The View from Lazy Point

Bookshelf: The View from Lazy Point

The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World – Carl Safina

The View from Lazy Point
The View from Lazy Point

The Carl Safina we (I) know and love – brilliant, lyrical, and wide ranging – returns with this book after his angry eulogy for the Gulf of Mexico (A Sea in Flames) after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This book is a return to the style of his other titles, which you should read as a matter of urgency: Song for the Blue OceanVoyage of the Turtle, and Eye of the AlbatrossIf you had to choose one author to be your guide to everything that’s wrong with, and everything that’s hopeful about our blue planet, Carl Safina would be that writer.

Safina won the 2012 Orion Book Award for The View from Lazy Point, but not everyone loves his sometimes wordy style (channeling great American nature writers such as Henry David Thoreau), so he may be an acquired taste. If you like a bit of literature mixed in with your science, I think you’ll love Safina’s writing. At intervals he allows outrage or anger to break through into his reverie; an encounter with duck hunters near his home, for example, left me with my heart pounding.

Lazy Point is a promontory at the end of Long Island Sound, not that far from New York city. Just looking at the area on the map makes me want to go there – it’s in an area frequented by vast numbers of migratory birds and abundant fish species, with an intriguingly convoluted coastline. Safina owns a cottage at Lazy Point, and The View from Lazy Point is structured around the seasonal changes he is able to observe from this spot. The daily walks he takes on the beach with his dog reveal the changing landscape and its inhabitants as the year passes.

Safina is a fisherman, and mounts an impassioned (and relatively convincing) defence of the activity. He also admits that he struggles with it, which I found slightly reassuring. He has given up shark fishing (at least, he doesn’t keep the sharks he catches any more). I’ve struggled with his fishing narratives before; fortunately in this book he’s more concerned with food than sport.

During the course of the year, Safina also travels – to Palau, Alaska, Svalbard, Belize – seeking first hand the effects of climate change and pollution on the marine environment and the people who depend on it. He sees ice melting and coral reefs bleached and overgrown with algae. I didn’t realise the extent to which coastal communities (mostly on islands) are already having their lands inundated by rising sea levels, crops destroyed and homes flooded. The problems and challenges identified in this book are massive in scope, and probably the most important (self-created) threats humanity has ever had to contend with.

After all, only in the last few decades have we understood anything, really, about how the world actually works. … Consequently most of civilization remains uninformed about the two great realities of our existence: all life is family, and the world is finite. … What I’m saying, basically, is that in very consequential ways, our modes of conduct are so out of sync with reality that they’re essentially irrational.

His call to action is justified. You can read an interview with Safina here, and other reviews of this book at the LA Times and New York Times.

You can get a copy of the book here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise here or here. I think you should read it.

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Clare

Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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