Why hadn't we thought of this before? The best way to ensure that the groundsheep doesn't see his shadow this year is to separate the sheep from the ground! All we needed was an old-fashioned "sheep launch," just like you and I used to stage every year at the annual ATL Picnic. (For the uninitiated, we hung Shearson from a tethered weather balloon and dropped him over a field where all picnic-goers had placed flags. Closest person to guess where he'd land won that year's grand door prize. Yes, really — it was an engineering lab, so sue us.)
Anyway, Amazon had everything we needed: helium, rope, a safety harness, and one Acme deluxe extra-large weather balloon. Even if Shearson happened to look down, all he'd see is a big dark circle on the ground. We'd send him up early in the morning, and we'd bring him down after sunset. And voilà – an early spring. It was foolproof!
So at 6:30am, we put our plan into action. I'd let out the rope, while Scott would secure the other end to the ground. Shearson would float harmlessly all day, 500 feet above our backyard. What could go wrong?
Wait. Or was the plan for Scott to let out the rope, while I tied the other end?
Oh, well. That dumb sheep was going to take a longer trip than he expected. Sooner or later though, the balloon would leak enough helium that he'd eventually land. I wonder where that would be?
Um, okay, maybe we filled up the balloon a little too much. Poor Shearson, stranded all alone on a hostile planet. Nobody even knew he was up there! First he'd have to find a way to contact Earth, then he'd need to figure out a way to survive until a rescue mission could be mounted. And, he'd have to do it all using his wits alone. He's toast.
Or maybe not. Shearson soon stumbled across the Mars Curiosity rover taking photos of the Red Planet. It didn't take long for the groundsheep to make his presence known to the folks back at Mission Control.
Not coincidentally, finding a source of food turned out to be easier than expected.
He also managed to make the human race's...um, make that the ovine race's...first contact with an alien civilization.
The locals sent out a welcoming party. Do I even have to tell you how it went?
Back on Earth, NASA made Scott and me aware of the groundsheep's plight. So did the emissary that Shearson met. All parties concerned made it clear to us...very clear...that we were to bring Shearson home, tout de suite, before he caused any more damage.
The Mars guy also left us with a message to ensure we knew he meant business. Maybe he didn't like my hat?
You know, being disintegrated makes me very angry. Very angry indeed.
Anyway, NASA supplied us with a surplus rocket and directions to Mars. Their engineers also mounted a mission to drop a shuttle onto the Martian surface so that Shearson could launch himself into space for the rendezvous. Scott was really excited and asked if he could drive – after all, he has his learner's permit and will be getting his license next month. We checked the New Jersey DMV website and there weren't any restrictions involving interplanetary travel between 6am and midnight, so I said okay. That may have been a mistake.
Meanwhile, on Mars, the situation was bad and getting worse...for the Martians. Turns out that you can develop the most sophisticated arsenal of futuristic weapons in the universe, but it doesn't do you much good if your adversary is Shearson.
The emergency shuttle that NASA sent arrived right on schedule. Miraculously, against all conceivable odds, the maroooned groundsheep now had a way to get off the planet's surface!
As for Scott and me, we were having some, um, unfortunate navigational issues.
Eventually though, we managed to make it into low Mars orbit. Now it was just a matter of getting Shearson off the surface. With the NASA shuttle damaged and digested beyond repair, the Martians took matters into their own hands. Unwilling to invest in any high-tech solution that the groundsheep might treat as another snack, they devised an ingenious low-tech solution:
It worked! We pulled Shearson through the airlock and welcomed him to safety. What an adventure! All of this took the entire day, so if the groundsheep saw his shadow at any point, he sure as heck didn't do it on earth. So, I guess that means we're going to have an early spring. Hmm...though now that I think of it, I wonder what would it mean if he saw his shadow while on Mars?
Anyway, Tom, we're on our way home, and another Groundsheep Day saga is behind us. Maybe we'll even back it back in time for Quizzo tonight. Or, um, maybe not.....
Nick, Scott, and Shearson
Photography by Jessica Chastain and Matt Damon. Well, not really, it was by MB and John, but as usual they insisted on pseudonyms as they don't want any part of being associated with this annual silliness. And seriously, who can blame them?