Yes, I am a pirate.

OK, so if I'm not a pirate, at least I've got a tugboat named after me.

It’s safe to say I’ve been aware of Jimmy Buffett since high school—from his initial hit, “Come Monday.”  I can even remember being in Mrs. Keith Oakes’ English literature class my senior year.  Someone had a guitar there for some official reason and between classes,  class clown Mark Burke picked it up and began to play and sing “Margaritaville. “

That’s all well and good, enjoying those two radio hits in the 70’s, but like many now-middle-aged, college educated middle-class men and women, there was a time when I was called to Buffett, surely as I received a call from the Lord to come down front while heads were bowed and the pianist quietly played “Just As I Am” .   It was, I remember, some ten years after that alter call, in a car with some college friends on the way to Florida, mingled with some Fleetwood Mac, Kenny Rogers and even David Allen Coe.

Mother, Mother Ocean, I have heard you call.

There was an intense period of immersion that followed my conversion to Parrotthead:  Son of a Son of a Sailor, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, A1A, Living and Dying in ¾ Time, Havana Daydreamin’ and A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean.  I listened to them over and over and over and memorized every line.  I played them on the old turntable and was careful to run, jump and pick up the needle so my parents wouldn’t hear me play “Why Don’t We Get Drunk (and Screw)” or any parts on the live album You Had to Be There where there was cursing .  The irony is that nowadays my mother loves her some JB and you can bet she and my daddy knew, knew we played “Why Don’t We Get Drunk (and Screw)” when we thought they couldn’t hear.

Known for sculpting his own genre and elevating it to cult status as well as for  his diversified marketing genius, Jimmy Buffett never enjoyed a lot of Top Forty airplay.  It’s just as well.  He’s done more to influence other musicians and keep his fans boogieing than just about any other public figure I can think of.

Last week I read a blog by a blogger called Preacher Mike.  Mike lists his top ten and ties them into his Christian belief system.  Inspired,  I have come up with my Top Ten List of Jimmy Buffett songs:

10. Incommunicado (Coconut Telegraph)  With a tip of his hat to Travis McGee and a palpable moment of silence for John Wayne, JB captures the essence of times when we all need to retreat into ourselves, go away and just be non-communicative.  This song actually inspired my visit to Cedar Key, a sleepy Gulf hamlet way off the beaten path—where I enjoyed the local delicacy, smoked mullet—and, as always, it’s not a waste of time “taking the long way home.”

9. The Wino and I Know (Living and Dying in 3/4 Time)  I’m on the right track with this obscure JB song because when I posted a few lines from it on Facebook yesterday, people I’d never thought of as Parrottheads answered my post with more great lines from the song.  Distilled down to its meaning, the song illustrates that there are intangibles in life that can be grasped and appreciated by children, drunks and even songwriters. And I hope one day to make it to Café du Monde for coffee and beignets.

"God bless Johnny Cash"

"I got a Carribean soul I can barely control/And some Texas hidden here in my heart."

8.  There’s Something So Feminine About a Mandolin (Havana Daydreamin’) –  I strongly considered the title song for this list.  Strongly.  But this song paints such a vivid picture–a pasture in central Texas, a graceful young woman bent over her instrument, the high lonesome sound of the mandolin.  It reminds me of the time I saw a young bartender, a fit brunette in hiking shorts, finish her shift and pick up a guitar to belt out songs by the potbellied stove in Luchenbach Texas.  This tune’s  message is of simplicity, feminine grace and of the things we love that we hope to pass on to our children.  “When I get older and I have a daughter/I’ll teach her to sing/And play her my songs/And I’ll tell her some stories I can barely remember.”

7. Migration (A1A) How many of us have gone introspective, “Looking back in the background/Tryin’ to figure out how I ever got here”? There is the bashing of Yankee tourists in “mobile homes that cover the Keys/I hate those bastards so much,” somewhat of an ecologist’s rallying-cry for sending them back up north towards Disney and preserving the keys habitat and vibe.  This song also deserves to be on my list because it contains the very definition of JB’s public persona “I’ve got a Caribbean soul I can barely control and some Texas hidden here in my heart.”

6.  He Went to Paris (A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean)  Simply epic JB.  A human life well-lived is full of ups and downs. Yes, you can boogie your ass off until you die.  In fact, it’s the only way to consider living.   “Some of it’s magic and some of it’s tragic but I had a good life all the way.”

5.  Tie:  If the Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’s Me (Last Mango in Paris) and  Coast of Marseilles (Son of a Son of a Sailor)  They’re essentially the same song, odes to love and loss.   “Would you be remembering me, I asked that question time and again?” I’m pretty damn sure the answer is yes, and yes, the phone isn’t ringing, so I know it’s you. We move on, but there are wistful times of remembrance for all of us.

4.  Captain and the Kid (Down to Earth) I sure wish I could get the chance to climb on my grandfather’s knee again and talk of things he did.  This song captures the essence of a child’s relationship with a grandparent.  Someone who wows them, fills them with wonder.  My Papa Julian sat in front porch swing and blew smokes rings for our amusement, made up silly songs and told stories that would never pass inspection by the politically correct.  In my head I have rearranged Mr. JB’s lyrics to fit my papa: ” I never used to miss the chance/To climb upon his knee/And listen to the many tales/Of life in Enoree.”

3.    A Pirate Looks at Forty (A1A) I’ve heard my teen-aged son say this was his favorite JB song and I understand why.  “Mother, Mother Ocean/I have heard you call.” The ocean draws Homo sapiens to her just like moths are drawn to a flame.  The hypnotic crash of the waves, the sure and steady rhythm of the changing tides—embody the circadian rhythm of life,  life which is full of adventure and uncertainty.  Even if we were born two hundred years too late, there is a pirate in each and every one of us.

2.   Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season (A1A)   Every now and again, we in the landlocked upstate of South Carolina experience what I call a squalls out on the gulfstream day, a day where it is overcast and not too hot with a balmy breeze.  There is some kind of front coming through, a low that’s just right—you can feel it in your inner barometer.  ” It’s time to close the shutters; It’s time to go inside.”   You have to confess, you could use some rest, and this is the perfect day to do it.

1. Cowboy in the Jungle (Son of a Son of a Sailor)  “I don’t want to live on that kind of island/I don’t want to swim in a roped off sea.” Buffett is really for everyone.  Everyone has a longing to chuck it all and go sailing, to end up somewhere when the money runs out and live in the moment.  It’s almost Christ-like to think of giving up worldliness and know that some way, somehow, your daily needs will be met and your life will be richer.  What JB offers Parrottheads is a slice of redemption, the idea of escape from daily pressures that sets our spirits free.

I’ve asked my son Nolan to write up his own JB top ten list, so stay tuned for his list and maybe his comments.  And check out Precher Mike at :  http://preachermike.com/2011/04/19/top-10-jimmy-buffett-songs-caribbean-soul

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Editing the Bucket List

Nolan at Disney's Animal Kingdom Park, 2011

I worked on my bucket list a little bit this morning.  Its changes over the past six or so years reflect little accomplishment and a lot of mellowing out.  The thing about a list, you see, is that it is ever changing.

  • See my son graduate; live long enough to be a grandmother
  • Go trekking in the Himalayas Mongolia!!!!  Sleep in a yurt, ride those little horses and drink fermented mare’s milk
  • Remember my father every single day of my life and appreciate my mother every single day.
  • Ride a horse across some Godforsaken Western landscape…alone Teach my son to ride a horse; he can fish, shoot, hunt and play guitar.  Learning to ride is the only essential life-skill I think he should have that he has yet to master.
  • Raft the Snake River in Idaho Finish rafting the rest of the Chattooga after almost drowning there last year.
  • Fly over Alaska in a tiny little plane and then set it down somewhere to hunt moose  I’d settle for killing a really big whitetail
  • See a black bear in the wild  (in South Carolina)
  • Bungee jump—Well I did a bungee tower, not quite as high as a bungee jump, but close
  • Take my son and husband to the Outer Banks.
  • Read all the classic (again) from Beowulf to Jayne Eyre to Silas Marner to The Sun Also Rises to The World According to Garp
  • Run a marathon Not so important anymore.  I do want to do more triathlons, maybe up to Olympic Distance.
  • See Hamlet in an off-off Broadway play or college theater group; See Godspell again
  • Learn to scuba dive What was I thinking!?!
  • Go to a cooking school
  • Catch a rattlesnake Accomplished May 2009.  Pin and pick up a venomous snake with my hands Accomplished May 2010.  Catch an alligator (again)
  • Visit New Orleans during Mardi Gras; have coffee and beignets at the Café du Monde
  • Hang my clothes on a clothesline again, on  a regular basis.
  • Work a humanitarian mission, mission trip or field research project in a Third World nation
  • Deliver a calf again
  • Go to a tent revival and really get in the Spirit
  • Go to the Super Bowl!
  • Nude beach?  No, private beach, nude
  • Remember hearing my grandmother giggle
  • Have a really great garden again ; freeze and can things for winter
  • Finally see an Ivory-billed woodpecker  Should I can this?  I’ve made two attempts already that did not go well!!??
  • Take my son to Disney World Accomplished April 2011
  • Go to an Irish Pub and close the thing down, singing too loud
  • Learn to do basic carpentry, and minor to moderate home repair—or learn to sew, which is basically carpentry with cloth
  • Attend La Tomitina, that tomato-throwing festival in Spain
  • Run the Peachtree Road Race again  Set to do this a week from tomorrow.  Pray that I finish!
  • Walk through a street market in a Third World Country and not worry about what (or who) I am eating
  • See a Jimmy Buffett concert again with friends and family
  • Go to the Kentucky Derby  wear an outrageous hat and drink mint juleps
  • Finally get one of my book manuscripts published; I have  five languishing in drawers
  • Spend a month in Mexico, immersion-learning the language
  • Tour Switzerland with my mother (her ancestors came from there) Not looking too likely; her health is not great
  • Take my family on a tour of the American West—Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone.   I hear the Grand Canyon is nice.
  • A day at work where EVERYTHING goes right
  • Watch or re-watch all the movies that won Best Picture at the Academy Awards; Well, maybe not all of them; gotta figure some are boring.
  • And my ultimate:  hitch-hike, take a train, walk, ride a horse, sail, etc, etc, from here to Tierra del Fuego Paddle my kayak across the Okefenokee Swamp and ride my bicycle back (accomplishing my first “Century” on the bike and so much more!)

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Revisiting the List

Yesterday I was flummoxed by a simple question from a friend, “What’s on your bucket list?”

As a strange coincidence, I had  run across a hard copy of my list only two days before.  I glanced at it and realized with amusement that I had accomplished a couple of the things on the list.  I can check those babies off now.

But when the question was put to me, I drew a complete and total blank.  What exactly was on my list?  I couldn’t remember a blasted thing!  I struggled to remember, uh, maybe run a marathon, and, uh, maybe, uh raft the Chattooga?  And maybe bungee jumping was on it, but never skydiving?  I couldn’t even remember the things I had noted that I could check off.

Midlife is a strange time.

You are struggling to stay young and you know you are losing the battle day by day.  Your priorities change, and you wish you weren’t mellowing out quite so much.  It was plumb unsettling to know that I couldn’t even remember the things that seemed important to me only five or so years ago.   And it should be eye-opening to re-do the list and even comment on the previous list.

Here, for posterity’s sake, is my list from 2005 or ’06.   It is reprinted from Tidbits, The Best Little Paper Ever:

At Huntington Beach State Park a few weeks ago, I added another bird to my life list.  Birders, you see, keep a list of all the birds they’ve seen and identified in their lives.  They are meticulous about keeping this life list, and the Peterson Field Guide series conveniently provides a checklist in the field guide.  Though I always thought I’d eventually see a male painted bunting, it was anticlimactic when I unexpectedly encountered two of the most colorful birds on the continent visiting a feeder there at the state park.

This much anticipated sighting reminded me of another list I made, one made several years ago when I had an unexpected scare from a medical test.  Fearful that my test results would be bad, I made a list of all the things I wish I could do before I die.

Some of these things are poignant, almost sad.  Some are way out of reach.  Some are doable.  And some are mundane.

Here’s just part of my list:

  • See my son graduate
  • Go trekking in the Himalayas
  • Remember my father every single day of my life and appreciate my mother every single day.
  • Ride a horse across some Godforsaken Western landscape…alone
  • Raft the Snake River in Idaho
  • Fly over Alaska in a tiny little plane and then set it down somewhere to hunt moose
  • See a black bear in the wild
  • Read all the classic (again) from Beowulf to Jayne Eyre to Silas Marner to The Sun Also Rises to The World According to Garp
  • Run a marathon
  • See Hamlet in an off-off Broadway play or college theater group
  • Learn to scuba dive
  • Go to a cooking school
  • Visit New Orleans during Mardi Gras; have coffee and beignets at the Café du Monde
  • Work a humanitarian mission, mission trip or field research project in a Third World nation
  • Go to the Super Bowl!
  • Remember hearing my grandmother giggle
  • Finally see an Ivory-billed woodpecker
  • Take my son to Disney World
  • Go to an Irish Pub and close the thing down, singing too loud
  • Attend La Tomitina, that tomato-throwing festival in Spain
  • Run the Peachtree Road Race again
  • Walk through a street market in a Third World Country and not worry about what (or who) I am eating
  • Go to the Kentucky Derby
  • Spend a month in Mexico, immersion-learning the language
  • Tour Switzerland with my mother (her ancestors came from there)
  • Take my family on a tour of the American West
  • A day at work where EVERYTHING goes right
  • Watch or re-watch all the movies that won Best Picture at the Academy Awards
  • And my ultimate:  hitch-hike, take a train, walk, ride a horse, sail, etc, etc, from here to Tierra del Fuego

I’m proud to report that recently I checked off another of my life’s “to do list,” I swam-biked-ran my way to finish the Greenville Triathlon.

Do you have a life list?

Some things are for dreaming; some things are for doing.  But one thing’s for sure, life is as much of an adventure as you choose to make it.


“Learn to scuba dive?”  What the heck was I thinking? I don’t recall ever pondering it.  Snorkeling was fun, but scuba? Whassup with that?  And why wasn’t bungee jumping on the list?  And now we can trash can the trip from here to Tierra del Fuego.  What I want to do now is kayak solo across the Okefenokee Swamp and cycle back.  And the ivory-billed woodpecker, hmm, after one failed attempt at seeking them in Arkansas and one poor attempt in Florida, that one might have to go bye-bye, too.

We accomplished Disney two months ago and God willing, the Peachtree will be in the can on July 4, only two weeks away.

Looks like I need to re-do the list.  Stay tuned for an update.

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