When the American writer went in search of trees and roses planted by George Orwell in a Hertfordshire garden, she uncovered questions of legacy and peace
In the spring of 1936 a writer planted roses. I had known this for more than three decades and never thought enough about what that meant until a November day a few years ago, when I was under doctor’s orders to recuperate at home in San Francisco but was actually on a train from London to Cambridge to talk with another writer about a book I’d written. It was 2 November, and where I’m from that’s celebrated as Día de Muertos (the Day of the Dead). Back home, my neighbours had built altars to those who had died in the past year, decorated with candles, food, marigolds, photographs of and letters to those they’d lost, and in the evening people were going to promenade and fill the streets to pay their respects at the open-air altars and eat pan de muerto (bread of death), some of their faces painted to look like skulls adorned with flowers in that Mexican tradition that finds life in death and death in life.
But I was on a morning train rolling north from King’s Cross in London. I was looking for some trees – perhaps a Cox’s orange pippin apple tree and some other fruit trees – for Sam Green, who’s a documentary film-maker and one of my closest friends. He and I had been talking about trees, and more often emailing about them, for several years.