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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Magnifying Glass and the Summer Sun

I suppose the year may have been something like 1987 (Putting me at around age 8) or there-bouts. My family used to go on what they called "The October Trip" to a camp ground in western MA called the Mohawk Trail. As you could imagine, it was called this because we'd go in October. Not exactly the most seasonable months for camping, but the place was definitely not crowded!

I remember a number of things about going on the October trip. I remember packing for it, my father had always insisted on buying cars with roof racks, a preference I think I've shared since then. He'd put a blue tarp over the car, throw all the gear, tent, pots and pans, food, clothes, etc on top, and wrap the tarp around it. Then he'd tie it to the car with all kinds of knots I never learned to make.

I did tie some stuff to the roof of a car a few years ago, and since I've vowed I will never do it again without real come-alongs. I lost a box spring on Rt. 24 just north of Fall River that day, and didn't find out until either or ten miles later. We went back that same way later that day, and it was smashed, and sitting in the grass in the median. We did not stop.
I remember that it was on one of these trips (to the Mohawk Trail, not to Fall River) when I realized the trip TO somewhere was always a lot longer than the trip home.

It was also on such a trip that my father took me aside while holding a tissue box. We walked about eight feet away from the picnic table, and he produced a magnifying glass from his pocket and showed me how to start a fire. This was the beginning of a brand new hobby.

From that point on, I'd spend as much time outside burning this or that as I would in my sandbox. I burnt ants, spiders, pill bugs, beetles, wood chips, paper plates, plastic bags... To this day, if I smell burning plastic, I'm immediately flashed back to my youth. Too bad it's toxic, cause it brings back some memories!

There was one time where I was melting a garbage bag that was on our front porch, and got in big trouble, because IN that garbage bag was a dead car battery... You know, you leave something in the yard of a nine year old equipped with a magnifying glass, you're asking for it to be melted / burnt, if you ask me...

I also found out that cheap walmart sandal's would catch on fire fast, and turn into a sort of burning, boiling plastic version of napalm.

I eventually started getting more creative with it. I posed my plastic captain America action figure in a cool pose, and tried to melt his leg and arm sockets in place, so he would stay that way. It didn't really work out, so all I really accomplished was destroying yet another thing.

I started burning my name into things, which turned out to also be a bad idea, because I couldn't deny that it was me burning things. "Who burnt your name into the tree out front?" "Ah... vandals?"

I got in trouble again when my cousin and I started a little tiny fire in the back hard on some dead grass. The second it caught, he stomped it out, and we spent the rest of the afternoon trying to do it again... Then at dinner, he told my mother about it, like it was awesome... "What??" she said. "Nothing!" I said... And he retold the story. /facepalm.

Fast-forward to 1994. We were on a trip to Jaffery New Hampshire, my aunt had rented a cottage, and my cousin and I were dragged away for the week. We spent the whole week playing Rummy 500 and having camp fires. We burnt all their wood, and started burning odds and ends we found in the garage... Paneling we pulled off the walls, boxes and what not.

Looking back, it's a miracle we survived that weekend, because we found a red "stick" in the garage that we thought might be dynamite. We both looked at it awestruck, wondering if it might be dynamite, and what it would be in their garage for. We agreed that we really needed to know if it was or wasn't dynamite, so like a couple of early Mensa candidates, we threw a chunk of it into the fire, and sat there watching... Turned out to only be a road flare, thank god...

Thinking back, I really don't know why that particular story had nothing to do with a magnifying glass, it would have been the perfect time / place...

Did you find fire fascinating as a kid? Were you ever schooled in the arts of of the magnifying glass lighter, or was I, like in so many others of my childhood activities, the only one?