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The plant that sprouted my interest in environmental law

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APRIL 23, 2023

There he lay — resting in his hollow casket beside the trash bin. His leaves limp, and his shoots caress the sides of the empty tomb. “You want it?” inquired the school janitor, as he took out the trash and replaced it with a fresh bag. “Teacher didn’t want it, so I was going to throw it out”.

“Umm, sure, thank you,” I stammered. I had no experience gardening, but seeing the likely fate of the helpless plant, I was determined to give it a second chance at life. With a twenty-five-pound backpack strapped on my back, I leaned down and cradled the pot in the crook of my arm. I then began on my trek home — unaware of the horticultural journey I was about to embark on. 

For the next couple of days, I relentlessly researched every aspect of planting. From general husbandry to disease and pest prevention, I spent hours at the library scanning through books and databases to discover what experience taught the green thumbs before me. Eagerly, I began applying this newfound knowledge to my adopted plant.

Digging my index finger into the dirt, I realized that my dying plant not only suffered from root rot but an intense case of spider mites threading the leaves’ undersides with its prolific progeny. Immediately, I peeled away the strings of moldy roots that once brought nutrients to the plant body and unbound what was left of the tangled mess. I hosed down the remaining stalks and treated them with a neem oil insecticide. Gently embedding the barren shoots into a pot filled with a mixture of rich earth and perlite, I named it Lazarus: the plant who lived again. 

My exploration of the world of botany inspired by Lazarus has stood in juxtaposition with my love for literature and writing. Since the beginning of my blissful childhood, my parents have drilled the idea into me to pursue a STEM major. “Be an engineer,” they said. Or better yet, be a doctor; or best yet, be a neurosurgeon. I have never been quite as vested in these job prospects as my parents would have liked and have always felt a sense of disobedience because of it. Would I be running myself into a wall by pursuing a humanities major? For the majority of my childhood, I had my heart set on pursuing English and the languages, immersed in the written tongues of all those before me. The hard sciences like physics, chemistry and biology were disengaging and unfulfilling to me. 

However, rescuing Lazarus unknowingly launched my love for nature and other living beings. As a humanities-driven individual who was always set on staying far away from the STEM world, I began to realize that I was dissolving my sole interest in English and intertwining it with my love for all things green. With these two intermingled passions, I realized that I had the capability to utilize my English skills to hopefully benefit the climate crisis and the plight of other living things (like animals) at the mercy of humanity’s cursed touch. As such, I’ve arrived at where I am at today: a sophomore studying English and Conservation & Resource Studies — with a potential minor in Politics, Philosophy, and Law. 

By pursuing my two passions (and majors), I aim to combine my love for English and horticulture to speak for the trees as an environmental lawyer one day. I want to enter into the world of environmental law in the future and propel change to the climate crisis through my strength in the humanistic arena. While I may never be a climate scientist nor may I understand the chemical/physical technicalities of climate change, I do hope to utilize litigation to bring forth change at the political level. Especially considering that laws and conventions have the capability of enacting drastic changes but are currently inadequate due to political inaction, I hope to bring the perspectives of my generation to the intergenerational crisis of climate change. 

Today, Lazarus trails down my six-foot bookcase with leaves bigger than my hand and new shoots bursting with life. He is my reminder that when I feel burdened and overwhelmed, there will always be hope for a better tomorrow. Beside Lazarus sits my pothos plant named Potus, my ficus lyrata named Lyla Leaf and my rubber tree named Elle Woods. All forty-seven rescues have now seized every inch of light that pours from my south-facing window, and I feel alive.

Finally being one with nature, I rest as Lazarus once did; knowing that while my green friends grow in stature, I will stand alongside them growing in compassion for other wildlife. So that someday, I may freely serve others with accrued wisdom like the bountiful earth that sustains us all.

Contact Elena Hsieh at 


APRIL 23, 2023