Doing What Was Needed
He grimaced and spat on the wet grass while wiping the sweat from his forehead.
Taking a step back, he gripped his axe tighter.
As long as he was present, he wouldn’t have to worry about this tree destroying his entire farm.
As the trunk peeked out of the tree, he swung with gritted teeth and jumped back.
His Whole World
Lucas Brown had two passions in this world. He was, first and foremost, devoted to his family, which included his wife Debra and their children Brian, Shelly, and Kenny.
Secondly, Lucas’s farm is where he invested his years, sweat, and money. There was much more to the Brown family’s farm than a ranchette.
Their livelihood depended on it. Lucas was overcome with despair when he discovered his land was slowly dying.
A Beautiful Tree
They farmed birch, pine, and spruce trees, which they sold at local markets.
As part of the family’s new venture, Lucas enjoyed planting apple and maple trees.
Despite the lush dark soil and tall swaying trees at Brown Farm, it was its massive oak tree in the middle that brought the farm its true beauty. However, the Browns didn’t realize that the problem would arise from it.
Lucas always began his day by inspecting his trees down the road. All aspects of the trees would be assessed, from their appearance to their health.
It was early that morning when he awoke with Kenny, his last child, to begin their routine checkup.
That morning, however, wasn’t like any other.
Change Is In The Air
An odor of burning stench permeating the air that morning grossed Lucas out. It was habitual for him to smell the fresh smell of leaves, barks, and soil when it was wet. The scent had today been contaminated by a faint foulness.
Lucas suggested Kenny to continue on foot. Because the farm was so expansive, they never explored it on foot, but something wasn’t right today.
It was necessary to find out what was going on.
Something Was Different
Lucas and Kenny became more aware of the foul stench as they neared the center of the farm. In addition, the trees around here were a shade lighter than they typically were.
Kenny, a student majoring in agriculture at the university, commented, “something’s not right.”.
He pointed at the leaves, and Lucas’ eyes widened. Astonished, he stepped back.
As he stared at the scene, Lucas couldn’t believe his eyes. A vast army of gray caterpillars occupied the countless leaves above them.
A curse echoed through Lucas’s mind as he looked at the trees surrounding him. He said, “They’re everywhere.”.
“They’re also spreading out,” Kenny said, looking at the center of the farm. “I think I know where they’re coming from.”
As a result of the caterpillar attack, Lucas contacted their local botanist. The foul odor, however, remained a mystery. Lucas was grounded in the moment by Kenny’s call.
As Kenny called out, Lucas hurried over.
There was a huge white oak standing in the middle of the farm, but Lucas was unable to describe what was emerging from it.
Removing The Tree
Cracks in the bark of the tree were oozing gray liquid. Webby silk replaced the leaves eaten by the pests. “Grab my axe,” Lucas choked, restraining his overwhelming urge to throw up.
Kenny returned with an axe from their truck and handed it over to them. Clearly, he noticed his dad’s dilemma concerning removing the prized tree.
Lucas was moved to tears by what he said.
Kenny said, “I think she’s already gone.”. Over the past year, Lucas had tried to keep the tree alive, but it slowly wilted.
Generations had passed since the family acquired the white oak.
In the years before Larry relocated upstate, it was Lucas and his brother’s home for their entire childhood. In his mind, he wondered if he would even be able to swing his axe.
To Bring Down A Might Oak
“It’s alright, Dad,” his son comforted him. “The caterpillars have been nesting here. If we don’t cut her down now, we might lose the farm.” Lucas motioned him back and let the axe fly.
Thick grey liquid oozed out of the cut.
The stench was unbearable. Kenny handed him a handkerchief which he tied around his face. He swung a couple of times, making significant progress. And then he saw it.
They Found Something
The tree creaked as the axe’s blade wedged deep into its trunk. Lucas pulled it out and swung once more. More smelly liquid poured out, the horrid stench now at its worst.
Lucas jumped back, and Kenny came closer to investigate. “What is that?” he asked, amazed at the dirty white blob that was wedged amid the ooze.
As it bobbed along with the thick liquid, Lucas pocked it with his axe, an old memory surfacing in his mind.
A Time Capsule
Lucas and his brother, Larry, had spent years playing on these lands as kids, long before Lucas had turned it into a farm.
Among their favorite sports, the boys loved practicing their golf swing by driving balls at this very tree.
They had once lost a golf ball in this part of the land. Lucas never saw it again. His eyes ran wet again, but it wasn’t from the stench this time.
The Special Ball
Lucas and his brother, Larry, spent many summers here. Their favorite game had become a sibling rivalry. On one occasion, the score was tied at 19 hits each.
The next hit was going to be the decider.
The match between them had become such a classic. It seemed almost anticlimactic to use one of their ordinary balls. That was when Larry had remembered the “special ball.”
A Walk Down Memory Lane
When legendary golfer Jack Niklaus won the 1966 Masters Tournament, Lucas and Larry Brown’s grandfather, Thomas Brown, had been there. The ball had been signed by Niklaus and given to him.
Being one of the balls Niklaus had used in the tournament, it was something of a family heirloom.
Since the ball had been passed down from the boys’ grandfather to their dad, it had always held sentimental value.
A Huge Loss
It had been an ill-fated choice to use the ball. Lucas was confused when he won the game, only to find no trace of the ball around it thereafter.
The ball had been part of their grandfather’s collection.
They had argued over whose fault it was, Lucas for his last hit that lost the ball, or his Larry’s for convincing him to use that ball for the last shot. Either way, both boys were left gutted that day.
As Lucas peered at the wall of goo still oozing down the hollow cavity in the trunk, it was unmistakable.
Through the murky grey color of the liquid, he could still make out the faint lines of the autograph on the ball.
It seemed that not only had the liquid kept the ball hidden all these years; it had also somehow kept it well-preserved too.
Getting It Back
With Kenny’s help, the pair used gloves to carefully extract the ball from its sappy tomb. Gently spraying off as much of the gooey liquid as he could, Lucas dried off the rest. To his amazement, the ball was still in pretty good shape.
While it now had minor staining, the autograph had clearly been done with a permanent marker.
Despite being a little faded, the valuable signature was still precisely as Lucas remembered it.
Lucas Was Thrilled
Lucas had long since given up hope of being reunited with the special ball. He found a solitary tear streaking down his left eye as he wished his dad and grandfather could have seen it one last time.
The liquid’s odor became more pungent now as it snapped him out of his daydream.
The hole gouged into the trunk seemed to disagree with being exposed to the elements. There was still work to do.
The Botanist Arrives
The botanist, Lara Peltzer, eventually arrived. She recommended the Browns spray the farm as soon as possible to minimize the harmful effects of the caterpillar infestation.
Unfortunately, to avoid any contamination of neighboring farms, she also urged quarantining of the farm.
As for the odd liquid, Lara explained that the tree had hollowed out over the years, and water had likely collected inside it. But this wasn’t the weird part.
Something Out Of A Science Fiction Movie
Over the years, the harsh shifts in conditions had turned the inside of the tree into a bacterial hotbed.
With millions of microorganisms congregating inside the tree, they had begun to mutate its structure from the inside out.
Between the water gathering on the inside and the chemical gasses being produced by the bacteria, it was likely that a unique kind of tree bacteria known as slime flux.
Lara spent hours painstakingly analyzing the strange substance. After collecting vials of it for further lab testing, she finally packed up her equipment.
She promised to do what she could to ensure that Brown’s farming activities weren’t too badly affected by the quarantine.
Lucas was still a little uneasy about one thing. As he geared up to ask Lara, he was almost afraid of her answer.
The Other Heirloom
Lucas Brown had always been proud of his heritage. After years of research, he discovered that the land on which the family farm was built had been in the Brown family for six generations.
The land was among the oldest plots in the state. Lucas had seen pictures of his ancestors that spanned across the last four generations.
Amid all the changes the photos highlighted down the years, one thing always remained constant.
The mighty oak tree had been a stalwart of the property. It had outlived every previous generation and still stood tall, like a sentinel watching over the land.
The photos provided a glimpse into the role it played for each generation that lived here; a swing, a picnic spot, a family portrait site, and in Lucas and Larry’s case, a target for golf practice.
Now, it seemed its time was finally up.
Lucas Couldn’t Bear It
Lucas recognized that since the tree appeared to be the source of the caterpillar infestation, it would probably need to be cut down. They had already damaged its trunk so badly.
It was a sad sight to see the mighty tree looking so wounded. Even the roots seemed weathered these days.
Lucas feared the worst when he asked Lara about the tree, but her answer surprised him.
It Could Be Salvaged
Lara thought long and hard about the tree and analyzed the ground around it several more times. After what felt like an eternity, she turned to Lucas and Kenny.
“If you follow my guidelines to the letter afterward, we can still save it,” she assured them. Lucas was overwhelmed with joy, and Kenny was just as ecstatic at the news.
It would take some work, but it was doable.
A Good Day
There wasn’t anything else Lucas could do for now. After all the drama of the day, he found himself beaming from ear to ear with the way it had ended.
He could finally turn his attention back to the special ball. With Kenny’s help and Lara’s advice on which chemicals to use, the ball was carefully cleaned.
Kenny was thrilled to hear the story of its history and knew there was just one thing left to do.
Time To Tell Larry
Lucas called his brother Larry. He told him about their find, and they had a good laugh about their time as kids.
Lucas was so grateful that the tree had given him a slice of his childhood back.
Since the ball had been left to both he and Larry, Lucas was afraid that a new argument might arise over who should keep it. As he asked Larry’s opinion on this, he dreaded the answer.
It Was Settled
Far from a new tussle over the ball, Lucas was pleasantly surprised when Larry graciously stepped aside.
As Larry had never been married or had children, he thought it would be fitting that Lucas keep the ball.
In Larry’s words, “one day, you can pass it down to your sons too.” It was settled, the ball would stay, but Larry still had one condition.
Larry committed to letting go of his ownership of the ball if Lucas promised one thing, it would never be used to practice golf shots again.
Lucas had never been prouder of his family and heritage.
As he gazed out the window of the ranch, the vast property seemed even more beautiful today, the oak tree swaying gently in the breeze. Lucas hoped it would live on to bring the next generation of Brown the same joy.