by Eleanor Jones
‘Nourish nature, Lily, and nature will nourish you.’
Every weekend we would go to the nursing home for tea and scones at exactly four o’ clock, and every weekend Gran would repeat this phrase to either me or Oliver, while we simply rolled our eyes at each other, scoffing scones and watching as Gran hobbled about, carefully pouring tea for the other inmates. She would waggle her fingers at us if we ignored her, her arthritis making them look like the gnarled trunks of the old trees she spoke of. I never understood what she was on about – did she mean that if we gave Dad’s roses some plant food, they would suddenly bake us some of the scones she was so fond of?
Each visit, Gran would drag us round the nursing home garden – more a stamp-sized patch of land than anything else. She would water each precise, individual flower, grown to give the nursing home some life. Murmuring softly to the trees, she would hug them, breathing deeply as she inhaled what I presumed was the smell of moss, dirt and bark. Oliver and I would look behind us, praying dad had pulled up in the car to take us back home and away from our embarrassment.
At 13, I’d learnt in Biology that trees produce oxygen, and I presumed now that this was what Gran was talking about, if there really was any sense in what she said. The oxygen that keeps us alive is produced by trees, so by nourishing the trees, I presumed gran thought she was receiving more oxygen, or something. But then, the following weekend, Oliver and I went up to the nursing home like always, and she watered the small potted plant sitting on her windowsill, no longer being able to care for those outside, her knees too old. As she watered the plant, she would repeat, ‘Nourish nature and nature will nourish you,’ like some childlike tongue-twister. Surely potted plants didn’t give off oxygen as well? This plant wasn’t even pretty, a tangle of green stalks spotted with blue flowers. It looked like it belonged in the weeds among Dad’s roses, not on a windowsill being spoken to by some crazy old woman. I couldn’t see what was so nourishing about this plant.
As we sat in Dad’s car on the way home, I asked Oliver where this idea about the nourishment of nature had come from. ‘Maybe the trees told her about it?’ he said, and we shared a smirk at her expense.
“I craned my neck up, almost losing my balance as I struggled not to lose sight of the intricate watercolour that had been painted above my head”
Then, one day, it clicked. The day after Gran’s funeral I walked back to the house alone. The cemetery where she’d been buried ran parallel to some woodland, and I decided to take a shortcut through it while Dad and Oliver drove back home. Although not particularly close to Gran, she had always been there, and after 17 years drinking tea and eating scones with her, I felt her passing more than I thought I would. I tripped and stumbled over twigs and fallen branches, my tights becoming ensnared by the thorns that stuck out of the side of the path. Perhaps this shortcut wasn’t the best idea in funeral attire.
Walking through the woods, the weak May sunlight shone through the tree canopies that covered my head, each leaf merging into a blanket of green and yellow. I craned my neck up, almost losing my balance as I struggled not to lose sight of the intricate watercolour that had been painted above my head, seemingly for my pleasure only. My stomach filled with a cliché of feelings. Staring up at the canopy, tears welled in my eyes, the scene being so beautiful, so simple, so fulfilling, that even my soul felt nourished. ‘Thanks, Gran,’ I laughed to the trees, standing and watching as the dappled sunlight grew stronger in places, turning some leaves a beautiful, rich auburn colour. I thought about walking to hug a tree, but then someone jogged past. Even after this so-called epiphany I didn’t think I would ever be able to hug a tree spontaneously.
Tears falling from my eyes, I ran back to the cemetery, jumping over the stile that led to the graves. I had to show Gran that I understood now, that I knew what she was talking about. I had always thought she meant we would get some kind of physical gain from nature, and I never understood her mumblings. Until now.
I counted the graves until I reached number 26 on the left-hand side. As I slowly walked up to the headstone, ready to express my understanding, I saw a perfect clump of bluebells already growing where the stone met the earth, and I knew that she was nourished.
Eleanor is a student who never stops reading. She has built up a considerable amount of followers on her blog for her reading and writing, and has had several pieces of prose published in the online literary magazine Sugar Rascals, as well as coming runner-up in her school poetry competition. Eleanor also loves history and is a strong feminist, often using her writing to consider the position of women in the past and present.