The Poetry of Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel

Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel

It’s nice to include other “voices” at the Museum. I’ve been collecting quotes to help us plan and develop the Museum's Nature Education Facilities Program, a grant project. In my file are excerpts from literature, historic accounts (such as Spanish diaries of the first European description of the Delta, Central Valley, and Sierra Nevada, or John Bidwell’s account of crossing the Sierra in 1841), and poetry.

Among the favorite pieces I’ve found so far is this wonderful poem by “The Dust Bowl Poet,” Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel. She was born in 1918 in Lincoln County, Oklahoma, and immigrated to California with her family in 1936. Wilma never married, but she cared for her mother until her death in 1983 and for her sister, Opal, until her death in 1992. Although Wilma was a prolific writer, none of her work was published until 1971 (in the Tulare Advance-Register newspaper), and some has been published elsewhere later. In her succinct style of free verse, she captured the San Joaquin Valley environment, our small towns, and our working-class culture.

Valley Fog

By Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel

She arrived
fashionably late this year
cloaked in classic trailing gray
dripping with diamonds
so many
when she even moved a finger
they fell by millions
teardrop perfect on houses
lawns
railroad tracks
wasted their beauty on growling
trucks
and gave the water tower
a noble tiara

     Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel
      All rights reserved ©Back40 Publishing/Stone Woman Press, Joshua Tree, Calif.

I wish I had written that poem; it’s one of the cleanest descriptions of tule fog I’ve ever read. If you have excerpts from literature, correspondence, or poetry that you think would help us reveal the history of San Joaquin County, please comment here or e-mail them to me at davidstuart@sanjoaquinhistory.org.

David Stuart is the executive director and CEO of the San Joaquin County Historical Society and Museum.

1 comment to The Poetry of Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel

  • Ava

    What a wonderful surprise to see Wilma so loved and appreciated on the WEB. I had so many precious notes from her on envelopes and scraps of paper that began to fade and yellow. I decided to scan all of them in order to have them up on my computer screen, to read them for the rest of my life. Her wonderful messages and support of me as a singer/performer…all those wonderful times under her tree in Tulare, CA. It stays with me and surfaces at some of the oddest moments, usually when I am overworked…her words say “rest and come back later.” You are in my prayers Wilma, I love you.
    Ava Victoria

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