Under a dark sky shimmering with stars, a little boy and a tiger stand together, staring upward.
“Do you believe our destinies are determined by the stars?” asks the little boy.
“Nah,” replies the tiger.
“Oh. I do.”
“Really? How come?”
“Life’s a lot more fun when you’re not responsible for your actions!”
The boy philosopher from this April 9, 1988 comic strip is, of course, Calvin, who along with his pet tiger Hobbes were the creation of cartoonist Bill Watterson and charmed their way into our collective consciousness beginning in 1985.
I was recently flipping through Calvin and Hobbes cartoons and was struck by how often Watterson returned to this scene under the stars. Another poignant one (Oct. 14, 1993) has Calvin standing alone, stars twinkling above him.
“I’m significant!” he cries, looking skyward. Then mumbling to himself, “screamed the dust speck.”
I can relate to this emotion.
In fact, I vividly recall the first time I saw the Milky Way. It was at geology field camp, just prior to graduating college. I had spent much time outdoors as a child and seen many stars, but I had never been as far from light pollution as I was that evening in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Stepping off the dormitory porch I saw a bright band of stars spanning the horizon, and experienced our home galaxy living up to its name, the Milky Way. There is something about standing under the stars that prompts reflection, as Calvin experienced, and yields to broader perspective. As you look to the nighttime sky, you’re looking back in time – into history. The light bouncing off your retina has been traveling for thousands, perhaps millions of years.
As geologists, we’re used to dealing with time frames that are difficult to fathom on a human scale. Staring into the cosmos, you experience them at a whole new level. And for millennia the scientists of the day studied, surmised and were drawn to the heavens.
In more recent times, the stars became a symbol of the future. Beginning with the Apollo program in the 1960s and accelerated today by billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, who see humanity’s future in the stars, there is a feeling of hope and promise of new frontiers to explore.
The stars above both reveal the past and draw us toward the future.
And that’s an apt metaphor for AAPG this year as we celebrate 100 years of professional petroleum geology.
The Next Chapter
It’s appropriate that we look back into our history. After all, our science is built on the foundation of those who went before us, observing, measuring and intuiting earth processes. We’re still learning and refining our understanding.
Finding and producing oil and natural gas is also a commercial venture. We do it because petroleum is the energy source that underpins the modern world. Without it, we would have never gotten to the moon. Without it, we’ll never get to the stars.
But we may have made it look too easy, because as anyone who’s drilled an exploration well knows, this is a story of not just smarts, but also vision, grit, determination and luck.
As we celebrate this year, we will pay homage to the greats of our profession – those who went before us and those who are still among us. We want to learn from their experience and to be inspired by their example, but we don’t want our focus to be anchored in the past.
Instead, we want to pull your eyes forward.
There’s a new chapter to be written, there are new stories to be told. There is more oil and natural gas left to find. Explorers are optimists. They look to the future.
Let’s Go Exploring
After a decade of drawing “Calvin and Hobbes,” Watterson decided it was time for him to move on, to begin a new chapter of his career. And at this time of year, a time of new beginnings, I’m reminded of his last cartoon featuring the boy philosopher and his stuffed tiger, published Dec. 31, 1995.
Calvin is breaking a trail through freshly fallen snow, Hobbes in his wake carrying a toboggan.
“Wow, it really snowed last night. Isn’t it wonderful?” Calvin exclaims.
“Everything familiar has disappeared,” Hobbes replies. “The world looks brand-new!”
“A new year…a fresh clean start!”
“It’s like having a big white sheet of paper to draw on!”
“A day full of possibilities!”
Climbing aboard the toboggan, Calvin turns, “It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy…”
And as the toboggan swooshes down the mountain he continues, “…let’s go exploring!”