February 08, 2012 - Who needs meteorologists with fancy degrees or high-priced Doppler radar systems when you've got a fuzzy llama who's able to predict the weather?
Mark Harries, owner of Windstar Farm in Oxford Township, listens to Tutor’s weather prediction for Groundhog Day. Standing next to them is Summer Breeze, a female llama who shares Tutor’s stall and could possibly be learning the closely-guarded prognostication secrets handed down from the late Noah John, Oxford’s famous one-eyed groundhog. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
From his comfortable home at Windstar Farm (2065 W. Oakwood Rd.) in Oxford Township, Tutor, the famous weather-prognosticating llama, made his annual prediction on Feb. 2, otherwise known as Groundhog Day.
"It was cloudy when he went out this morning (around 7:30 a.m.) and he did not see his shadow. That's supposed to mean an early spring," said Mark Harries, who owns the charming little farm and cares for Tutor.
Tutor's been making weather predictions on Groundhog Day since 2010.
"His batting average is .500," Harries said. "Last year, he got it wrong (with an early spring prediction), but I think just about everybody did. The year before he was the only one who got it right. He said an early spring and everybody else said six more weeks of winter. We got an early spring that year and it was absolutely beautiful."
Tutor's nationally-renowned Pennsylvania competitor, Punxsutawney Phil, saw his shadow last week and predicted six more weeks of winter.
Only time will tell who's right this year – the noble hometown llama or the grandstanding groundhog who many claim is more concerned about fame than the weather.
Tutor learned the tricks of the weather-predicting trade from his mentor and fellow llama Zac, who served as Oxford's official prognosticator from 2003-09.
Zac, in turn, learned his meteorological skills from the legendary Noah John, the famous one-eyed groundhog who captured the Oxford community's heart with popular public appearances in Centennial Park every Feb. 2 from 1999 until his death in April 2002.
When asked if Tutor has a protege to which he's passing on his special knowledge and closely-guarded secrets, Harries replied, "Right now, he's got a female llama named Summer Breeze that he's been spending a lot of time with. They're sharing a stall in the barn. I have a feeling he might be talking to her – just in case."
Summer Breeze was the last llama born at Windstar Farm, which has now ended its breeding program.
Harries and his wife, Beth, have been raising llamas for about 20 years. They currently have a herd of 31.
It was during an open house for the Michigan Association of Veterinary Technicians at Michigan State University in East Lansing that Harries developed an interest in llamas.
"While (Beth) was running her booth, I went off and discovered llamas for the first time in my life and just fell in love," Harries said. "I had never been near a llama before that. To me, it was always just some funny-looking animal from South America that you saw in pictures.
"I looked into their eyes and they just seemed like very gentle, majestic animals. That day, on the way home, I told her I'm getting a llama."
Since then, Harries and his wife have bred llamas and raised them for their wool, which can be sheared, processed and sold every year. They've also marched them in parades, taken them to schools for educational visits and showed them off at local festivals.
"There's just something about them," he said. "I don't know how to explain it."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.