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Review-a-Day
The Oregonian
Thursday, January 27th, 2011
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View from Lazy Point

by Carl Safina

Carl Safina Spends a Year Looking at The View from Lazy Point

A review by Alice Evans

Ecologist Carl Safina's newest book, The View From Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World, is a poetic and scientific rendering of "the daily miraculous" near the tip of Long Island, a place where Walt Whitman once roamed. Along with his dog, Kenzie, Safina follows his nose to adventure, recording his observations in brilliant imagery and calling to the child in each of us with a simple invitation to wander with him.

"I sometimes tell friends it's possible to see the whole world in the view from Lazy Point," Safina writes. "In the circle of a year you may see around here everything ranging from Arctic seals whose summer home is Canadian pack ice to tropical reef fishes that have ridden up from the Caribbean in flickering tongues of warm water."

While Safina focuses month-by-month on the comings and goings of various species of birds and fish and other marine animals at his home location, he also journeys to the Arctic Circle, Antarctica and other far-flung places to witness the ravages and comebacks of sea-based life. He visits Alaskan Eskimos and Palauan Islanders whose lives and lands are vulnerable to rising seas.

Despite the complexity of the human failures and worldwide ecological dysfunctions identified by Safina there is, as he says, something very simple about it all. The systems by which we run our world, our philosophy, ethics, religion and economics are "ancient and medieval institutions," Safina writes, "out of sync with what we've learned in just the last century about how the world really functions." He identifies "an expanding circle of compassion" as the way to progress. "And regardless of how we got here or where we're going when we leave this stage, I believe that -- if the word sacred means anything at all -- the world exists as the one truly sacred place. Simple things, right? Actually, I often think they are."

When my daughter Ursula and her friend Ola were about 8 years old, they wrote a song they hoped to market through Ola's aunt, an airline flight attendant -- she had connections to the music industry, or so they thought. Their song never made it to the airwaves, but it remains one of my all-time favorites: "People are dying all over the world, nobody cares." There may have been other lyrics, but I don't remember them.

Theirs was a simple song about compassion, focused on something very wrong in our world but infused with a hope of awakening people to action.

In some ways, Safina's newest book reminds me of this song -- the planetary lens, the enormity of the identified problem(s), the childlike ability to penetrate to essence, the urging toward compassion and action.

Safina demonstrates convincingly that birds are disappearing all over the world; polar bears are dying at the top; glaciers are melting top, bottom and everywhere else; fish populations are plummeting; islands are flooding; and as a matter of fact, people are dying all over the world -- with more soon to perish. But he also records the ways in which humans have turned things around and nature healed itself.

As many of us already know, however, we are not doing enough. Humanity continues either not to notice, or to stall, bogged down in old ways. "Compared to the possible oceans of improvements, humanity is still dog-paddling in the shallow end of the kiddie pool. Sometimes we seem determined to drown there just because we won't stand up," Safina writes.

Co-founder of the Blue Ocean Institute, Safina holds a doctorate in ecology and is the recipient of an impressive series of literary awards and fellowships, including a MacArthur "genius" Fellowship and a 2010 Guggenheim. With his grand sense of adventure, eye for beauty, heart for mercy and high hopes to shake us from our complacency, Safina seems a godsend among modern-day prophets. His is a voice worth listening to, and I hope his song hits the top of the charts. People, animals and ways of life are dying all over the world, and some of us really do care.


The Oregonian The Oregonian is the online source for comprehensive coverage of the Northwest literary scene. Its daily books report includes news, reviews, and poetry, as well as essays and opinions from local authors.

Plus: The paper's award-winning books section, published on Sundays, strips the buzz from national bestsellers and directs readers to little-known regional gems in a concise package.

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