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Driftwood By Michael Sullivan

Another beautiful day at the seashore. The sandy white beach is spectacular as only a winter day can make it. No oily tourists to circumnavigate, only driftwood soaking up the sun's wan rays laying photogenically wherever the waves have seen fit to leave it and just enough wind to keep the seagulls amused. Shells glisten at the water's edge, some longing to be taken home, others content to stay where they are. A beachcomber's paradise.

It hearkens back to the days of old when people who lived by the sea depended upon Neptune's offerings for firewood and, in far northern latitudes beyond the tree line, to build shelter. Gradually, as we became a seafaring people, the pickings were improved by flotsam from the occasional shipwreck or jetsam from a vessel fighting for it's life. The mariner's misfortune might help an entire community survive the rigors of winter. Beachcombing for survival could even be transformed into a lucrative business in areas with particularly dangerous coastlines.

In any given era the findings of the beachcomber were an encapsulation of the times. Starting with the Mediterranean and radiating outward from the Middle Sea, humanity's driftwood spread to all the oceans of the planet, evolving from planks and barrels of primitive coastal traders to the golden age of sail's exotic goods from the remote corners of the world, all to be given new life in the hands of beachcombers. Even modern society's toxic detritus like oil drums have been employed by beachcombers to better purpose, spawning the metal drum and a musical genre in the Caribbean. Whether anybody in New England has Yankee ingenuity enough to make use of the ubiquitous beer cans and old tires that define our era is unlikely, they seem destined to lie forlorn on the shore until another tide carries them off again.

In a similar vein, we have another type of flotsam heading toward unknown shores. Far out in space are four tiny spacecraft, two Pioneers and two Voyagers, the first constructions of humanity to depart the solar system and mix with the interstellar gas and dust from which we are all derived. In the unlikely event that some distant civilization happens upon these tiny wanderers in the vastness of space, the Pioneers bear plaques telling a story of the people who created it and the two Voyagers carry recordings of sounds from Earth such as children laughing and whales singing. Nevertheless, their journey will likely continue until they are eroded into their constituent molecules countless eons in the future, possibly becoming recycled into new star systems in the process. The real announcement of our existence will be the shell of radio and television waves, already one hundred light years in radius and expanding at the speed of light. Rushing ever outward, the electromagnetic waves will carry tonight's TV lineup to distant suns while NASA's probes ride gravity waves in the darkness of space. And so it seems Hollywood Squares is to become our calling card to the cosmos. I'll take Zsa Zsa to block.

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