Home > Insecta > Counting Monarchs in Kansas City

Counting Monarchs in Kansas City

November 26, 2007

for David Hensley

In the Flint Hills
about two hours west of where
I am standing on the corner
of Independence and Olive
I remember how
the ranger at the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve
uttered the words dark clouds like a mantra.
These migrating insects
have navigated drought, tall buildings
and moving traffic of all kinds:
SUVs, trucks, triple-trailers.
Miles of hot asphalt
as far as anyone’s eye can see
but it is their blood
telling them where
and how to go.
Most of the third grade class
are making paper airplanes
but some are making trouble
calling me back
to the gritty life
of this green oasis.
White sheets of paper
are tossed at the blue sky.
Who can fly their small craft
the farthest?
I am called upon to judge
or referee these contests
by the children
and still manage to keep one eye out
for black and orange wings
on their way to an oyamel tree
in the mountains of Mexico.
Determined to continue
60, 61, 62, 63, 64 —
satisfied this quarter hour
has been well spent.

by Christina Pacosz

Author’s note: Please, plant milkweed (Asclepias species) in Spring of 2008 across the country where Monarchs migrate. This is the only plant these amazing creatures will be able to utilize in the cycle of caterpillar to pupae to butterfly and, unfortunately, milkweed is being eradicated as an unwanted weed across the U.S.

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  1. November 26, 2007 at 2:16 pm

    A poem with the heart to remind us that watching details of nature around us, even in the cities, is a good way to come close to what is happening to our planet.

  2. Barbara LaMorticella
    November 26, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    What a wonderful poem Christina. I love that you envisioned and portrayed the epic nature of the journey of these butterflies, and the parallel contest of the children for flight… I’ve often thought that studying the nature of the environment ought to be an important part of elementary school education, even in cities… the weeds and insects in lots, the creek beds tamed and covered. Ahh, if you could have designed the whole curriculum for those students…

  3. November 26, 2007 at 8:41 pm


    I too like the parallel between the monarchs and the children in their pursuit of flight. I feed the ducks, geese and turtles at a local lake. One day two young, pure white ducks showed up and absolutely changed the equation of who got to eat how much bread. The young ducks were so fast and so aggressive, the turtles finally gave up, and most of the geese had to settle for lesser rations. However, an older duck couple would peck at the young ducks and clear out a territory in which they could eat. The struggle for survival is quite a puzzle, and each animal seems to have to find its particular niche. I hope the planting of milkweed, like my casting of bread, results in our brilliant companions continuing to survive, and thrive.

    Mike Burch

  4. Tonya Clark
    November 26, 2007 at 10:11 pm

    I thoroughly enjoy your work. My reaction is simple. I felt a pull, a longing, almost a preference to focus your energy toward the Monarchs, to look for them and somehow help them along their journey, if only in prayer or thought or concentration by counting. And then… you are a teacher, a judge, a second income. Thank you

    Tonya Clark

  5. November 26, 2007 at 10:24 pm

    It has been very interesting to have a Google Alert for Blogs on “Kansas Flint Hills!”
    Yours came up today!
    We have a 22 county Flint Hills Tourism Coalition promoting visits to the Kansas Flint Hills – this is the website: http://www.kansasflinthills.travel/
    Our web site is to promote the Kansas Flint Hills; and we were so happy to be in the 22 page color photo spread in National Geographic’s April Issue on the Kansas Flint Hills, as a distinctive landscape.

    We would appreciate a link from your site, to ours, if you are willing to do so. THANKS!
    Best wishes!

    Bill ;-)

    Personal Blog: http://flinthillsofkansas.blogspot.com/

  6. November 26, 2007 at 10:51 pm

    Hi Bill,

    It’s always very interesting to learn how people find our posts. But I’m afraid the link in your comment will have to suffice; qarrtsiluni is not otherwise focused on Kansas.

    Happy blogging!

  7. Larry Rollings
    November 27, 2007 at 10:32 am

    I enjoyed this poem very much. The Monarchs are beautiful. Like so many other species they are disappearing at an alarming rate. I find it hard to believe that there are still actually people out there that act as if human impact, global warming, etc., are some kind of abstract theory open to debate.

  8. Merry Youle
    November 27, 2007 at 6:27 pm

    A bittersweet poem. Life flies on, despite the hardships, the hunger, the confusing loss of landmarks, and the disappearing destinations. One species thinks that it alone matters, naively thinks that it can survive alone, and, in its (temporarily) unfettered multiplication, heedlessly pushes all others aside. So much suffering. Christina, you captured both the pain and the hope. Thank you.

  9. November 29, 2007 at 9:44 am

    Your beautiful poetry is always a pleasure to read, an adventure in discovery no matter what the topic. Whether exploring nazi death camps or watching the migration of Monarch butterflies in an urban environment, you show your readers a beauty that overpowers the mundane and stark world we live in.
    Your work is exceptional because it inspires hope in a weary world.
    One year, decades ago, our flowering crab tree was loaded with cocoons. A friend of ours advised us to spray them with gasoline before they hatched. We chose not to do that, and had the rare joy of seeing hundreds of Monarchs emerge and take flight. Your poem reminded me of that pleasure.

  10. November 29, 2007 at 11:07 am


    Your heart is in your eyes. Thank you.

    I like all of your poems but this one touches me especially at this time of year. Fall has always meant a lot to me.

    I spent most of my life in Illinois, first in Chicago and later on the prairies and near the moraines of central Illinois.

    Living there, I watched the great migrations all my life, and they always connected me with a sense of what lasts, the permanent things in nature and the permanent things in us, love, family, longing, home.

    Your poem reminds me of all that.

  11. December 17, 2007 at 12:00 pm

    For a photo of a monarch on a milkweed flower, see the just-published post Symbiosis, by Anne Morrison Smyth.

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