For many of you, just reading those words immediately brought to mind the odor of scorched leaves, burned paper, and charred twigs. You were instantly swept back to days when you spent hours crouched in a sandy driveway or a corner of the back yard, practically holding your breath as you focused that tiny spot of light and waited, struggling to keep your hands steady until you were sure the darkness behind the light wasn't caused by your dazzled eyes, but by real, honest to goodness teeny tiny almost-fire. SO COOL. You bickered with friends and siblings for a turn holding the glass, or shoved bits of grass and stone and orange peel at the glass bearer and said, "Hey, see what happens with this!"
I'm not alone in this, am I?
We, being the aspiring little pyromaniacs most children tend to be, also took on slightly more daring materials. As one example, does anyone remember those dirt-cheap rolls of caps you could buy for cap guns: long rolls of red and white paper layered with a tiny dot of gun powder every inch or so? We rarely had actual functioning cap guns, so mostly we used those caps in other ways. We had a back room in the basement where the chest freezer lived. It was musty and damp and cold year 'round, and it had a bare cement floor. I remember sitting back there with my brothers, taking turns with a roll of caps and a hammer (and oh, it makes my fingers hurt just remembering--I was not always accurate with that foolish hammer). We'd tear off about six caps, lay the strip of paper out flat, and hammer each one. BANG, BANG, BANG. Mesmerizing....
Anyway, of COURSE at some point one of us had the bright idea of using the magnifying glasses on the caps. It was a little bit anticlimactic: you got a bigger pop using a hammer. But the not knowing exactly when it was going to go off...that added an element of excitement that was hard to ignore. You'd focus the beam of light, and sit there blinking and cringing, knowing it was going to snap-fizz, but not just when.
The MOST EXCITING thing we ever burned, though, isn't quite what you'd expect. We were sitting around one day in...well, I guess it had to have been early November. One of us had the idea of burning holes in some of the little mini boxes from our Halloween candies. Mostly this wasn't that more than a time-passer. But then, we made a discovery: for some reason--something in the geometry, maybe, or something about the ink used--when you used the magnifying glass on mini Milk Duds boxes, instead of just ending up with little browned holes in the sides, they would suddenly burst into flame.
Which makes their name rather ironic, if you think about it.