A Salty Piece of Land

By: Jimmy Buffett

1


The Soul of the Light

tully mars, checking in


It all simply comes down to good guys and bad guys. As a kid, I wanted to be like Roy Rogers, the good-guy cowboy of all time. Roy and his horse, Trigger, would go riding through the movies, helping those in peril while never seeming to sweat, get a scratch, or wrinkle a pair of perfectly creased blue jeans. When the day was over, they would join the Sons of Pioneers by the campfire and sing the sun to sleep. Now that is what I called the perfect job.

One day, long ago in another place and another time, I was playing out my fantasy of being Roy with my childhood pals in the rolling hills above Heartache, Wyoming, where I was raised. We were racing our horses, bat-out-of-hell style, through the aspen grove that led to our little ranch. Like a true daredevil, I passed my friends in a wild sprint to the finish line, and once I had the lead, I turned around to admire my move as the leader of the pack. The next thing I remembered was waking up on the ground, my head covered with blood, my left arm pointing in the wrong direction, and pain—lots of pain—shooting through my young body. That’s when I knew that life wasn’t a movie.

During my mending process, I discovered a new role model in Butch Cassidy, who took me through my teenage years. He wasn’t perfect. He made mistakes, and that seemed more in tune with the way my life was working out in the real world. He thumbed his nose at authority. To put it in today’s terms, Butch Cassidy didn’t work for The Man. He was his own man. He ran away to Patagonia.

The West was changing, and so was I. Now, looking back, I have to thank old Roy for teaching me that when you fall from your horse, you climb back in the saddle and plow ahead. From Butch, I figured out that what I wanted to be was my own man—just a good guy with a few bad habits. This is Tully Mars reporting in.



When I left Wyoming some years ago and made a not-so-difficult choice between becoming a poodle-ranch foreman or a tropical expatriate, I tossed a massage table through the giant plate-glass window of the ranch house owned by my former boss and modern-day witch Thelma Barston. That day, heading off to freedom, I made myself a promise. As I fled across America, I swore I would never again work for anybody but me. I pretty much kept that promise until I met Cleopatra Highbourne.

Cleopatra Highbourne is my present boss and the woman who brought me here to this salty piece of land in the southern Bahamas. She hired me to restore a 150-year-old lighthouse on Cayo Loco, which she owns, having swapped for it with the Bahamian government for some property on Bay Street in Nassau.

To begin with, Cleopatra is 101 years old, but she doesn’t look a day over 80. She is the captain of her beautiful schooner, the Lucretia, which was a present from her father on her eighteenth birthday.

Cleopatra has simply defied the aging process. Her eyes are a piercing green, and her speech is lilted with an island accent that is somewhere between Jamaican and Cuban. There isn’t a romance language or Caribbean patois she doesn’t speak like a native, and there isn’t an island she hasn’t set foot on between Bimini and Bonaire. Her skeleton is erect, which she attributes to being a practitioner of yoga for eighty years, having been taught the craft by Gandhi himself. She wears no hearing aids or glasses. Her skin is void of the weathered, leatherlike appearance caused by age, ocean, and ultraviolet exposure. She never smoked cigarettes, but she has her daily ration of rum and occasionally will puff a little opium if she is feeling ill. She also has a taste for Cuban cigars.

She dines on fish, rice, and tropical fruits, and a collection of potions, teas, and elixirs keep her biorhythms, brain, and sense of humor humming. She cusses like the sailor that she is, and she is rabidly addicted to Cuban baseball.

Though she says she has a few good years left in her, Cleopatra is on a most urgent mission, and that is where I come in. I am here to rebuild the lighthouse as her final resting place while she continues her search for an original Fresnel lens, which was the light source for this and many other old lighthouses.

So how does a cowboy wind up as a lighthouse keeper? Well, I didn’t fill out any job application. How I went from the saddle, to the deck of a schooner, to the tower of this lighthouse still baffles me. But I believe in the aboriginal line of thinking that life’s adventures are the verses and choruses of your unique song, and when it is over, you are dead. So far, I am still singing, but I would point out that adventures don’t come calling like unexpected cousins visiting from out of town. You have to go looking for them, and that is exactly how I wound up on Cayo Loco.

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