An Emulsion in the Wilderness: the making of "from lightning agnes"
as told by Curt Heiner

Night had just arrived to our campsite, a light blue horizon line sat to the west, the fire was in full force, our ember-ridden pot of water was beginning to boil, and we had just added the first half of solution B to solution A. Under starry skies above, solid rock beneath, and distant lightning storms foreboding to the south, we knew we were in for the long haul, attempting to keep our tiny film canister of precious solution at a relatively consistent 50 degrees C for the next hour.

Armand ran off to the tent and emerged from the vestibule with a Gary Snyder book in hand: it would be a reading of essays on the wild during our hour-long emulsification process. Armand began reading aloud.

Robert, with his head lamp illuminating the small patch of rock surrounding, swirled the canister periodically and kept a close watch on the thermometer, notifying us when the temperature would drop below our intended target. As it did, I would descend to the fire below, remove the pot lid with an ice pick, fill a small plastic cup with boiling water and return to replenish the water bath which housed our canister of ripening emulsion.

I recall hearing the Snyder reading in a series of segments, between replenishing the water bath and tending to the fire. Every time I returned to the reading, it was as if a seance was being conducted, the words seemed to conjure and allure the wilderness surrounding in strange and unique ways. I would scoop water at the fire and return to hear a segment discussing buddhism, leave for another cup only to return to Snyder recounting periods of free wandering contrasted by periods of strictly structured and scheduled monasticism. He was philosophizing the concept of "the trail" and this became more prevalent with each returning segment.

As Armand continued traversing through the essay, I could feel my mind subtly realizing how eerily analogous all this was to our own wilderness experience. As Snyder described "on trail" and "off trail" metaphorical modules, my mind thought practically and conceptually, we had followed a trail, but we then wandered from it to obtain our idyllic setting. We were following an emulsion recipe, yet we were wandering from the absolutes and particulars. We were on a journey entrenched by the powers and limits of an inherently representational medium yet we were attempting to use it in the least representational way possible. Our emulsification clock was coming to an end, just as the reading was gaining closure.

By the end, it became obvious, at least from my perspective, that we were all feeling something inextricably consequential about that reading in some way or another. It seemed too perfect for coincidence to be at play. The reading seemed to hold so much meaning and context to what we were doing and accomplishing, it brought things full circle in an unexpected way.