Puzzled by small furry animals

Furry friend in Canada
Furry friend in Canada

TRISH TAKES FIVE: By Trish Burgess

In 2008, emboldened by the success of a similar vacation in Iceland, we decided a fly-drive round the major cities of eastern Canada would be an excellent family trip.

There were some hairy moments, mostly linked to sat nav malfunctions (speaking French, guiding us into tunnels before losing signal) but, in all, it was a wonderful experience and the perfect way to see contrasting cities such as Quebec and Toronto.

Having read in our guide books that Ottawa had been dubbed one of the dullest cities in North America and that it had only become the capital of Canada because Queen Victoria had been awfully fond of a watercolour she had seen of the nearby countryside, our expectations were realistic.

Ottawa, however, proved to be delightful: quite British, with a daily changing of the guard and we felt the atmosphere and architecture very reminiscent of Edinburgh.

On one afternoon we spotted a number of small, furry animals popping out of holes near the river bank and along the canal: chubby creatures, with reddish brown fur and measuring about 2ft in length. We sat down outside a cafe and watched the animals with interest. We kept trying to guess what they were but our son, then 12, wasn’t convinced by our suggestions so we knew we would have to ask someone.

Dougie, like many men I know, doesn’t like to ask for directions or appear stupid. Me, I have no qualms about that.

I stepped inside the cafe and asked the cashier:

“Can you tell me what the animals are outside?”

“Sure,” he replied. “They’re groundhogs.”

“Groundhogs? Like in the film, Groundhog Day?”

“Yup, that’s right, we have hundreds of them round here.”

Very excitedly I returned to the boys and gave Rory a quick synopsis of the film: Bill Murray is stuck in a time warp and has to replay Groundhog Day over and over again.

Dougie smiled and said to me, “I dare you!”

“Dare me to what?” I replied.

“Go back into the cafe and ask him again.”

I have dined out on that anecdote many times since then and as today is February 2, officially Groundhog Day, I thought it deserved another airing.

Today in Canada and the United States people will be celebrating and taking note of the groundhogs’ behaviour. In Philadelphia, Punxsutawney Phil, who became famous in the 1993 movie, will be the star once again. If he comes out of hibernation and sees his shadow (ie it is sunny) then winter is predicted to last another six weeks; if it’s cloudy, spring will come early.

It’s a shame the UK doesn’t have any groundhogs (also known as a woodchucks or whistle pigs) to test this theory out but as they are members of the squirrel family, maybe a visit to Bourne Woods is in order.

You can follow Trish on Twitter via @mumsgoneto and read her blog at www.mumsgoneto.blogspot.com