Once upon a time, there was a moose named Loudmouth (to use the closest English translation). As you may have guessed from the fact that meese* tend to confront their problems by head-butting them, meese are neither subtle nor circumspect. As a result, they name their children using easily identifiable characteristics; Loudmouth acquired her name because her bellow was so deafening that it could shake boulders loose from mountaintops and topple passing birds from the sky. For context, Loudmouth’s parents were named Big Round Snout and Often Wiggles Tail, and her siblings were Slightly Tilted Left Antler and Intimidating Stare. Anyway, I digress. Loudmouth lived happily with her family in the woods of southeast Pennsylvania,** roaming through the trees and munching roots and twigs. Occasionally, life became a bit boring, but when this happened she played chase with her siblings or explored new paths in the forest.
One day, however, as Loudmouth wandered alone through the woods, she caught a glimpse of a billowing, dark gray cloud rising in the distance. Curious, she galloped towards the apparition and, as she approached, an acrid scent attacked her nostrils. Almost every instinct told her to turn back —she’d never seen a fire, but her parents had warned her of the utter destruction it could wreak. Every instinct, that is, except for a tiny voice that whispered, “This is so cool! When else might you be able to witness a fire in person? You can just take a quick peek and then get out of there.” As so often happens in these situations, Loudmouth decided that majority rule was rubbish and followed the tyrannical advice of the one small voice.
As Loudmouth approached the smoke, she heard shouting. Human voices. She’d never seen a human in person, but she’d heard about them. Strange creatures with strange habits who raced around in smelly contraptions and cut down forests (because they were too lazy to walk around the tree trunks, apparently). Peering through the branches warily, Loudmouth gazed upon an amazing scene. Humans were running to and fro around a burning structure as tall as a fifty-year-old oak tree — and yet, not all of them were running away from the coiling, devouring flames that leapt in merry delight as they climbed up the structure’s walls. Instead, some of them ran directly towards the conflagration, wielding long tubes that shot streams of water in great arcs. When the water hit the flames, a great sizzling sound rent the air and a hazy screen of smoke and steam undulated upwards. It was a beautiful, terrifying dance, a war of water and fire, control and chaos. Loudmouth couldn’t take her eyes away.
After the last flames had flickered out, leaving only a smoldering pile of dull black coals, the crowd gathered around the scene let out a huge cheer. “Hooray! Hooray for the firemen!” they shouted.
“Huh,” Loudmouth thought. “So that’s what they call the people with the water tubes.”
That night, when Loudmouth returned home, she announced to her entire family, “Guess what? I know what I want to be when I grow up! I want to be a fireman.”
Her family greeted her with stunned silence. Slightly Tilted Left Antler and Intimidating Stare looked at her quizzically, while Big Round Snout and Often Wiggles Tail frowned with furrowed brows.
“Um…Loudmouth, honey…you don’t really need to have a profession,” her mother explained in the patient tone Loudmouth hated. “Your job is to be a moose. And unfortunately, meese can’t be firemen. That’s a people kind of job.”
“Don’t be speciesist!” Loudmouth bellowed. Her family jumped — it was a loud bellow, even for her. “I can be whatever I want. I don’t care if you think I can only be a moose. And I’m tired of just being the loud moose, too! Don’t you ever want to be more than a moose with a big round snout, or a moose with an intimidating stare?”
Her family’s confused expressions indicated that no, they had never felt a desire to be something other than meese with big round snouts or intimidating stares. Some meese — and people — just aren’t born with that much ambition. That’s okay.
Loudmouth huffed. “Hmph. Well, I’m going to be a fireMOOSE, like it or not!” She wasn’t exactly sure how this would work, but she stomped off with the full intention of finding out.
Before long, Loudmouth realized that darkness was falling. She was slightly lost and quite tired, and beginning to feel like figuring out how to be a firemoose could wait for a bit. Spying a light ahead, she raced towards it — perhaps it was the light of the moon, ready to guide her home. But as she approached, she noticed that the light had a strange flickering quality that seemed familiar. As the same acrid scent from that afternoon spiraled into her nostrils, she stopped short in shock. She could see the flames now, dancing through the underbrush and gleefully rushing towards her. The crackling heat teased her with its glowing fingers, promising to envelope her in its deadly embrace. She looked around, but no heroic firemen were present to douse the flames.
“Fire!” she bellowed fearfully. “FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!” These last three exclamations were uttered with the utmost strength of her vocal chords, and they resounded through the night. The animals in the forest all startled awake. The humans in the nearby town also jumped out of bed and peered out their windows — and saw golden flames reaching up through the treetops.
The firefighters raced out of their homes and, in a jiffy, were assembled around the fire, hoses in hand. Loudmouth, who had raced some distance away from the flames, turned back to watch them as they battled the fire with their watery swords.
“I did that. I warned them! I helped!” she told herself proudly. “I’m a real firemoose!”
That night, she regaled her family with her exploits, and they were quite proud of her for saving them all from being burnt to a crisp. By the next day, the story had spread throughout the forest, and wherever Loudmouth went, the animals called cheerily to her, “Hey, it’s the firemoose!” Rumor reached her ears that even the humans in the town were swapping tales about the strange, moose-like bellow that had alerted them to the forest fire.
From that day forth, Loudmouth the Firemoose kept a watchful eye out for fires — such a watchful eye that she often caught them before the human firemen, in which case she would let out three resounding bellows of “FIRE!” — sometimes multiple sets of three if the situation seemed particularly urgent. Over time, the humans in the town — which happened to be called Swarthmore, if you were wondering — began to refer to this mysterious warning signal as the “fire moose,” given its resemblance to a moose’s bellow. Don’t ask me how they knew what a moose’s bellow sounded like in the first place.
Today, although Loudmouth the Fire Moose has passed on, the “fire moose” warnings continue. No one knows if they come from her ghost, or if some other moose has taken on the role, passing down the responsibility from generation to generation. I prefer to believe that Loudmouth’s spirit lingers here, ready to alert us should any flames threaten our peaceful homes and forests. Some towns have historic monuments or grand avenues; we have a fire moose.
*Technically, the correct plural of “moose” is “moose.” I disagree, and so do all the meese.
**You didn’t think there were meese in Pennsylvania? Well, you thought wrong.