His shaking hand raised to wipe the sweat from his forehead, a grimace on his face as he sighed. He had to get back to work. He gripped his hands around the axe and took a step back.
He couldn’t sit around and watch this destroy his entire farm. Groaning, he gritted his teeth and swung at the tree. But his heart nearly stopped when he saw what was peeking out of the tree trunk.
A Happy Family
There were two things that Lucas Brown truly loved in this world. First was his family, made up of his wife Debra and their kids Brian, Shelly, and Kenny.
The second was his farm, where Lucas had poured his years, sweat, and money. For the Brown family, the farm was more than just a ranchette. It was the source of their livelihood. So when Lucas noticed his land was slowly dying, he was beside himself.
The Brown Farm
The Browns farmed birch, pine, and spruce trees, which sold well in their local market. The family also started planting apple and maple trees, a new endeavor that Lucas adored.
Although the entire Brown Farm was a beautiful landscape with tall swaying trees and rich dark soil, its true beauty was a tall, gorgeous oak tree that stood at its center. The Browns, however, had no idea it would be the center of their problems.
The Problems Begin
Lucas’s typical day on the farm always began with a drive down to inspect his trees. He would assess everything, from the soil’s acidity to the look and health of the trees themselves.
He got up early that morning with his last born Kenny, and they began their routine check-up. But nothing about that morning would be typical.
Change Is In The Air
The first thing that ticked Lucas off was a burning stench that lingered in the air that morning. He was used to the fresh smell of leaves, tree barks, and wet soil. Today there was a faint foulness that’d mixed with the scent.
“I think we should continue on foot,” Lucas told Kenny. They never explored the farm on foot, given how expansive it was, but there was something wrong today. They needed to find out what.
A Shocking Find
The foul stench became heavier as Lucas and Kenny neared the center of the farm. The trees around here were also a shade lighter than their typical dark green colors.
“Something’s not right, dad,” Kenny, an agriculture major at the university, observed. “Look at those leaves,” he pointed, and Lucas’ sight jumped up. What he saw made him step back.
A Nightmare Comes
Lucas couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Perched on the countless leaves above them was an army of grey caterpillars. Lucas cursed inwardly, his eyes trailing to the trees around. “They’re everywhere,” he said.
“They’re also spreading out,” Kenny called, looking at the center of the farm. “I think I know where they’re coming from.”
Lucas called their local botanist to attend to the caterpillar attack. But he couldn’t pinpoint the source of the foul smell. “Dad,” Kenny called, grounding Lucas in the present.
“There,” Kenny said, and Lucas hurried over. At the center of the farm stood the mighty white oak, but Lucas couldn’t describe what was coming out of it.
Get The Ask
The tree was oozing grey liquid out of the many cracks in its bark. Its leaves were eaten by the pests and replaced by webby silks. “Grab my axe,” Lucas choked, holding back the overwhelming need to hurl.
Kenny ran to their truck and soon returned with the axe, handing it over. He seemed to notice the dilemma in his dad concerning bringing down the prized tree. What he said made Lucas well with tears.
A Sad Realization
“I think she’s already gone, Dad,” Kenny said. Despite Lucas’s best efforts, the tree had been slowly withering over the last year.
The white oak had been in the family for generations. It had been there throughout Lucas and his brother’s entire childhood before Larry had moved upstate. As Lucas flexed his fingers around his axe, he wondered if he could bring himself to swing it.
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 had 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’s the same joy.