Origin of "Burl": late Middle English: from Old French bourle 'tuft of wool', diminutive of bourre 'coarse wool', from late Latin burra 'wool'.
A Burl is defined as a bump on a log. A “bump on a log” is defined as "Unmoving, inactive, stupidly silent. For example, ‘Harry just sat there like a bump on a log while everyone else joined in the fun.’ This simile presumably alludes to the immobility of such a protuberance.”
Looking through the chain link fence and across the dirt no-man’s-land between the yards, I could see the inmates in the Estrella Jail lined up and moving in orderly groups, monitored by guards on the ground and watched over by armed officers in towers on the fence line.
Just then the wind caught the dirt between the two fences and swirled around until a small dust devil arose to begin its dance. It moved freely across the field and through the chain link fence before going back out again, to freedom.
I looked across the yard in the other direction and could see, beyond another two fences, Towers Jail looming over the yard. Towers stands tall in the flat desert, and the dark slits for windows concealed what I imagined were the many eyes looking out at me. There was no activity or sound from the Towers, just a silent testament to the fate in store for me if I continued on this path.
I thought about my life and what I had aspired to when I was a young boy. I had been full of hope and the sky was no limit for my dreams.
But then, there, in that place, I was almost without hope. Almost.
A few months before that day I had hit bottom. I was truly lost. And I was only twenty-eight years old.
Luckily for me I had recently met someone who understood me and who I could understand. That day, looking out from behind the fence, I was at a low point but it was the beginning of my rise out of the depths.
Several notable events happened in December, 1968.
The Doors released a single titled “Touch Me”. On the flip side was a song written by Jim Morrison called “Wild Child.”
“Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer” was on the air on NBC for the fourth time ever. Burl Ives, a popular folk musician, was narrator and also the character Sam the Snowman and had a line that presaged a future of unsettled seeking which my life was to become:
“...the elves are bustling with activity. Christmas is over, but they still keep busy with lessons in elf improvement.”
On Christmas Eve the Astronauts aboard the Apollo 8 spacecraft became the first humans to see the far side of the moon with the naked eye. On their fourth orbit they took the iconic photo of earthrise over the moon’s horizon.
The next day, December 25th, I was born in Mesa, Arizona. My mom (Jane), dad (Daun), and three older brothers (Mike, Eric, and Dave) welcomed me into the world and to their family. I was named Burl after Burl Ives, the narrator of the Christmas special. It was the year of the Monkey in the Chinese calendar.
My dad was a Chiropractor and my mom was a homemaker; now she would be called a stay-at-home-mom. She did more than stay at home. She made our home. She was the glue that held us together. But more about that later.
When I was six months old my parents bought a new house for the growing family. This home, on Whispering Winds Road, was an old adobe house that had been built early in the 20th century. At the time the house was built it was part of an artist community which was anchored around the Cattle Track Arts Compound, founded by George Ellis. Our house, on land that was once home to the Tohono Oʼodham, was an unincorporated island of Maricopa County within Scottsdale city limits. It was surrounded by dirt fields and most of our neighbors had horses.
The original owner of our house was Ruth Dickenson, a poet. The neighborhood never lost its original artistic nature and when I was growing up notable neighbors included Phillip C. Curtis, scion of Arizona surrealist artists, and Fritz Scholder, renowned Native American artist. The Cattle Track Arts Compound was the center of a group of creatives and artists who gathered around the original Ellis house. Going to visit the Ellis household as a child was an interesting experience.
Built of adobe, like ours and the six other houses that Ellis built in the neighborhood, Ellis’ front door opened from a wide, shade covered front porch onto the kitchen. Rachael, George’s wife, was still alive when I was a child and was a textile artist. She had her sewing room in a sunlit corner off to the side of the kitchen and, when we visited with my mom, we sat there as Racheal showed us her projects. She also bred greyhounds and proudly took us out back into the round fenced kennel where seven or eight dogs raced up to us and jumped all over us boys, much to Rachael’s chagrin.
Later on I became friends with Rachael’s grandson, Michael, and I got to see their swimming pool, which was square, all one depth, and lacked any steps or handrails; it had a deep green murkiness that made it look more like a swimming hole than a swimming pool.
Michael showed me around the garage and workshop where his dad had a full-size glider, various airplane sections, and a Grand Prix race car.
Ron Hagerty was a well-known metal sculptor who lived on the Ellis’ property. His small wooden house was between the dog kennel and the canal bank, which ran the length of the property. This canal traced the original canal systems dug by hand by the Tohono Oʼodham. His house, a rectangular-shaped shed that looked like a train car, had ornate metal minarets on the roof. As kids we often saw Ron walking around the neighborhood in sandals with his dog beside him. Someone once told us that Hagerty couldn’t drive because of his drinking problem. Years later I met him, late one night, buying beer at a convenience store on Granite Reef Road. He was driving an old car that had decorative swirls and patterns in steel welded onto the hood. I later learned that the hood had been, and was to go back, on the wall of a gallery.
Built by hand by George Ellis in the 1930s and set in the middle of the property, our house itself was small but felt very large to me as a child. The living room was framed by windows on two sides, facing east and west. Looking east was the front porch and to the west, from a small reading nook under the window, was the back patio. The large stone fireplace was on the south wall, between built in bookcases and a column of windows on either side. I have so many memories of the times spent in this room: winter evenings after dinner with a roaring fire, Saturday mornings watching Adventure Theater, Sunday afternoons watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, Christmases, birthdays, family reunions to celebrate life, gatherings to grieve our losses.
Mom had hand-painted floral designs around the edges of each of the windows, with delicate tendrils and petals in greens and oranges and yellows, which cast bright colors into the room. Her artistic style was apparent throughout the house in the many subtle elements of her creation.
Hanging on the north wall of the living room was a large Hopi blanket and beneath that was mom’s old player piano. This is where I learned to play Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, and where we would pump out music from the player piano rolls that were stored in a large antique brass bucket next to the piano. On either side of the piano were doors; the door to the right led to the den and one to the left led to the kitchen.
The kitchen was long and narrow, with bright yellow Spanish tiles on the countertops and an old mosaic of a monk on the wall by the end of the counter. The first thing you saw in the kitchen was a gigantic English language dictionary on a wrought iron stand in the corner as you entered. We would refer to that dictionary whenever we encountered a word that we were unfamiliar with. Many people who came to visit assumed it was a Bible. Next to that was mom’s old Hoosier cabinet, which she loved, where she stored flour, rice, dried beans and pastas in jars, and bread in the bottom drawer. Early in life I discovered the sugar cubes and unsweetened baking chocolate on the top shelf, next to my dad’s carton of Tareyton 100’s cigarettes. I learned my first addictions from the top shelf of that cabinet.
Just beyond the Hoosier cabinet was an alcove with the refrigerator and washer and dryer, and past that, further in the alcove, was a small but fully provisioned walk-in pantry. I remember the jars of food, small paper-wrapped cans of deviled ham, cans of clams, canned vegetables and beans, and other staples which would have lasted us for several weeks if we needed to survive. This pantry was where we kept our baby chickens when we first brought them home, in a wooden box with a warming light. The dog food was kept there also and one of my chores as a child was feeding them.
As a result of having four boys we always had lots of pets and livestock, most of which my mom had to care for at some point in their life (or at least make sure we were caring for them). We had several dogs over the years, innumerable cats, generations of guppies, two salamanders, at least three snakes, a tarantula, a scorpion, desert tortoises, various other wild animals, parakeets, rabbits, two horses (Crystal and Flicka), a cow (Hamburger), two goats (Jack and Jill), several sheep, a dozen chickens, a half-dozen roosters, and a couple of ducks.
Across from the Hoosier cabinet was the sink and the the long kitchen counter with rustic Mexican cabinets above. Under a yellow glass covered skylight just beyond the counter was the stove and the large, very old, freezer. Perpetually frozen over, this freezer kept all our meats (including Hamburger the cow, a few squirrels, and rattlesnakes) along with multiple large containers of Baskin Robbins ice cream. Opposite the freezer, on the same side as the Hoosier cabinet, was a water cooler next to a high cane-back chair. This chair was where one of us boys would invariably sit and talk to mom while she was cooking. There were many days after school when I shared what happened in my day - both good and bad - with mom while sitting there.
Beyond the kitchen was our little dining room. Originally there had been a brick wall that created a tight and dark hallway leading to the back door, and a tiny room on the other side. My parents had the wall removed when I was about three years old and relocated our dining room here, from the den off the living room where it had been originally.
Around the dining room table were six chairs from Mexico. My mom handpainted the back of the chairs in the same colors and organic style as the art on the windows, depicting us all as suns. There was a daddy sun, a mommy sun, and four boy suns each with their own personalities. It is interesting to look at these faces now and to consider what mom was thinking when she painted them. She loved all of us but we were all very different and these images reveal underlying feelings she had toward each of us.
Intense and foreboding, dad was depicted with a small thin mustache, and with stormy circular galaxies spinning on his cheeks. His fiery unsettled corona spins off into sharp arrows in all directions. Dad was a handsome man, with black hair and blue eyes. When dad did wear a mustache it was always thick and never pointy. His infidelities (which she learned of later in life) would undermine her feelings toward him but, at the time, they were still in their mid-thirties and she was very much in love with him.
Her self-portrait is of a young farm girl with a mischievous smile, a bonnet, and her trademark wink. She was a very beautiful woman, with her short red hair, piercing dark brown eyes, and a wide smile. She was a farmgirl at heart. The fully stocked pantry, our ranch style living, and her often stated desire to have seven boys revealed her deepest ambitions.
The image of Mike, depicted at a maturity beyond his age at the time, shows a bigger smile than how I remember him at that age; he was generally happy but not in a giant smile sort of way. Mike was the one in the photos who always had the coy, almost guilty smile (like my mom’s brother, Uncle Knox), and was certainly not front and center in any photo. Ten years older than me and the tallest of the boys, I had always looked up to Mike and aspired to be like him. He was soft-spoken and oriented toward mechanical hobbies, which I was not, but I still wanted to be like him when I grew up. He didn’t dote on me like Eric did, and he usually refrained from picking on me like Dave did, except once; I asked him what I needed to do to grow tall like him and he told me to eat celery leaves. I ate a lot of celery leaves after that but never grew taller than he was.
Eric was painted in a different style than the rest of us, with a more radiant gracefulness. This was painted long before Eric became sick and I wonder why my mom painted him in such an angelic manner. She captured his features well, with the face of a rancher or farmer that he aspired to become. I had a special bond with Eric and I remember him playing with me when I was very young, despite the eight year difference in our age. Eric was also very gentle and good with animals. Mike participated in 4H but Eric was the one who showed the most interest in farming beyond raising sheep for the State Fair. Like mom, Eric had dark red hair and freckles.
The Dave that mom painted looked like Dave at that age, with a small mischievous smile and rosy cheeks. Mom always had a special fondness, almost a protectiveness, for Dave that would make me jealous as a kid. As she grew older and Dave was the one who took primary care of her I was grateful to him and was glad they had a special bond, but as a kid I was forever jealous, even when I looked up to him. As my closest brother, with two years between us, we competed for attention and sometimes had brutal fights, but we loved each other deeply; it would have been hard to see that love during some of our most vicious fights but it was always there.
As the youngest, really just a baby when the chairs were painted, I look like the happy go-lucky kid I was for most of my childhood. I was the proverbial “youngest”, always trying to get attention and (channeling my dad’s love of humor) always trying to think of something funny to say. Though we had a distance between us at times, I feel I was the most like my dad in how I acted out in response to the world around me. Dave may have looked more like him than I did, but I acted more like him.
Hand-painted images by mom on the back of our dining room chairs. Top row, left to right, dad & mom. Second row, Mike & Eric. Third row, Dave and me.
First row from top left: Cat with kittens, me trying to learn how to wink, Eric on Crystal, dad. Second row: Dave, Mike’s school photo, and my mom. This collage is from a shadow box my mom made and had on the mantle in her bedroom in the house on Whispering Winds.
The dining room, like the rest of the house, was filled with antique furniture and collectibles. Next to the back door was a wash stand with an antique radio and a large wooden bowl with some of mom’s darning egg collection. Next to the wash stand, in the window, were glass shelves that displayed Grandma Bless’ collection of colored cut-glass goblets. The remaining darning eggs were gathered in wooden bowls on a side table and also in an old medical display case that stood in the corner of the room.
In the other corner was an old hutch that mom used to display old china and silver spoons given to her by Great Aunt Madeleine. At Christmastime she would use this hutch to display her childhood dolls and other holiday decor, including a creche that she carved from bars of Ivory soap; Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the Three Wise Men, a cow, a horse, and a pig - all in soap, and a stable and cradle made from cardboard. She made matching sets of this creche which she gave as Christmas gifts to all the relatives and each of my brothers.
Dad’s collection of ice tongs hung on the wall beside the hutch and surrounded an old Seth Thomas schoolhouse clock. Underneath the clock was an old icebox where old red wine was kept. I learned to read time and Roman numerals from that clock, and I learned to drink wine from that icebox.
The back door led to the back patio and, beyond that, a path to the garage. When I was very young I remember my mom having a garden out there. Later on it was just a dirt side yard with our sandbox and a shock of bamboo. When I was around ten years old my parents turned it into a patio and eventually it became the cat patio.
We had a lot of cats and most of them lived on this back patio. If the kittens of our indoor cats were born outside and, if we didn’t find them in time, they would grow feral. Then their kittens would be even more wild, and so on. This population continued to multiply for many years.
When it was time to feed these outdoor cats we would take a large plastic food container onto the porch and shake it. This would call the cats and they would literally rain down off the roof and come running from their nests in the bushes. At one point we had more than fifty cats, and most of those were either pregnant or had a litter in the bushes somewhere.
From experience I was able to tell, by their personalities, whether a cat was born in the winter or in the summer; the heat from the summer made them less intelligent compared to the kittens born in the winter. I had a preference for winter-born cats, but we all regretted letting the population get that large.
The earliest cat I remember, well before the cat patio, was a calico named Annie-Fannie. After Annie-Fannie, Mike brought a cat home from the Smoke Tree Resort, where he worked. He had seen someone in a passing car throw a bag out the window and, when he went to pick it up, he found a white, mangie kitten inside which had a bad limp. We affectionately named her Gimp. She had patches of missing fur, was very small, and weighed next to nothing. After a few months she grew a beautiful white coat and so we renamed her Feather. During this time she was pregnant but we didn’t realize it.
One afternoon when Mike was getting wood at the woodpile he found that Feather had made a nest under some logs and had given birth to a single black kitten. This kitten, which I named Nassa, became my first pet. Soon after giving birth to Nassa, Feather started losing hair again and became mangie looking as before. We went back to calling her Gimp and she eventually disappeared. Nassa also disappeared, and this was my first lesson in the loss of a pet.
Me and Nassa
Half-Pint, a Siamese cat born when Little House on the Prairie was on TV, came next. She had a litter of kittens twice a year for nearly twelve years. Half-Pint was cross-eyed and squaked when she meowed and she was the matriarch of all our cats named after race car drivers, including Emo (Emerson Cattipaldi), and Alice (Al Unser Jr.). Unfortunately the majority of our cats went without names.
Back in the house, beyond the dining room, was the hallway that led to our bedrooms. On the inner wall of this hallway was a small window that looked back into the kitchen, decorated with even more of mom’s painted flowers. This wall had originally been the back exterior wall of the house; the later addition included two bedrooms and the master bedroom with an ensuite bathroom and fireplace. It was easy to tell that this addition was done soon after the original because the style of the adobe bricks and age of the creosote beams were almost indistinguishable from what was used in the rest of the house. This little window was the only remaining vestige of that older configuration.
During rainstorms the adobe bricks would erode in the wash of water on the backside of the house, the newer brick, so each summer mom would mix mud, straw and milk in a bucket and we would help her apply it to the areas that had washed away. Such is the life of living in a mud house.
On the wall opposite from the little interior window was a curio cabinet with my collection of antique pencil sharpeners. We all had collections somewhere in the house. Beyond that were two bedroom doors, one Mike’s (which later became mine), and the other was originally shared by Eric, Dave and me. Outside of these bedroom doors was an open area lit by another large skylight. This sunny alcove was mom’s sewing room. On the bookshelf opposite her sewing machine were many old books, including an encyclopedia set from the early 1950s. Many afternoons I would lie on the carpet next to that bookshelf and read the encyclopedia and other books she kept there.
The wall leading from my mom’s sewing room to my parent’s bedroom was covered with our photos of our ancestors, each carefully noted in precise detail in mom’s delicate handwriting. For each photo she had listed the name of the individual, their relation to us (e.g., “Daun’s Maternal Great Grandmother”) and the dates of their lives. This wall of relatives stretched back to a few of our earliest ancestors in America and contained many branches that were difficult to comprehend as a small child. I just knew that they were all watching over me when I went down the hall to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.
At the end of the hallway was my parent’s bedroom door and, turning right, was the long narrow bathroom. It had a bathtub and a separate shower and it’s own skylight at the peak of the ceiling. The bathroom had two doors and the second door opened into the den, the room off of the living room, and thus the house was a large circle.
The den was, for a short period, our dining room - but I was too young to remember that and only know it from the photos in my mom’s albums. It was, for a time after that, a den, and then it was Eric’s room, and then a den again. It was Eric’s final room and then it went back to being the den.
As I mostly remember it, the den had a wooden desk and a chair under the window looking out on the front porch and the field beyond. Under the other window, facing north, were two sofa chairs on either side of a faux cabinet, hiding the family safe. On the wall near the door to the living room was the gun cabinet. On the inner wall were sliding doors that opened to reveal boxes of holiday decor, old serving platters, and other things mom had collected.
The front porch ran the width of the living room and den, and was covered by an overhanging roof. Beyond the covered porch was a shaded brick-covered patio. On the patio was a hanging porch swing, chairs, a picnic table, and - just beyond the shade cover - was one of the three very old olive trees on the property.
On the north side of the house, past the small fence which surrounded the front patio, was an outer patio area, also covered in bricks, leading to the small swimming pool, four feet deep in the deep-end. It had originally been a much larger and deeper pool, like the Ellis’, but a crack in 1957 (according to the marks in the concrete) resulted in it being filled in. Behind the house, off of this outer patio and opposite the pool, was our guest house. This was where visiting family stayed and which my mom rented out for a short period of time.
Directly in front of the main house, beyond the front patio, was the area we aptly called “the field”. This is where we had the corral, chicken coop, old cars, forts and other Battersby miscellany.
On the side of the corral closest to the house was the stable, inside which was the wooden milking stand where Mike and Eric would milk Jill the goat. We drank unpasteurized, and often warm-from-the-udder, goat milk for the three years that Jill was producing. After Jill died, store-bought cow milk tasted disgusting in comparison to what I was used to drinking. One day, not long after Jill died, a Mexican man came in a pickup truck and took Jack away. Dad said he was going to go live happily on a farm for the rest of his life.
Attached to the stable, within the fenced corral, was a small chicken coop made from wooden beams. When we brought home the chicks (eighteen in all), dad, Mike and Eric had to build a larger chicken coop in the field, outside of the corral. We still had two ducks which lived in the smaller coop but, when they were gone (victim to our huskies, Nicki and Frosty), my brothers converted this smaller coop into a more secure pen for the sheep to overnight in, to protect them from the marauding coyotes. Unfortunately it didn’t work and several years the sheep were killed by them.
There is an old super-8mm movie showing my dad leading Hamburger the cow around the corral by a rope and, when Hamburger resists, dad tries to wrestle her. He eventually lays sideways across her back, but to no avail. There are also film reels showing Mike and Eric putting Dave and me, probably around five and three years old, onto the back of Jack and Jill and having a mini rodeo show with bucking goats and bloody noses.
The Family with sheep and Dave (right) holding Annie Fannie. On the right is the stable with Flicka, dad, Dave and Jack and Jill
The larger chicken coop in the field was a metal shed with two fenced cages on either side. The smaller cage, closest to the house, was where the roosters were kept; this cage did not connect with the shed. The larger cage, on the other side, was connected by a small pass-through door that had been cut out of the steel siding to allow the chickens into the shed where we fed them and where their nesting box was located. With ten nesting boxes for the twelve chickens, we gathered a lot of fresh eggs.
The pass-through was smaller than a normal sized doggie door but I could crawl through it. My brothers taught me that anything you can get your head through you can get your body through, a lesson I would need to know later in life.
We kept the roosters for about a year before my dad butchered them. Mike and Eric caught them, one-by-one, and carried them to the table on the outer patio (which was actually just a large round cable spool we had found discarded in the desert). My dad held the roosters firmly against the top of the table and, one-by-one, chopped their heads off with a large cleaver. The bodies of the roosters did their proverbial running around before mom plucked and cleaned them. Dave and I were given rooster feet mementos of the experience.
We kept the hens for many years. It was my first daily chore to feed and water them and collect the eggs. One day when we were out there playing Dave locked me into the chicken coop and I was too little to get out on my own. I sat in the corner of the coop, suddenly scared of the chickens, and wailed. Dave went into the house to watch TV.
My mom eventually sent Eric out to get me out when our neighbor, Marty, called her on the house phone. He told my mom that he thought I was suffocating. If I were suffocating I wouldn’t have been able to wail, as mom remarked when I came in. She pointed out the Marty obviously did not understand biology.
Eventually, many years later, all but one of the hens died of old age and the last one had grown so feeble that she began laying eggs without shells. A neighbor had chickens in their yard and so, one afternoon, we threw her over the fence so she could have some friends. That was, officially, the end or our ranching days.
Next to the chicken coop was a homemade bucking barrel constructed by Mike, Eric and their cowboy friends. A bucking barrel is a hand-operated mechanical bull; this one was built with four three-quarter height telephone poles set in a rectangle, twenty-five feet on a side, with steel cables running through the tops of the poles and attached to a fifty-five gallon steel drum hanging in the middle of the rectangle.
With a rope tied around the barrel to hold on to, a cowboy would get on and four boys would vigorously pull the cables, causing the barrel to toss the boy around just like he was riding a real bull. The bucking barrel wasn’t used much, especially since Mike and Eric moved out not long after it was built. Dave and I would play on it but you really needed four boys to make it buck. Later on the woodpeckers had carved out hollows in the poles. One day Dave put firecrackers inside the holes in the pole and the explosives lit the pole on fire. Not long after that, the entire structure had to be demolished.
The remaining half of the field beyond the corral, chicken coop, and bucking barrel was left empty. Dotted with creosote bushes, the field remained undeveloped except for occasional forts that Dave and I dug into the hard dirt. In the area of the field closest to the house dad, Mike and Eric built a wooden two-level fort for Dave and me to play on. This fort had a built in basketball net and a giant swing. With a ladder made of galvanized pipe, the sturdily constructed fort was painted olive drab and allowed us, from the keyhole-shaped windows on the second story, views of the desert that was our neighborhood, and Cattle Track Road beyond.
Attached across the top of the fort, and pointing out like a cannon, was a long metal pole. All embellishment with no function, the metal pole was at least fifteen feet from the ground and stuck five feet out from the front of the fort.
One afternoon before dinner I climbed to the top of the fort and tied a rope around my waist and the other end of the rope to the pole. I let go and swung out from the front edge of the fort - expecting some amazing flying adventure - but instead I just swung out and hung there with a rope cinching tighter and tighter around my waist.
I weighed no more than sixty pounds and had a lot of bones, which kept me from being crushed by the rope. I hung there, swinging around and watching the ground below me turning slowly. It was late in the afternoon so it wasn’t too hot. Eventually I saw Mike down below as he was coming out to feed the chickens and he looked up and saw me hanging there. He climbed up and rescued me.
Swinging on the fort
Every year after the rain the weeds would grow in the field and fill in around the creosote bushes in tall thickets. As quickly as they grew and went to seed they dried out and became fuel for wildfires. Dave and I would set off fireworks which would ignite the weeds or we would just light the weeds on fire and be ready with a shovel and hose to put it out. One afternoon Dave took an Estes rocket and modified it with an explosive tip. He launched it and it exploded on descent. It came down in flames on the other side of the field, by Marty’s house, and caught a large thicket of tall weeds on fire which quickly began to spread.
Panicked, I ran to grab a shovel and Dave ran into Marty’s yard to grab his hose because ours wouldn’t have reached. Just then Marty drove into his driveway and, not knowing why Dave was running from his house pulling his hose, he stopped his van on top of the hose; this snapped Dave backwards and the hose flew out of his hands. Marty then realized that Dave was trying to save his garage from burning down and so he quickly pulled his van backward off the hose and jumped out to help us extinguish the fire. Marty didn’t care much for us before that day but after that he really didn’t like us at all.
Years later, after we had gotten rid of the last chicken and the shed was abandoned to the black widow spiders, we decided to blow it up. With our friends, Bobby and Mark, we filled a medium-sized oxygen tank - about the size of a 750 mL bottle - with gunpowder. Bobby constructed an ignition device using the launch button from our Estes rocket set. We strung the electrical ignition cable across the field and built a bunker of dirt to hide behind. We donned helmets and, after a short countdown, Bobby pushed the button and the canister exploded like a stick of dynamite. The explosion lifted the shed into the air a few feet but then, to our disappointment, the shed fell back in place, fully intact.