Law in Contemporary Society

Setting Down Roots

-- By JackSherrick - 15 Apr 2021

How The Land Got Here

Tens of thousands of years ago, vast glaciers inched their way across the land that would later come to be called Illinois. When the glaciers began to melt and recede to icier climes at the end of the last ice age, they left behind a 100-feet layer of rich sediment and revealed an alien terrain. The landscape had been completely flattened, extending for unwrinkled miles in every direction to the horizon, "hardly presenting a bush to relieve the eye." The glaciers' parting gift of top soil was perfect for Big Blue Stem, Compass Plants, black-eyed Susans, and countless other prairie grasses. These grasses clung to the earth with such adamant ferocity that the landscape of Illinois has been all but impervious to the powers of erosion that threaten to alter its topography.

People embraced the alien landscape the glaciers left behind and learned how to live among its grassy residents. Indigenous groups would conduct prairie burns that scorched the earth with a heat so intense that forests were unable to establish a foothold in the region. However, prairie roots run deep and the grass stems would burst forth from the enriched ground reinvigorated after each burn. Now, the prairie is all but gone, eradicated in an instant and replaced with fields of corn and soybeans. Illinois' glacial inheritance is being squandered on corn syrup and ethanol by America's Prodigal Sons.

How I Got Here

I grew up in the "Prairie State" and did my best to help the area live up to its nickname. My family is involved with prairie conservation and maintains an island of native prairie amidst the sea of feed corn abutting it from all sides. We mow trails, sow seeds, and conduct prairie burns to preserve the quality of the topsoil that had been deposited there tens of thousands of years earlier. I followed the prairie to Carleton College, which boasts an 800 acre arboretum teeming with native and nonnative grasses.

When I moved to New York from Minnesota, I left the Midwest and its flat open spaces behind. The looming buildings that seemed to stretch vertically into infinity disoriented me. I felt closed in. Most of the activity done in the prairie occurs beneath your feet in the congested webs of roots pulling nutrients from the soil and pumping them up to the gently swaying stems above. In New York, everything seems to be happening everywhere. I learned to find refuge amongst the various parks that mottle the concrete landscape and how to appreciate the cacophony of humanity that I myself a part of. I started to develop roots that anchored me to the alien landscape I had moved to. I carved out a small space for myself within the large space that is New York City.

My Practice

Initially, I thought my background with conservation would lead me towards environmental law. I thought my "why" would be preserving America's quickly disappearing natural landscapes. However, I instead felt myself more pulled towards housing law. Moving from the Midwest to New York has made me realize that I had been taking the space I inhabit for granted. I had been used to sharing my space with green things rather than human things. I now understand the importance of making a small space your own while you're amidst millions of other people trying to do the same.

I want to make sure people have a space of their own. Not only a place to retreat to in times of trouble, but a place to share with others in times of prosperity. One of the greatest gifts of ownership is not the power to keep people out, but the power to let people in. To open up your small space to allow others to enjoy the intimacies of the home. No man is an island, and that truth extends to the small spaces they most intimately inhabit. My goal is to help people set down roots without fear of displacement, to help people feel secure in the spaces they inhabit so they can share that space with others and thrive in other big spaces outside their homes. Protecting these small spaces is essential to my practice.

Space in Law School

The relationship between small and large spaces is an ever-present concern in law school. Wendell Berry writes in his essay Contempt for Small Places, "the health of the oceans depends on the health of rivers; the health of rivers depends on the health of small streams; the health of small streams depends on the health of their watersheds. The health of the water is exactly the same as the health of the land." In the same way, my health in law school depends on my health in New York which depends on my health in Morningside Heights which depends on my health in the law school and my apartment, a space which I can call almost exclusively my own. If people do not have security in their small spaces, the chain is broken and harm reverberates from one space to the next and to the next.

I don't value the space inside Jerome Greene Hall because it insulates me from what's outside, I value it for the people it contains on the inside. I want to set down roots along with my fellow law students to weather the erosive forces that would seek to drag us towards money, dissociation, and a what without a why. I want to remain anchored to a why so each setback, failure, and burn doesn't uproot me but rather restores me so I can spring back up more energized than before.

You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" character on the next two lines:

Note: TWiki has strict formatting rules for preference declarations. Make sure you preserve the three spaces, asterisk, and extra space at the beginning of these lines. If you wish to give access to any other users simply add them to the comma separated ALLOWTOPICVIEW list.


Webs Webs

r12 - 01 Jun 2021 - 13:35:50 - JackSherrick
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM