It’s been more than a year since nature writer Carl Safina’s “The View from Lazy Point” was published, but the cautionary tale of this book is haunting enough to deserve a second read.
Mr. Safina, who lives on the peninsula in Amagansett at the entrance to Napeague Harbor that gives the book its name, has made a global name for himself as a thinker on the threats to the ocean and the plants and animals that depend on it, but this is the first of his five books to actually be set on the East End.
The author, who bought his Lazy Point house several years ago, is in good literary company in his fascination with his new home, which he’d heard was named for the ne’er-do-well baymen who’d come to Lazy Point as squatters on worthless land.
“None other than Walt Whitman enjoyed the exact same spot,” Mr. Safina wrote, then quoted Whitman: “The eastern end of Long Island, and the Peconic bay region, I knew quite well — sail’d more than once around Shelter Island, and down to Montauk — spent many an hour on Turtle hill by the old light-house, on the extreme point, looking out over the ceaseless roll of the Atlantic. I used to like to go down there and fraternize with the blue-fishers, or the annual squads of sea-bass takers.”
Mr. Safina, who first made a name for himself with “Song for Blue Ocean,” a book which in part chronicles the unsustainable practices of long line deepwater fishermen, has slightly less success with the local baymen than Whitman had. In one memorable scene in “The View from Lazy Point,” he and a marine biologist friend pick a fight with baymen who come to the beach near his house to catch truckloads of horseshoe crabs crawling out of the bay to mate during a full moon.
“He wants to know how I’d feel if he came to my office and disrupted what I do for a living,” he writes. “I try saying that if you want to keep making a living, killing your animals while they’re breeding seems a risky strategy. He says that’s nonsense; his grandfather did this, too. They’ve been doing this for generations and look: the crabs are still here by the hundreds.”
“The View from Lazy Point” takes place over the course of the calendar year of 2010, and follows Mr. Safina’s travels to the ends of the earth, from a seed bank saved for a post-apocalyptic world in Svalbard, Norway to the sinking Pacific island of Palau, where even gravediggers are hitting seawater when doing their work, to the Antarctic, as he documents the rapid acceleration of changes to the planet thanks to human activity.
His book builds on the theory of the “Anthropocene Epoch,” an informal measure of geologic time rapidly gaining credibility among geologists, which is used to describe the current era in which human activity has more impact than anything else on the earth’s ecosystems.
This book, whose subtitle is “A Natural Year in an Unnatural World,” aptly proves his point.
He begins with an early-year trip to the Caribbean coral reefs off Belize, where warming ocean temperatures and acidification are bleaching out acres upon acres of once-thriving coral, then returns home to find a fin whale carcass on a Hamptons beach, which had likely been hit by a ship before beaching to die, then heads out again and again into the world, finding examples of human effects on the natural world both on foreign shores and at home.
“Our dearth of ways to deal with such enormous problems is a symptom of the relationship we’ve decided to have with the world,” he wrote. But he offers little hope for any concrete steps to change that relationship, leaving readers with the impression that it’s already too late.
He even goes so far as to quote Yeats’ “The Second Coming,” a verse that has been in style these days:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity. Surely some revelation is at hand…
“The revelation is this: don’t wait for some revelation. We make our own luck,” Mr. Safina writes. “It is by far preferable that the best people have conviction, and the worst get convicted.”
In the end, Mr. Safina finds his own solace in rebuilding his own relationship with the natural world. After each trip out into the world, after each storm carves more sand away from the beach near his home, he returns to his fishing rod, to his nature guides, to the salt marshes and tidal lands surrounding his house, hoping to find order in a world out of kilter.
Perhaps this story is to be continued…
If books aren’t your thing, you can listen instead to this song by Montauk rock-and-roller Nancy Atlas, who grew up on Lazy Point.