“The View From
“The View From Lazy Point” is the fifth book by Carl Safina, an ecologist and profound thinker, and one that is distinctly flavored by the natural history of the South Fork of Long Island. You can not only see Napeague Bay and other parts of the Peconic Estuary from the author’s Lazy Point home, but climb a tall ladder and turn your head 180 degrees and you will be able to see the Atlantic Ocean as well. It’s the first book following the changing of the seasons I’ve read by a Long Island author.
Published last year and recently released in paperback, it is punctuated by local episodic events — storms, bird migrations, fish runs, and the like — mostly occurring in 2010. Its text and line drawings follow the local passing of the seasons by month from February through January. Mixed in among them are side trips to the Caribbean, Alaska, the Antarctic, and Svalbard, north of Norway. One might say that the overriding theme of the book is global warming, the melting of the glaciers, and the coming rise of sea level and their collective consequences on the world’s population, sea edge geology, and marine and terrestrial fauna.
It is not a book for the weak of heart, as it doesn’t offer a clear-cut roadmap on how to proceed in order to survive the 21st century and thereafter. What book could? It does paint a bleak picture of the present and blames market economics for much of the despair to come. Mr. Safina is extremely well read, in contradistinction to the rank-and-file authors and leaders of today, and draws heavily on the likes of Aristotle, Virgil, Charles Darwin, Svante Arrhenius, Thomas Jefferson, Adam Smith, Henry Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and E.B. White. The catchword “capitalism” is absent throughout, but this reviewer, biased as he is, inferred unregulated capitalism to be in just about every other paragraph as the chief culprit in mankind’s race to poverty and obscurity.
Unsentimentally, perhaps, Mr. Safina does base the future success of the world’s fauna and flora and natural environment on the positive activities of man; one gets the intimation that if man were not here in the first place the plants and animals and the ecological assemblages they make up would do better than they are doing now. On the other hand, it is patently clear that if we don’t act responsibly from now on, nature will fare much worse than it is now.
The view from Lazy Point can be rosy or grim, depending on how we proceed. Having studied and lived with birds and fishes throughout his adult life, the author, it is easy to see, not only understands their ways to a great degree but also enjoys having them around and interacting with them in a kind of one-to-one relationship, animal to animal, even I and thou. Without mentioning the word, a kind of religion bordering on animism is not far from his thinking.
Notwithstanding that Mr. Safina explores and writes about the land and sea life of exotic locations close to the Arctic Circle and the Antarctic, or the life inhabiting the coral reefs of the Caribbean Sea and Oceania’s South Seas, he looks happily on the comings and goings of the fish and wildlife encountered in his own wonderful backyard, sand-duney Napeague, and the waters washing it. One month it’s ospreys, terns, bluefish, and striped bass, another it’s varicolored warblers, later on it’s soulful songs of the whippoorwills and Fowler’s toads, then the slow up-and-down migrational passing of the monarch butterflies and streaking of the peregrines and other hawks pursuing terns and tree swallows.
Maybe that’s why so many of us who similarly love the wild animals and wild plants are fully content to see them in a local context without chasing them around the globe. Our respect for those scattered worldwide can be extrapolated based on our affection for those we experience locally every day.
Corporations, but not necessarily their captains, are deemed responsible for the sad state of things. I would heartily agree. Mr. Safina diplomatically does not point fingers at those who run the corporations or their lobbyists and political tie-ins; one gets the idea that they run themselves. What is missing, too, are some of the success stories as we battle the bad guys, some of which started right here on Long Island, such as the banning of DDT and phosphorous-containing detergents, to name a few.
While the author is a scientist with a Ph.D., one should not forget that most of Long Island’s great environmentalists were naturalists or merely people off the street, such as Dennis Puleston, Gil Raynor, Roy Latham, Paul Stoutenburgh, Art Cooley, Chris McKeever, John Turner, Dick Amper, and Karen Blumer. They didn’t have the luxury of foundation support; their environmental pursuits were a “second job” that paid nothing but cost them a lot economically.
And let us not forget the greatest post-World War II environmentalist of them all, Rachel Carson, who not only pinpointed the most serious environmental threats but fought their creators and fomenters tooth and nail, and even her own bureaucratic higher-ups, at a very great personal sacrifice to save the seas and sea life that were her passion.
It’s a great book, but after reading it I still remain a pessimistic optimist. We’ve got to do something, and we don’t have a whole lot of time in which to do it or our progeny are goners, and it’s the progeny that Carl and I worry about the most.
Carl Safina is president and co-founder of the Blue Ocean Institute in Cold Spring Harbor. His books include "Song for the Blue Ocean" and "A Sea in Flames: The Deepwater Horizon Blowout."