Salvador Dali, Galatea of the Spheres, 1952
It's 1995 and Im lying on my back on the roof of the boat that's supposed to take us to Patnanongon island. It's around 2 in the morning and we won't be leaving for about 4 or 5 hours for the seven-hour trip. I cant sleep despite x bottles of beer, the cool breeze, and the gentle rocking of the boat. It's a clear, moonless night and Im looking at the sky for entertainment. Mauban in 1995 was a backwater community that made its living out of whatever was available, illegal logging one of the more lucrative areas where one could earn a buck. The streets didnt have the luxury of streetlights. And at 2 a.m. there werent any lights from the houses near the port where our boat was moored. In the sky overhead, like a luminous cloud, was the Milky Way; our home galaxy. There's just no way we're alone in the universe, I thought. But the sheer size of the spectacle overhead didnt make me feel insignificant at all. All I felt was a fascination at the immensity of the cosmos.
Fast forward to 2004. I was back in Mauban but it isnt the same Mauban of 1995. There's a huge coal-fired power plant there and it's the hub of the town's economic boom, providing jobs for the townsfolk, directly and indirectly. The power plant people gave us a tour. Nothing much to it. The plant is just a gigantic kettle boiling water and using the steam to run turbines that generate electricity. Later that night we had dinner, and then off we went to the plant's recreation house where we drank brandy and beer, played pool, smoked cigars, and videoke'd til the wee hours with our hosts. We closed the place up at around 3 a.m. It was a clear, moonless night as far as I can tell. The streets of Mauban were well-lit, the power plant saw to that. I looked up at the sky. The Milky Way was nowhere to be seen. I knew it was there but the ambient light made it impossible to see. I cant help but think of the Mauban kids who were born since 1996 when the power plant started operating. How theyll look up at the sky at night and all theyll see is the black sky with specks of light coming from a few stars here and there. They have electric lights for when they do their homework at night. They have their electric fans for when it's balmy. Theyll have TV. But they won't have the Milky Way.