The long afternoons in the fall in central California seemed to last forever. From the orchards a redolence of decaying fruit, the flotsam of summer, the sunlight evincing a peculiar and ineluctable harvest melange of earthy odors. The Indian summers brought a richness and delicacy to these scents and before sunset the slight cooling allowed one to drink appreciatively of the sun’s darkening, winey reds. I recall with wistful pleasure those late afternoons outside the small bungalow on that non-descript small town street, the bungalow that served as the office for California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA).
After graduating from Boalt in 1969 and passing the bar exam, my father took a job as directing attorney of the Marysville outpost of CRLA. As a child of seven, I could not have helped noticing the profound differences between the seething vanguard that proliferated in Berkeley and the sleepy, staid and parochial setting that Marysville offered. It felt at first like a strange parallel reality. And yet, while the locale had a decidedly sleep feel, our experiences there proved far from dull. And today, my mind can easily conjure a myriad impressions all competing to suggest and emphasize all that was vital, hopeful and even valorous.
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Justice is the great conjurer. But rather than conjure illusions or facile gain, it conjurers community, selfhood, traditions and future.
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Usually, my mother, little sister and I would wait outside for my father to finish work. My sister and I would play on the sidewalk, my mother sitting in the car reading. But often I had occasion to spend time with my father inside, in the office, the inner sanctum of Justice. I have a vivid memory of sitting at a heavy wooden table and drawing a picture of an enormous Godzilla-type creature. The creature was advancing on an unseen enemy with claws extended. It was detailed and multi-colored. I labeled this dragon “CRLA”. (I believe my father still has this drawing somewhere. I should like to dig it up just now.)
Although immersed in my drawing, I looked up from time to time. It was impossible not be interested in the people who came into my father’s office seeking justice. On this particular day, there was an indigenous couple. They sat in front of my father’s desk and shared the details of their situation which I understood were painful and difficult. Their soft voices betrayed little emotion. But the substance was filled with rage and desperation. I watched as my father listened. He was using a part of himself that I had never seen. He was very attentively weighing their circumstances against known remedies and mentally improvising legal strategy. With one ear, he heard these desperate people. With the other ear, he listened to the Law. It seemed he listened as conduit, coupling human being and sky. I understood in that moment the meaning of “practice”. In “practice” we connect. We connect with one another and in relation to eternal principles. (As environmental law emerged, I learned that we also reconnect with the Earth.)
My father worked on big cases while working at the Marysville office. Class-action farm-worker lawsuits. He worked with civil rights leader Cesar Chavez. I have many memories of fields and festivities, of banners, music, megaphoned voices, of la huelga. We had wonderful gatherings in the big, old farm house we rented that rose up wearily from the sea of orchards. And as a child I was infinitely fascinated by the lawyer-comrades who came to eat and drink, propound and engage. Sometimes, my father would sing. Once, I remember a wrestling match between my father and a colleague. It was never boring. I loved that they always wanted to hear what I had to say.
The riches uncovered in that fertile turbulence were of tremendous psychological value. I draw on it today. My dreams of a universal justice system based in Ulanbaatar; my dreams of an international law that reflects all legal traditions; my dreams of a cultural awakening reconciling the human race with the Divine Source–all these dreams derive from these early experiences. I draw on their capital as I plan, look for fuel, strategize, connect with like-minded people in Mongolia, Austria, Japan, Russia and elsewhere. As I have said to my father several times: “The project in Mongolia is just like CRLA, but on a global scale!” He smiles somewhat nervously at this, for he is aware of the teaming challenges to come.
Behind the nervousness, he is a committed warrior.
In the spring of that year (1971), my mother was sitting in the window sill on the second floor (probably listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young)when the broad side of the house was struck by a bullet at some distance from the window. She looked curiously at the point of impact then calmly withdrew to the interior of the house. My sister and I were told it was a stray hunting bullet.