To a young lad growing up in the mountains of West By God Virginia, Groundhog Day was a holiday that I always looked forward to. The eternal hope of spring in the midst of grey skies and snow piles mixed with cinders and highway grime was almost therapeutic. Ah, the anticipation of an early spring predicted by the likes of a rodent chased out of his den by some dude dressed in a tuxedo and top hat. I must admit, since I moved south some of the excitement associated with Groundhog Day has gone away, I mean really, the forecast for Groundhog Day in Charleston SC today is Partly Sunny and 70. Hmmm, I think I can handle six more weeks of this dreadful winter weather. I suppose everything is relative as they say, and having said that, I too am looking forward to Spring in the Lowcountry and all that goes with it: azaleas, green bermuda fairways and greens, pine pollen. Well, ok, maybe not pine pollen and the yellow film that covers everything for weeks, but Spring in the Lowcountry is "all that".
Even still, memories from Groundhog Days in the past are sweet. For a period of years, I was fortunate enough to be a member of a select fraternity. A group of friends that gathered annually over Groundhog Weekend to frolic in as perfect of a mountain playground as you have ever witnessed, Thorn Creek in Pendleton County, West Virginia. I regret that I don't have any pictures of this mountain-side log cabin and it's perfect meadow overlooking a large pond fed by mountain springs, I would so like to share this vision with you. Thorn Creek is a small native trout stream that ultimately feeds into the South Branch of the Potomac River as it flows through Franklin, West Virginia. The little stream lends it's name to Thorn Creek Road off of US Route 220. From the time you exit the highway to drive up Thorn Creek Road, you recognize that you are on a different type of time schedule as you drive past a quaint little piece of property known as McCoys Mill. To get to the log cabin that served as the headquarters for the annual gathering of "groundhogs" you had to turn off of Thorn Creek Road and cross the stream and head up a dirt road that leads into the pine trees and hardwood forest above the stream. When I say "cross the creek", I mean literally, you had to "cross" the creek, not on a bridge, but by driving through the water, and the adventure begins.
The activities for the four-day weekend were various and depended upon the weather, but regardless of the weather always consisted of a couple of rounds of golf on one of the finest make-shift cow pasture golf courses known to man, the Thorn Creek Country Club. Another popular activity was just sitting in the hot tub. Before you conjure up images of a bunch of guys sitting around in a hot tub together, let me explain. The hot tub was built for one, an ingenuous creation consisting of an outdoor stone fireplace and chimney built around and under an old claw foot iron bath tub. The tub filled with clear water from the mountain spring was heated by the fire in the fireplace, the seat of the tub was equipped with a large piece of cedar wood to keep your bottom from burning if the fire got too hot.
No matter what adventures the day provided one thing that was for sure, the beer was cold and the food was good. In fact, the gourmet meals were AMAZING. Pairs of atendees were pre-assigned a meal and the competition to see who could provide the most excellent dining experience was fierce. We ate just the kinds of food you would expect to eat while camping. Breakfasts included delicacies such as Eggs Benedict and Salmon from Nova Scotia while suppers consisted of filet mignon, elk steaks, Oysters Rockefeller or huge pans of 8 inch thick lasagna.
Those gatherings didn't really have anything to do with Groundhog Day, we just took advantage of the holiday's spot on the calendar, a time of the year when we were in need of a break from cabin fever, and our wives were ready for a break from us. I will never forget those good times or the great bunch of guys who shared in the fun. Unfortunately those retreats don't occur anymore, a couple of the guys have left us for a better place and the rest of us are left with lots of great memories.
By the way, did the groundhog see his shadow? I'll let you break the news to our friends up north that they have six more weeks of winter regardless.