All na projects begin with Don Fonso disappearing for hours alone into the dense jungles surrounding town with his axe. He then utilizes his vast botanical knowledge to select appropriate timbers from the large variety of tree and wood types that exist there. After locating specific woods that can resist insect infestation and dampness, and others that are both durable and pliable, Don Fonso is ready to cut down the ones he’s chosen, but only if it’s during the three days before or after a full moon. The reason for this, is that there’s an ancient belief that at the height of each moon’s lunar phase every 29 days, the saps that subsist in all trees flow at their fullest. Thus, if trees that can be useful are harvested at that time, then their hard, fibrous cellulose centers will ultimately last longer as useful lumber.
This principal also applies for the cutting down of the hundreds of needed palm leaves that are used to make the roof of a na. These palms, which are called guanos, are unfortunately always found way atop towering ant-swarming trees, but make for an inexpensive and effective alternative to other costly roofing materials such as shingles, metal sheeting, tiles, or slate. Removing large quantities of both guanos and cut timbers by hand from a steaming and entangled jungle, is a brutal and backbreaking chore. Luckily, Don Fonso is quite accustomed to hard labor as a lifestyle, and always accepts such a challenge with a smile and a fiery determination.
Don Fonso doesn’t carry a leather tool belt around his waist, or wear blue jeans and a long-sleeved flannel plaid shirt with pencil filled pockets. Nor does he have much more than an axe and a machete to get most of his jobs done, and a file to keep both razor-sharp. And he doesn’t own a tape measure. He accurately calculates lengths by eye, or by tying knots in string or rope. He may even notch twigs, or often uses the always reliable and consistent distance between his out-stretched thumb and middle finger. He also never wears gloves to protect his hands from splinters, blisters, or the slicing nature of dried guano leaf tassels. This is because he says his sense of touch is lost with gloves on, and they just cost too much to get anyway. And, Don Fonso always builds each and every na he works on, from the ground all the way up to the gable, solely in his bare feet.
A na is traditionally oval in shape, with walls made of tall, thin tree trunks stood on end, that surround a main framing arrangement. They also always both have a front and rear entrance, and two large cross beams in the roof’s construction that are used to stabilize the entire structure. The fact that air and/or wind can easily filter through a na, allows them a certain amount of ‘give’ and ‘sway’, which are qualities that can help a na survive even the worst of summer’s annual hurricane threat. And a roof made of guanos, does an amazing job of keeping out the rain of even heavy torrential downpours. Plus, guanos permit the smoke from cooking fires to easily filter out through them. In fact, as soon as the construction of any na is complete, it’s best to immediately start having fires inside them, because smoke rids guanos of scorpions, tiny lizards, and insects.
Don Fonso’s most fascinating skill to watch when he’s involved in building a na, is his impressive ability to patiently manipulate and precisely control awkward amounts of vines and guanos with a subtle combination of delicate finesse and sheer strength. Vines need to be sized, twisted, wrapped, and carefully tied around all framework connections so that they are perfectly tight, and won’t ever break or come loose. And guanos must also be manhandled into proper shapes and configurations before being meticulously and delicately woven into cross-roof bracings in a strict, uninterrupted, and continuous level-lapping pattern.
It’s all a labor of love for Don Fonso, who if he weren’t building a na, would probably be found contently carving out an hourglass-shaped gourd to make it into a corn cob-capped water canteen/thermos. He’s a man with clothes that have torn and been sewn back together hundreds of times, yet will save his pennies for months, just to buy a nice shirt to wear to church on Sundays. And he’s a peacefully calming gentleman, who finds no greater thrill than to wake up each and every morning, just to do all that he does, all over again.