It's a whole new epoch. The newly coined geologic term, Anthropocene, replaces the ice ages of the Pleistocene and the rise of human civilizations in the Holocene, indicating that human technology has had such a profound and wide ranging impact on the planet as to warrant a new label. I'm confident that most readers couldn't care less about such geological trivia, but it's clear that the coming extinctions and climate changes are certain to affect each and every Earthling. In The View from Lazy Point, nature writer and scientist Carl Safina explores this new world from a unique and personal perspective.
Lazy Point is located at the eastern end of Long Island, near Montauk Point, jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean. Safina and his dog Kenzie reside there year round in a small cottage, watching the seasonal migrations of seabirds and marine life as well as the human visitors, coming and going from their summer mansions in The Hamptons.
The book is divided into monthly chapters, outlining a recent year of observations. When he's not discussing the lives of birds like osprey, eiders, terns and ruddy turnstones, he's revealing the secrets of numerous other creatures, like horseshoe crabs, sharks, bluefish, seals and monarch butterflies.
In between he includes interlude chapters in which he visits various locales that are bearing the brunt of global warming and rising sea levels. He describes the dying coral in Belize and Bonaire, the struggles of polar bears in Svalbard, the decline of penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula and the gradual submersion of the Alaskan town of Shishmaref on the Chukchi Sea. Lest this all become too depressing, he also includes surprising tales of thriving salmon rivers (and forests) in southeast Alaska and the recent coral recovery on the Pacific island of Palau.
Safina writes with the attitude and fire of Edward Abbey, but somehow presents it all in an affable and optimistic manner. He elaborates on the various ways that humans are laying waste to life on Earth, but avoids negativity, guilt and fear mongering. He clearly has a strong passion for the natural world, but rarely becomes judgmental and recognizes that there is plenty of blame to go around.
While most of his focus is on the incredible web of nature that he encounters every day, Safina doesn't hesitate to venture into other areas like economics, religion and philosophy, including insights from Einstein, Confucius, Adam Smith and Dwight Eisenhower, among others.
Safina's greatest strength is his beautiful writing. His prose presents vast amounts of knowledge and deep understanding in a truly pleasurable and intriguing way. His description of a hunting peregrine falcon - another conservation success story - is just one fine example:
The falcon requires birds to make the bird it is. And several paths can lead to making a falcon: soil into plants into seeds into birds into falcon; or plants into insects into birds into falcon; or dissolved nutrients into plankton into fish into terns into falcon. The falcon heaps all this energy as tribute to its own bright burn.
It rises higher, higher. Someday this glowing ember called a falcon, this cloud-splitting crossbow, as startling as a pirate flag in a telescope, will be a pile of feathers and maggots in the rain. The way of all flesh. But this isn't that day.
Safina is a brave writer. Obviously, the more amazingly he describes his encounters with nature, the more painful it is for the reader as he reveals how it's all falling apart. At the beginning of the book, I expected to simply become more depressed as the story went along. But, somehow, Safina is able to approach the topic with an honesty and optimism that makes The View from Lazy Point a truly enjoyable read. I plan on reading more of his work and recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the natural world or in the fate of the planet.
Other quality nature writing you might also enjoy:
The Golden Spruce
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