"Oh, Valeria is happy as can be,
she came from Louisiana with a cypress knee for me.
Oh, Valeria, don't you cry for me,
It's in my Friendship Forest where everyone can see."
- Ode to Valeria Pilgreen

CORVALLIS - The College of Forestry at Oregon State University works with all kinds of wood - big trees, little trees, foreign and domestic species, from test tube tissue cultures to 500-year-old conifers. At one time or another it's studied almost eve ry type of wood on the face of the Earth.

But never before has its wood had so many stories to tell.

In one of the more unique gifts ever received, the college is now the proud owner of 342 miniature wooden baseball bats, each about six inches long.

Behind each bat is a tidbit of Americana, a little memory that helps tell the story of Laurence Jackson, 99, and his wife Ivy, 96, who have lived most of their life in Astoria, Ore.

"If I make it to next August 15, I will be 100 years old," Jackson wrote recently, after he and his wife celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary. That event was noted on the NBC Today Show.

Along the way, in a story that developed over most of this century, Jackson created the collection he calls his Friendship Forest. The tiny bats, carved out of wood, hold a special memory for the Jacksons.

Sometimes the story is simple and homespun. One bat recalls a piece of oak given to the Jackson's daughter Jean by the church pastor. Or cypress from a friend, Valeria Pilgreen, which inspired its own poem.

But there is history too. One bat is made of rosewood taken from a tree, itself imported from the Holy Land, that was removed in 1969 to expand the East Wing of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington. And drama - an abraded piece exposed to the erupti on of Mount St. Helens in May, 1980.

Each piece, however, weaves like a thread through the life of Laurence and Ivy Jackson. Good times and bad.

He grew up in New York state around the turn of the century and learned to play the fife from a veteran of the Civil War. He loved baseball, played on many recreational teams, and served in World War I.

The Jacksons married in 1920 in Medford, Ore. and spent most of their working lives in Astoria. A 1922 fire destroyed their home and fruit business. A 1950 rain torrent sent another house careening down a hill.

And the stories began to accumulate that would later turn into the Friendship Forest. Among the relics that became bats:

-Walnut from an antique sewing machine that came to Oregon the hard way, around stormy Cape Horn at the tip of South America.

-Cherry from Jackson's boyhood hometown of Canastota, N.Y.

-Willow that a shoemaker in Holland used to make wooden shoes.

-Myrtle wood donated by a friend, an Oregon gillnet fisherman.

-Mahogany from the Oregon shipwreck of the Peter Iredale.

-Flowering plum from a tree that was crushed by a large conifer which fell in an ice storm.

-Ebony made from a broken fife used by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Fife and Drum Corp.

-Larch from the base of the Matterhorn in Switzerland, found on a tour of Europe.

The stories total 342, with each miniature bat describing a moment in time of the life of two Oregonians. Their interests have included sports, writing history and poetry, painting, playing the fife and violin, and singing in the church choir for more tha n 50 years.

Not to mention woodworking.

To share the Jackson's experience, an exhibit of the bats will be placed on permanent display in OSU's College of Forestry. The display has been created by Barbara Gartner, an OSU assistant professor of forest products. It will be in the front lobby of the Forest Research Laboratory at OSU, near the intersection of 30th Street and Western Boulevard.

Click photos to see a full-size version. Right click and save image to download.


Barbara Gartner, 541-737-4213