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Llama predicts early spring

Mark Harries, owner of Windstar Farm in Oxford Township, listens to Tutor the Llama’s meteorological prediction for Groundhog Day. Tutor didn’t see his shadow, which means an early spring is coming. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
February 06, 2013 - Get ready to pack up the snowblower and parka, and break out the lawn mower and short-sleeve shirts because spring is coming early this year!

So sayeth the llama.

From his warm barn and spacious pasture at Windstar Farm (2065 W. Oakwood Rd.) in Oxford Township, Tutor, the famous weather-prognosticating llama made his annual prediction on Feb. 2 – the date the rest of the world refers to as Groundhog Day.

Oxford resident Mark Harries, who owns the quaint little farm and cares for Tutor described the scene:

"Right around 7:30 a.m. we stepped out of the barn and he looked around. It was cloudy and there were snow flurries, so there was no shadow."

According to popular folklore, if the groundhog – or in this case, llama – does not see its shadow, it's a sign that an early spring is just around the corner.

"I know right now it doesn't seem like we're going to get one, but it's still early," Harries said.

Tutor's not the only furry creature out there who predicted a premature end to Old Man Winter's icy reign.

His nationally-renowned competitor, Punxsutawney Phil, did not see his shadow in Pennsylvania.

Over in Livingston County, Michigan,the lesser-known Woody the woodchuck, who resides at the Howell Nature Center, predicted an early spring.

Two other famous groundhogs also did not see their shadows. They are Wiarton Willie, of Ontario, Canada, and Jimmy the Groundhog, who calls neighboring Wisconsin his home.

Unfortunately, there are two groundhogs who did see their shadows and as a result, they're stubbornly insisting that winter's going to hang around for another six weeks. They are Sir Walter Wally in Raleigh, North Carolina, and General Beauregard Lee in Atlanta, Georgia.

In the Oxford area, Tutor's been making weather predictions on Groundhog Day since 2010. "He's only been wrong once (in 2011)," Harries said.

Given he's been right two out of three times, Tutor's batting average stands at .667. If he's right this year, he'll improve to .750.

So how does Tutor feel about all the media attention and fanfare Punxsutawney Phil and the rest of his woodchuck brethren receive on Feb. 2?

"He says he's not doing it for the fame," Harries said. "He's just doing it because it's something he learned from Zac. He enjoys it. He's not concerned with the fame."

Zac, another llama who served as Oxford's official prognosticator from 2003-09, was Tutor's mentor. He taught Tutor the tricks of the weather-predicting trade.

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 last prediction in 2002. He died in April of that year.

Harries and his wife, Beth, have been raising llamas for approximately 20 years. They currently have a herd of 28. At one point, they had 75.

The couple raises llamas for their wool, which the Harries sell and use around the house.

"We shear them once a year, collect the wool and take it up to Frankenmuth to get it processed," Harries said.

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 the gentle, fuzzy creatures.

"The first time I met a llama . . . I just fell in love," Harries said. "That's when I decided I wanted to get a llama. My first one, I had him for a year, then I got him a girlfriend. After that, Zac was born. Zac was the first baby.

"Once I experienced (having) a baby, I was hooked. You don't know what it's like to watch a baby llama grow up. I can't find the words to describe how cool it was."

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.
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