Photo: Beach cottage in Cape Cod

From beachside cottages to far-off continents, Carl Safina details the wonders of the natural world in his book, The View from Lazy Point.

Photograph by Mira, Alamy

By Don George

Book of the Month:

The View from Lazy Point, by Carl Safina

Lazy Point is an area in eastern Long Island—idyllic in summer, gale-whipped in winter—where ecologist and marine conservationist Carl Safina lives in a humble cottage. But in this captivating book Lazy Point is also Everywhere, in the sense that it symbolizes any place one chooses to live an engaged and mindful life, closely observing and respecting the surrounding world.

Safina’s month-by-month account follows a year in his life, from January 2008 to January 2009. Each chapter roils with informed, impassioned descriptions of Lazy Point’s abundant wildlife: Loons and terns and red-winged blackbirds, salamanders and harbor seals, frogs and flounders, purple-blossomed beach peas and wax myrtle blooms are just a few of the stars in this ever-changing “coast of characters.” But Safina’s descriptions are not restricted to Long Island. During the course of the year he journeys to Alaska and Svalbard, Palau and Antarctica, and his reflections at home and abroad range from the sand at his feet to the planet as a whole.

Wherever he is, Safina conveys an accumulation of scientific data and analysis in poetic prose. In one signal passage, he depicts a June morning at Lazy Point—webby mists in dewy grass, bluefish and striped bass, cormorants and egrets, “a geometry of appetites and ambush”—then writes, “It’s taken four billion years to paint this morning, and the canvas remains wet.”

In this wide-eyed way, Safina’s view from Lazy Point encompasses the planet, illuminating our interconnected whole.

New-Book Roundups:

Follow These Footsteps

In Crossing the Heart of Africa: An Odyssey of Love and Adventure, author Julian Smith retraces the epic journey of 19th-century British explorer Ewart Grogan, the first man to walk across the length of Africa from south to north. Glynis Ridley chronicles another amazing voyage in The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe. Baret, a working-class French girl, disguised herself as a boy to join the first French around-the-world expedition in the 1760s and worked at collecting and classifying exotic plant species. In Whisky, Kilts, and the Loch Ness Monster: Traveling Through Scotland with Boswell and Johnson, author William W. Starr retraces Samuel Johnson and James Boswell’s trek through Scotland in 1773, peppering his current-day account with 18th-century anecdotes and 21st-century politics.

Period Details

Lovers of historical fiction, take note. A Man in Uniform, by Kate Taylor, is steeped in details of Belle Époque France, where a lawyer’s bourgeois routine is upended when an attractive widow draws him into the political scandal that will become known as the Dreyfus Affair. Under Fishbone Clouds, by Sam Meekings, conjures up China from 1946 through the Cultural Revolution and to the present in a love story interwoven with Chinese folklore.

One Last Thing

Uncommon Grounds

One of the highlights of my travels this year was visiting the temple and palace gardens of Kyoto, so I was enchanted to discover the new coffee-table book The Gardens of Japan, which celebrates 28 garden treasures on Japan’s four principal islands. Helena Attlee’s learned but not ponderous text elucidates the principles underlying Japanese landscape art, while Alex Ramsay’s exquisitely framed photos evoke the transcendent ephemerality that draws me back to the rock-and-sand riches of Ryoan-ji, the mossy mystery of Saiho-ji, and the undulating elegance of Katsura Rikyu. Beautifully produced, this book offers a poignant passage into the cultivated heart of old—and enduring—Japan.

Don George has won numerous awards for his work as a travel writer and editor. He is the author of Travel Writing and the editor of eight literary travel anthologies, including Lights, Camera…Travel!, A Moveable Feast, and The Kindness of Strangers. E-mail Don at dgeorge@ngs.org.

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