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Roger Funston: California Poets Part 7, Three Poems

Roger Funston

July 1st, 2024

California Poets: Part VII

Roger Funston

Three Poems


(Inspired by the poem “Dreams” by Wislawa Szymborska)


Despite the ecologist’s knowledge, skills

thinning forests, adding age and species diversity

the dream not easily recreated

Old growth forest complexity mock our attempts

to put Humpty Dumpty back together again


And with trees crown to crown protected from small forest fires

wildfires now rage

Firefighters, bulldozers, chainsaws, fire breaks

struggling to protect homes on the forest fringe


Cameramen, on-scene reporters, press conferences

knowing exactly how to frighten us

Saving structures that should never have been built


Local politicians responding to homeowner rage

wanting to rebuild as quickly as possible

Fire restoration contractors hauling away debris

reconstructing out of solid air


I imagine Sierra Nevada Mountains in the 1850s

crawling with prospectors infected with gold fever

clearing everything in their way

trees, mountainsides, Native Americans


Fires set by previous inhabitants kept the trees apart

White men on horseback galloped through the forest

Old and young conifers, rare plants, fungi, symbiotic relationships

teeming with wildlife, crystal clear streams


And we the inheritors of this tragedy

thinking we are the conjures, wizards

throwing away nature’s blueprint

redesigning the forest in a new image

what can be achieved with the remaining scraps

to reduce fire risk through climate-resilient design


Despite the choices of our hearts, our amorous yearnings, our dreams

we could be swept away by economic and political reality

and then the alarms clocks rings

They Say


They say Highway 50 is the loneliest highway in America,

running through the middle of Nevada

from the high elevation of Great Basin National Park

through the basin and range country

over mountain passes, through desert

as far as the eye can see.


But there are lonelier roads in Central Nevada,

some paved, many rough unpaved roads,

cutting straight swaths through endless vistas.  

Sagebrush, pinion pine, juniper covered mountain passes.

Often a hundred miles or more between gas stations.


They say Central Nevada was once submerged.

A shallow inland sea teeming with giant reptiles.

Violent volcanic eruptions folded and lifted the land,

building five parallel mountain ranges,

the four valleys between becoming desiccated desert.


They say Native Americans traveled along the creek beds

into the hazy Big Smoky Valley,

leaving behind a treasure of ancient campsites

and stories to be discovered of prehistoric survival in a harsh land.


The angular Toiyabe Range to the west, narrow canyons,

aspen-lined creeks, springs, green oases.

A hard to reach wilderness area at over 11,000 feet.

Rounded Toquima Range to the east, volcanic calderas,

perfect geochemical conditions to precipitate gold and silver.


Miners came in the early 1900's.

Hastily built boom towns,

Manhattan, Belmont, Tonopah, Goldfield.

Fueled by dreams and greed.

The easy gold quickly mined,

leaving tailings piles, mine shafts, ghost towns,

and the colorful strata of exposed mountain sides.


They say Central Nevada is the land of boom and bust.

The third resurrection of the Round Mountain Mine,

aided by new processing technologies.

Once gold nuggets stuck out of the ground.

Now a nine hundred foot deep pit a mile and a half long, a mile wide.

Thousands of tons of earth moved to recover ounces of microscopic gold.


New town sprouting in the middle of nowhere.

Mobile homes, grocery, pizza parlor, gas station, schools.

Ghost towns of Manhattan and Belmont reoccupied,

surging and swooning in alignment with the price of gold.


It takes a special breed to thrive in this land of extremes.

Spectacular lightning shows, booming thunder, hail storms,

flash floods, howling winds, dust devils, frigid winters.

But also spectacular high elevation wilderness,

world class stargazing, night skies unobscured by city lights.

Plain-speaking people, no pretense,

or perhaps the agenda well hidden.

Coming to terms, or not,

with harsh reality and remoteness.

The White Elephant Restaurant Is Gone


I drive across a sea of pumping oil wells

to the District office,

a double-wide trailer,

closer to life’s realities

where the real work is done.


Once or twice a month,

I visit with James and Leroy

Until it is time for lunch

Then we head to the White Elephant Restaurant

the social hub of Taft


Nothing in this place seemed to change

except for the daily special

Just another coffee shop with fake leather booths,

a bar in the back with dance floor,

country music, beer, good times.

But when I sat in this place

I could feel the tension draining out of me


Everyone knew everyone’s business

If you wanted to know about drilling results

from the rig working on the next lease

you waited for the company man to leave

then swabbed the contractor for information.


Leroy, then in his sixties, had worked in the oilfields since his teens

Always with another incredible fish story,

sometimes about fishing

He was later forced to retire after an oil company merger


James called Taft Mayberry RFD

He would leave his keys in his pickup bed





I watched James’ life unfold at The White Elephant

The break up of his marriage,

flirting with the waitress, who he eventually married,


taking pride and ownership in running his leases.

After the merger he became another cog in the wheel


White Elephant days were good times

when crazy wildcatters still ran the small oil companies,

when employees were treated like family.

A time of handshake deals,

before the lawyers and hundred page contracts,

before all the big fish gobbled up the little fish


Years later I return to Taft

to rummage through the pieces of my past

In search of what I thought I had lost

I look for the place along Central Avenue,

but the White Elephant Restaurant is gone


Fortunately, the people are still around

A sweet day of reminiscing

For some, the good old days recalled

For others, a new life with better days ahead,

and a past

Author Bio:

Roger Funston came to poetry late in life after a long career as an environmental scientist. He has conducted environmental projects in remote locations on four continents. This experience informs his writing. Roger writes about his life journey, his travels and things he has seen that you can’t make up. He wanders the forests and deserts of California where he finds his muse.



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