On the intelligence of meese

Oslo resident, Graham Dukes, encounters a single minded moose.

Last Thursday our local moose came plodding out of the woods towards our garden fence. He usually drops in once a week or so when no-one is around, but this time I was out painting the balcony, so I put down my brush and leaned out to get a better view.

For all of his fifteen hundred pounds he hopped over the fence like a featherweight, then he tramped through the bushes and set out across the lawn, aiming as usual for Elisabet’s roses.  He had chewed off most of them a week earlier, but now he found a couple of survivors to munch on.  If I were a moose (which heaven forbid) I suppose I too would be equipped with a mouth and a throat of tough leather so that I could gobble roses with impunity. But even given a leather-lined inside, I would keep away from these particular roses.

They are known as rosa sericea pteracantha: their prickles (the experts decline to call them thorns) are red, an inch long and sickle-shaped, and my gardening book warns me to keep well away from them.  Mooses, of course, don’t read gardening books; they just plunge ahead and chew. (Mooses, did I say?  Now what is the proper plural of moose? Mooses?  Meese (cf. geese)? Or just moose? Not that it matters, since I only ever seem to encounter them one at a time.)  This particular one, having chewed up the last rose, wandered off past the tulips (but left those, as he always does, for lesser deer to eat) and disappeared round the corner. Curious, I put down my paintbrush and went down to the other side of the house to see what he would do next.

Quite simply, he plodded down the front path and out onto the road. And there he stood, on the asphalt, staring balefully at an oncoming car.  The car hooted, and then stopped, as it had to.  If you are a Norwegian moose (which, again, heaven forbid), and therefore the size of a cow and a half, and if you stand in the middle of a narrow road, you block the traffic quite effectively both ways.

Another car coming down the hill behind him hooted and then stopped. Other cars duly arrived from both directions, all hooting at first, and then perforce stopping.  And still our moose stood, staring balefully at the first of the cars.  What was he thinking?  I do have my theories about animal intelligence but they are based mainly on dogs and cats.  I once owned a labrador retriever who was very bright indeed and entirely convinced that I did not come up to his level of intelligence, though he was quite nice about it.  If faced with a puzzle he would frown massively and then set about solving it, at which he generally succeeded before coming to me to collect his reward. As to cats – well,   they no doubt have brains, but for reasons best known to themselves they dislike me intensely. On encountering me, a cat will stare at me in evident horror and you see it thinking “Oh Lord, it’s him again” and then turn its back on me.

None of this is relevant to mooses (meese?) but it’s the best I can do, since the books on animal intelligence quietly bypass the issue. The internet goes no further than to say that since the moose has survived for two million years it must be clever, but with that sort of reasoning you could argue that the amoeba too is brilliant.  My pet theory is that a moose can only accommodate one thought at a time and has limited storage space for ideas.  On this occasion, our local moose had managed in succession to think about our fence, Elisabet’s roses, tulips (in passing)  and finally cars; and with that it had run out of intentions, and could only  stand still in the middle of  the road. After ten minutes or so, someone apparently called the police, who came, shook their heads, and drove off again.  Another twenty minutes and then two hefty game wardens drove up; after some time, during which they engaged in some pushing and pulling and emitted what were possibly intended to be moose-soothing noises, they persuaded the animal to get into their trailer and drove off to deliver him back into the woods.

So that was that, and I went upstairs again to finish my paintwork.  But I still wonder what our moose is thinking about now.  How peculiar it was to ride in the wardens’ trailer, perhaps. Or, more probably, how to strike up an acquaintance with the girly moose who lives across the lake.

But if he’s going to get into that sort of thing, he really ought to consider first what the proper plural is of moose.

4 comments on “On the intelligence of meese
  1. Anna says:

    As a Scandinavian living in the UK, I have always understood that ‘moose’ is the American and Canadian word for these animals, while ‘elk’ is the word used in the UK – and as ‘elk’ obviously is the same word as the Norwegian ‘elg’ and Swedish ‘älg’, this seems the right word to use when referring in English to a Norwegian ‘elg’.

  2. Graham Dukes says:

    We are all wrong, of course. Our animal is domiciled in Norway, so he has no reason to ponder on Engish plurals. In Norwegian he is an ELG. And what do you think the norwegian plural of ELG might be?
    Quite simply: ELG.

  3. Jack Humphrys says:

    It sems to me (phoentically at least) that ‘meese’ should rhyme with ‘cheese’. It doesn’t look quite right. ‘Meece’ sounds better but doesn’t follow your golden goose/geese ‘rule’. Which just demonstrates the craziy irregularity of English pronunciation (or my brain has just become moose like and can deal with only one concept at a time),


  4. greyhares says:

    Graham, I have it on good authority that the word “moose” came to us from Algonquian Indians. Consequently its plural, instead of being “mooses” or “meese”, is the same as the singular. That is true of most Indian names whether of a tribe, such as the Winnebago and Potawatomi, or of an object such as papoose. It is also true of many wildlife names not of Indian origin — for example: deer, mink and grouse.

    See: http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/natbltn/500-599/nb504.htm

    Just as well then, that the greyhare is not one such animal, otherwise our blog would be a misnomer.

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