We’re taking a brief detour from Director’s Week because of the visit of a certain groundhog. As I mentioned when I reviewed Susanna Leonard Hill’s delightful picture book, April Fool, Phyllis! for Perfect Picture Book Friday a couple of weeks ago, Phyllis the Incredible RockStar Groundhog is currently on a World Tour. Not only is she cavorting all over the globe, spreading joy and weather reports wherever she goes, she seems to be able to be in three or more places at once! That’s one talented groundhog.

Phyllis and I spent a couple of days last week sightseeing in and around my home city in Saskatchewan, Canada. (Phyllis and I made a deal — I’d learn to spell Punxsutawney if she’d learn to spell Saskatchewan. It seemed a fairly even trade.) I have to tell you right now, it is great fun sightseeing with a groundhog, especially one as friendly and enthusiastic as Phyllis. She charmed everyone in her path (not that anyone who knows her will be surprised by that).

It seems appropriate that although our sightseeing took place last week, I’m posting this on the first official day of Spring! Want to know what we did? Click the magic words…

Our first stop was a grain farm. Saskatchewan is noted (among other things) for being an agricultural province. Phyllis pricked up her ears at the mention of grain, and spent much of the 20-minute drive asking “Are we there yet?” When we arrived, she said, “We have to show everybody how flat this place is! And how big the sky is!” (Although we do have hills and forests, even desert, in Saskatchewan, around here it’s very flat. The motto on our car license plates is “Land of Living Skies” — the prairie and the sky above it are vast.)

Phyllis and Beth in the "Land of Living Skies"

Phyllis soon wished she had rubber boots like mine — the prairie gumbo mud caked in her paws as she scampered around checking everything out. She climbed up on a piece of wood to clean her paws and to check the weather. She was so excited by everything that not long after this picture was taken she fell over backwards and had to be mopped off after landing in the wet grass.

Sniffing out the weather

It was cool and getting cloudy when we were out at the farm. Phyllis said it would be a while before all the snow melted. Her expert weather-sniffer told her that on Tuesday, March 13, 2012 at 1 p.m. it was 41˚ Fahrenheit, and the wind was SE 19 mph. It was breezy!

Phyllis was getting very eager to see what else the farm had to offer, and especially to see if there was any grain around that might make a good snack for a deserving groundhog. First we saw a tractor. A large tractor. They grow their implements BIG on this farm. Noting that it said John Deere on the side, Phyllis said she’d never seen a deer that big. Or that green!

This is an awfully big deer!

We saw a grain truck. A rather large grain truck. A semi-trailer grain truck. Phyllis was nearly overcome by the thought of so much grain. She scrambled up onto the front fender of the truck (we thought it best that she NOT check out the interior of the grain-hauling part of the truck…)

Phil Jr. and Pete are NOT going to believe this!

I thought Phyllis would fall over in ecstasy when she saw the size of the grain bins. She scurried around underneath, sniffing through the straw and chaff, checking for snacks. She eventually scampered back licking her lips, with straw dust on her whiskers, and mud on her paws.

"I didn't know there was this much grain in the whole WORLD!" Phyllis says.

Both of us appreciated so much my cousins welcoming us to their farm, and we want to thank Deb for being such a great photographer. Phyllis was only coaxed away from the wonders of the farm by promises of more fun the following day.

The next morning we went to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Heritage Centre — the RCMP have their training depot here, and every recruit takes basic training in my home city.

First we walked over to the Drill Hall for the Sergeant Major’s Parade. Four groups of recruits, in different uniforms indicating what stage of training they’d completed, marched in and were inspected by an impressive-looking Sergeant Major with waxed mustache. Phyllis tried not to giggle when one recruit had her hat readjusted. Then the band started to play, and the recruits and the band marched around and around the drill hall, while the Sergeant Major watched their formation and conformation carefully. Phyllis was marching in place on the seat beside me.

When we went into the Museum, Phyllis scrambled up onto the wooden barriers surrounding the life-size displays and got ready to have her picture taken. She knew Susanna had been eager to see horses — this is the closest we could get, Susanna.

The North West Mounted Police used horses and carts to travel across the prairies over a hundred years ago.

The kind of horse the Mounties ride for special occasions, and for the Musical Ride.

Phyllis got a chance to try on a Mountie hat — and discovered that it’s not easy to keep them straight the way they’re supposed to be.

The Sergeant Major had better not see how crooked Phyllis's hat is!

From the RCMP Depot, we went to the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, where Phyllis learned all kinds of things about Saskatchewan wildlife and plants. First, though, she had to check the day’s weather. Can’t forget that!

This grass needs WATER!

For her second Saskatchewan weather report, Phyllis decided, “When in Canada, do as the Canadians do,” so her weather report is in metric (which she confesses twitches her whiskers just a bit.) A sharp sniff of the air, and a spin around on her rock, allowed her to determine that on Wednesday, March 14 at 2 p.m. the temperature was 7˚ Celsius, the wind was W at 31 kmh, the humidity was 45% and it was sunny.

Phyllis was quick to point out that although the snow is melting at a great rate here, we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that spring has come. She’s quite sure that there will be more snow — who knows, maybe even on April 1st!

We had a great time in the museum, scampering back and forth between the dioramas. (Well, Phyllis scampered. I walked in a manner befitting the human companion of a sightseeing groundhog.) She wanted her picture taken in front of nearly every display. (The woman in the information booth had told us this was fine, but I should make sure Phyllis didn’t actually climb into the displays. Phyllis was tempted a few times, but she showed admirable restraint.)

A burrowing owl and a burrowing Phyllis!

See what it says? MARMOTS! That's nearly as good as GROUNDHOGS!

And best of all…

PRAIRIE DOG!

I was tired when we got home, but apparently groundhogs don’t tire easily. Phyllis spent the rest of the day marching around the apartment, shouting orders to herself as if she was in the Sergeant Major’s Parade. She found it exceedingly frustrating that paws don’t make nearly as satisfactory a clomp-clomp-clomp sound as knee-high riding boots do. She did her best, though, especially with the knee-lift STOMP that the Mounties did every time they halted. She had a lot of fun with that. (I was just as glad she didn’t have boots on!)

I am delighted to have been part of Phyllis’s World Tour! Thank you, Susanna!

Illustration copyright Jeffrey Ebbeler; Badge design by Donna Farrell

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