Posted on

continued from page Flood’s ….

continued from page

Flood’s personal life was spiraling downward, as well. His second wife wanted out of their marriage. With two ex-wives and five children, he couldn’t make ends meet.

“My life was falling apart,” he shared. “I wanted to disappear, so I did.”

In 1973, he moved into a broken-down shack on Cowhouse Island in the Okefenokee Swamp and started the next chapter of his life. His friend paid him about $49 a week to take care of the exhibit animals — deer, black bears, alligators, raccoons, otters, bobcats, and other animals, and he began to understand his animal neighbors, befriend a few — even write songs about some of his experiences.

“That was one of the best times of my life,” he remembered. “I was free. I loved smelling the fresh air and hearing the sounds of nighttime. I loved learning and watching. I was living so close to the earth, and my mind was being opened. I was close to God.”

His wildlife lectures at the Okefenokee were instant hits.

“I didn’t feel like Dick Flood anymore,” he said. “So they asked, ‘What if we call you Okefenokee Joe?’ And I liked it. Okefenokee Joe had no past — just a future.”

After his sons moved to the swamp to live with him, he needed to earn more money.

“I got on the phone, called schools and other places, and booked Okefenokee Joe appearances on my off days to pull in more money, he recalled.”

He shared stories about the swamp, told a few jokes, played his guitar, and sang some of his nature songs. He carried a small army of snakes with him for demonstrations — holding the slithering specimens up while teaching students how to identify the snakes from far away.

“They were the ones doing the teaching, not me,” he laughed. Then he called Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) and pitched the idea of a nature show to them. After an interview, they produced three documentaries featuring the soft-spoken swamp teacher. People across Georgia fell in love with Okefenokee Joe and his earth-friendly philosophy. And so he took his show on the road for decades and shared his passion with millions — an unforgettable mix of soothing, inspirational folk songs, snake show-andtell, wisdom and wit.

During my last conversation with him, he said, “I’m too old to live in the Okefenokee now — too old to bend over and pick up a rattlesnake. Sometimes when I’m writing music about those days in the swamp, it makes me really sad. I miss it like an old friend.”

I remember hearing the pain and longing in his voice when he spoke of his beloved swampland.The world was a better place with Okefenokee Joe in it, and now we mourn. Rest in peace, dear friend.

Recent Death Notices