Creek Walking Part II and Other Thoughts on “The Home Place,” by J. Drew Lanham

I got a lot of nice feedback about the WhoopJenny! post on Creek Walking.  It seems we all have fond memories of long summer days spent in nature.

I just finished reading The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature by J. Drew Lanham. This excerpt about creek walking with his father touched my heart:

"Fishing was the only time I remember ever holding my father's hand. There was a ford we had to cross to reach the foam-covered fishing hole at Cheves Creek, where the family often wet a line on summer afternoons.  The ford was often snot-slick with slime. Upstream of the crossing, the creek surged slow and brown like sorghum syrup. As it approached the ford it picked up speed, pouring noisily over and down into the fishing hole. The ford's footing was unsure at best and crossing it unaided was dangerous.
"Daddy's big calloused hand swallowed mine, his thick fingers like steel bands. I knew I was safe in that grasp. My faith in it was complete. Though such purposeful physical contact was a rare thing between us, these moments were enough to etch something deep. I've seldom had that kind of abiding faith in anyone or anything since."

Drew Lanham is birder, writer, and professor at Clemson University. I first learned about him during Black Birders Week. He describes himself on Twitter as “Black man wildly wandering. Watching. Wondering. Pondering. Hunting & gathering words.”  

The Home Place is a beautiful work of American nature writing. 

I came away with an appreciation for the wild, forested bottomlands and piedmont terrain of South Carolina. Here is an excerpt taken from a long, beautiful description of autumn on Lanham’s “Home Place:”

“The droning katydids, tired from their months-long work of filling the hot wet nights with song, hand on into October. But soon a chorus of thousands dwindle to hundreds, and then just one or two. A persistent cricket tries hard to fiddle in time but the first freeze throws a wrench into his rhythm. The rustling riot of turning, falling leaves and the mysterious moonlit chirps of migrant songbirds winging their way to faraway places make my heart race.  It is all so beautiful that it hurts. Almost overnight eastern red cedars suffer the savagery of hormonal surges and a ravaged stand of sapling pines point the way to the pawed-up and piss-soaked patches of ground that whitetail bucks leave as calling cards. When the moon glows in a mid-November sky like a pallid sun, I, too, am so soaked in wanting and wood’s lust that I might as well wander like a warbler in the joyous urgency of it all.”

Being roughly the same age as Lanham, I found it interesting to consider the socio-cultural differences in our rural American childhoods: a Black boy in the South vs. a White girl of the Midwest:

“ While the South has long laid claim to a culture that values manners, loyalty, honor, and a slower pace of living, there are other, less admirable traits that ooze out from between the niceties.” 

The memoir also provides an excellent account of what it’s like to perform fieldwork as an outdoor research scientist and as a nature writer.  Here is his description of his first summer job after switching from engineering to a biological sciences major: 

“Now here I was, far away from moments of inertia and rates of deceleration, out under the biggest, bluest sky, surrounded by singing birds in fields and forests that stretched as far as the eye could see. I’d always dreamed of this kind of life. But today, July 4, 1984--in the heat and stillness--I simply wanted a day away from these damn birds.”

I’m pleased to add The Home Place to my growing library of naturalist writings, alongside works by Lauret Savoy, Robert MacFarlane, and Annie Dillard. Next on my bedside stack of books: Aldo Leopold and Robin Wall Kimmerer. I’ll keep an eye out keep an eye for good excerpts on creek walking!

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