I picked up a handful of snow and pressed it to the tree. Then another and another. It felt satisfying to do.
This is what the people in the village of Bolpur in India did with cow manure.
The pressed handfuls onto the trees and on the low walls surrounding their houses. So when you walked around the village you saw people’s hand prints in drying manure.
Once it’s completely dry, the manure is used for fuel.
When I first saw the hand prints I thought they were some kind of art. Many of the people in Bolpur are artisans. They sell their crafts in markets throughout India.
But even when I found out their purpose, I still couldn’t help seeing the beauty in this everyday ritual.
To me the hand prints were like the signatures of the people who lived there. Like graffiti saying “This is me” again and again.
There seemed something so primal about the act. So close to the earth. So sustainable. So natural.
So natural, that I wanted to try it.
I noticed the large pile of manure when we were taking a walk around the village. It was right in front of a four-foot wall almost covered with round drying hand prints of manure.
I knew it was unusual and it wasn’t something most people would want to try . And I did wonder if the other women I was with would think me strange, but I couldn’t help myself.
I think part of it is the sculptor in me. I wanted to know what the manure felt like in my hand as I pressed it to the wall. I had a sense it would somehow connect me to all the people, over the ages, who had done the same.
And I wanted to see my hand print on the wall.
As we walked past the wall, on the way back to the hotel, I reached down and scooped up a handful of cow manure. When I first pressed it to the wall it started to peel away, so I pressed harder and held it for a few seconds till it stayed.
I stepped back and looked at it. Mine was the hand print of an amateur. Without confidence or experience. And it wouldn’t last long, by the next day it would fall off the wall.
But none of that mattered.
That I had such a strong urge to try it and I acted on that urge, was a part of it for me. In a way, adding my hand print to the wall with the others, was like looking in the mirror and at the same time, announcing to the world, This is Me.