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EcoHeroes: Photographer Clyde Butcher shares the natural beauty of Florida

Photographer Clyde Butcher
Woody Walters
Courtesy photo
Photographer Clyde Butcher

In this EcoHeroes conversation, photographer Clyde Butcher talks about sharing the beauty of the Everglades with guests, including former President Jimmy Carter, and his late wife, Rosalynn. '

Butcher began photographing landscapes in black in white in the late 1960s. Through his photography, Butcher aims to educate the public by bringing environmental issues to the forefront of the public eye, as well as inspiring people to visit wildlife areas.

RELATED: Clyde Butcher’s photography reveals ‘the special beauty of the Everglades'

Sarah Jane Brock: So are you trekking through water? Usually, because I've seen you're always waist-deep in water.

Clyde Butcher: Well through water and dry and water and dry, but mostly water.

Brock: You don't get scared at all with alligators. Pythons. Why do you feel safe doing that?

Butcher: When you're in the wilderness they are not interested in you. You're a predator and they like, you know, like a little raccoon or small birds and smaller gators. but pythons, if you wanted to catch a python, you'd probably never see one. They're scared to death of you. People getting this paranoia thing about pythons. If you wanted to find one, you have to really know what you're doing to try to find one.

Brock: But spending that much time in nature, you must have had some interesting encounters.

Butcher: I've only had one, maybe two. And the one main one was in our backyard by the gallery.

Brock: Oh, really?

Butcher: I was in about three feet of water in about a foot of mud. And I was photographing an orchid. And the Naples News was there doing an article on me. And so, the news photographer was there. His name was Cameron. We had a canoe … You usually use a canoe for your equipment, not for your body. So, I got through photographing and there's two trees about this far apart that I usually go up to and just save myself again in a canoe. And I turned around and do that and there was about 12-foot gator, about six feet away looking at me. I said to Cameron, ‘There's a gator here.’ He said to himself, ‘Yeah, well, we're in a swamp, right.’ I took a paddle out of the canoe and bopped him in the nose and he exploded up water about ten-feet high.

Brock: Oh my gosh.

Butcher: And I looked around and somehow Cameron got in the canoe. He doesn't know how he got in the canoe. Photographer walks out of water.

Brock: I guess his instincts really kicked.

Butcher: Yeah, he was from Minnesota. First time being in a swamp.

Brock: Oh my gosh, that must have been a shock. Well, he got lucky…

Butcher: Back to Minnesota now. Yeah. Florida is, very unique, and very special. We do take people out around the gallery swamp walks to get them indoctrinated. And they come out completely amazed what it's about. They have no idea with where they start.

Brock: And you walked Jimmy Carter through the swamp.

Butcher: That was fun. The fun part was secret service.

Brock: Did they accompany you guys through the swamp?

Butcher: Oh, there was like five of them with guns and they wanted to do a short walk. Ten minute walk. We had a volunteer, that worked with the gallery that took the secret service guys out. And he told me what they wanted to do. And I said, ‘That ain't going to work. You're not going to be able to see anything in ten minutes.’ So we got to the point — I was with Carter, his wife (Rosalynn), and we got to this point, we're supposed to make a right hand turn, go back to the gallery. I said, ‘Now, if we go straight, water gets deeper and it gets real pretty. But they don't want us to do that. I'm the boss. We're going to go straight.’ So, they turned and we went straight. And they panicked because the president's gone. And they had a lady there for Rosalynn, because they had two guys for Carter. One person they could deal with is Carter. Their whole family was there. It was the whole Carter family. So, they had a woman for her. So, I was between Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter, and the lady was there and she said as she was getting in. She says, ‘I can't believe they're making us do this.’ She was just like, ‘Oh, I can't stand this.’ Got halfway through. I asked her, ‘How are you doing?’ She said, ‘Wow, I can't believe they're paying us to do this.’

Brock: It was that quick, huh?

Butcher: That quick? That quick. It usually doesn't take quite that long, but most of the time, hundred feet, people get really cool with it.

The interview was conducted and recorded by Sarah Jane Brock. Audio produced by Bob Barrett. The text is condensed and edited.