WARRENTON, Ga. -- He's one of America's foremost authorities when it comes to wildlife and Mother Nature.
Though his real name is Joe Flood, most people know him simply as "Okefenokee Joe" -- a man who uses an outdoor stage to teach lessons to others about the importance of the environment and preserving nature as much as humanly possible. Some people even refer to him as the "Snake Man."
In relatively good health, despite back problems that cause him misery more often than he'd like to admit, the 77-year-old Okefenokee Joe still attracts crowds wherever he goes.
The Sportsman's Festival in Warrenton was no exception last Saturday. There, he talked to hundreds of people from several surrounding counties.
During an interview with The McDuffie Mirror and Morris News Service, Okefenokee Joe estimated that during his 35-year career as an environmental educator he has traveled 40,000 miles each year.
"I've been all over the Southeast hundreds of times," recalled Okefenokee Joe. "It's been rewarding. It's been humbling and continues to be so," said the famed, big-statured man who calls Orangeburg County, S.C., his home.
A man walked up to Okefenokee Joe after the first of three presentations and told him he met him when he was a little boy. The man, now in his 40s, said he's never forgotten the lessons he learned from Okefenokee Joe more than three decades ago.
"I've reached people from three different generations and that means a lot to me," said Mr. Flood, his hair now silver and touching just below the collar of his shirt. "I call what I do, and have done all these years, God's work. This is what God has trained me to do all these years."
Like he has done thousands of times, Okefenokee Joe reached into a crate and pulled out a rattlesnake with a specialized pole and hook.
His knowledge of such wildlife continues to fascinate those who attend his educational performances.
"It's still very enjoyable teaching people about life outdoors," said Okefenokee Joe, as he prepared to autograph a photograph of himself for 5-year-old Tyler Sewell, a kindergarten student at J.A. Maxwell Elementary School in Thomson. Sewell was with his grandfather, Walter Kendrick.
In addition to his outdoor educational career, he also has enjoyed many successful years as a singer/songwriter. With his guitar in hand, he sat on a makeshift stage and performed some of his songs -- literally captivating most of those who watched and listened.
Songs on his latest CD include:
The Everglades Symphony;
Dade Battle Spoken Message;
The Party in Wahoo Swamp;
Nothin' but a Cat;
The Eagle and the Boy;
An Eagle when it Flies;
The Party in Wahoo Swamp is a story in song, depicting events that led up to Florida's Second Seminole Indian War in 1835.
His songs -- all originals -- have a dual purpose to educate and tell a story -- something that many people relate well to when they hear him perform.
Okefenokee Joe's love for music began when he was in the U.S. Army. He and an Army buddy, Billy Graves, who lives in Florida, auditioned to perform on the Jimmy Dean Show in 1950, according to Linda Macky, who helps Mr. Flood along with her husband, Bill, both of North Augusta, S.C.
"We believe strongly in what he does," said Mrs. Macky. "He's a wonderful human being. The message he gives inspires all ages to notice nature and take better care of the earth."