StoryCorps: He Studies Nature To Carry On His Family's Legacy Drew Lanham grew up captivated by birds on his family's South Carolina farm. At StoryCorps, he says a return to the land inspired him to pursue his childhood dream of becoming an ornithologist.

When A Bird Lover Returns Home, His Real Passion Takes Flight

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It is Friday morning, which is when we hear from our series StoryCorps. And today we have the story of Drew Lanham, who grew up on a farm in South Carolina fascinated by birds. He became an engineer and lost track of his love for birds. Then at StoryCorps, he told his friend John Lane how he found his way back.

DREW LANHAM: My grandfather began to build the farm in the 1920s. And my father saw it as a responsibility to stay on the homeplace. He didn't leave the soil. And I saw the land as my father's heart. My grandmother, she would stand on her front porch and she could holler, literally, from across the pasture, across the holler. That's what I always thought that holler meant (laughter). I didn't know it was a geographical thing.

Going back-and-forth between my grandmother's house and my parent's house, I would stop to investigate whirligig beetles. And bobwhite quail were usually in some thicket somewhere along the way. It might take me a couple of hours to walk that. It seemed like a thousand miles.

JOHN LANE: How far literally was it?

LANHAM: Less than a quarter of a mile.

LANE: (Laughter).

LANHAM: Once I left for college, everybody said, you're good at math and science. Be an engineer. Make money, Drew. So I tried that, but hated every last moment of it. Dad was 52 when he died. There were arguments about what would happen on the land. And I can remember coming back home. All of these wonderful forests that I'd grown up in had been clear cut. And losing that land was like losing my father all over again.

I remember leaving that day and driving up this dirt road. And there's this prairie warbler that's singing - zee (ph), zee, zee, zee, zee, zee, zee, zee, zee, zee, zee, zee. Zee, zee, zee, zee, zee, zee, zee, zee, zee, zee, zee, zee, zee, zee. And it was the most hopeful thing for me. I never believed that I should be an engineer. I said, I can't do this anymore, went back to my apartment...

LANE: Dark night of the soul.

LANHAM: (Laughter) I got a big bowl of Fruit Loops and thought about the next steps. I remember first going out to study these eastern bluebirds. And the work was often hot and long hours. But there were these moments when I would look up and there would be flocks of bobolinks or the songs of meadowlarks, and taking the moment to realize that I was doing what I had always dreamed - from a very early age, I believed that I would be someone who studied birds, who somehow found a way to fly. And so I would like to think that my father would see my turn towards the study of nature as carrying a legacy forward.


INSKEEP: Drew Lanham is now an ornithologist at Clemson. His interview will be archived to the Library of Congress.

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