“Use leaves to heal wounds?” Bertha thundered, seriously irritated. “Is that what you’ve been doing instead of tending to your chores?”
Cimmy looked down, trying unsuccessfully to feign contrition.
“I’ve had it with you and your nonsense! You can go out into the meadow and graze for all I care. Useless cow!”
“What’s with the racket?” Josepha showed up, worried that she missed the scuffle.
“This nut thinks that you can heal people with foliage!”
“Why are you even paying attention to her? It’s Cimmaron we’re talking about, what did you expect?” Josepha continued, poised.
“She spent an entire month drawing leaves and writing about them, are these the actions of a sane person?”
“Leave her be,” Josepha made an annoyed hand gesture. “If we could fix her, she’d be alright by now. Some people are beyond help.”
“So, what do you want to do, let her study dirt next?” Bertha commented, exasperated.
“That’s interesting,” Cimmy’s mind flew on a tangent, while she occupied the spot dedicated to public shaming in the middle of the village square, “I never thought about this. Maybe some type of dirt is better than others, and if so, it could help us improve the crops. I wonder what it would take to find that out.”
“Cimmaron!” Bertha screamed so loudly that Cimmy’s ear rang in a high pitched whine for a while. The girl’s heart jumped in a panic. “Take that stupid thing off your head!” Bertha grabbed onto her head scarf, but the resilient fabric refused to rip. “From this day forward you are forbidden, you hear me? Forbidden to entertain any more of this lunacy! Defy me and see what happens!” she got in Cimmy’s face, menacingly.
Cimmy returned her gaze with a long probing stare, and the strange look of sadness and pity in the girl’s eyes further infuriated Bertha. “Insolent snot!”
“Leave her be, Bertha. Who’s to say that she isn’t right?” Josepha tried to reestablish the peace.
“You too? You’re taking her side? What rational person insists you can heal sickness with plants? What’s next? Cutting people open to fix their insides?”
“What if it works? As things stand right now, we’re all at death’s mercy,” Josepha replied softly.
“It doesn’t work! She knows that it doesn’t work! Tell us how it works and what plants?” she turned to Cimmy, who wasn’t there yet, knowledge-wise. The girl shrugged.
“There’s your bearer of wisdom! You’re all wasting your time on a lunatic!” Bertha concluded her argument.
After everybody left to tend to their interests, Cimmy looked at all of her drawings and all of her writings, realized that she was no closer to an answer now than she was in the beginning, and started contemplating the fact that she may, in fact, be wasting her precious time on this doomed endeavor. There was no logical starting point for any of the information, no way to structure it, no organizing connections and no way to verify her assumptions, unless she considered hurting herself on purpose. The wealth of data stared her back, a pile of random fragments indifferent to her plight.
“There is no way I can do this,” Cimmy thought. “Not without help. Not by myself.” She put the stack of drawings away, determined never to look at them again, and found ways to keep herself occupied for the next month. And then, according to the law of averages, somebody else in the village got sick, and she, along with everybody else and just as helpless, had to watch from the sidelines and pray for life to prevail in the brutal battle with its reaper. When the struggle ended she got angry, at life, at herself and at her own ignorance. But anger doesn’t make learning go faster, it doesn’t make one understand what one can’t understand yet and it doesn’t help one perform miracles one hasn’t earned. There is no point in being angry at the amount of time it takes to master skills and knowledge, it diverts focus from actually acquiring them. If you find yourself looking long and hard for information about something you really care about and you can’t seem to find any references about it anywhere, that means you are the reference; you better figure it out as much as you can all by yourself, so you can be of use to the next person who is going to inquire about it.
She pulled out the plant drawings and started from the beginning, and she stopped caring how long it would take to figure out the connections between things, the logic of the whole endeavor, where the knowledge would lead her, or whether it will be something she would actually be able to use. It turns out the only way to tell the plants that heal from the plants that stain your shirt is to tell the plants that heal from the plants that stain your shirt. Everything else is extraneous detail.
(The Garden – Excerpt)