5th Annual Photo Alphabet – Part V

R is for Ritual and Routine.

Early Morning Coffee in the Desert

Early Morning Coffee in the Desert © 2011 Bo Mackison

I have an unusual ritual in the Sonoran Desert. Some might think of it more as a routine – brewing the early morning coffee – but when I brew my first cup of coffee after a night of desert camping, it truly is elevated to the level of ritual.

The assembly of the tiny backpacker stove. The measuring of water from my water supply. The finding of the matches — which usually provides a modicum of panic. The boiling of the water. The measuring of the coffee grounds, safely stored in the bottom of my coffee cup/coffee press. The boiling water poured into the coffee press, the cup tightly closed, plunging the press, waiting the ten minutes for the coffee to brew. And finally sipping that first early morning coffee.

If any one is wondering why I might need coffee while camping in the desert, keep in mind early morning in the winter desert is usually 30˚ to 40˚F, often even colder. That first cup of coffee is like a bit of heaven. Routine, yes. And ritual.

S is for Shadows and Self-portrait.

Shadow Photographer

Shadow Photographer © 2012 Bo Mackison

I have a fascination with taking photos of shadows. They might be photos of leaf shadows on a wall, a repetitive fence shadow on a sidewalk, an intricate wrought iron table and chairs casting an abstract shadow on a patio. I constantly look for shadows to photograph.

And sometimes I photograph self-portrait shadows.

I like these self portraits in shadow. Sometimes I am long and stretched out, as in the above photo taken late in the day. Sometimes there is just a head shot, my hat on my head, protection from the desert sun, hiking stick leaning against me, as I balance and set up the shot.

I always have my camera up to my face. I may be alone or with a companion. I like to study these portrait shadows.

They tell me a bit about the photographer I was at that moment in time. By the clues in the photos I can decipher where I was, who I was with, the time of the year or the time of the day. I may even be able to tell my mood by the way I carry my body. I may remember a conversation I had with a person in passing or a particular event that happened that day.

Another way I capture bits of my life as reminders. Like words on a page of a diary or journal, a photo holds that space for me.

T is for Thresholds and Transitions.

Window, Bench and Door in White

Window, Bench and Door in White © 2010 Bo Mackison

Transitions. I think that very word, and a lump forms in my throat, an ache develops in my chest. No matter what type of transition I face, it takes me awhile to focus and gather my equilibrium before I carry on. The transition can be one I dread or one I look forward to — no matter. The very act of crossing a new threshold, or a threshold I am re-crossing, causes me to stop in my tracks.

I’ve discovered that I can approach transitions in different ways. And that is okay!

I may choose to move towards a threshold, decide I am not quite prepared.. OK. I can sit down — that bench is handy — and pause while I consider my next step.

Maybe I approach the threshold and find I need more time to study the new, do a bit more research or soul-searching. Maybe a look through a window, visualizing the next step is helpful. OK.

Or maybe I am ready. I have considered my options, I know that the next step needs to be taken, or I am simply ready. OK. I open the door and walk through, across the threshold.

This photo is a pretty good summary of me working my way through life, whatever it takes at that moment. Approaching transitions in different ways.

U is for the Universe.

Three Self Portraits

Exploring the Universe © 2011 Bo Mackison

The Universe — worlds upon world upon worlds. Bright and shiny — new places to explore.

In each shiny ball representing part of the universe, there is a tiny self-portrait of me, both looking in and looking out.

V is for Vision.

Double Vision

Double Vision © 2011 Bo Mackison

I like this photo – the one I call Double Vision – because the branch in the foreground still has berries and a leaf hanging on it, the branch slightly behind it is bare. It’s a double branch. But there is more. Look into the background, extend my vision deeper into the landscape and I notice the snow-covered river – the river a conduit for travel.

Will it be an easy trip, perhaps on a flowing river in the early summer on a small skiff with a companion? Or will the trip take place during a drought, the water is low, my boat keep getting snagged. I must keep getting into the water to dislodge it, push it along, even portage it? Perhaps the journey is a cold, lonely trek in the winter, traveling alone on skates or ice cleats, or along the side of the frozen river, pushing through the deep snow?

I look at this photograph and I see the past captured — dried fruits and leaves. And it foretells possible vignettes of the future in metaphor — travel on the river. But all the while, it capturing a moment in the present.


Bo Mackison is a photographer and the owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. The 5th Annual Photo Alphabet ends with  Wonder thru Zen!

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. The advantage of reading all your Photo Alphabet posts in one fell swoop is that a complete image begins to appear in my head, my heart. Bo, the philosopher. Bo, the photographer. Bo, the spiritualist. Bo, the nature girl. Bo, the historian and biologist. Bo, the profound traveler. Bo, a human being skipping down her exceptional path of self-discovery. So many facets to Bo, the gem. I am loving this feast!

    • Bo Mackison says:

      Debi, what a special comment. You are so delightfully kind. And what’s so brilliantly amazing??? I feel as if I AM growing into the very descriptions you write.

      Thank you, Debi, for all your comments, for all your support.

  2. Catching up here on your photo-alphabet. So much inspiration here. I just love how you’ve found something to say for each letter. Especially love those long shadows…here. Great eye!
    And here’s wishing you and yours all the best in the up and coming new year!

    • Bo Mackison says:

      Thanks, Marcie. It’s quite the undertaking — I always forget just how time-absorbing this project is, until I do it the next year. (Kinda like giving birth! — Ha ha!)

      I appreciate all of your support and kindnesses this past year. The best in the new year to you and yours, too!

  3. Love the self-shadow. Is Sherpa on the left?

  4. I am so glad to see this completed, and it is wonderful. I am especially in love with the reflections and expressions of this post. The idea of thresholds and transitions really caught hold of me today, and has inspired a new turn in my journaling for today. Thanks to you, I wrote six pages as my first journaling entry last night. Maybe I should copy and paste this under the part of your alphabet about journaling!! 🙂

    • Bo Mackison says:

      I’m glad I finished it, too, Molly. It;s quite a task – 26 letters. i love doing the alphabet, but it’s big work. The really worthwhile things often are, I think…

  5. Beautiful. I can’t think of anything else to say. Just… beautiful. 🙂

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