As posted by Toni Lepeska in The Commercial Appeal:
Chris Ungren fishes driftwood out of the Mighty Mississippi to make money.
The risk frightens his mother.
"He promises me he never goes by himself," Lynda Ungren said.
Ungren, 40, of Olive Branch, began capturing driftwood five years ago and selling it to landscapers, private homeowners and art enthusiasts.
He said the Mississippi River current really isn't all legend makes it out to be, if you are careful.
It's understandable that Ungren would have an appreciation for the river. After all, it is its current that transforms wood into something beautiful, something people buy.
Oh, and the minerals, they also play a role. The current shapes the wood. The minerals tint it. He can get an idea how long wood has been in the water by its tint.
A piece of cedar, on display at the Olive Branch library, is striped with dark bands where the wood absorbed a lot of minerals. Ungren, whose art will be at the library through August, believes the wood could have been in the water five to six years.
Ungren transformed a piece of pickled pine into a votive candle by drilling a circular cup into the wood. It had to have been submerged for years for the wood to darken.
"It's jet black all the way through," Ungren said.
Searching the Mississippi four or five days a week during the peak season of summertime is an off shoot of Ungren's true love — simply being outdoors.
He can be under tremendous stress and "I leave that (river) bank, I don't think about it anymore," he said.
He grew up in a family that loved to be outdoors. His mother was on the water six hours before he was born. She recalled telling her family, "I think we better get back to Memphis. He was born the next morning."
As a boy, Ungren and his family spent time in a cabin in Tunica, and he considered going into the Navy or Coast Guard. He went to college to study criminal law instead but opted out of becoming a police officer like his father.
He wanted to be outdoors more. He was doing some side work, taking people duck hunting, when his eye caught an interesting piece of driftwood. He brought it home, put it in his yard and added flowers. That's when someone offered to buy it for $100. He realized there was a market for something he could just pick up.
He calls his business Delta Bottom Outdoors. His drop yard is in Horn Lake and his workshop is at a home in Olive Branch.
He launches his 16-foot Polar Craft from spots in Tunica and downtown Memphis to comb the river banks for driftwood. To get to some pieces, he wades out in high boots.
He has doubled his revenue each of the past three years. His fiancee, daughters, mother and a sister help him with the business. He and his girls, who stay in the boat, collect the driftwood and the others help with ideas and painting pieces.
A big seller is crosses made of driftwood. Another item is a rustic American flag painted on flatter pieces. He also makes furniture and household items.
"I've made some lamps chandeliers, bottle trees, hat racks," he said.
Ungren has learned where to find the best pieces of driftwood. He calls the places "honey holes. " The current tends to direct wood to these places.
"It's always something different. It's the adventure — like Huckleberry and Tom Sawyer," Ungren said. "I love being out on the river. I can't get enough of it."