There’s a cottonwood tree in our backyard. It’s tall, creates shade, and its leaves can be hypnotizing the way they shimmer in the wind—like little mirrors twisting, turning, shining in my face, back and forth, back and forth. But every spring, for two weeks, that cottonwood tree spreads its cotton, spreads its seeds. They fly through the air—white balls of dust, like fairies—obscuring my vision, tricking me into thinking it’s something beautiful. None of the other trees do this.

What does the cottonwood tree really do? It creates a great big mess. Each year I’m reminded of what a menace it really is. The cotton seeds pile up in the corners of the yard, mixing with leaves and dirt. They creep in open doors and windows meant for fresh air and pretty soon those white cotton seeds are piling up inside, in the corners of the house. The cotton seeds infiltrate the entire neighborhood for two solid weeks.

And, no matter how much I sweep, rake, or clean, some of those seeds take hold. They begin to grow—little sprouts—green and innocent looking. I used to tug on those cottonwood sprouts and pull them out where they first popped up. I can prevent them from taking over the flower garden and vegetable bed that way, but eliminating the sprouts and then going about my day isn’t enough.

Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there—and spreading. Digging a little deeper, those tiny little cottonwood sprouts have thick, white roots. Continued excavation reveals complete root systems—deeper, larger branches that look like they’ve been there for awhile, snaking their way through the rich soil, taking up space, preventing other plants from taking firm hold and thriving. How did I let this go unnoticed? It’s so painfully obvious. Don’t let those little green cottonwood sprouts fool you. They might seem harmless, it might be easier to just look away. Dig deeper. Keep excavating. It’s real labor and it will take time. Avoid the temptation to ignore the problem for your own convenience. Get that shit out of the garden, keep eliminating it with the passing of each season, chop down the whole damn tree. I’m starting in my own backyard.