What an Invasive Plant Helped Me See About the Future

Also, beware the future

Paul Thomas Swann
3 min readSep 15, 2022
From the author’s personal files.

I ran across this little popcorn tree a few days ago.

As strange as this may sound, I miss them.

(Yes, I do know that they are an invasive species, but go with me here.)

This one is growing in a field next to our apartment complex.

For it to be here, there must have been another such tree nearby. Reasonably close anyway. Maybe the wind blew a seed here. Maybe a bird thought that this field needed a new Chinese Tallow tree. Maybe the rain, I don’t know.

I miss them because, on our little half-acre lot in southwest Alabama, we had three such trees. All of them, to some degree, suffered the constant harassment of three rambunctious kids climbing, playing, and occasionally injuring a limb because these trees are soft.

And they bend easily.

Sometimes they broke.

So, when the inevitable storm winds blew in from Mississippi counties, whose names I learned to pronounce from the national weather service, our trees swayed, bent, and rode out the storms as best they could.

Here’s the best thing: At least one served as the portal to a magical place where the family’s three youngest dependents would often escape and spend hours of peace from the very broken family inside the dwelling below.

The eve of the house from the upper roof provided a 3-foot canopy of refuge from the glare of the Alabama sun and sometimes rain.

Even the grainy asphalt shingles were well worth the momentary climb up the faithful popcorn tree.

Beyond the popcorn awaited a quieter world where the side effects of the dysfunctionality below could be temporarily avoided. Maybe forgotten altogether. And hopes and visions of the future could be more articulately formed in our minds. Mature stuff like, “When I get on my own, things are going to be different… When I have kids I’m gonna love my kids and treat them differently … and … and …

But, man, that future…

It’s got a funny, and cruel, way of arriving and knocking on your door at 2 AM…