Knowing who we are

I heard a wonderful conversation over the weekend between Krista Tippett and Drew Lanham for the On Being Podcast.

At one point Krista confesses that she never learned the names of birds and wonders if it’s too late to start.

In response Drew assures her:

There’s no shame in not knowing the name of a bird. If it’s a redbird to you, it’s a redbird to you. At some point, as a scientist, it’s important for me to be able to identify birds by accepted common names and Latin names and those things. But then I revert frequently to what my grandmother taught me, because, I say, the birds know who they are. They don’t need you to tell them that.

Just pause there: the birds don’t need us to tell them who they are.

I wonder, are we looking for someone to tell us who we are?


J Drew Lanham is Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology, Master Teacher, and Certified Wildlife Biologist at Clemson University. He’s the author of The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature and a forthcoming collection of poetry and meditations, Sparrow Envy: Field Guide to Birds and Lesser Beasts