We’ve Lost Okefenokee Joe
Duncan Dobie remembers his friend Dick Flood, loved by many and who will live on forever as Okefenokee Joe.
In April 2022, I had a booth selling books at the Blue Ridge Trout Festival in Blue Ridge. The popular one-day event had been put off for a couple of years because of Covid, and I was excited to see it return. Lo and behold, while I was setting up my booth, a man in a wheelchair rolled up to the empty booth next to me with several helpers and began setting up his own shop. At first I was preoccupied and didn’t pay much attention to my neighbor, but even in a wheelchair, this man had a presence and a very recognizable voice. I did a double-take when I heard my name.
I looked over and saw a pair of bright eyes, a beaming face and a mischievous smile that always hinted of someone trying to pull a prank on you. My face lit up. It was my friend Dick Flood, better known as “Okefenokee Joe.” Even at almost 90 years of age, he always viewed the world with a boyhood-type wonder and enthusiasm that was contagious. I knew he had been in poor health. It’d been three years since I’d seen him back at the 2019 Georgia Outdoor Writers Conference held in Richmond Hill, and he was having plenty of health problems then. During that conference Dick was inducted into the Georgia Outdoor Writers Hall of Fame, an honor he truly deserved. Despite the fact that he could barely walk, he entertained the crowd with a song he had written about a tree. The lyrics were haunting. After all, what is the value of a single tree? When it’s gone, does the world miss it? Does anyone really care?
Okefenokee Joe: The SwampWise Legacy
Dick had a way with words and a gift for writing lyrics. Needless to say, my attendance at the outdoor writers conference was memorable because I got to have dinner with and spend time with a living legend. It was a thousand times better at the trout festival because I spent most of that Saturday talking to him. That is, when he wasn’t posing for photos with many of the attendees who remembered him from his popular programs on Georgia Public Television.
My first question to him was, “What are you doing all the way up here in the north Georgia mountains?”
“Trying to peddle a few tapes and books just like you,” he answered gleefully. “I’ve got to do something to make a living.”
Dick Flood was the type of man who was never going to give up. His incredible talent has been highly underrated. He spent the last 50 years of his life promoting conservation and teaching respect for the earth. Interestingly, if you look up his bio, it’ll say something like: American singer, songwriter, entertainer and environmentalist.
No question he was a talented singer, songwriter and entertainer as mentioned, but environmentalist? He scoffed at that title. Somewhere along the way while doing thousands of nature-oriented programs with school children and other groups he had picked it up and it stuck. He knew full well that the definition of today’s so-called “environmentalist” usually means one thing—substituting solar and wind power for fossil fuels, as in, doing away with the fossil fuels because of “climate change” and in essence destroying the American way of life. That wasn’t Dick Flood in any way, shape or form.
Dick Flood was no phony. He was a man who loved the natural beauty of this earth and all of the living things we share it with, but especially snakes, swamp critters and the always mysterious Okefenokee Swamp. He loved his country and he loved the military. He advocated for all types of conservation and taking care of the earth as in preserving and protecting all of its incredible wildlife. He also advocated for American Indians everywhere whom he deeply revered and loved. He was an outdoorsman extraordinaire. He loved to camp, gather his own food, live off the land. He loved to watch wildlife, and he studied everything from ants to black bears. He was a naturalist, and he understood wild animal behavior. He loved this earth as few men ever have, and because of his musical talents, he was able to translate that love into many amazing songs and stories.
When the trout festival was over that day and it was time to pack up and go home, my heart was heavy. I had enjoyed my time with Okefenokee Joe so much. It was a gift. I knew I might never see him again, and I was right. But he left me with something special. He had that eternal spark in his eyes. The flame that burned in his heart can never be extinguished. He was larger than life. I thank my lucky stars I knew him for a little while.
Note: Every school-age child in Georgia, and for that matter, anyone who cares about nature and conservation, should listen to Okefenokee Joe’s incredible audio series: “Swampwise – Secrets, Songs and Stories from the Land of the Trembling Earth.” The four-disc series, along with his books and tapes, can be ordered from [email protected]
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