Sand. Ocean. Sky.
There was at one isolated spot on Rehoboth Beach on New Year's Eve 1999 a timelessness. No squeaky noisemakers. No Y2K high-anxiety. No Will Smith or Bono, no Dick Clark or MTV Bunker Project or Las Vegas Elvis weddings.
The stiff breeze was moist, bearing salt and an ancient, reassuring sea-aroma. The sand was cool to the touch. Looking eastward into the dark, all of time seemed to crash together. You were standing on a spot where a thousand years ago another human may have stood and seen the same thing, and you sensed that a thousand years from now someone else would stand in your footprints and see precisely what you saw, and felt--the continuum of time, the connectedness of all things.
The long view, as futurist Stewart Brand calls it. "The long view," he writes, "looks right through death."
There are fewer and fewer long-view spots on Earth, places to gaze into the past and the future. On this eve of the third millennium after the birth of Christ, thoughts overshadow celebrations.
Sand. Long before the personal computer and all that Bill Gates begat, long before calculators and adding machines and even the ancient and elegant abacus, there was silicon--the main ingredient of beach sand. With sand, mankind snuffed out fires, thwarted floods, raised pyramids, filled hourglasses, fashioned eyeglasses and eventually stumbled on the silicon transistor--which led to the integrated circuit, the microprocessor, the personal computer, the Internet and, voila!, Blake's world in a grain of sand. The silicon transistor, developed in Texas a mere 45 years ago, will eventually fade into e-blivion. But long after the last sliver of silvery silicon is slipped into the last sleek man-made micromachine, there will still be sand.
Ocean. Precisely at midnight, a wave kissed the sand. Reassurance in that simple, endless romantic act. Comfort in the deep dark of the ocean. It is there. Before the Phoenicians, Columbus, Cousteau and Rachel Carson, there was the sea. They are all gone; the ocean remains.
More than seven miles deep at one point, chloride and sodium and other elemental matter, covering more than 70 percent of the planet's surface. On this night the water was calm and cool. Waves glided in with long splashy advances and slow gentle retreats. The depths can be divided into three realms--sunlit, twilight and midnight where there is no light at all and temperatures are near freezing. The midnight zone, called the aphotic zone by oceanographers, makes up 90 percent of the ocean. It is the home of little-known creatures and blind fish that will never see day, never venture even into the twilight.
Sky. In the moonless black, planets and stars spun on a great Ferris wheel. You marveled at the same forever sky as your ancestors. Off the side of the Big Dipper, Polaris to the north. Overhead, Leo and the twin stars--Castor and Pollux. And using Orion's belt as a pointer, you found Sirius, called the Dog Star because it is in the constellation Canis Major. In the south sky, the sparkling Sirius was at its annual midnight culmination. Our brightest night star reached its highest point at 12 a.m. on January 1, 2000, at precisely the time that one human year rolled over into the next.
The Dog Star, too, was always there--before there were 365 Tasteless Jokes a Year calendars, before Day Timers and Palm Pilots and personal online organizer Web sites. Sure and scorching, the star ushered out other millenniums and political scandals and stock market rallies and lives and deaths. Sirius was there before Galileo, Jules Verne and rocket pioneer Robert Goddard, and it will twinkle on.
On that sandy spot, at that time, the night was like all the other nights there ever were. And, as always, there was the knowledge that the stars would wheel, the waves would roll and the sun would rise bright on a new blue day.
How fortunate that one long-view place is an afternoon's ride from Washington. How cool that we live on the ledge between two millenniums. How astonishing that we see any light at all in this vast, outlandish midnight zone called modern life.