By Clint Kimberling
Donald Jackson is not your typical outdoorsmen. A retired biology and fisheries professor at Mississippi State, Jackson is also a multilingual world traveler, author, piano player, and Boy Scout Master.
Jackson is incredibly well-traveled. He has worked on international fisheries assignments, in Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Europe. After college Jackson served two years in the Peace Corps, working in the zoology department of the National University of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur. As a result, he still speaks and reads Bahasa and feel quite comfortable traveling in that part of the country. Jackson is multilingual and speaks Spanish at home to his Panamanian wife. He also reads French. Most recently he’s been doing work in Vietnam. And, yes, he’s working on learning Vietnamese.
Despite his international travel and work, Jackson now spends as much time as possible enjoying the outdoors on his farm. Living the life of a retired professor, Jackson spends his days riding his tractor, checking ponds, and ensuring he provides the right habitat for animals. “I find a lot of peace on these 50 acres,” he says, referring to his plot of land.
It’s not unusual for Jackson to wake early, between 2 AM and 6 AM to walk his property. “That’s when you can really see and hear nature. I like the sounds of silence, natural sounds, birds and the wind.”
Jackson is also the author of four books that focus on his love of the outdoors. Mississippi offers a wellspring of material for the natural writer and Jackson’s books focus on personal connections between people and the outdoors. His essays and short stories explore the powerful bond between nature and humanity. And Jackson’s become somewhat prolific in the last ten years, publishing three books with University Press of Mississippi.
“When hunting season begins to wane, or if the weather is cold and rainy, I’d sit down write a story or essay or two,” he explains how he finds time to write. Jackson has maintained a journal for 40 years, saying it helps him clarify thoughts and feelings. When he’s away from the keyboard, he can write for hours in the journal. “I try to write regularly, if not every day, but usually several times a week. My journaling practice helps me recall later details and thoughts to incorporate into a story.”
“Over the years, I gathered a critical mass of material that I eventually organized them into a book.” Jackson published his first book in 1984, Trails, a collection of essays that also incorporated poetry. In the years following, the writing happened more slowly as his career and family grew. But he eventually built up a collection of material three more times to publish Tracks, Wilder Ways, and most recently, Deeper Currents. The books are filled with experiences from decades of teaching, conservation activities, hunting, fishing, and wilderness adventures. His writings bring into focus the natural thrill of participating fully as part of the chain of life in the outdoors.
To write an essay, Jackson doesn’t need much inspiration. “I’ve got a style that I’ve developed,” he explains. “I can take a small theme and develop a full story. For instance, I can look around at turtles on a pond, feel the wind, look at the sky and all of a sudden I’ve got in my mind a framework for a story.”
Publishing books has led to an identity shift around Starkville for Jackson. “People see me around town and know me as a writer, not a professor. It’s kind of nice,” he admits, “I like carrying the identity of a writer.”
Spoken like true outdoorsman, Jackson has a hard time choose his favorite outdoor activity. When pressed, he says, “It all depends on the season,” He explains that during the fall, he skips out on football games to hunt squirrels with a .22 rifle. “I like it because it’s extremely quiet and you have to stay in shadows and have patience. And the shot must be so precise.”
In the winter, you can find him on his pond with duck decoys. More than the hunt, he enjoys waking early, drinking coffee and enjoying the outdoors. “If I get a few shots, that’s great, if not it was still a wonderful hunt just because I was outside.”
In the late winter its quail hunting where his main focus is not on birds, but watching his dog have a good time. Springtime is for fishing. And in the summer, he prefers to be on the tractor where he makes trails, move crops and generally piddles around.
Jackson will continue to write and even has an idea for his next book. His next collection of stories would focus on his international travels. For instance, fishing for bass in Panama and catfish in Kenya. Jackson says, “The common language of fishing is global.”
By Clint Kimberling