Friday, February 24, 2006

Contact

Just out there over the horizon is the island of San Salvador. Five centuries ago, after a long sea voyage, Columbus saw a glimmer of native fires and knew he had found land. Good for Columbus. Bad for the native Bahamians, the Lucayans, who were wiped out to a man/woman within 25 years.

In the fall of 1852, Thoreau wrote this about stepping out of the house in the evening and seeing the stars: "How incredible...these bright points which appear in the blue sky as darkness increases, said to be other worlds...Far in this ethereal sea lie the Hesperian isles, unseen by day, but when the darkness comes their fires are seen from this shore, as Columbus saw the fires of San Salvador."

A nice conjunction to stand here on my terrace in the evening, looking out to the sea from which Columbus came, and into the deeper, darker sea of space. Will we ever make contact with an alien civilization behind those twinkling lights, glimpse their electromagnetic bonfires, so to speak? And, if so, what will be the effect on them and us? A happier encounter, one must hope, than what ensued when Europe encountered the Lucayans.