Adorable cartoon sitting skunk.

The Moon of the Polecat is upon us.

This warm winter has the skunks all confused.

These undeodorized creatures usually don’t start stirring much until about the first week in February, the time the Indians called “The Moon of the Polecat.”

But this year, Pepé Le Pew and his friends were out wandering around by the third week in January, and by the first of February, they were crossing the highways looking for love.

With the ground unfrozen, the one that lives in the groundhog hole out by the barn was digging those little conical holes in my yard (looking for grubs) three weeks ago. It is not a pretty sight, but it is a cheap way to get your lawn aerated.

Skunks usually hibernate during the cold weather of January, but this year, their underground stays were brief because of the warm temperatures. But now they are out in full force, so watch out for that dead skunk in the middle of the road. The Moon of the Polecat is upon us.

Even the groundhogs didn’t take to ground for very long this winter. I saw woodchucks out searching for green grass even on the few cold days we had in January. This is also mating season for them, so don’t be surprised to see a woodchuck running across your back lawn in search of companionship.

Robins began appearing in my yard on the last day of January, the same day a flock of starlings descended in my back field on their flight north.

You can put all this down to climate change if you like, but there have been many winters when I have seen the robins moving back and the groundhogs popping out of their holes in mid-January.

In fact, as warm winters go, this one has been colder than some. I remember several Januaries that were so warm, the earthworms were all over my driveway after every rain. At least the top inch or two of the ground has frozen a few times this year.

With no cold predicted in the 15-day forecast, it looks like spring is about here. As you may have heard, it was a split decision between the Pennsylvania groundhog and the one in Potomac. One indicated an early spring and one indicated it would stay cold for six more weeks.

Don’t get excited about that early spring prediction. March can be a killer, and the temperatures during that miserable month can hang in the 40s and 50s, just as they have been doing since Christmas.

A 50-degree day in January and a 50-degree day in March are two entirely different animals. In January, 50 degrees feels like summer. In March, when you expect it to be warm, 50 degrees is cold. It is all in the mindset.

No matter what kind of weather we have in late February and March, nature is starting to get active again. Hawks and eagles are beginning to nest and the red fox that raises a litter in the culvert under my lane every spring is probably already pregnant.

And rabbits in the Northern Neck and southeastward will be giving birth in the next two weeks.

The coyotes will time their mating season to coincide with that of the groundhogs. When the little coyotes are big enough to eat meat, the baby groundhogs will be old enough to emerge from their dens and become prey. Nature has it all worked out.

Yes, it has been a mild winter, but don’t let your guard down. As I said, March can be a killer. One of the top five snowstorms of all time in the area began on March 5, 1962. Before it was over, almost everyone west of Interstate 95 (which actually didn’t exist then) had between 30 and 36 inches of wet snow and ice.

Telephone poles snapped, roofs caved in and, in the days before four-wheel-drive tractors, farmers found it almost impossible to get hay to their cattle. In the Shenandoah Valley, government helicopters were brought in to lift hay to cattle in back fields.

Remember, too, that for the past two years we have had an unusually strong windstorm at the end of February or the beginning of March. Will there be a third this year?

I sometimes get my early garden planted in late February, but unless we have a dry spell, I won’t this year. The ground is still pretty wet from all the recent rains. Still, there is plenty of time.

Hey! Daylight Saving Time begins March 8. That’s less than three weeks away. After that, the sun won’t go down until almost 7 p.m. Now that’s something to look forward to (pardon the dangling preposition).

You may recall that last Labor Day, when the TV weather forecasters and the Farmers’ Almanac were calling for blizzards, I predicted only about 5 inches of snow this winter. So far, we have had 3 at my house. Only a crazy March can make a liar out of me.

Chief say my medicine plenty good. My Indian ancestors would be proud.

Just don’t bring that polecat smell into my tepee!

Donnie Johnston:

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