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Monsoon season

It seems that every summer we are here in Vermont I end up writing about thunderstorms. I am sorry to be so repetitive, but the storms have always been the dominating influence on our lifestyle while we are here. We are slaves to the weather here in the northeast, with our daily activities determined in a large part by whether we will have snow, rain, or heat and humidity. Only rarely does it seem to be sunny and dry.

Back in Tucson our neighbors and friends are awaiting the annual “monsoon season.” Yes, the American southwest desert has a monsoon season, extending from June 15 to September 15, during which time the dew point soars up above 54 degrees and dramatic lightning storms roll in from the west and south. The dry washes are flooded with raging brown water, and in a couple of months Tucson receives half of the 12 or so inches or rain it gets per year.

Back in here in Vermont, we don’t have a monsoon season, because there is no season in which we don’t get thunderstorms and heavy precipitation. Or to put it another way, it’s monsoon season all year long.

As I write this I am sitting in the Airstream listening to today’s thunderstorm. It started with a sudden chill breeze at 8 p.m., dropping the air from 70 degrees to the mid-60s, and then long crackling distant warnings, that morph into a rumble and ten seconds of echoes and aftershocks. Then the rain began in earnest, rattling down on the aluminum roof and accompanied by huge booms that shook the Airstream. Eleanor and Emma are in the house right now, probably watching the storm through the glass sliders on the west side. I am comfortable and well-protected in here.

Our friends in Tucson told us we should be there for the monsoon season, and I’m sure it is a spectacular sight. In some future year we will be there to watch the blue storms gallop in from the west over the desert landscape. But for now we have the Vermont version, which I suspect is no less dramatic in its own way.


It wasn’t all storm today, however. After a solid week of on-again, off-again rain and sun, we got half a decent day, and that was enough to encourage my brother to come over with his sailboat. He and my parents jointly have purchased a 1975 Chrysler Buccaneer, an 18-footer that looks like serious fun to race around the lake. The boat needs a little work (new hatch covers mostly), but it should be sailable almost immediately. We spent an hour trimming trees with the chainsaw yesterday so that the Armada and boat could squeeze around the side of the garage to the lakeside, and today Steve trucked it over. The boat was dismantled for travel, so re-assembly work started this afternoon. If things go well, we could be sailing later this week.

I am told that Emma was the driving reason for getting this sailboat. Being the only grandchild, she’s a handy excuse for all sorts of things. But I heartily approve. Sailing is a good thing for a kid to learn, and a great outdoor activity for everyone. Emma has a book on sailing to study this week, so she’ll be ready for her first lessons.

My Caravel project is still moving along slowly. I was having trouble matching the wood in the trailer, so I brought a big chunk of it up to the wood experts in Burlington, and they determined that it is not oak (as many people have claimed), but in fact pecan. I am not entirely sure that is correct, but I do agree it’s not oak. The grain is all wrong for oak. It’s also not poplar, ash, or birch — all species which people have guessed at in the past.

Even if we were sure it was pecan, it would be tough to match new pieces to the old. Pecan isn’t as cheap as it was in 1968, either. So, after considering several options, I have decided to rebuild everything from new wood. This greatly increases the magnitude of the work, and the cost, but I am sure that the end result will be far superior. It will eliminate a lot of refinishing work and allow me to correct a few design problems as well.

For example, the kitchen cabinet front was built to accommodate a gravity furnace that is long since gone, and a fully manual Dometic gas refrigerator that (despite much work) still insists on freezing our lettuce. We will re-design the kitchen cabinets to allow a slightly larger and considerably better replacement refrigerator, and put in door fronts that reflect how we really use the space.

At this point we are looking at ash for the replacement wood. Ash has a light blonde color that will go well with the vinyl walls and warm yellow Marmoleum floor in the trailer. I’m awaiting a estimate on availability from our wood suppliers before settling on the wood choice. In the meantime, I’ve measured every piece of 1/4″ plywood and all the structural members of every cabinet in the trailer, in order to estimate our needs. It’s considerable: at least four sheets of veneer plywood, and many board-feet of 3/4″ lumber.

To speed the project, I’m asking the wood guys to deliver some stock pre-ripped to the dimensions we will need. They can do it more quickly and straighter than I can on my homeowner table saw. Most of the Caravel’s furniture was assembled from 3/4″ x 3/4″ or 3/4″ x 1-1/2″ sticks, glued and doweled, with 1/4″ plywood forming the sides, and two thicknesses of 1/4″ plywood glued together to make the cabinet doors and drawer fronts. I’m going to use pocket hole joinery using a Mini-Kreg kit with glue, instead of dowels. With a few improvements to the design, we will even save a few pounds, making the 2400-lb Caravel even lighter and easier to tow.

But that’s all just details. The best things that happened today were Emma playing a Hawaiian tune on her Flea “pineapple” ukulele for everyone, and Eleanor making a superb dinner of fresh Thai summer rolls with peanut dipping sauce, and shrimp on the barbecue. The little things are what make a summer’s day. The big projects are just the things we do to fill in the time between moments like those.

6 Responses to “Monsoon season”

  1. Doug Rowbottom Says:

    Rich, I worked for 5 years in a veneer cutting factory and learned to identify many woods. In my 67 Safari the wood is Elm not Oak as everyone thinks. We cut a lot of Elm back then. Ash wood be the closest match if you can’t find Elm. Elm has a herringbone pattern between the grain lines, Ash in clear between the grain lines and Oak has fine open pores. They all have the same color when finished natural.

  2. Doug Rowbottom Says:

    Rich, I worked for 5 years in a veneer cutting factory and learned to identify many woods. In my 67 Safari the wood is Elm not Oak as everyone thinks. We cut a lot of Elm back then. Ash would be the closest match if you can’t find Elm. Elm has a herringbone pattern between the grain lines, Ash is clear between the grain lines and Oak has fine open pores. They all have the same color when finished natural.

  3. Doug Rowbottom Says:

    Sorry for the double post

  4. Jack Palmer Says:

    If it’s Pecan than it should look similar to the Hickory Interior in the Classics. Pecan being a species of Hickory. My daughter has Pecan kitchen cabinets and the wood is somewhat lighter than the Hickory used in the Classics and without the dramatic color differences.. There are about 12 species of Hickory native to North it very well may be Pecan. Color and grain may not match any thing you’ve compared it to simply because of where and when it was cut ,milled and how it’s aged. To get an idea of the original color.,plane one side and then wipe it with a damp sponge.

  5. terry Says:

    Rich, I’m going to be silly for a minute, and suggest balsa wood for the interior woodwork. It’s extremely light and strong, which is why model airplanes are made from it. I’m not sure about the grain, or what it would look like with a finish on it.
    Also, please let Eleanor know Reagan is still dead.

  6. Terry & Greg Says:

    Rich… 25 Jun… Tucson …speaking of monsoons…late in the afternoon storm clouds rolled in from the south and the breezes picked up a bit…we’ve been anticipating our monsoons and today we had our first sprinkles…don’t know if it’s “officially” the monsoons yet (depends on the the number of consecutive days of a certain humidity reading) but they are dang close. You can smell the rain in the desert air…we’ve had 11 days of temps of 106 or better then today it was only 103…”only”…just thought you’d like to know!

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