The (Other) Lion That Roared

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The (Other) Lion That Roared

James R. Aist

Funny things often happen when you are vacationing, but they don’t always seem very funny at the time. This funny thing happened when we were passing through Germany while touring Europe in 1972. We were driving our brand-new White/Red Volkswagen Vanagon and going from campground to campground to save money. A two-person tent served as our bedroom.

We pulled into Munich after sunset and followed the road signs to a large campground. After paying the camping fee, we drove to our camping spot and began to set up our tent. That turned out to be no small task, as the tents were crowded so close together that there was not space enough to place the tent stakes properly (see photo). In fact, it was so tight that at one corner of our tent there was no choice but to connect directly to one of our neighbor’s stakes! Having secured the tent, we retired to our sleeping bags right away, so as to get an early start at sight-seeing the next day.

We slept relatively undisturbed until daybreak, when something very unexpected and troubling happened. We woke up to what sounded distinctly like the roaring of very hungry African lions nearby! So, we took a moment to share our thoughts on the matter: “How can that possibly be? We are in Munich, for goodness sake. How can there even be lions anywhere near here? But, just in case, maybe we should get out of our tent and climb into the Vanagon for protection.” So, out of the tent we scrambled and took a quick look around before seeking refuge. And that’s when we saw it: a very large, …… unlit sign just above the treeline that read “MUNICH ZOO.” Now that explained a lot, to our great relief and embarrassment.

After another quick look around to see if we were, perchance, the only ones expecting to be attacked by roaring lions at any time now, we had a good laugh at ourselves. Then we proceeded to break camp and move on as if nothing scary had happened. And, in actuality, it hadn’t!

By the way, Munich was very nice, as expected. Apparently, all of the hungry lions were still in the zoo!

(To read more of my short stories, click HERE)

The “Bass Bait Bummer”

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The “Bass Bait Bummer”

James R. Aist

“Things aren’t always as they seem.” – Carl Hurley, Kentucky humorist

This is a true “fish story”, I swear it! By that I mean this really happened, believe me.

I was in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin at the time, and my wife and I decided to take a summer vacation of hiking, canoeing and fishing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area just north of the Wisconsin border. I was an avid fisherman and couldn’t wait to get my “hooks” into a monster muskie up there. With eager anticipation, I brought along a light-weight, collapsible gig (a three-pronged spear, as it were) just in case the muskie was too big to land with my light-weight fishing line. As you will see, that scenario developed alright, just not as I had expected.

We launched our canoe at the first lake and portaged from the end of that lake to the second lake.  There I decided to fish for an hour or so before we pitched our tent and retired for the night. It was a bit windy, so we were going to have to paddle upwind, fish as the wind drove us back, and repeat, repeatedly. It was a small lake with a bluff and weed bed on the far side, and I surmised that, if there were any muskies to be had, they would be lurking in or near the weed bed. So we launched the canoe, and I started fishing as we paddled toward the weed bed. To my surprise, on the second cast I had the most powerful strike ever! This fish fought harder and longer than any other fish I had ever hooked. I could tell that it wasn’t a muskie when it surfaced, and it wasn’t a large-mouth bass either. When I got it landed, I could see that it was a good-sized, small-mouth bass. That’s when I had a vision of frying it for dinner that night! After hooking this fish onto my stringer and lowering it into the water to keep it alive for later, we continued to paddle toward the weed bed.

When we were sufficiently upwind and near the weed bed, I began casting toward the weed bed as we drifted downwind, pulling the bass along in the water as we went. I got 4-5 casts in before we had to paddle upwind again, with no muskie. Each time we drifted downwind to fish, the bass would get tangled up in a few weeds, so we had to pause to free it. After the third pass alongside the weed bed without any sign of a muskie, I noticed that the bass had gotten entangled by a clump of weeds much wider and longer than before. So we paused once more to free up the bass, and that’s when I took a closer look at the clump of weeds. Suddenly, it occurred to me that this was not a clump of weeds at all. It was a huge muskie, about three feet long, that had chomped down on the bass we were dragging in the water! I was shocked, and it took me a few moments to figure out what to do next, without spooking the muskie and causing him to release the bass. I wanted to land both of them, but how could I possibly get the muskie in the boat without spooking him?

Well, that’s when I remembered the gig I had brought with me. Perhaps I could spear him with it and lift him in. So I began to carefully and quietly assemble the pieces of the shaft. Then I leaned carefully over the edge of the canoe, lowered the gig slowly into the water, aligned the business end of the gig over the back fin of the muskie, and, with all my might, I jabbed at him violently. At first I thought I had him, because I saw the gig strike him squarely and shake him. But, alas and alack, it was only a glancing blow. The muskie gently released his grip on the bass, and we slowly drifted away from him until he was too far away for me to try again. “Dagnabbit”, I said to myself, “I almost had him, and that would have made such a great fish story”!

Unfortunately, that was my one and only encounter with a muskie on that trip. But, on the upside, the bass made a delicious dinner for the two of us that night. And, just in case you were wondering…yes, the bass had the tell-tale pattern of muskie tooth marks on both sides. Now that was impressive!

(To read more of my short stories, click HERE)















we launched our canoe

The Timer Fuse (Or, Why did I Even DO that?)

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The Timer Fuse (Or, Why did I Even DO that?)

James R. Aist

This true story took place when I was about 12 years old and living in Evening Shade, a small town in rural, north-central Arkansas. At that time, Evening shade had a population of 315, so everybody knew almost everyone else in town, and most everyone knew that Daddy was the minister at the local Methodist Church. That meant that I was trying very hard to stay out of trouble, so as not to embarrass Daddy and bring scandal down on the preacher’s family. Not to mention the fact, of course, that I didn’t want to embarrass myself; I was quite self-conscious.

Back then, at least in Arkansas, we had three full months of summer vacation from school. That was plenty of time to get bored and feel driven to do something interesting, or even exciting. Fireworks were legal, and they helped liven things up, especially in July. I had picked up a few firecracker tricks from some of my buddies, so one afternoon I reckoned it wouldn’t cause any harm to try to wake up sleepy little Evening Shade and get a giggle or two out of it for myself. Now, the key to this little prank was to make a homemade fuse that would produce a delayed explosion of the firecracker, a “timer fuse” as it were, and then insert one end of the timer fuse into the free end of the fuse of a firecracker. As it turns out, the perfect, convenient raw material for a timer fuse is thin, white, cotton string. When you light the end of the string with a match and then blow out the flame, the string will continue to smolder and burn shorter and shorter, much like a lighted cigarette left sitting in an ashtray. So, I did some test runs to determine how long the string needed to be to give about a two-minute delay, just long enough for me to make my getaway and appear completely innocent if there was an unexpected “incident.”

The action plan was to hide my materials and supplies (firecrackers, string cut to length, and safety matches) in my pockets, mosey innocently down to the center of town (about one block), stop at the big maple tree next to the telephone operator’s house on the left, you know, the tree with a huge hole, about waste high, that was facing the sidewalk. Then, I would turn and face the big hole in the tree, reach in and assemble the “bomb” inside the hole so that no one could see what I was doing, light the timer fuse, turn back toward home and mosey innocently up the hill, waiting to see if anyone would be startled by the “bang” so I could and watch (i.e., be entertained by) their reaction. I was more than a little nervous and apprehensive about this practical joke, because this kind of behavior wasn’t really like me, and because I didn’t want to cause Daddy (and me) any embarrassment should I got caught in the act.

That afternoon the town was especially quiet and almost devoid of traffic and pedestrians, a perfect setting for my plot, or so I thought. Everything went just as planned, and as I walked up the hill, I began feeling rather proud of myself for pulling off such a clever prank. Every so often I would take a quick look back to see if there was someone near or approaching the tree, because if they were too close, they might get hurt. The more I thought about that the more I became filled with the fear of causing an accident. I soon slipped into a panic mode, shaking and sweating and filled with angst (that’s not what we called it back then, but you know what I mean). Then, I began to wish that I had not set this plan in motion at all, and wondering if there was time for me to mosey on back to the tree and abort the mission, leaving no one the wiser. But, alas, I was almost two minutes away from a tree with a lit, two-minute time fuse in it. You do the math.

Suddenly I heard a loud “bang” and looked back to see a small cloud of smoke wafting out of the hole in the tree. Did anyone hear it; did anyone panic; did anyone lose control of their car and strike an innocent bystander? Why did I DO this?! Well, wouldn’t you know it, as it turned out the joke was on me: No one was there, not one pedestrian, not one car and not even one alarmed citizen rushing outside to see what had caused the explosion. Evening Shade really was asleep!

I was at once relieved and disappointed that no one was startled by my escapade. And, I was apparently the only one who even knew that anything unusual had happened on that lazy, summer afternoon in Evening Shade. But, I had managed to entertain myself for a while without embarrassing Daddy, so…mission accomplished.

(For more articles on TRUE TALES, click HERE)