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Donald C. Jackson
Copyright Date: 2006
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    Book Description:

    Tracksis a pilgrimage into the wild, beautiful, and lonely places around us. Donald C. Jackson, a professor in the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries at Mississippi State University, invites the reader to share the trail with him and discover connections to different vistas not only in the South but also in distant lands and on exotic waters.

    Through the many stories of this avid hunter, fisher, and trapper,Trackstravels into the swamps and wetlands, hills and tundra, forests and jungles, and on rivers, ponds, tropical lagoons, and the sea. Frog gigging adventures reveal the magic of summer nights in the Deep South. Running a trap line for racoons leads to a tiny Mississippi farm on a crystal clear winter night. Duck hunts evoke the mystery of whistling wings at sunrise, a sound that becomes almost sacramental. Big game hunts in Alaska blend with squirrel hunts along the Mississippi River and late afternoon deer hunts on the outskirts of a college town. In the Gulf of Mexico, Jackson explores science and beauty of life at sea on a fisheries research ship.

    Filled with experiences from decades of teaching, conservation activities, hunting, fishing, and wilderness adventures,Tracksbrings into focus the natural thrill of participating fully as part of the chain of life in wild places.

    Donald C. Jackson is a professor in the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries at Mississippi State University. He is the author ofTrails: Reflections of a Pilgrimage.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-153-8
    Subjects: Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-2)
  3. Wilderness Before Dawn
    (pp. 3-12)

    Most people who ramble around in the outdoors, hunting, fishing, or just tromping around, have conjured up images of themselves as explorers of remote mountain ranges, voyagers of the northern lake country, or perhaps fur trappers, deep in wilderness, alone with land, sky, and water. There is a sirensʹ call that makes folks like us restless to be off and gone … living on that bittersweet path of adventure, challenge, freedom, overwhelming beauty, and probably self-imposed poverty. We courageously ʺgive it all upʺ in our minds, and dream of old cabins, worn rifles, wood stoves, curing meat, deep snows, and...

  4. To Kill a Bear
    (pp. 13-26)

    Hunters respond to primitive echoes. They recognize that within them swells a dimension which links them strongly to ages past. Although in their wilderness ramblings they may nurture themselves as naturalists, poets, or artists, the essential ingredient of their ventures centers around the confrontation between man and beast.

    There comes a time for some hunters when those echoes drive them deep into the wilderness in pursuit of great carnivores. In North America that generally means bears. Regardless of the species, bears are tough, big, and perfectly capable of killing a man.

    Back when I was living in Alaska, I faced...

  5. Afterglow
    (pp. 27-46)

    Summer nights in the Deep South wrap around you like a blanket. The air is thick and sticky. Stars are dim and fuzzy. There is a stillness of sorts but itʹs all an illusion because stuff starts to stir in Dixie as the sun begins to tuck itself to bed.

    Just as the light starts to dim and the thunderheads turn yellow and the lawn mowers are shut off, mothers start calling wayward kids back to the nest. Thereʹs a sort of music to their calls, and even a harmony to it as all the mothers chime in about the...

  6. Infected by Old River Chute
    (pp. 47-65)

    Just after I finished the fourth grade, back in 1961, when I was ten years old, my father accepted a call to be the minister at Park Hill Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Weʹd been up in Kentucky for several years while he finished seminary, but Arkansas was ʺhome.ʺ My motherʹs family was in the Ozarks and my fatherʹs was in the Delta. It didnʹt really matter to me where we lived just as long as there was a place for me to ramble in the wild.

    North Little Rock in the 1960s fit that...

  7. Bruins of the White River Bottoms
    (pp. 66-80)

    The flatbottom boat skimmed along the sandbar, throwing a wake that churned the shallows. The opposite bank, two hundred yards away, was high and steep, cut to bare earth by the force of the river. Where it met the water, the current swirled and sucked amid a tangle of logs, root wads, and ancient snags. Beyond both banks, silent, green, and magnificent, was the forest, dark and oozing mystery.

    I was back home, with the forest and the river that had captured my heart when I was a boy more than thirty years earlier. It was here, in the lower...

  8. Jungle Gold
    (pp. 81-93)

    The old manʹs eyes shone in the soft glow of the lantern. Beyond the thin walls of the hut the jungle was pulsing with sound. There was a ceaseless resonating whine of insects that merged with the shrill calls of tree frogs. Night birds whooped and tonked from deep amid the shadows. Yet with all the noise, all the vibrant pulsing of life oozing from the forest, there was a sense of quiet that enveloped us as the old man spoke of his days and adventures as a fisherman on the Pahang River.

    The Pahang River courses through the very...

  9. Swamp Slogging
    (pp. 94-119)

    In the predawn darkness Don Flynn and I pulled on our hip boots and grabbed our shotguns from the back seat of my fatherʹs car. From the trunk I hoisted an old army duffle bag with our six decoys and slung it on my shoulder. With all of our stuff we set off down the road to the head of a trail leading back through the swamp to our duck hole.

    The morning was frosty but not cold. There was a sweetness to the still air that only occurs on Saturday mornings in December for sixteen-year-old boys going duck hunting....

  10. Wild Pond Woodies
    (pp. 120-130)

    Back in the woods on my little farm in Mississippi, down below my big pond, thereʹs a small, brush-choked pond that typically dries up during the summer. It was built a long time ago, probably by someone using mules and some sort of scraper. Trees grow all around it, including on its levee. Even when it is full, nowhere is it more than four feet deep. It has probably been there for over fifty years.

    Itʹs a haven for salamanders and frogs, particularly during late winter and early spring, because there are no fish in it to eat them or...

  11. Connections of a Feathery Sort
    (pp. 131-148)

    ʺAre those guns broken down, boys?ʺ

    The bus driver in Little Rock wrinkled his brow at us and frowned to let us know that he meant business, but then he broke into a smile.

    ʺYes, sir,ʺ we replied as we took our seats on a hot August afternoon and stowed our shotguns, zipped up tightly inside their soft cases, on the racks above our heads.

    ʺWhereʹre yʹall headed?ʺ he asked.

    ʺUp to my grandmotherʹs place in Mississippi County for a dove hunt,ʺ I replied. ʺThe season opens tomorrow.ʺ

    Back in the late 1960s, boys with shotguns in bus stations and...

  12. Heritage
    (pp. 149-173)

    My great-grandfather, Joseph Jackson Rowe, was a young special forces scout in General Joe Wheelerʹs Confederate army. He fought all across north Alabama and into Tennessee. According to my familyʹs oral history, he distinguished himself repeatedly in battle as an expert horseman and rifleman.

    After the war he refused to surrender to the Yankees and just went home. Because he refused to surrender and in no small part because of his questionable activities as a special forces soldier, he became a hunted man during the early stages of Reconstruction. After dispatching an assassin sent to dispatch him, my great-grandfather found...

  13. Ptarmigan on Eagle Summit
    (pp. 174-178)

    Interior Alaska stood quiet and brittle, locked in winterʹs grip. Overhead, the northern lights danced. Weaving and darting, mysterious pastel ribbons of color rippled dreamlike in the early morning hours. To the south, a faint yellow glow promised the dawn of another brief subarctic day.

    Winding through the frozen hills in an old pickup truck, my partner, Dean Rhine, and I were on our way to hunt rock ptarmigan on the windswept slopes northeast of Fairbanks. With steaming cups of coffee to knock the chill from our bodies, we quickly settled into the essential elements of a prehunt overture. The...

  14. Deeper Currents
    (pp. 179-187)

    The Ozark hills were washed with an orange glow as the afternoon sun settled into the valley beyond us. Shadows edged out across the river, and with them came the penetrating chill of late winter. A stillness surrounded us, swallowed us, as our boat drifted with the current. The limestone bluffs above the river clung to the dark side of the mountain, grey-streaked sentinels standing as stolid guardians over all that spread before them. From one of the bluffs an eagle launched itself into the winter sky, its white head and tail sharp and distinct against the blue. It drifted...

  15. The Ivishak Bull
    (pp. 188-201)

    It had been a long Arctic night, with the aurora crackling and snapping overhead while we chased grizzlies away from our camp and the tiny Piper Cub that was parked just beyond the flickering light of our campfire. It wasnʹt the bearsʹ fault. They were anxious to apply the finishing touches to their layers of fat prior to hibernation.

    My Alaskan friends, Dean Rhine, Joe Webb, his son Mike, and I had a camp that flooded the area with wonderful smells: the Dolly Vardens caught from the nearby river that weʹd fried up for supper, meat from three caribou weʹd...

  16. Winds
    (pp. 202-203)
  17. A Deer Hunterʹs Journal
    (pp. 204-207)

    Deer season opened yesterday (Saturday). In the past few years since I bought the place, my farm has become very good deer habitat. Iʹve groomed it, nurtured it, and protected it. There are quite a few deer that call it home. Earlier this fall I hunted with bow and arrow, saw deer during nearly every hunt, but didnʹt kill one. Conditions have to be just right before I draw my bow on a deer, and somehow things just never worked out that way.

    But I anticipated a fairly quick and efficient hunt once gun season opened and made plans to...

  18. Baking the Bread of Life (A Scoutmasterʹs Reflections)
    (pp. 208-213)

    It has been a cold night. There is frost on the tents and on the withered grass where the troop has camped. It is still … so still … but as the first rays of sun slip past the branches of the winter woods, turning the world into a sparkling fairyland, there is the ring of an ax on wood. In every troop there is a boy whose instinct calls him to be the fire tender. Another boy crawls from his tent, hair tousled, bundled in a puffy red scout jacket. He begins to poke around inside the patrolʹs cooking...

  19. Overture to Christening a Magic Wand
    (pp. 214-227)

    When youʹve fished for half a century as I have, some stuff begins to sort itself out. Iʹm not what you would call a hard-charging fisherman. I despise fishing contests, because in my opinion they demean the fish and the fishing. Fishing is not a competitive sport. Rather it is a contemplative one. I was fortunate to grow up before fishing tournaments and powerful bass boats polluted the waters. I could take a canoe out on a major reservoir or large river and be alone. There were a few other fishermen, but they operated at a scale that was unobtrusive....

  20. Reunion
    (pp. 228-241)

    The open door of the smoky cast-iron wood stove allowed the flickering of the flames to send a shimmering golden glow around the room. Books and notes lay scattered in a semicircle around the stuffed chair before the fire. The broad arms of the chair, frayed and showing the matted cotton beneath the fabric, served as a resting place for the half-filled coffee cup. Through the window, the stillness of a mid-November sunset filtered into the room and settled upon my heart. Taking the coffee cup, I stretched a bit, then got up to look through the window and out...

  21. Taraʹs Treasures
    (pp. 242-252)

    Boots stomped on the wooden porch and steps as hunters gathered in the predawn darkness, coffee mugs and sausage biscuits in hand. Labrador retrievers made the rounds, tails thumping against the huntersʹ legs and cased guns that were leaning against the porch railings, and secretly accepting tidbits from the biscuits. The guides of Tara Lodge checked licenses and made small talk about guns, weather, and the dove field that had been prepared for the morningʹs hunt. There was a general sense of festivity in the air as the Mississippi Wildlife Federationʹs board members spoke about past hunts and prospects for...

  22. Sacred Places
    (pp. 253-262)

    The sea was murmuring in the stillness of the Caribbean morning. I could hear it down beyond the palms to the east, low pitched, resonating, and restless, as I stood on the balcony of my residence, sipping on a cup of coffee, watching the first grey streaks of dawn on the eastern horizon. It had rained during the night. The air was fresh but also soft and thick. Back in the kitchen I could hear my friend Eric Dibble stirring around, finding his cup and pouring himself his first coffee of the day.

    We were on an assignment, conducting research...

  23. Sirensʹ Call
    (pp. 263-270)

    The night is deep and the water dark. In the distance lights twinkle from the oil rigs like so many Christmas trees. The ship pitches and rolls as it moves with a rumble across the sea. Standing against the railing I am mesmerized by the white foam breaking along the waves from our bow wake. My thoughts drift and hold on to nothing in particular. The air is thick, but out here on the stern deck it is fresh. Inside the ship the smell of fish and diesel and cooking mingle to form an essence known only to the world...

  24. Before the Fire
    (pp. 271-276)

    Flames dance in the fireplace on this February night, thin yellow-blue wisps reaching upward from the split wood, orange coals shimmering below. I am drawn into the flames and through them, beyond them, onward into a deep current, into a realm where thought and soul and dreams and memories and longings swirl. There is a call, really more of a cry, and it penetrates all that I am, and grips me.

    I am of the wild. Thereʹs a blade in my soul that cuts and slashes until Iʹm outside of all bounds, until Iʹm beyond the entanglements of all bonds,...

  25. Sacraments
    (pp. 277-279)

    God of heaven and of earth, we gather together to celebrate the beauty and mysteries of the world around us and the spirit that swells within us as individuals and among us as a united people and dedicate ourselves anew to the purposes of working in wildlife conservation. We are awed by the processes through which your creation continues to evolve. We sense the flow of your energy through the ages. We are humbled by our roles as partners with you in this process, linking with nature, transcending self, dedicating life forces, even life itself, to ensure that future life...