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A Salty Piece of Land

A Salty Piece of Land

4.0 91
by Jimmy Buffett

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In 'A Salty Piece of Land', Jimmy Buffett weaves a mesmerising tale that combines humour and emotional reflection. After all, one man's cathedral is another man's fishing hole. And in Jimmy Buffett's world, paradise is just a state of mind.


In 'A Salty Piece of Land', Jimmy Buffett weaves a mesmerising tale that combines humour and emotional reflection. After all, one man's cathedral is another man's fishing hole. And in Jimmy Buffett's world, paradise is just a state of mind.

Editorial Reviews

Kinky Friedman
Buffett knows better than most that life is all about how we mix our metaphors. And yet the nonfictional aspects of the book appear to be as grounded and well constructed as, for want of a better image, a lighthouse at sea. Buffett has clearly researched his subject. But I suspect the true research for this novel has already been done on land and air and sea in all the years the author has spent as a highly active participant-observer of life. What makes the incredible so credible to the reader, what makes the old lighthouse shine again, is the spiritual savvy Buffett has gleaned from the beach of life as he's wandered in the raw poetry of time.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
There's a Cond Nast Traveler article fighting to get out of bestseller Buffett's first new novel in a decade, a groovily laid-back, ramblingly anecdotal, sun-soaked bit of Caribbean escapism that his Parrothead fans will relish like another chorus of "Margaritaville." Tully Mars, a 40-ish ex-cowboy turned guide at the Lost Boys Fishing Lodge island resort, undertakes various sojourns around the Caribbean, to Mayan ruins, a jungle safari camp, a spring break bacchanal in Belize. Nothing much happens-"That day, we spent the rest of the daylight hours on the shallow waters of Ascension Bay and the lagoon amid incredible natural beauty unlike anything I had ever seen before" is about as busy as it gets-except that Tully meets a parade of colorful natives and expatriates, including a Mayan medicine man, a British commando and a 103-year-old woman who skippers a sailing schooner and wants to restore a historic lighthouse on Cayo Loco, the titular island. The characters are all hospitality entrepreneurs, and Buffett (A Pirate Looks at Fifty) also gives them shaggy-dog anecdotes, tidbits of Caribbean history and desultory life lessons to relate. There are glimmers of plot-bounty hunters, loves lost and found-but mostly Tully has little to do but savor the accommodations and atmospherics of tourist locales while the sea washes him with waves of love, happiness and maturity as infallibly as the tides. This book is as cheery and tropical as Buffet's music. (Nov. 30) Forecast: There's nothing laid-back about the major promo effort the publisher is making to push Buffett's latest; the 650,000 first printing suggests the scale of the campaign. Expect this to hit bestseller lists fast. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Songster Buffett is back, and so is Tully Mars, protagonist of Tales from Margaritaville. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A Wyoming cowboy on the lam drifts into the good life of the Gulf Stream in the latest stream-of-semi-conscious opus from the Pied Piper of Parrotheads (A Pirate Looks at Fifty, 1998, etc.). Having incurred the wrath of his boss-wealthy but evil poodle-farmer Thelma Barton-when he justifiably threw a coffee table through her picture window, Rocky Mountain range rider Tully Mars harkens to the sound of the surf in his lucky conch shell and heads for the Gulf Coast to hide out from the law. Bringing only his quarter-horse Mr. Twain, a few amulets, a couple of his favorite artworks, short-sleeve shirts and flip-flops, Tully zig- zags through Arkansas and Alabama, barely evading Thelma's sadistic (but not too sadistic, since nothing really truly bad happens in Buffettworld) bounty hunters headed ever southerly. There's time for a pleasant fling with beautiful Arkansan waitress Donna Kay Dunbar, but Tully can't commit. Not with a bounty on his head. And besides, sunny tempered fate has him headed for the Caribbean and an expatriate life working on a fishing camp in a one-time pirate village near the Yucatan. Life on the lam is pretty good: all the fresh fish you can eat, cheeseburgers whenever you're in the mood, and, every now and then but not so it's a problem, really good Jamaican weed. Into this perfect world sails the Lucretia, an antique schooner under the command of Tully's future employer and tutor Cleopatra Highbourne. Ms Highbourne, a well-preserved centenarian, has a thing for lighthouses. She's on a mission to find a 19th-century fresnel lens, the critical feature of the lighthouse she intends to restore on Cayo Loco in the Bahamas. Will Tully join her and find serenity in theprocess? Sure thing. But there will be a side trip to Belize for some world-class sex first. Oh, and those bounty hunters are still on his trail. As usual, a pleasant and legal buzz all the way through. Agent: Amy Rennert/Amy Rennert Agency

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Little, Brown and Company
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5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.12(d)

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Read an Excerpt

A Salty Piece of Land

By Jimmy Buffett

Little, Brown

Copyright © 2004 Jimmy Buffett
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-316-90845-2

Chapter One

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.

I saw Cayo Loco for the first time from the deck of the Lucretia. All I knew about lighthouses up until that point was that they were warning lights, and they marked some kind of trouble. I'd heard a few stories, and I'd met a guy who had some theories about them, but that was it. I sat in a dinghy next to Cleopatra as the crew pulled for the shore, and the lighthouse loomed so huge that I had to lean my entire head back just to see the top. "This is it," Cleopatra said to me as we made our way toward the beach. "I traded those bumbling bureaucrats in Nassau a building they needed for a Junkanoo museum on Bay Street for her. I think we both came out okay. All we have to do is fix her up and get the light back in shape."

"No problem," I said, shrugging. After what I had recently been through, fixing up an old lighthouse sounded like a piece of cake.

As the bottom of the dinghy brushed against the shallow sand, Cleopatra sprang to the beach like a teenager. I had to laugh. Three months earlier, my life was rolling by at a snail's pace, and I was sitting on the beach in Mexico, wondering if the day would ever end. Then, all of a sudden, a ship carries me to a completely foreign place that would now become my home.

Solomon, Cleopatra's first mate, buried the anchor in the sand. All you had to do was look at his huge body, his kind eyes, and his weathered hands to know that he was the kind of person you wanted running your crew and your ship. "I'll stay with da boat, Cap'n," he said.

"Then I'll be the tour guide," Cleopatra said. She nodded at a narrow path up through the dunes. "Welcome to Cayo Loco, Tully Mars."

The well-worn path from the beach snaked up through the small dunes and then disappeared up the hill into a cluster of sea oats. We stopped at the top of the hill and looked down on the wreckage of time. With the exception of the light tower itself, the place looked as if someone had dropped a bomb on it. The concrete walls of what had been the compound of the lighthouse keeper came into view. The windows had been blown out, and the roof had been partially burned off.

We made our way through the overgrown paths, pushing back thorny bougainvillea bushes, sea grapes, and hibiscus blooms that camouflaged more destruction.

"This is the old cistern," Cleopatra said as we walked across a large rectangle. "This place was one of the first spots on earth where they made freshwater out of salt water. Those damn limeys have a strange fascination for remote and desolate places, but you got to hand it to them - they knew how to bring creature comforts to the boondocks. When Solomon's father was the light keeper here, this place was a little piece of paradise.

There was a vegetable garden, flowered paths, and even a manicured green lawn."

At close range, even the tower showed the ravages of salt and sea. I stared up at the peeling paint and the cracks in the outer wall.

"Good morning, St. Peter," Cleopatra said as she stopped before a large, thick spiderweb strung across our path. Its weaver, a nasty-looking purple-and-yellow spider the size of my hand, hung suspended across the path. He seemed ready to defend his territory. There was no doubt that this was a web you could not just brush away without consequences.

"You know this spider?" I asked Cleopatra. "He's perfectly harmless, if you don't piss him off," she replied. We detoured around St. Peter and walked in the brush between two small buildings. A raccoon exploded out of the underbrush and scurried off toward the beach.

"I thought you said this island was uninhabited," I said. Cleopatra didn't answer.

While I stood in the rubble looking around, I began to have serious doubts. Then a banging noise caught my attention, and I turned around to see Cleopatra hammering away at a padlock with the butt end of her machete. It was chained to a large iron door at the base of the lighthouse. Walking over, I waded through a toxic dump of decaying lead acid batteries that encircled the light tower. The people who'd been in charge of maintaining the automated light had simply tossed the dead batteries from the tower when they replaced them, adding to the bombed-out look of the cottages and grounds of the keeper's residence.

I looked from the rubble up to the lines of the giant lighthouse and the blue sky above it. On the voyage over to the Bahamas, Cleopatra had told me the story of where the lighthouse came from and how it had gotten here. Even though the light-house had seen better days, the sheer strength of it was still very much apparent. I just stood there and stared up, wondering how in the hell they'd built it.

"This goddamn salt air will eat anything. I just put this lock on here last month."

I went over to lend a hand. After a few more direct hits with a big rock, the padlock sprang, and I pried the iron door open. It creaked and squeaked and let out a thud as it banged against the wall.

Inside, it was dark and hot and smelled like shit. "Here," Cleopatra said, handing me a flashlight. I followed her with the beam of my flashlight, trying to keep pace as she bounced ahead of me like Becky Thatcher while I cautiously navigated the winding staircase. Our movements echoed off the iron cylindrical walls as we climbed through musty, humid air that had been trapped inside the lighthouse for God knows how long. Several furry little fruit bats scanned us with their radar as they fluttered around my head.

"Don't worry," Cleopatra called out. "I know a way to get the bats out of here when you move in."

Up and up we circled, until small beams of light appeared at the top. Cleopatra stopped on the stairs below the source of the light - a rusty hatch cover just above us. "I always like this part," she said. "It reminds me of the time I met Thomas Edison - the night he threw the switch that lit up the Brooklyn Bridge at the three hundredth celebration of the founding of the city of New York."

"You knew Thomas Edison?" I asked. "No, my father did. We were in New York on our way to France and boarding school, and we just happened to be at the right place at the right time."

I followed the beam of Cleopatra's flashlight as we inched up slowly.

"Electricity ain't a bad contribution to the betterment of mankind in general, but it sure as hell wreaked havoc on the lighthouse keepers of the world. The record player would have to go on the top of my list of Edison inventions, way ahead of movies and lightbulbs."

Cleopatra took a marlinespike out of the case on her belt and jabbed away at the hinges of the hatch. The hatch gave way with a creak.

"Ready?" Cleopatra asked. Sunlight flooded down around us. We lifted ourselves through the hole in the sky, and I stood there bathed in the morning light of the glass room. Below us, the Lucretia looked like a toy boat sitting at anchor on the smooth surface of crystal clear water that seemed to be only inches deep. But in fact it was in nearly thirty feet of water.

I could see several members of the crew diving up conch from the bottom. The view from the light tower encompassed the whole island, against a backdrop of turquoise shallows and the deep blue ocean beyond. Cleopatra pointed out the landmarks of Whale Cut, Boo Hoo Hill, and Osprey Point that I would come to know as well as my horse.

"Unbelievable" was all I could muster. "And well worth saving, don't you think?" "I get the picture."

"Except for that," she added, pointing to the bizarre tangle of frayed wires, makeshift junction boxes, and a strobe light resting atop a long, skinny shaft. "That has to go. The original lens that came with this light was not only a piece of engineering genius but a work of art. The lenses, circular prisms, and source that created the beam of light is called the bull's-eye because it looks like a clear glass target. A French physicist named Augustin Fresnel designed it in the early eighteen hundreds." "How did it work?" I asked her.

"The prisms concentrated the burner's light into a piercing beam that shot out to the horizon. The crystal lenses were held together by brass plates, and the whole thing weighed about four tons and floated in a circular tub containing about twelve hundred pounds of quicksilver. That allowed it to spin in a near frictionless environment. It was rotated by a clockwork assembly of ropes and weights that hung down the shaft of the lighthouse, and it had to be wound every two hours by the lighthouse keeper on duty. The sword of light it stabbed out into the darkness could be seen for twenty miles." Cleopatra paused as if remembering specific images. "Seen from the deck of a ship, it radiates its presence like nothing else on earth. Sailors call it the soul of the light."

"I guess all that beauty and precision seemed way too complicated for the twentieth century," I said.

"You would have thought that such a thing of beauty would wind up in a museum, but not here. They severed the base with a blowtorch, shoved it out the window, and just let gravity finish the job. Thus, the soul of the light was ripped out, smashed on the rocks, and the brass frame that once held the intricate Fresnel-lens system in place was sold for scrap." Cleopatra let out a big sigh. "That is what replaced it," she said, pointing at the present light source. "In a modern world, there is just no time for hand pumping kerosene or winding a clock. In the name of progress, they turned the Cayo Loco Light into a giant toaster." As we wound our way down the steps and finally out of the dark interior of the lighthouse, Cleopatra also wound me around her finger. Her mission was to find a bull's-eye lens before she died.

"You can't just order one up from the True Value hardware man," she told me. "It's a needle-in-a-haystack thing, but I'll find one. In the meantime, we have to rebuild this place and make it look like it did in its heyday, and that is where you come in." Back out in the fresh breeze at the base of the tower, Cleopatra reached into the pocket of her pants and pulled out a key. "Tully, I've been around long enough to know that the bullshit people heap on one another is more toxic than all the oil refineries in Texas, so I will come straight to the point.


Excerpted from A Salty Piece of Land by Jimmy Buffett Copyright © 2004 by Jimmy Buffett. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Salty Piece of Land 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 91 reviews.
Anonymous 9 months ago
Took me away from daily mundane life
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wish i had the full tings. I hve heard only good things about this book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For many years, I've given copies of A Salty Piece of Land, one of Buffet's best books, to a wide range of readers including a guy who only reads daily fishing forecasts and a woman who can't be bothered to read anything but classic literature. The recipient always contacts me and says, "I really enjoyed this book!" Jimmy Buffet's A Salty Piece of Land is a great gift for everyone!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im not a reader but i couldnt put this book down
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mangopie More than 1 year ago
This was such a good book! it made me want to pick up and head to the beach
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Hombrewr More than 1 year ago
I think I've Read this book about 3 times and I took it on a couple of driving trips to Boise playing it on the stereo!
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william Wiater More than 1 year ago
Great story!!! It's like reading many stories within one story. An easy enjoyable read! Highly recommended!!!
Cheryl Campbell More than 1 year ago
Jimmy Buffett's books are always a feel good read! LOVED IT
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