There comes a time when every small boy discovers how to use a magnifying glass to create fire. If he lives in the Texas Hill Country, where the houses are five miles apart, and a lad has no play mates, he usually finds out through serendipity. This is by far, the finest way to find out about the wonders of the glass and the sun. It is more magical to discover the glory of creating fire all by oneself.
Out in a field somewhere there is a young boy. It is a summer day, bright and sunny, and the boy’s face is moist. Down on his knees, the boy is bent over. He balances his torso, with his lean left arm, pressing it down on the ground. He rests the weight of his torso on his left hand, which is flattened with its fingers splayed out wide; the skin on the top of his palm is red, and his knuckles are white.
His neck and upper body are now arched fully over, and the boy holds the large magnifying lens in his right hand, about four inches above the ground. He is peering through it, his right cheek and eye almost touching the rounded lens. In the shadow cast by his body, he studies the anatomy of twigs, leaves, spear grass and acorns. He is seeing them with never before seen resolution or clarity.
His right eye strains in concentration as it peers through the lens. But his left eye is pressed shut tightly; as if the left eye were an angry child, just after a quarrel with the right eye. In protest, it refuses to look at anything that the right one looks at.
Overhead is the great sun. It is getting hotter as it rises to its zenith. He wipes the sweat from his forehead with his right hand, which is still wrapped around the magnifying glass. His pale exposed neck is now pink with sunburn. This notwithstanding, the boy’s right eye still peers intensely through the large round glass, and continues to examine the ground, until the eye begins to ache from the strain.
Deciding to take a rest from his analyses, the lad uses his hand and arm to press up, while he pulls the right knee from behind him, then the same with the left, and he stands up. He puts his hands behind him, pressing his fingers into the small of his back. He kneads the flesh, massaging the tightness, and he arches his back, bending backwards to stretch it. He grunts out a little moan of complaint.
He straightens up and then reaches towards the nape of his neck. His left hand’s fingers gingerly palpate the neck which is now stinging from the sun. He frowns. It appears his left eye is now open; apparently it is no longer angry with the right.
Still resting the boy moves the glass out of his shadow. He notices the sun shining through the glass and the way it casts a near perfect circle of golden light on the ground. He tilts the plane of the glass, rotating the plane upwards, toward him, slowly changing the magnifying lens’ angle to the sun.
He notices how the circle slowly becomes squatter, and then it changes in form so that it looks like the peeling-side of a lemon wedge, and finally it is reduced to just a slit of light. He brings the plane back parallel with the earth. It is definitely the brightest as a circle, and it has the finest edges, not blurred and soft like the oval shapes.
He lifts the magnifier slowly, straight upwards, and the circle grows increasingly smaller. And the extraordinary lens begins to capture and control the sun. The glass takes the innumerable rays of diffuse sunlight, manipulates and concentrates them into a narrow beam, and projects this bright shaft onto the ground until it is a pin point of light, a center of blazing white gilded with a golden halo.
The first time the boy puts this magical point of white hotness on the surface of a dried leaf, after a few seconds, he sees the searing spot begin to waft up smoke. Then, born from the brilliant white light, a miracle; a small flash of white fire licks up from the leaf. His eyes are instantly wide, round, and sparkle showing the whites of his eyes, his mouth is agape with an astonished smile.
This simple act fills him up with absolute joy and surprise, because it is the first time the boy is experiencing it, and his joy will never again be as boundless as it is right now. And this phenomenon of his, he figured it out all by himself.
He takes in an excited gasp, so he can yell. He wants nothing in the world but to shout out the wonder of this moment. He wants the others to come to him, to run to him, and see what he has done. Then he will show them how it works, so that they will marvel in awe at it, and also marvel at him for being so very clever. And they will be witness to the fact that he was the first one to ever discover how to do this. He readies to release the excited gasp and scream.
But then he keeps the breath in his lungs, not releasing it in a shout. He suddenly realizes that he is alone here, way out in the field. No one is within sight anywhere—absolutely no one. And not a single person is going to come and see this miracle. He is alone with this magnificent thing and he cannot share it with anyone.
His joy is laden with a sinking sadness. Some joy is still there but it is not the same, it feel hollow, and sterile. The excited gasp simply lay heavily in the bottom of his lungs. That gasp, and the urge to yell, they both fade away to nothing. And the joy of sharing it with another is lost forever. And no sound comes out of the boy. And suddenly he feels very empty and all alone.
The boy broods, sitting for a while feeling sorry for his loss. Then, glumly he starts to burn some more leaves. But as he burns each one, it brings a more decreasing level of excitement. The boy is angry at something, perhaps the other people who were not around to see his moment of joy and behold what he has done. Maybe he is angry at God, who could be unjustly punishing him. But he suddenly thinks that it is not wise to be angry at God. So he concludes that most likely it is fate that he is mad at. He is cross; it shows on his face as he sits burning leaves.
Suddenly he notices something move in his peripheral vision. He turns his head to see what it is. It is a large indigenous Texas red ant crawling across the ground nearby. The boy’s anger remains but his excitement is piqued.
The small boy instantly has the illumination that he can also burn the red ant instead of just leaves. It is a fact that all young boys will agree that burning red ants is much more preferable to leaves. Sadly, it is most likely the taking of life itself which makes this act so appealing to a boy. This action brings a small boy a sense of power and control of which he has known very little, in his short life. And killing the ant makes a little boy feel less small. And every young boy desperately wants to be bigger. No little boy ever wants to be small.
So alone in the field, the boy now can burn the red ant, and he is no longer sullen. He feels energized, excited, and his magnetic gaze follows the crawling ant.
He goes over and carefully puts four thick twigs around the ant boxing it in. Then the boy inspects it with his magnifying glass. He looks at the joints in the legs, the blood red shell of the ant, the head, thorax and abdomen. He sees the posterior thorn which houses its stinger.
The ant tries to escape as it scurries from one twig to another, always reaching the impediment and quickly turning to scamper in another direction. It stops in the middle of the square. It is almost as if its brain is grinding away to pick the right instinct to help get it out of the trap.
The boy holds the magnifying lens so that a soft diffuse light shines on the ant. It is not hot, it is just bright. The ant reacts to the light and scuttles quickly from one side to another. It works itself into a frenzied state. It is moving from side to side like a billiard ball bouncing off the banks of a table.
Finally the boy takes his enlarging glass and he pulls a tight, white, magical circle of light into focus. He summons fire from the sky, like a little god, and commands it to come down and smite the red ant that he has enmity for.
The young predator stalks the ant with the searing disc. He brings the brilliant point to rest upon the insect. The ant bolts in a panic to scurry out from underneath it. But the young huntsman tracks the insect’s movement magnetically keeping the hot bright point right on top of his prey.
The ant’s flight quickly slows, and then it comes to a stop. The tiny insect’s legs fail it, they buckle beneath its weight, and the ant falls forward and then its entire body collapses to the ground. It curls its body up instinctually in protection. It can no longer move.
The light continues to sear and the thorax of the arthropod puffs up a tiny column of swirling smoke. Suddenly a fleeting flash of white fire appears, and then quickly departs. But the fierce point of sunlight remains.
Then the ant’s crimson, outer skeleton of chitin begins to boil out the vital fluids. The body becomes a sizzling red globule which hisses and erupts in hundreds of miniscule bubbles. They come from the center and expand outwards in all directions. These thick tiny red bubbles burst and spit angrily from the surface. The acrid-sweet smell of the burning hits the boy’s nostrils.
The boy is relentless and continues to burn the cerise globule until all the liquid is vaporized, leaving a dark brown desiccated chunk. And light still bears down formidably. The mass contracts under the intense heat, and displays innumerable tiny cracks—it looks like a tiny roasted coffee bean. Finally, the spot of hotness sears this mass until it burns down into an insignificant, charred, black pellet. These remains expel a whisper of defeat in a final thin miasma of spiraling white smoke.
The boy looked at the carbonized remains of the ant. A slight squeeze between his thumb and forefinger would grind it to black powder, but he did not want to touch it. He noticed the faint red stain that bordered the perimeter of the remains. It was the crusted dry liquids that seeped from the ant’s body. And although he did not understand why, something seemed solemn, and he felt a strange feeling that he never recalled feeling before.
The boy realized that a life, no matter how insignificant it may seem, is still a life. He was struck by a nebulous perception that there is something profound in the taking of a life, any life, and it was something he had not realized before today.
He thought that there was something that he should learn from this experience. It seemed to make no sense to kill the ant without making it right by gaining some small amount of wisdom. But he could not figure it out.
A life was taken, and it was gone forever. The boy once again felt very empty and all alone. And only the infinite stillness of death remained to keep him company