and listen and learn from the stories they have to tell while we still can. More and more of our history is lost with each passing year.

We can also visit area museums that celebrate Denton County heritage and read historical texts that can tell us about life on area farms and ranches. We can glean many valuable lessons from studying the past.

Like we said, Groundhog Day may have no scientific validity, but it does provide a good opportunity to pause and learn more about our area’s heritage.

As far as Punxsutawney Phil is concerned, we’re hoping that the skies above his den were thick with clouds that prevented him from seeing his shadow this morning. That’s supposed to be a sure sign of spring.

We may not believe in the Groundhog Day myth, but we’re tired of winter and will take all the help we can get.