Conservationist Carl Safina describes the state of nature at home in Lazy Point and other points distant.
“I wouldn’t recommend a ‘return to nature’,” writes MacArthur Prize-winning conservationist Carl Safina. “I like books and science. I like music. I am willing to abandon the concept of Natural. Nature is moot, anyway, because we’ve so thoroughly changed the world.” The comment is somewhat unexpected from the author of such rigorous and impassioned calls to restore the ocean as Voyage of the Turtle and Song for the Blue Ocean. Yet it’s fitting for the passionate, thoughtful portrait of the “natural” world set out in his Safina’s new book.
Reminiscent of Thoreau’s Walden but thoroughly Safina’s, the book is set in and around Safina’s modest but animated home at Lazy Point, Long Island, near where he grew up. Its deliberate, steady pace acts like a slow-moving camera capturing the area as animal and ocean life changes month to month, full circle from one January to the next. “In some ways this could be any year,” Safina tells us, but “in some ways, it couldn’t be any other,” so intensely does he immerse himself and readers in details of the surrounding waterscape while chronicling palpable heartache for what he sees as “a world that remains so vitally unaware of how imperiled it is.”
Safina’s conservation career was sparked with a study of terns, so the book initially zeroes in on many of the 300 bird species –from ducks to ospreys – that migrate through or breed in the area. His familiarity and interest in them while walking or fishing on the nearby sound can’t be missed, but not everyone will wish to swim in such detail of habitats and habits. Rather, the narrative is much clearer and more relatable when lifted out of Safina’s intense observation and inner monologue and into real time interactions with others.
The first scene to inject the book with passion is a full moon visit to American horseshoe crab breeding, which also reveals the book’s familiar crux: the battle between human and animal survival, both with intensely different implications. It’s a push-pull central to conservation and addressing impacts of overfishing, rising seas and overpopulation, all of which concern Safina and become increasingly evident in changes he notes at Lazy Point. The conflict is best illustrated during interspersed chapters describing Safina’s travels, offering a welcome if at first poorly transitioned break from his home diary. Whether he’s describing adventurous encounters with coral bleaching and deterioration in Belize, the Caribbean, and Palau; salmon and Inuit life in Alaska; or climate effects on wildlife in the Arctic and Antarctic, these moments elevate and enliven the book.
Viewing the world from Safina’s perspective is, as usual, worrisome and hopeful. He outlines worldwide environmental pressures, the part the United States plays in them, and barriers as well as options for improvement. Hopefulness separates the book from doomsday environmental tomes, yet rather than recommend specific actions he warns generally against a growth-obsessed economy and in favor of a “compass of compassion.” While he gets preachy at the end, Safina also underscores that “[t]he future is by no means doomed,” and we should be, as he is, “continually struck by how much beauty and vitality the world still holds.” We just can’t forget that there’s no one to rescue us and Earth; we have to do it ourselves.
Read more at the Miami Herald.LL