More on the Roof

July 17th

Serious palapa progress. We’ve moved onto the third side of the roof and made great headway. We’ve started going for just green fauns. No more dry leaves. They take about 3 days to dry out in the heat and they also get flattened out by the rains so it works quite well. We’ve also started getting really big leaves and having too much fun between work. Per the pictures.

Two Sides Almost Done

July 8th
We bought some little ball lights to go around the inside of the palapa. I think they make us feel like it’s almost done.

July 10th

We’ve learned that dried out leaves are not what we want. We want semi dead leaves on their way out. This new info helps a lot.

Will, Megan, and I drove about today to some ‘sites’ that we had found in Tucson and plucked from the trees their dying leaves. We got a number of good car loads. Jon arrived and we had a teams of workers. Two folks putting leaves up and two looking for more. It worked really well. We’ve almost got two sides done.

While sitting in the hammocks at the end of the day it occurs to us that we’ve finished the sides that get the least sun during the day. Though they are both the sides that are visible to us. So we feel good about it.

July 6

July 6th

Will came over to work on the roof with me and we drove about his place looking for some fauns we had scouted out We filled my car before dark and then Megan came by and we started putting them up. We saw how the first few leaves went up and Megan has taken charge of getting the rest them up properly while Will and I remove the spikes from the dried leaves we’ve collected from scattered places around town.

Bend and Snap

Wednesday, July 5 – I am back in Tucson.

I was a little discouraged from our last attempt.. but I had some leaves to toy with. I tried nailing them up but they just pulled the nails out and spun about them. The nails also bounced off the flimsy cross pieces and simply caused me a headache in the half our I worked on it. I came back inside and examined my pictures to see how exactly they were done in Ecuador.

It was then quite evident.. all they did was bend them around the beams. Easily enough I broke 5 fauns in half. Then I reexamined my technique. I then found that breaking via one side produces a thin strip of fibers that keep their strength while breaking the other way causes all the fibers to deterorate. I was quickly on a roll and out of palm leaves. Now I knew how to do it, I just needed more. MORE.

A Breif Bit of Work.

June 21st. I got back from my time all over California and was ready to work on this palapa! I just worked, no plan, nothing. I cut and nailed and by the end of the day I had something I felt like I could work with. It wasn’t fancy, but it was the beginnings of what looked like a patio cover. Again a ‘project point.’ I’d be okay with just a patio cover.. nothing too fancy. I didn’t need palm leaves.. though it would be nice.
The following day I called Jon up and we finalized the cross pieces for the roof and then started on the month long journey to find palm fauns to cover the roof, a task I had no idea how to complete. So we started at square one. Asking people. I sent out a freecycle message and got a number of replies within the hour. We’d be gone tomorrow for Las Vegas so we had to work tonight. Excited to get started we drove toward one house who claimed to have some low lying palms we could ravage.

A mile from my house the storm broke over head and the wind pushed from the south. Push so hard that rain would enter Jon’s window and hit me driving, but if my window was open I didn’t get wet at all, save the splash from the passing vehicles. We got to the house that claimed to have trees and saw none, so we pulled up to a neighbor’s house, asked them if we could trim their tree in the thunder storm and got to it. Unfortunately I hadn’t brought all my tools. Expecting a saw to do the trick nicely we hacked and hacked at the dry leaves hanging down from the tree and soon resorted to simply breaking them off while trying to avoid the piercing thorns from the branches. The storm grew more fierce with every minute and soon Jon and I were standing at the back of my car under the tail gate waiting it out until we finally said “Fuck It!” and grabbed our tools threw them into the wagon and drove away with a handful of dry palm leaves in the back.

Though the car smelled like dates, the windows were fogged and I couldn’t see anything. After driving through the residential streets for some time without any ability to see where I was going besides light and dark spots I stopped to clean the window. To my amazement I had stopped at the stop sign denoting the major busy cross street. I marked that into my lucky book right next to not getting struck by lightening minutes earlier while standing atop a ladder waving a 10 foot tall tree trimming pole.

Jon and I retreated back to the house feeling half defeated. Tomorrow we’d be gone and the project would have to wait.

At this point I had also received a replacement camera so I could start taking gigs upon gigs of pictures of the work. This time they are not so fancy.

No Progress

June 1st, Asa and I spent some time trying to figure out how to fasten the cross pieces for the roof. We bought wood and sealed it. Then after a few hours of experimental tests we gave up and went swimming at Wills. Tomorrow we’d leave for the Grand Canyon and then California. I’d be out of town for the following two and a half weeks. The palapa build would be on hold.

Roof Line

Oh golly. I can’t even figure out how this worked.

We were puzzled and while Will and I perused the hardware store for anything that might lend insight, including staff members, Jon and Asa worked on a set of ingenious diagonal brackets that gave support to the entirety of the palapas structure. Reducing the swing and twist of the structure that was ever present prior to the brackets installation.

Will and I returned with little in the way of answers regarding the roof … First the short of things and then the long of things.


With a series of dodgy podgy (if that’s a word) maneuvers we erected a seemingly unstable, but realistically rigid and supportive pitched roof line.


The crew was there and now we had to get this thing to have a roof. Easily enough there were a couple of snags. Snag one, how do we get the beams intersecting the posts to attach? Snag two, how do we get all the posts to attach to each other in the middle at the apex? Snag three, how do we do all this without a crane or scaffolding?

We starred.

Finally someone – I don’t think it was me, initiated some work and we all set out doing something. We cut the ridge line piece ends to an angle and strapped them to a 4×4 that would sit at the peak of the roof. We then took Jon and put him on a ladder and had him hold the flimsy, yet very heavy structure in the air at the height we wanted it, directly at the center of the structure (a mark we had created by running twine across the diagonals and locating the intersection, basic geometry, wooo!) I then climbed the palapa sides and bent some cheap brackets to be nailed into the 4×4’s and then into the 2×4 ridge piece that was at a 45 degree angle. One bracket on each side of the beam and then to the other corner. Jon’s arms were getting tired and I was tempted to fall off every time I’d swing the hammer into the unsupported beam that seemed to simply deflected the impact rather than take it. But at last we had the two corners pinned down. The A swayed with any motion, one could say it was at a substantial unstable equilibrium and was ready to pitch over at any second. Fortunately it didn’t.

We prepared the other ridge pieces by fastening the brackets to them prior to their lift off and to our frustration we had cut right through a knot and our nails were only splitting the end of the wood to pieces. The beam would have no structure to it. We turned our attention to the other beam and erected it promptly to secure the already timid roofline. With three ridges up we could spend a little more time examining our problem and concluded we’d try the other end of the beam. We cut it and nailed in the bracket. Again we split the wood. It appeared that at any moment the bracket would simply ‘pop off.’ In the seemingly running theme of the production we took our chances and just put it up.

With all four ridge pieces nailed up and secure it seemed incredibly sturdy. I still wasn’t willing to put weight on it (though that would change with time) but I was impressed that the split end of the one pieces didn’t seem to cause any problems. With the completion of the roofline we declared the work day a success at sometime around 9 and drank beer.

Time To Introduce The Band

Jon: You may know this character from Ecuador. He was the original guy to work with me on the idea of having a palapa in my yard, and he would say, “Yeah!” a lot of times. A busy guy with his own work, he is a damn hard worker here too and always appreciates listening to Snoop Dog while building and drinking beer while we’re not. Jon was the first to attempt to scout palm trees with me for the roof and found himself working a 10 foot cutter while atop a ladder in the middle of a thunder storm. He also provided his machete for the project.

Will: This fella helped to turn that idea into a reality by volunteering all of his free time to the project, promising to wear his classic short shorts. With vision he’s the reason there are any frills on this thing by the end. During the construction period it would not be bizarre to come home and find Will lying in the hammocks constantly pleased with his work. Will also gave many miles with his vehicle to collect palm fauns and was the first to give word of the campus trimmings that allowed for the completion of the project.

Asa: Our Swedish worker who came to Tucson to vacation and found herself working hard days in the hot Tucson sun. She always had simple solutions for problems where solutions evaded the rest of us. She also had an incredible work ethic and only agreed to go swimming after we had accomplished what we could on the palapa. She just didn’t drink very much… puzzling.

Megan: One of our most intense workers on the team who knows her craft and does it well. Megan served as a powerhouse during the construction of the roof in palm tree locations, faun collection and arrangement, and an ever eager attitude to accomplish the task. She also provided some invaluable tools to the project like her recently acquired choppers, her tall, super heavy, ladder, and ever present smile. Though she still got wigged out by the machetes.

Me? I simply stood around while all my workers did the job right. Then I would periodically take pictures of myself pretending to do work. I didn’t know what I was doing – they did.

That’s the team.

The Power of Two

May 31st Asa and I woke up at 9 AM and after breakfast I, in my usual manner, wandered about trying to figure out what I was going to do today. Fortunately I had a team mate there to remind me of our project. Delighted, but slightly daunted by the lack of Man power I was reluctant but put on my work clothes and slowly got to work. Asa, clearly frustrated with my indecision was quick with direction and suggested we begin on the cross beams. After seeing she wasn’t horsing around I became more enthusiastic and fell back into my mental groove from the night before.

We spent some time determining the best way to level out the cross beams and unlike the night before our leveling technique seemed much more reasonable. The night previous we had strung a line from pole to pole and measured with the level in the center of the line to make sure they all extended from the core of the earth the same height. With the posts all well cemented into the ground Asa and I only had to attach one bracket to the post drop one end in and level the beam and measure the prescribed length. We’d then cut the beam, attach the second bracket and drop the whole beam in to it’s spot. By the time we got to the fourth beam we learned our posts weren’t quite square but aside from that we were pretty good at this stuff. Our last beam took less than 5 minutes from raw beam to cut, leveled, and set. Now we were at what I like to call a project point.

Project points, or end points, are steps along the way where I felt if we didn’t move past it wasn’t the end of the world and certainly not a waste of investment of time or money. At this particular project point I had a square, for the most part, frame in my yard that was highly versatile. From here I could have made a palapa, a patio cover, a square of hammocks with no roof, there were a lot of options and that made my happy. Asa on the other had wasn’t convinced. I’m really glad she was around, I felt much more productive with a foreman hanging around. Shortly after my giddy dance of completion Asa convinced me that the beams weren’t strong enough and needed more brackets and straps and that we should get the other wood to start work on the roof. We returned to Grant Lumber and then to Home Depot for the straps and made it home in time to get the new beams sealed and for the evening work crew to show up. In the mean time Asa and I enjoyed the hammocks.

Breaking Ground

3:30 PM on May 29th, Asa arrived into Tucson International Airport. She had just spend a bundle of time in Northern and Southern California, Washington, Florida and now she was going to see a little bit of Tucson, Hot Hot Tucson. That night was mostly spent cleaning the house, doing laundry, getting dinner, and going to sleep early. The next day however would prove to be much more productive.

May 30th we woke up and without much direction for the day I drove with Asa over to Grant Lumber, the local lumber yard, where I proceeded to hassle the employees for any information they might be hiding in regards to building structures. I was told 4×4’s would do the trick so long as I didn’t have a heavy roof, redwood was stronger and less scrumptious for bugs, though it needed to be sealed and then again at regular intervals through out it’s life time, while Doug Fir was cheaper, way cheaper, by like a third the price, and could be painted and never dealt with again. However, it was a softer wood and bugs found refuge in it easily. It also didn’t fare as well in the weather. I also learned about having straight beams on the verticals and about how deep I should sink a post in concrete for the size structure I told them I’d be building. I picked out a stain I liked, “Redwood,” called Jon to see what he was doing for the day, and dropped my card on the counter. “I’d like 4 12’x4’’x4’’s and 4 16’x2’’x4’’s, both redwood, and this can of sealant.” Just like that I was sunk into this project.

Asa and I got home, changed into work clothes and started to seal the wood while Jon and Will made their way over. The wood was sealed and dry within an hour because of the 100 degree heat we were working in, both slowing us but also allowing for more to be accomplished in the day. Jon arrived and soon after Will walked into the back yard to find us standing about ready for the next step. We measured out the perimeter, drove stakes into the corners and began to dig.

We dug all night. Through layers of caliche** that bent tools and strained muscles. Fortunately Jon is a beast of a worker and drove through the impervious layers of soil to no end. Just past sun set we had successfully used a portion of concrete from a previous project and sunk the first post fairly square, both vertically and horizontally and we ran to the hardware store in our giddy state to buy more concrete and a level along with the necessary brackets for the cross beams. Jon had by this time departed and Asa, Will, and I returned to recheck our work on the first post with our new level. We were good. We then turned our attention to the remaining holes in the ground and began to sink the remaining three posts. By the time Will was getting into his car and heading for his loft we had four erect redwood posts in my back yard. Impressively enough the palapa, a figment of my imagination, a dream that I concocted in Ecuador simply for my own entertainment had become something, something I could hold onto, lean against, and in due time put my hammocks upon.

** A white soil horizon consisting of calcium carbonate, typical of arid and semi-arid areas. Brief heavy rains dissolve calcium carbonate in the upper layers of soil and transport it downward; the rainwater then evaporates rapidly, leaving the calcium carbonate to form a new, solid layer of soil.