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The Tiger's Nest in Bhutan. Photo by Chelsea Ferrel.

Paper Factory

Shake, open, sweep, flip, peel, replace, close. These are the motions, the iterations and reiterations, of a woman at work in a small handmade paper factory. Each piece of paper—shake, open, sweep, flip, peel, replace, close. A tight mesh is placed in a wooden frame and sunk into a murky bath. Shake. She rocks the frame back and forth, dispersing a thin mixture of pulp and water across the weave. Open. In a single smooth motion, the woman hoists the frame from the tub, unclasping and raising the top aggressively so it bounces on the taut rope suspending the contraption above its yellow sea. Sweep. She slides her hand along the pulpy side, deftly flinging the excess back to its watery origins. Flip. Peel. Lifted and inverted onto a tall white stack—the product of two hundred identical motions–the screen is carefully lifted by one edge. Replace. Close. Satisfied, the woman whips the rest away and turns back to the tub, clipping the screen in place and giving the rope a sharp yank to snap the frame shut.

“Factory” sounds inhuman but this familiarity is more precisely mechanized than hydraulics and steel could ever be. From the grannies stripping bark into usable filaments to the girl adding the strings to a roiling, pungent cauldron to the man who plucks individual sheets from a pressed stack and brushes them onto a metal plate that warns our curious hands with its radiating heat. He grabs the finished leaves as they fade from yellow to white, not smooth and flat like the mist around a mountain peak but mimicking the yellow-spotted, textured surface of a glass of sour yogurt.

I’m writing this in a journal filled with water resistant pages—the result of craftspeople like these and each innovator after them. Ironic, though, that you will read this as an intangible, paperless thought, existing only when your eyes can see it. In some respects, my handwriting is the Thimpu paper craft to your efficient thought factory.