Arizona Sycamores at Montezuma Castle National Monument – The Trees and Me!


Portrait with Arizona Sycamores © 2014 Bo Mackison

It’s not often that I post a photo of me. I am the one with the camera in hand and haven’t much embraced the practice of selfies. So I am seldom in a photo, and happy enough to be the one behind the camera.

But these trees — these Arizona sycamore trees were not only calling to me, they were singing my name! They were insistent. “Sit on my perfect little tree nook and smile for the camera.” And so I did.

Aren’t those trees magnificent? I can never resist running my hands along their bark, connecting the many puzzle pieces I see.

I am honored to have had my portrait taken in the midst of such grand company!

Practice Resurrection — Photographs to Wendell Berry’s Manifesto

All Text: Excerpted from “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”  by Wendell Berry

Yellow Cabs

Yellow Cabs © 2013 Bo Mackison

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

Pop Art Shopping Carts

Pop Art Shopping Carts © 2011 Bo Mackison

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

Garden Water Pump in Sanford Farm Garden, Old World Wisconsin

Farm Garden, Old World Wisconsin © 2012 Bo Mackison

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Redwood Abstract

Redwood Abstract © 2013 Bo Mackison

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

What's in this Pond?

In this Pond © 2012 Bo Mackison

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

West Bluff, Devils Lake State Park

West Bluff © 2014 Bo Mackison

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Spreading Joy

Coneflower Joy © 2013 Bo Mackison

Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.

Lavender Fields and Bee Boxes

Lavender Fields and Bee Boxes © 2013 Bo Mackison

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

The Path Beyond

The Path Beyond © 2011 Bo Mackison

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.

Kure Beach Sunrise, November 8, 2013

Kure Beach Sunrise © 2013 Bo Mackison

Practice resurrection.


Excerpts from “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”  by Wendell Berry

Inspired by blog post How to Practice Resurrection and Earth Day Every Day, Through the Luminary Lens  by Bruce Thomas Witzel

Bookmaking in the Sonoran Desert – Featuring Journey and Discovery

Flying Across the Sky

Flying Across the Sky © 2014 Bo Mackison

“Real travel is not about the highlights with which you dazzle your friends once you’re home. It’s about the loneliness, the solitude, the evenings spent by yourself, pining to be somewhere else. Those are the moments of true value. You feel half proud of them and half ashamed and you hold them to your heart.” ~ Tahir Shah

There was an afternoon when the desert floor was still and heat rose like fire.

I packed a bag with supplies and traveled to Madera Canyon, found an isolated site high in the Santa Rita Mountains, with the summit of Mt Wrightson in view, and there I spread out paper and magazines, scissors and glue. And readied to create.

I typically work quickly, intuitively.

But on this April afternoon I had a dear companion with me, and she is more meticulous, more exact in her creative pursuits. And so I slowed my pace and we worked companionably together.

My tiny accordion book, set into a pair of four-inch square canvas boards, started out simple. As I worked the layers became more complicated. I hid parts I wanted to let disappear into the past, and added features I wanted to remember.

The little book eventually told a part of my story, my Arizona-Wisconsin dichotomy.

I explored my desire to be in two places at the same time – to remain in the desert where I feel a deep, soul connection,  yet also to be with my loved ones in Wisconsin.

Impossible in life, but not impossible in my art.

Book Making in the Sonoran Desert - Flying Across the Sky

Flying Across the Sky © 2014 Bo Mackison

“…flying is like throwing your soul into the heavens and racing to catch it as it falls.” ~ Linda Howard


Flying. I request a next-to-the-window seat. Always.
So I can stare into the sky, lose myself in thick cloud cover, or watch the country far below,
farmland platted in tiny squares, river snakes,
mountains rise from plains, sunlight slides across the face of the earth, then disappears.

I watch cities and towns morph into dots of lights.
Each time I board a plane, it’s as if I toss my soul towards the heavens,
then breathe with calm intention ’til I reconnect with land
and my soul again searches for desert red. And settles.

Book Making in the Sonoran Desert - Flying Across the Sky

Tree Cholla, Snowy Saguaro, Monument Valley © 2014 Bo Mackison

“Over the years, one comes to measure a place, too, not just for the beauty it may give, the balminess of its breezes, the insouciance and relaxation it encourages, the sublime pleasures it offers, but for what it teaches. The way in which it alters our perception of the human. It is not so much that you want to return to indifferent or difficult places, but that you want to not forget.” ~ Barry Lopez

There are no guarantees.
I’ll readily admit, I came to the desert Southwest for its healing sunshine,
sunlight that could flip a switch in my brain, drench it in
neurotransmitters to make smiling easier than weeping.

I continue to come for that boost, and yes, tree cholla with
golden auras gleaming in the waning sun are also beyond breathtaking.
Reflecting sunlight burrows deep into my being.

Saguaro with a freakish coat of snow are equally mystical.
Desert mountains – green with riparian water, yellow in a blaze of autumn sycamore leaves,
or black in the desert night – they are all magical.

Book Making in the Sonoran Desert - Flying Across the Sky

Calming, Influence, Aspen Smile © 2014 Bo Mackison

“To be at peace, does not mean that you are amiss of every storm, it only means that you can find a calm within the storm.”
~ Tania Elizabeth

I talk to trees. The connection is energy,
I rest my hands upon their bark, lay my cheek against their rough grain.

I have leaned the art of calming under the influence of this land -
sky islands stretch – from Lower Sonoran Desert habitat dotted with saguaros
to near alpine conditions, bald rock dotted with firs.
Akin to traveling from Northern Mexico to southern Canada.

But always. Always.
I yearn to return to the desert floor, to the spaciousness and solitude that warm my spirit.

Book Making in the Sonoran Desert - Flying Across the Sky

Map, Yellow Car, Arizona Plates © 2014 Bo Mackison

“A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected.” ~ Reif Larsen

Moments measure time; maps measure travel.
As desert spring blasts its way into desert summer,
my time to leave the desert approaches.
Each moment becomes more precious as I cross off the remaining days.

I spread maps upon my desk and ponder routes,
choose the blue roads, the dotted roads, roads that may or may not be passable.
I’ll take that risk. Travel the small towns and villages,
stay in court motels, feast at diners with the locals.

It is my way of easing into my return.

Book Making in the Sonoran Desert - Flying Across the Sky

Journey, the Journal © 2014 Bo Mackison

“…where paths that have an affinity for each other intersect, the whole world looks like home, for a time.” ~ Hermann Hesse

The journey, I anticipate it even as I mourn my leaving.
Anticipation and loss held simultaneously.
I’ll hold the days of travel in my memory, scribble in my journal as the miles accumulate.
Nearly illegible, though, since I keep my focus on the road as I scrawl my notes.

These are brief notes, triggers for later transcription -
a name of a town, the population, a hand painted sign that tells a story.

The washes and dry river beds I cross.
Dead Wash. Red Wash. Car Wash. Dirty Laundry River.
Humor abounds in geographical monikers.

Washes gradually turn into meandering creeks,
then into singing streams and raging rivers.

As I travel, mapping the earth,
it is joyful, yet bittersweet.
Palpable. My heart pounds with the unexpected sights.

I am exultant and saddened, hesitant and expectant.
I want to slow and speed time concurrently.
There is much to practice, this being in the moment of traveling.

That is my journey.

A Series of Photographs – Exploring the Creative Process

Palo Verde

Palo Verde © 2014 Bo Mackison

Lens: Jimmy
Film: Claunch 72 Monochrome

Often I am a slow photographer.

I check the times of sunrise and sunset, and plan shooting times to take advantage of the golden light. I pack my camera bag with a combination of multiple lenses and diffusers and hoods, with dust protectors and extra batteries and memory cards. I attach a heavy tripod to the bag, too.

This is slow photography. I sit and absorb the feel of a place. I connect with the space. I may wait for a certain cloud formation to float into a certain location, or a shadow to darken a rock.

And though it can be hard work, I find most of  the process passionately engaging. (I could do without the extra gear weight, especially when hiking in the desert, but…that’s part of the experience.)

Palo Verde

Palo Verde © 2014 Bo Mackison

Lens: Jane
Film: Blanko

But sometimes I am a spur of the moment photographer.

I grab my iPhone. I open the camera and I start shooting.

One of my favorite techniques for letting go and giving myself full permission to enjoy the process is what I refer to as my “shake and take” technique.

Palo Verde

Palo Verde © 2014 Bo Mackison

Lens: Kaimal Mark II
Film: Blanko

Yep. I open the Hipstamatic app on my iPhone and I take a photo.

Then I simply shake my cell phone. The app randomly changes lenses and film and I retake the photograph. I often shake and take a dozen photos of the same subject. Then I look at the photographs.

I’ll get a few duplicates – same lens and film combination – and choose which one I prefer. Otherwise, I simply take what pops up randomly.

I find it fascinating how the different combinations change a simple subject.

Palo Verde

Palo Verde © 2014 Bo Mackison

Lens: Jane
Film: Claunch 72 Monochrome

In this series, I took photos of a palo verde tree while in my car.

I was waiting for a friend and noticed the overhanging branches dangling over the car. I opened the window, aimed towards the sky, took a photo, shook the cell phone, and then repeated. A lot!

Happily, the app records the lens, film, and other data, so when I find a combination I am fond of, I can replicate it with different subjects.

Palo Verde

Palo Verde © 2014 Bo Mackison

Lens: Lucifer VI
Film: Blanko

There’s a lot to be said for a creative process that can change with my mood.

Slow and pensive, quick and experimental, metaphorical or playful. The many moods of the photographer and the resulting photos.

Essence of Place – Grand Canyon National Park

Watchtower Point, Grand Canyon NP

Watchtower Point, Grand Canyon NP © 2014 Bo Mackison

Imagine standing at the edge of this rock point.

Look down into canyon, over a mile deep, and watch the Colorado River as it winds its way through geological time markers.

The canyon was created by the Colorado River over a period of six million years and nearly two billion years of the history of the earth have been exposed at the river cut a deep channel and many layers of the Colorado Plateau were uplifted. As a result of these forces, three of the four eras of time are recorded in the rocks of this canyon.

Colorado River, Grand Canyon NP
Colorado River Flowing through Grand Canyon NP © 2014 Bo Mackison

Grand Canyon, located in northern Arizona, is 277 miles long. Over a mile deep and up to eighteen miles from rim to rim, it is the largest canyon in the world.

Much of the canyon is in Grand Canyon National Park, one of the first national parks in the United States. President Theodore Roosevelt was a strong proponent of protecting the natural beauty of the area. In 1908 he  signed legislation making the area a National Monument, saying:

“Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

Congress upgraded the Grand Canyon to a national park in 1919, the fifth National Park, and doubled the protected area in 1975.

Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park

Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park © 2014 Bo Mackison

The area was inhabited by Native Americans approximately 3000-4000 yeas ago.

They lived in small settlements in the canyon and its caves. The Pueblo people consider the Grand Canyon a holy place, and one of their legends tells of their ancestors opening a hole from their heavens and ascending into the deepest regions of the canyon.

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park © 2014 Bo Mackison

Grand Canyon National Park is also a World Heritage Site.

The land is semi-arid and consists of raised plateaus and basins typical of the southwestern United States. Water drainage systems have cut into the rock, forming a maze of steep-walled canyons.

Canyon Color

Canyon Color – “Leaves of a Great Story Book” © 2014 Bo Mackison

John Wesley Powell made the first recorded journey through the canyon in 1869.

He followed the course of the Colorado River. He called the many layers of exposed rock “leaves in a great story book”.

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park © 2014 Bo Mackison

Grand Canyon National Park is also a World Heritage Site.

The land is semi-arid and consists of raised plateaus and basins typical of the southwestern United States. Water drainage systems have cut into the rock, forming a maze of steep-walled canyons.

Raven at Grand Canyon

Raven at Grand Canyon National Park © 2014 Bo Mackison

Ravens linger around the canyon rims.

Intelligent animals, they know that a few visitors will offer them bits of food, even though it is strictly against the national park regulations. This raven was over two feet in length, a large and rather intimidating bird, intent on a midday snack.

Grand Canyon - Ten Miles from Rim to Rim

Grand Canyon – Ten Miles from Rim to Rim © 2014 Bo Mackison

It is common to see hawks fly across the canyon at this point, only ten miles across.

Even in less than ideal light – cloud cover – the canyon still displays an endless array of color. Solitary trees appear to grow from bare rock, their roots finding just enough soil to live in harsh conditions.

Grand Canyon – a place that truly lives up to its name.

Essence of Place – Little Horse Trail in Sedona


Sedona © 2014 Bo Mackison

For the second year in a row, I embarked on a thousand-mile circle trip of Arizona — it helps fine tune my driving stamina in anticipation of the cross-country drive to the Midwest in another month.

This year I had the good fortune to have a companion on the excursion. My younger daughter, visiting from Wisconsin, is an avid fan of National Parks and enthusiastically agreed to accompany me on a trip through the heart of Arizona while stopping at one National Park plus four National Monuments.

Our first stop was Sedona, not a National Park, but the surrounding red rock area certainly has the flavor of one and qualifies as a National Landscape Treasure if not an official park. These rock formations, the Madonna and Two Nuns, overlook the Chapel of the Holy Cross, pictured below.

Biking on Little Horse Trail

Biking on Little Horse Trail © 2014 Bo Mackison

Exploring the trails was our chief source of pleasure. We hiked the Little Horse, a wide trail once an old jeep trail. We crossed dry creek beds, though there was evidence of the recent rainfall – thick red mud and a variety of prints, some human, some not. The trail is a favorite not only of hikers, but cyclists also take to these hills.

Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Sedona

Chapel of the Holy Cross © 2014 Amanda Fahrenbach

Once we had walked a half mile, the Chapel of the Holy Cross comes into view, a modern structure that appears to be clinging to the red rock through spiritual intervention.


Yucca © 2014 Bo Mackison

Yucca are a common plant along the trail, reminding us that we are not far from the desert.

Indian Paintbrush on Little Horse Trail

Indian Paintbrush on Little Horse Trail © 2014 Bo Mackison

Scarlet Indian Paintbrush is a favorite flower, adding bright color, though we only spotted it in a few places. Usually we saw just one or two stalks of the bright orange stalks, so we stopped to take photos when we found a large stand of the wildflower in the brush of a downed tree.

The flowers of Indian paintbrush are edible, and were often mixed with fresh greens by southwestern Native American tribes. It was also used as a hair conditioner, a treatment for rheumatism, and an overall health tonic – an all-purpose plant!


Crossroads – Little Horse Trail and Llama Trail © 2014 Bo Mackison

A criss-cross of trails makes it doubly important to note the trail signs. Though Little Horse Trail is an easy hike, it leads into the wilderness area beyond Chicken Point. It’s always a good idea to have a map and plenty of water when hiking any of the red rock trails.

Little Horse Trail Sedona

Little Horse Trail, Sedona © 2014 Bo Mackison

Lots of red rock. Lots of blue skies with fast-moving clouds. Lots of Arizona cypress. And views of many of the more recognizable rock monuments. A great place to get in touch with the natural beauty of Sedona.

Courthouse Butte in Sedona – Landscape Tour Of Arizona


Courthouse Butte from Little Horse Trail @2014 Bo Mackison

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home;
that wilderness is a necessity… ~ John Muir

Enjoying a visit with my younger daughter, who visits Arizona every winter not to escape from the clouds and the cold, but to explore new places with me. We started our 2014 Landscape Tour with a visit to Sedona, land of red rock and mystical energy.

A hike to Chicken Point was first on the list by way of Little Horse Trail. Courthouse Butte is one of the more recognizable formations in the Sedona area, and it was a favorite to admire.

The views were spectacular, and I think I exclaimed, “Isn’t this beautiful?” at least once every twenty steps.

Well, it was beautiful. In a way words simply cannot describe.

Camping with Cacti by the Light of the Full Moon – A Challenge in the Desert

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © 2013 Bo Mackison

“Every challenge you encounter in life is a fork in the road. You have the choice to choose which way to go – backward, forward, breakdown or breakthrough.”  ~ Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha

I love the desert.

This was a surprise to me when I first visited the Southwest.

I had driven through a part of the Mojave Desert on a family vacation many years ago, and I do not remember my reaction, negative or positive. So it came as a surprise to me when I visited Arizona and the Sonoran Desert in 2008 and had an immediate, visceral connection with this arid landscape.

I felt as if I had finally found my home.

The first time I lived in the desert for any length of time, it was a challenge on all counts. It was the first time I lived away from my husband and family for an extended time. I had lived a protected life for many years, and challenging myself to come to Arizona, alone, was a big deal. I was responsible for taking care of everything.

I succeeded, but it was difficult. There were times I found myself crying in frustration, angry that doing the grocery shopping or filling the car with gas were such obstacles. I was anxious when I had to drive after dark or when I got lost in a strange part of the city. I struggled to accomplish the daily routines I believed everyone else did with ease.

My second winter in Arizona, I learned to not only live by myself, but thrive while doing so. I explored southern Arizona, traveling the back roads and byways. I found my footing.

The third year was more difficult. I stayed longer and I had fewer visits from family and friends. But again I did quite well, and when it was time to return to the Midwest, I drove cross-country, solo. Another milestone, hard-earned, but I was proud that I was gradually accomplishing more and more.

This year, my fourth year, I was pleased that I was once again thriving in Arizona.  (I had the added advantage of extended visits from Sherpa every month, which was a great bonus.)

And then . . . I decided to go primitive camping in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a three-hour drive from my Arizona home.

Camping with Cacti

Camping with Cacti © 2014 Bo Mackison

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
~ Helen Keller

The day I drove to Organ Pipe was a perfect desert day – moderate temperatures, deep blue skies, calm weather.

I dictated brief scraps of travel tidbits into my phone recorder as I drove, and then stopped at a roadside cafe for lunch before entering the park. I was in no hurry – I had the whole afternoon and evening for setting up camp and exploring, and tomorrow too.

I spent an hour enjoying a home cooked meal and writing in my journal.

By the time I left, the temperature had soared into the 90s and the wind had picked up. Neither heat nor high winds had been forecast, so this was unexpected, but not particularly unusual. I signed in at the campground, found an isolated site, and pitched my tent amidst saguaro and organ pipe cacti.

The winds made setting up the tent a challenge, and it didn’t help that I had forgotten my mallet back in Tucson. I still set up the tent, using a rock to pound in the stakes, but I ended up with cut hands from the sharp edges of the rock.

I did remember the first aid kit, and bandages, and that was a good thing.

Then off I went to explore with camera in hand. By the time I returned to camp to prepare my dinner, the winds had quieted, and the evening was immeasurably pleasant.

After the sun set, the skies were dark and it was a treat to take in the night skies.

Every star shimmered and danced in its glory. And then the moon rose – a full moon. Large as a saucer, brilliant with a few wispy clouds drifting across her face. The desert was awash with moonlight, nearly as light as on a stormy day. It was a moment to treasure.

But then, as if an early morning alarm clock had shrieked and blinked wildly, the desert awoke. The desert life joined in the noise making. Coyotes howled, birds squawked, dark furry things ambled along the dirt road, slithery sounds emerged from the tall grasses.

None of these sounds are new to me. I walk the desert several times a week. But it seemed totally different in the eerily moonlit desert. It wasn’t quite light enough to see well, but my hearing took on a well-tuned acuity. Suddenly I heard anything, and everything.

There was only one reasonable alternative I could think of  — zip myself into my tent and call it a night. I briefly considered pulling up camp and driving home. Too far. I also considered screaming that the desert was coming to life and I was afraid, but that seemed quite unreasonable. Plus I figured it would attract the wrong kind of attention. Nor did I want to succumb to a panic attack in the light of the silvery moon? No way.

So I zipped myself into my tiny tent and willed myself to get drowsy and fall into a blissful sleep.

That did not happen. I did not fall asleep until it was nearly time to get up. That is the unfortunate news.

But there were a lot of positives, too. I stayed (mostly) calm throughout the long night, drowsing a bit, then waking up to the moonlit desert and momentarily thinking the sun was rising. Disappointed? Yes. But still calm and in control.

I now have first hand proof that meditation and deep breathing are indeed helpful, even when a desert creature is rubbing against the ropes that stake the tent into the earth. Even when the tent is wobbling a bit.  And I can also practice meditation and calming while armed with a hiking stick – just in case the tent wobbling gets out of control.

Early Morning Coffee in the Desert

Early Morning Coffee in the Desert © 2013 Bo Mackison

There’s always a story. It’s all stories, really.
The sun coming up every day is a story. Everything’s got a story in it.
Change the story, change the world. ~ Terry Pratchett

Did I mention that the sun did rise through a haze of low clouds, and burst onto the desert scene, a white blaze?

Or that I crawled out of the tent, all in one piece, and immediately set up my backpacker stove to heat water for coffee?

Or that a cup of French press coffee after a long, wakeful night is one of the best morning gifts I can imagine?

Or that I was pretty darned pleased with myself for surviving an uneventful night in the desert, even if I did let myself get freaked out by the full-moon-night-concert-in-the-desert?

Or that I still love the desert?

Yes, indeed!

Black and White Photography at Tucson Botanical Gardens

Black and Whites at Tucson Botanical Gardens

Black and White at Tucson Botanical Gardens © 2014 Bo Mackison

A planter.

Black and Whites at Tucson Botanical Gardens

Black and White at Tucson Botanical Gardens II © 2014 Bo Mackison

Lots of places to sit and admire the flowering plants.

Black and Whites at Tucson Botanical Gardens

Black and White at Tucson Botanical Gardens III © 2014 Bo Mackison

Lots of light and shadow play.

Black and Whites at Tucson Botanical Gardens

Black and White at Tucson Botanical Gardens IV © 2014 Bo Mackison

White Chairs.

Black and Whites at Tucson Botanical Gardens

Black and White at Tucson Botanical Gardens V © 2014 Bo Mackison


Black and Whites at Tucson Botanical Gardens

Black and White at Tucson Botanical Gardens VI © 2014 Bo Mackison


A trip to the Tucson Botanical Gardens on a sunny day.

Agave – A Desert Lesson in Awareness

Agave, Opening

Agave, Opening © 2014 Bo Mackison

Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language. ~ Aldo Leopold

Before the agave blooms, it is a rosette of green spiny leaves. And then, in the middle of the green spines, a thick stem grows. It thickens and stretches, and often reaches twenty or more feet into the air, sending forth a burst of scented yellow flowers high enough to attract the pollinating bats flying in the dark desert night.

In the excited anticipation of the bloom, an occurrence that happens only once in the life of the plant, the beauty of the stalk is usually overlooked. But a close examination of the protruding stalk offers an unexpected desert gift – a multitude of colors. Yellows and oranges, peachy pinks and soft greens, and a spike of purple.

Another desert lesson in awareness and paying attention, in noticing the small things amidst the grand. The gift of the unexpected, the overlooked.