Filler: Why we should never stop looking

An authentic replica of Christopher Columbus' ship, the

An authentic replica of Christopher Columbus' ship, the Santa Maria, sails through New York Harbor toward the World Trade Center's towers Friday, June 26, 1992. (Credit: AP / ALEX BRANDON)

Lane Filler

Portrait of Newsday editorial board member Lane Filler Lane Filler

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

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Whenever I'm hunting for something I've lost, whether it be eyeglasses, the remote control, or my youthful whimsy, someone will say, upon my finding the misplaced item or attitude, "It's always in the last place you look." It is, of course, one of the stupidest phrases in common usage: Losing the keys daily or being unable to find the Tupperware full of chicken salad because you put it in the Tupperware cabinet rather than the fridge (I did find the remote in the fridge, though) is normal, middle-age nuttiness. But if I continue to look for stuff in additional places once it's found, judges, psychiatrists and orderlies will get involved.

That being said, I really hope that when underwater archaeological investigator Barry Clifford announced finding the wreckage of Christopher Columbus' ship, the Santa Maria, which sank 522 years ago, someone immediately chirped, "Wow, it really is always in the last place you look, huh."

Funny thing is, it wasn't. Clifford found this wreck off Haiti's coast in 2003, but didn't recognize it for what it was, and kept looking, discovering more sites, for years.

A bit of history. In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. He had three ships, the NiƱa, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. The Santa Maria was the biggest of them, but was probably about 60 feet long, and less than 20 feet wide. Basically, going around the world in a floating school bus.

So, Columbus and his men leave Spain in August and find the Bahamas in October. Columbus thinks he's found Asia, and will think that through many years and voyages back and forth across the Atlantic, no matter how much evidence is presented to the contrary. In 1492, as Europeans so often do when in the Caribbean, Columbus and his men spent some time sailing around, checking out the islands and partying. On Christmas Eve, with practically everyone on the ship having fallen asleep (or passed out from one toast too many) and only a cabin boy left awake to steer, the boat ran upon a reef just off Haiti's coast, and sank.

It is almost impossible for us to imagine the level of isolation involved in exploring this planet five centuries ago. When we send men to space, we send them with two-way radios. They can call if they feel like talking or hit a space reef. When Columbus and his men got to the Americas, or Lewis and Clark went across the continent, they were out of contact for months or years.

When his ship started to go down, Columbus and his men awakened. The captain first demanded they start pulling cargo ashore, then timbers from the boat's frame. Those timbers were used to help build a fort called, after the date of the wreck, La Navidad. And it was the apparent, recent discovery of the fort's location that made Clifford realize the wreck was likely the Santa Maria.

We know a lot about the journey of Columbus because he left diaries. We know he had to leave 11 men at La Navidad, and when he returned a year later, they were all dead, having seriously upset the natives.

Lately, we've heard about the discovery of more and more potentially habitable planets. It would take us about 4 million years to get to the closest one, but still. At the same time, we can somehow still lose a jetliner loaded with people. And explore the site of a wreck crucial to the history of modern society. Cure a disease, or discover a new one. Be amazed by an ancient painting in a cave, viewed on the modern marvel of an iPad.

This world is wondrous almost beyond imagining. If you are bored, you aren't paying attention. That which most fascinates us will be in the last place we look. So we can never stop looking.