June 25, 1997 began as a normal day in the Caribbean, and the people in the villages on the southern part of Montserrat went about their routine activities, aware of the smoking Soufriere Hills but not overly concerned. It had been smoking and fussing for months and this Wednesday was no exception. Then shortly after noon, the earth that held it back collapsed, and hot lava and gas flowed into the unsuspecting valleys below. Before the ash and lava settled, 19 people lay dead, and ten villages were either obliterated or rendered uninhabitable. Subsequent volcanic activity wiped Montserrat’s capital, Plymouth, off the map.
Three years later, less than 1,200 people remained on the island. Over 7,000 were evacuated, more than half of them fleeing to Britain where they received citizenship in 2002.
More than 20 years later, the southern part of the island lies in an exclusion zone, deemed uninhabitable and severely restricted to both the island’s inhabitants and tourists. The northern half of the island remains postcard perfect. Lush hills and valleys with the blue-green Caribbean as a scenic backdrop continues to be home to natives and expatriates alike.
A lot of Irish are surprised to find that this British-controlled isle, that lies about 300 miles from Puerto Rico, is nicknamed the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean. Settlers arrived there in 1642 from Ireland. Over the years, European nations shuffled it back and forth amongst themselves, but even with a slave rebellion, the settlers of Montserrat adapted. Blacks and whites intermarried, and harmonious relationships punctuated island life, though with an Irish twist. A testament to that is the National Holiday celebrated March 17 commemorating not Saint Patrick’s Day as much as a slave revolt.
Volcanoes aren’t unique to the Caribbean. Hundreds of Islands throughout the world were sired by volcanoes. Hawaii is, perhaps, the most famous. James Michener’s Hawaii provides an absorbing account of the islands. He not only traces the history of its people but the formation of the island itself.
It’s interesting to note that volcanoes are equal opportunity purveyors of death and misery. You can find them in Italy, Iceland, Japan, and the United States. Think Mauna Loa, Hawaii and Mount St. Helens in Washington. Mount Pelee in Martinique, Mexico, and Columbia are also home to the volcano gods as is Indonesia which is blessed with at least three. These volcanoes are worrisome at best and should be feared when they awaken. Most will bring a terrifying and deadly side effect: tsunamis capable of wiping out civilization on hundreds of islands and killing hundreds of thousands of people.
Jimmy Buffett recorded a song called Volcano on an album by the same name in November 1979. It recounts the dangers of living on a Caribbean island where volcanoes, like hurricanes, are nothing to be trifled with. Ironically, he recorded it in a studio on Montserrat which was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Volcano is so popular with his parrothead followers that he wouldn’t dare not play it at a concert. I suspect fans would blow their tops.
The lyrics capture the uncertainty of living on an island with a volcano that is misbehaving. Implied is the overriding question, “When is it going to blow?” And he seeks answers to questions such as where do you go to get away from the damn thing? Though volcanoes are destructive, Buffett captures the resilient spirit of the islanders who eventually must overcome the tragedy and put their lives back together.
I hope the natives caught up in the next volcanic event find a safe place to go, and I hope they are able to rebuild their lives stronger and better than ever. The people of Montserrat are a testimony to the resilience of the human spirit.
Whether you live in the Caribbean or on the far side of the world, tragedy comes to visit us all. It may not take the shape of a volcano, but it can be just as devastating. When the next volcano blows in your life, I pray you find the strength and resources not only to overcome it but, like the phoenix, rise from the ashes stronger than ever.
If you see me out there on the High Seas of Life, don’t forget to wave that pirate sword of yours in my direction and yell, “Aarrrgh!” I’ll be looking for you and those volcanoes.
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We’re two weeks into the New Year and by now most people have blown their New Year’s Resolutions. Still working out every day? Missed two days the first week and the second week wasn’t any better. Showed up two days. That diet you’ve been on? Some have gained another pound or two trying to get rid of that holiday candy calling their name.
But I’m not too concerned about that gym resolution or those few pounds that found their way to your waist. Doctors and psychologists will tell you it’s normal for people to break those kinds of resolutions shortly after they’re made unless they’re tied to a profound commitment to change.
And that’s why I’m offering you a second chance. A second chance to make some meaningful New Year Resolutions that will have a huge impact on your life. These twelve resolutions have less to do with diet and exercise and more to do with altering the behavior that will get you to the Far Side of the World where your Pirate Dreams await.
The election is over and Donald Trump is the president elect of the United States. Hopefully, he will lead this country wisely and bravely for the next four years.
I have my doubts considering his remarks and behavior during the primaries and this past election bid. The man gushed unashamedly about how he likes to ogle naked women as they change for a beauty contest. It’s one thing to have your private sexual fantasies and another to act on them.
He also bubbled with joy about grabbing women’s genitals without fear of repercussion because he was a celebrity. I wonder how many women he’ll actually attempt to fondle now that he’s even more of a celebrity. I suspect if he tries it with Angela Merkel, chancellor of West Germany, he’ll be in for a surprise.
Of course, all of this is not exactly the stuff role models and leaders are made of. So how do you explain him to your teenage son or daughter?
His opponent put up a fantastic fight, actually winning more votes than he did. She no doubt would have made a fine president, but a quirk in our electoral college circumvented that. So forty-eight percent of Americans decided they liked a borderline pervert instead. And to think that many of those who selected him were Evangelical Christians who believe in the straight and narrow path. I can only guess their value system aligns with Donald Trump’s, so it leaves me more than a little confused how groping and humiliating women, Hispanics, and special needs persons fits into organized religion.
Now that the dust has cleared, I’m wondering why someone like Jimmy Buffett didn’t run for office. He’s smart just like Donald Trump. He’s funny, unlike Donald Trump. He’s engaging unlike Donald Trump. And he’s a good businessman just like Donald Trump. Look at how he’s packed his concerts city after city over the years. Margaritaville restaurants and stores which grew systemically from his songs are thriving. Even though the music poohbahs who give out awards have largely neglected his achievements, his loyal parrothead fans now include their children and their children’s children.
Because Jimmy’s trademark is pirates and parrots, I have no trouble seeing the White House filled with these colorful creatures. Jimmy has always been a pirate. There’s a story about how in his earlier years, he stole peanut butter and sardines from a local supermarket to keep from starving. I believe he made restitution a long time ago. His story is recounted in his song The Peanut Butter Conspiracy.
I bet Donald Trump was never hungry a day in his life. Judging from his physical appearance, he sure doesn’t appear to have been. In fact, he received a nice little nest egg from his dad to get him started. Jimmy, on the other hand, had to endure a lot of hard times before he finally made it big. No nest eggs from his family. Just good family values and a pirate heart that told him he could do anything he set his mind to. Arrrgggh! Continue reading →
I have a bumper sticker with a skull and crossbones on it. The skull is wearing an eyepatch, smiling no doubt because of the bright red bandana it’s sporting. Underneath it reads: “Put a Real Pirate in Office. Jimmy Buffett for President.”
I think Jimmy is having way too much fun to be tricked into running for president, but of all the pirates I’ve known, Blackbeard would make a terrific president. It’s hard to think of a more presidential candidate than Edward Thatch. That’s his baptismal name. Yes, even the parents of buccaneers have high expectations for their offspring.
Of course, I can hear your comments now. He doesn’t look anything like a president. Look at all that hair! And that beard! Have you lost your mind? As a matter of fact, I have, but my wife has gotten used to it. Did you know we had quite a number of presidents who were no slackers in the hair and beard department? Abe Lincoln, of course, being one of the greatest.
It may interest you to know the last time we had a president with a full blown beard was President Rutherford Hayes, twenty-third president who served from 1877 to 1881. He could have passed as Blackbeard’s double though I don’t think Blackbeard would have approved of him as president. At his wife’s urging, he banished wine and liquor from the White House. That’s not the sort of thing a president with pirate tendencies does.
In case you haven’t noticed, Donald Trump is no slouch in the hair department though he would probably garner a bit more respect if he let it go pure white instead of using something on it that looks like dog pee. His hair dresser should tell him white hair implies age and wisdom.
As for Blackbeard, he was a dedicated pragmatist who knew exactly how to utilize his hair and beard. He used to weave fuses in his beard then light them during battle to intimidate his opponents. Imagine how frightening he would appear before a joint session of Congress or in a tense meeting with Vladimir Putin when suddenly smoke belched from his head, his black penetrating eyes boring a hole in your soul.
But it takes more than hair to be a leader. When you’re the leader of a pirate ship, you need three things: an ability to take control, a knowledge of people, and a thorough understanding of your profession. Blackbeard had these in aces.
However, like every politician, he held his position using guile, though his strong pirate persona would certainly give him an edge over whining tea partyers. He once blew the candle out in his cabin while drinking with a few of his crew. Suddenly, he picked up his pistols and fired them underneath the table, laming one person. When asked why he did it, he answered: “Got to show ‘em who’s boss once in a while.”
I think that would work well when a pirate president runs into a congress like we’ve had for what seems an eternity. After all, if pirates pulled off the crap that our senators and congressmen have, they’d never leave port. Pirates unlike most members of Congress today knew if you wanted to get things done… if you wanted booty, rum, and wenches then you had to compromise; you couldn’t sit on the deck and whine about having everything your way: “I don’t want to go to Africa; I don’t think we should take that prize; how come I don’t ever get first choice of captured guns. Blah! Blah! Blah!” Continue reading →
May 09 marks the 156th birthday of J. M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan. It was Barrie who helped shape our concept of pirates and our love for them. Captain Hook with his elaborate dress, his one eye, his hook, and his diabolical demeanor changed the public‘s consciousness towards pirates forever. We were hooked from the outset.
Barrie was born in Scotland but moved to London to make his way in the literary world. He was successful as a playwright long before he wrote Peter Pan in 1903. However, when it appeared on stage the following year, audiences adored it.
Few are aware the character of Peter Pan first appeared in another work of Barrie’s called The Little White Bird. When Peter Pan was first written, it was also known appropriately enough as The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.
Peter Pan relates the story of a boy who remains eternally young. One night he flies into a nursery and tells two boys and a girl all about Never Never Land. Fascinated, he agrees to take them there after a fairy sprinkles them with fairy dust. Their adventures involve Peter battling Captain Hook who tries several times to kill him. In the end, Peter defeats Hook when he falls off his ship, the Jolly Roger, and into the mouth of a waiting crocodile.
Peter Pan appeals to that part of our soul that stays forever young, that prompts us to still chase our dreams and believe anything is possible whether we‘re six or ninety-six.
Beyond that, Peter Pan teaches us that it’s okay to be childlike long after we’ve outgrown our childish ways. This would help to explain why Jimmy Buffett is still so appealing to aging parrotheads. He’s reintroduced us to pirates and the fun to be had from exploring our childlike heart. Continue reading →
Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all. When Helen Keller spoke those words, it’s not likely she was thinking of pirates, but they fit perfectly the happiest pirate this side of Margaritaville and his parrothead followers.
If there are three trademarks of a pirate, it’s these
1. The willingness to take bold chances.
2. The willingness to steal.
3. The thirst for adventure.
If this is true, then Jimmy Buffett is not only a pirate’s pirate, but he’s had school in session for over forty years, teaching parrothead/pirates the intimate details of how to pull this pirate thing off. Let’s get started by putting a few things up front.
Jimmy’s been shot down in Jamaica, crashed his plane in Long Island, been put down by critics, thrown out of sports arenas, and had his share of illicit taxi rides. Yet each time cannon balls fly his way, he’s found a way to “… jump up and smile back at …” us.
This is exactly what makes Jimmy Buffett a pirate’s pirate. Adversity is no stranger to him. It’s just that he’s learned to make friends with it. It’s hard to know whether Jimmy shines because of his resilience, or whether his resilience comes from his ability to shine. I’m convinced if given an electric guitar and Jimmy Buffett‘s example, Blackbeard would have turned out differently.
Let’s face it. No one would ever accuse Jimmy of being a saint, yet there are few people I know closer to God. When you make so many people happy in a world writhing in pain, it’s one of the most godlike things a human can do. More of us should learn to do that.
As for this whole stealing thing, Jimmy is guilty. For over forty years, he’s stolen our hearts while encouraging us to live our dreams. What‘s more, he’s taught us to steal our lives and our dreams back from those who stole them from us a piece at a time.
Though he seems to preach a hedonistic lifestyle, Jimmy is more of a Buddha than a sensualist. It’s all about the present moment. No matter what you were expecting, it is always now. Breathe in, breathe out. Move on. It’s a terrific lesson. Continue reading →
Uncommon Mariners: A Nautical Almanac
A Voyage in a Book
How would you like to chase pirates and mariners across the seven seas? I’ve written a book Uncommon Mariners, and if you like the sea, and things of the sea, and stories about men and women who have lived and died on it, I think you’re going to love this book. But let’s forget the book for now, and let me tell you a little something about my birth into the world of the sea, pirates, and mariners.
Maybe it was one of those day trips to the Jersey Shore as a kid. My oldest sister Sandi and my brother-in-law Larry Molinaro arrived at the curb of my home in their maroon Lincoln, and they piled my sisters and me into the back seat along with my mother and off we went barreling down Black Horse Pike. The pungent salt air that rose from the marshes outside Atlantic City and the sand castles I built at the edge of that miraculous sea were bliss itself.
It was with a deep sense of loss that I packed up my sand bucket and shovel and headed for the local bathhouse as the sun lowered in the sky. Weeks later back in Philly, I could still feel the rise and fall of the sea as surely as those white curling breakers hurled themselves relentlessly towards my sandcastle that hot August day.
Or maybe it was that auspicious birthday years later, when my daughter Maureen and her husband Jason Olsen gave me the legendary gift box of Jimmy Buffett’s four CD’s Beaches, Boats, Bars, and Ballads. There was something about that mix of songs on the Boats CD that awakened the sleeping pirate in me. Suddenly, a black flag snapped somewhere in my brain, and I realized Jimmy vocalized what I had been feeling for years.
My first trip to the Florida Keys only further inflamed those pirate aspirations. Less than fifty yards down the isolation of Card Sound Road, civilization was replaced by the stark beauty of a paradise I could only guess at, and I knew I was home. Anyone who ever set foot on a ship and lost sight of land knows what I‘m talking about. I stood on the edge of the Universe and my whole soul opened up and I was swept into eternity.
Soon after, I experienced another event that insured I would never sleep again without the Jolly Roger wrapped tightly around my soul. One crisp October afternoon, while doing yard work, I disturbed a nest of hornets. I was stung on my ankle as the machine rattled and snarled at the aggravated bees. Armed with a can of wasp killer in each hand, the scene quickly deteriorated into hand to hand combat. Eventually I was able to slip in between the fragmented cloud of bees and turn the machine off. I left the wasps that were left to deal with their dying and dead.