Carl Safina is an ecologist and author of books and writings about the human relationship with the natural world. He is the Endowed Professor for Nature and Humanity at Stony Brook University and is the founding president of the not-for-profit Safina Center. Audubon magazine named him as one of its “100 Notable Conservationists of the 20th Century” and Utne Reader listed him among “25 Visionaries Changing the World.” Safina’s most recent book is Becoming Wild; How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I lived in Brooklyn until I was ten. I think that visits to the Museum of Natural History, the Bronx Zoo, and New York Aquarium, and occasional fishing forays, were crucial to me.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
I wish I knew that basically everything would be OK, would work out well.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
That scientists should not show emotion, though this view is fading.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
I used to suffer from occasional depression. I don’t know why it ended but am very thankful it did, about 20 years ago now. I learned to empathize better with people suffering emotional or mental problems, and how little control over them a person can have.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I don’t give up easily. I take on large things but I can spend the time seeing them through. Perseverance is the most important ingredient to success. There is a lot of failure and rejection. If you keep at it , you’ll succeed.
What is your morning routine?
I wake as it’s getting light. We feed the dogs, the wild birds, the chickens, ourselves. I might take a walk or split wood for the stove, and then I go to my writing studio and get to it.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
A habit of gratitude and of awe and wonder. That counts for a lot.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
I work all day and into the evenings but I take breaks about every two hours to check the chickens or have a snack.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
Walden by Thoreau. It sets the stage for how to live a thoughtful life in connection with the living world and human community.
On the Origin of Species by Darwin. It provides a correct explanation for much of the diversity of the living world, as a single organic related whole. The grandest view of life.
Sand County Almanac by Leopold. He lays out the human relationship with the world in a series of beautifully crafted reminiscences and says humans are part of nature and
nature is part of the human community.
Silent Spring by Carson. The book that showed how over-reach by industrial society was poisoning the living planet.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
I’ve always loved: Isaac Newton’s, “I do not know what I may appear to the world,” he wrote, “but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
There’s Spike Lee’s character who says: “Always do the right thing.”
And Thoreau’s famous, “Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however, measured or far away.”