William Joiner.jpgPhoto credit: Kelly Lee Lora

I spoke to a number of river salvage companies during my research, and I have a tremendous respect for their job. It's not an easy job-often, it's downright dangerous. William Joiner of Antique River Logs says, "I get the heebie-jeebies every time I lower myself to 35 to 45 feet deep, totally black and cold." His motto is that of great caution, to "move like a herd of turtles" under water.

William's story was so interesting, I thought I'd devote most of this blog to it. Here's his view from under the surface:

What I do is called "black water divining." After 12-15 feet deep, it is black. When I hit the bottom, it stirs up sediment and I am in a muddy soup. I have learned to move very slowly and see with my hands and feet. I often ask myself what the hell am I doing when I am down crawling over stumps, rocks and through tops of trees that have fallen in over the years. I feel the spirit of the loggers and rafters wanting to get these logs to the mills, their hopes and dreams of paying off the farm, buying needed supplies for their families, etc. ...

Once I get moving, I settle in and get to work, feeling every object with great care. It is a treasure hunt as well. You never know what is out of your reach. Stone whiskey jugs, catfish and logs. I have crawled under bluffs and through treetops and not known until I stood up or attempted to surface that my line was hung on some protrusions. I have then had to follow it back down and un-hang myself.  The three most important aspects to diving are, "don't panic, don't panic and don't panic."

It takes great concentration to dive in these rivers and figure out how to raise a 3k to 12k log that is embedded in the bottom without messing up in a number of ways. Once we lift a log, it never touches the bottom again, so we do not disturb the mussel beds. It takes a peculiar kind of person to reclaim any wood product, be it from the river or a historic building. It has at least double the labor over just buying new lumber. It is a passion that borders on an obsessive compulsive personality.

I get great pleasure in finding what was lost and giving new life to something that was destined for the landfill or left to deteriorate on the bottom of the river. I feel a part of the completion of this great harvest that was started by our ancestors over 200 years ago. I sit with every one of the logs I pull out and feel a connection with the loggers and rafters who risked their lives to bring them to the marketplace.

I feel that I have found the perfect calling, crawling on the bottom of the river finding what was lost and no longer exists, the old-growth forest logs. My office is on the bottom of the river, where I must expand my awareness to include what I cannot see.

Elizabeth Baldwin has over 20 years of international wood sourcing experience. Very widely traveled, her résumé's "Special Skills" section includes "the ability to eat anything from raw horse to deep-fried scorpion." She serves as Metropolitan Hardwood Flooring's (metrofloors.com) ECO (Environmental Compliance Officer) and deals daily with the "green alphabet soup" of today's industry: FSC, CARB, LEED, and much more. She blogs for Hardwood Floors on all things green (and, as she says, " 'grey' and 'blue' and almost every color except 'black and white.' Nothing in this world is black and white, particularly not 'green issues.'")