Traveling with Tree Walkers – Through a Photograph, Into a Poem

Reflection in Sugar River

Tree Walkers © 2010 Bo Mackison

There is a photograph tacked upon my wall.
A photograph of the Sugar River.

If, by magical means, you could reach your hands through the print,
you could dip your hands in cool, running river-water, cold from autumn’s breath.

Then you’d pull your hands from the river through the frame, and be back in my room,
shaking droplets from your fingers, wiping dampness on your jeans.

I look at the photograph through creator’s eyes.
The reflection of two trees in the foreground, their trunks slender, their upside down branches split,
and I name them Tree Walkers.

Slipping through the photo paper, I stride along the river’s circuitous route
Tree Walkers at my side, my companions.

All is never what it seems and
what I need shows up in odd, inexplicable ways.

Today I have no need of clean hands, but I do need to travel with Tree Walkers.

Calling Forth Courage while Contemplating Lessons from Nature

Bridge over Starkweather Creek

Bridge over Starkweather Creek © 2014 Bo Mackison

“If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused…

If I did surrender to the earth’s intelligence?
Surrender to the earth itself, like a seed dispersed in autumns’ winds.

And drop upon the earth – dark, dank, ripe. Drop upon the earth
and settle in, as layers of leaves and autumn litter cover me, intact, protected.


Crossing the Footbridge © 2014 Bo Mackison

So like children, we begin again…

to fall,
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.”

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

This seed of me, it embraces the darkness
and in the waning light, holding my stories of decay and decline,
enters a period where the only light source is that of inner reflection.

Embraces shadow as darkness makes ready the parts hungering for new life.
Waiting, waiting
in anticipation of unlimited possibilities.

A Country Road Meander — In the Midst of Wilderness, In the Presence of Divine

Door County in Autumn

Tree Line ©2014 Bo Mackison

In the midst of the wilderness, in the presence of the divine.
Perhaps there is nothing astonishing about this meadow with its spattering of seeded sumac
Or a dense tree line that separates the land from the cloudy skies.

Meandering on a country road in the middle of this northern county,
two miles west of Lake Michigan, an endless expanse of water to my eyes
and two miles east of Green Bay, again, with no distant shore in sight,
only a few bay islands splashed by frothing waves, inhabited by seagulls.

Door County in Autumn

Door County in Autumn © 2014 Bo Mackison

Who thought, many decades ago, to say no to billboards, to shopping malls,
to franchises of any kind – no hotel or restaurants, fast food or not,
that represent giant corporations instead of families and local businesses.
Some one did.
You can’t recognize this part of America by familiarity. Only by its neighborliness
and small town pride and heritage.

In the midst of wilderness, in the presence of the divine.

A Time of Fruition, Celebration and Letting Go – Rituals for the Changing Seasons

Bench with a View

Bench with a View © 2013 Bo Mackison

“Ritual practice is the activity of cultivating extraordinary ordinariness.” ~ Ronald L. Grimes

This is the bench where I sat while I contemplated the day, the seasons, nature, my life, the world, even the boundlessness of the universe. I was restless. Untethered. Once again I was facing changes – changing seasons, changes in responsibilities, changes in my business.

It was a time of fruition and celebration, and it also was a time of saying goodbye, letting go, even a bit of grieving.

Realizing this is a common reaction to change — joy coupled with letting go — I sat in solitude and let my mind wander. I decided to create a ritual to recognize both celebration and closure.

I paid close attention to my surroundings.

The prairie grasses were browning, flowers had set seed. The apple trees were over laden with ripened fruit, and many of the apples had dropped onto the earth and begun to rot. Cracked walnuts were along the paths. And still there was evidence of bustling life all around me. Geese were flying in formation, back and forth from their feeding grounds, the harvested cornfields.  The late autumn flowers of the prairie spared from the last frost — showy goldenrod, purple asters, daisy fleabane — still blossomed in protected areas,

That All May Be One

That All May Be One ©2013 Bo Mackison

I searched for a ritual, one that offered a feeling of comfort and acceptance, one that said goodbye while also looking forward.

What could I use as a guide? What would be in a transitioning ritual,  in a healing place?

  • the night sky, dark, abundant with stars
  • open spaces, open minds
  • spiritual spaces, resting spaces, thinking places
  • a container that contained my curiosities, my questions, my collections
  • quiet, slow, peaceful
  • folk art, expressive art, art that tells a story, art that has heart
  • kindnesses and little gifts (When traveling it is customary to bring tiny gifts in exchange for kindnesses received along the path and to those who share their stories.)
  • a place in nature, ecological, in balance
  • a place my great-grandmother would have loved

The last thought — a place my great-grandmother would have loved — helped provide the answer to my longings.

I thought of the many things I’d learned from my great-grandmother when I was a child, of the many things she’d loved. I thought of the changing seasons, of the routines we had made extraordinary in their repetition, chores we did with love and respect and companionship.

We gathered the last of the harvest from the vegetable garden, cleaned and cut the vegetables, and made huge pots of vegetable soup with my grandfather’s help.

We made dough, rolled it out, and cut the dough into long noodles. We dried herbs on racks in the pantry. We raked the garden and added to our compost pile. We pulled the quilts and blankets out of storage, and draped them over several back yard clothes lines to air in the breeze.


Pears, Ripe on the Branch © 2013 Bo Mackison

We adapted our evening rituals to the sun’s earlier setting.

Instead of sitting on the porch after supper and chatting with passing neighbors, we set up a table in the kitchen for puzzles and games. We fell into a simple routine of cleaning the kitchen, then playing games of Parcheesi or Pokeno. We took an evening walk around the outside of the house just before bedtime, making sure all was tidy while admiring the starlit skies.

So much love and care and honor went into these simple actions. Home and hearth. Routines and rituals – all good for the soul.

Do you long for a way to honor the changing seasons, for the ordinary turned extraordinary by the practice of ritual?

Today I jotted down a few reminders – ways to prepare for the changing season, routines to ease the change from busy day to rejuvenating evening, rituals to remind me of the sacredness in the ordinary. Simple actions – gardening, cooking, preparation for winter.

What might you add or subtract from your day in honor of the ordinary, the sacred?


This post was adapted from one published on another autumn day just over a year ago.



Kangaroo Lake in Door County – The Magic of Studying Details, Then Turning Around

Kangaroo Lake

Kangaroo Lake – South View © 2014 Bo Mackison

The mid-October day was mercurial – one moment skies were blue, the next a wave of gray clouds pushed in from nearby Lake Michigan. Blustery winds buffeted me, causing me to lose my balance more than once. Then calm would descend for a brief respite for the wind and chill.

October in Door County, for sure, Wisconsin’s northeastern most point, a peninsula sticking out into tempestuous Lake Michigan.

Kangaroo Lake is one of the more protected places on the peninsula in fresh water lake in the center of Door County, and a wonderful place to go during the autumn festival days. Most of the crowd who comes to enjoy the views hug the shore of Door County, bay side and lake side. But there is much to be said for the wild beauty of the interior, too.

I loved studying the autumn changes of Kangaroo lake, standing on a narrow bridge of road that crosses the northern most bay. Fallen leaves were bobbing on the surface, the reeds were stripped of there green finery and their fuzzy seeds, and stood knee deep in the cold, stunningly blue water. Beyond, fir trees lined one side of the lake, and deciduous trees in this year’s last blaze of glory hugged the opposite side.

Then the sun disappeared in the scattered clouds.

Once I had taken in the scene with all my senses, as is my habit, I turn around to see what is behind me.

Kangaroo Lake

Kangaroo Lake – North View  © 2014 Bo Mackison

And the sun slid from the cloud cover, causing the lake ripples to shimmer in a sheet of dancing light.

A solitary island caught my attention. Birds were darting from the trees to the water and back again. Creatures were slipping in and out of the shadows and the shoreline brush.

Kangaroo Lake — its two faces. Both to be explored and adored.

Fierce Winds. Fierce Rains. Fierce Color. And an Awakening.

Fall Foliage at Peninsula State Park, Door County Wisconsin

Aspen and Yellow © 2014 Bo Mackison

The winds were fierce, the rains were fierce. Deep in the forest, the rain turned misty. The bright leaves shimmered in yellows and oranges. I followed a muddy path through the forest, trees clumped tightly together, clinging high along the cliffs above Lake Michigan.

Fall Foliage at Peninsula State Park, Door County Wisconsin

Middle Road, Peninsula State Park, Door County Wisconsin © 2014 Bo Mackison

Traveling the Middle Road, nearly deserted because of the inclement weather, a bit like a ride through Middle Earth. Sights of bright trees, sounds of creaking branches, leaves twirling to the ground. An awakening of the senses.

Fall Foliage at Peninsula State Park, Door County Wisconsin

Sanctuary in the Forest © 2014 Bo Mackison

Deep in the forest, the rains stop. Leaves drip, the path is soggy-slippery. And the quiet is held in a heavy tapestry of quaking yellow. Sacred.

Fall Foliage at Peninsula State Park, Door County Wisconsin

Gripping the Earth © 2014 Bo Mackison

Tree roots gripping the earth. I grip the earth. Fierce in determination. Fierce in the sacred. I find myself awakening deep in the forest, soaked with rain, feeling so aware, so alive.

Simplicity – A Desert Wisdom Card for Reflection, Art, and Practices


Simplicity – A Desert Wisdom Card © 2014 Bo Mackison

Voluntary simplicity means going fewer places in one day rather than more, seeing less so I can see more, doing less so I can do more, acquiring less so I can have more. ~ Jon Kabat-Zin

A search of the desert floor reveals a simple flower, the Mexican Golden Poppy.

Only four petals on this flower. Simple, yes, but there is evidence of a sense of grounding, of balance, and the cycle of life, on this small bit of the earth.

“As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Simplicity is not only about making space in your living space for living.

It is about making space in your life for work and play, solitude and relationship. It is about letting go of thoughts which rob you of valuable brain space and time. Simplicity encourages a re-thinking of commitments so that one has the time and energy to focus on the most essential of priorities.

It means cleaning up loose ends – old promises, unfinished business, a recycled to-do list – things that may be important, but linger in the circular file in your brain, stealing time and cluttering valuable space.

. . . choosing simplicity whenever possible adds to life an element of deepest freedom which so easily eludes us, and many opportunities to discover that less may actually be more. ~ Jon Kabat-Zin

SIMPLICITY offers questions/reflections for journal writing, art, daily practices:

  • Journal reflection: What brain drains make it difficult to nurture the activities which support you, feed your soul and spirit, allow you to focus on the projects which serve while offering kindness to self and others?
  • Begin a simplicity practice. Schedule open spaces into your day, times blocked off for pauses, daydreaming, or creative thinking. These moments of quiet fill the well, re-charge your energy, give your brain a boost.


Bo Mackison is the creator of the Desert Wisdom Cards, a 56 card set in 3 series that feature a Sonoran Desert theme – its myths and stories, cultures and heritage, and the desert’s inspirational stark beauty. Each card has a desert photograph and a word for contemplation.

Working with the Desert Wisdom Cards – Past, Present, and Outcome

Desert Wisdom Cards - Three Card Spread

Desert Wisdom Cards – Three Card Spread © 2014 Bo Mackison

“One has to live in the present. Whatever is past is gone beyond recall; whatever is future remains beyond one’s reach, until it becomes present. Remembering the past and giving thought to the future are important, but only to the extent that they help one deal with the present.” ~ S.N. Goenka

Although I choose a Desert Wisdom Card each morning for personal reflection, there are days when I want to explore a specific aspect of my day in more depth.

Some days I pull three cards as I am reflecting on a question. This helps me address a question or situation from several directions.

The left card represents the past. Perhaps it is a past experience that has an impact on my present situation or a past relationship that influences my current situation. Perhaps it is a lesson learned, or not learned, that provides information.

The center card represents the present. How do I view my current situation? What influences are at work, both external and internal?

The right card represents the future or the outcome. Perhaps this is a long term or short term goal. Perhaps I decide on steps to take or a decision to make for an immediate outcome.

The cards are guides and encourage me to be open minded and explore lots of alternatives and connections.

I offer a personal example:

Situation and Question:

I have been asked to do an audio interview. While I’ve done written interviews, I’m hesitant to do an audio one. I deeply respect the woman who has requested the interview, I would love to do it on so many levels, for many reasons. Yet, I hold back and delay in setting an interview time.

I want to look at the situation in a new way, so I pull three cards. Courage. Vulnerability. Hope.

Courage Card:

  • The Courage card is a photograph of the remnants of an abandoned 1800s rancher’s home.
  • It is deep within the wilderness of Organ Pipe Cactus National Park, in the most southern reaches of the United States.
  • Cactus and desert shrub has taken over, as seen from the window view.
  • All that remains are the brick walls and wooden frames of this two room house.

Courage in the Past:

  • I connect with the words courage, wilderness, in the desert, being on my own.
  • I remember a situation, not so long ago, when I was on a hike in the high desert wilderness and lost the trail while scrambling on the rocky trail.
  • Late afternoon. I circled the trail several times before realizing that, unless another person appeared, I’d have to spend the night alone and off trail.
  • I recall feeling an odd mixture of fear and courage, knowing I was prepared enough to spend a night in the wilderness.
  • I remember thinking how dark the skies would be, how beautiful the night sky.
  • I realized I was facing a somewhat scary experience and I was capable of  managing.

Vulnerability Card:

  • The Vulnerability card is a photo of a mature prickly pear cactus. Two of its pads have a wounded surface exposed.
  • The plant exuded a protective fluid to cover the wound. It protects and continues to grow. I can allow myself be vulnerable and be OK.
  • Even though a part of the cactus is vulnerable, the remaining plant is vibrant and healthy.

Vulnerability in the Present:

  • I connect with the words “vulnerable,” “feeling exposed” AND “healing self,” “vibrant and healthy.”
  • When I think about doing an audio interview, I feel nervous (exposed) imagining this new experience, but I know I would be doing an interview with a kind and welcoming woman.
  • Though I may feel vulnerable, that is OK. I can feel vulnerable AND feel vibrant and ready to show up.

Hope Card:

  • The Hope card is a photo of a door, its threshold, and an interior stairway at a southern Arizona mission ruins. (from Tumacacori Mission, a protected site, maintained as ruins, and part of the National Park System.)
  • Though I envision myself standing in the shadows, I can look through the portal and see the steps bathed in light.
  • The stairs are stone and in good repair. I know I can climb them as I walk forward. I will have a new perspective from the top of the stairway.
  • In climbing the stairs (taking on the challenge), I come to a place of warmth and light.

Hope as the Outcome:

  • I connect with the words “moving from the shadows into the light,” “the obstacle before me is not dangerous, it is in good repair, I am in good hands.”
  • When I reach the top of the stairs (do the interview) I will be in a place that feels warm and light.

In Summary:

  • I know that I have been in places of fear (lost off trail in the wilderness) AND I have felt courage (I am prepared enough to spend the night alone) and even anticipation and joy (what a show I will see — the dark skies alight with stars).
  • “How lovely are these cards!” I think as I consider the interview.
  • I feel like I can manage this “challenge” an I will enter “a place of warmth and light,” in other words, I can do the interview and do a good job.
  • It will be challenging AND satisfying.


The third series of Desert Wisdom Cards are now available. Two of the above cards — vulnerability and hope — are in the new series. For more information, here is my invitation to you to explore and be inspired by these Wisdom Cards.



Desert Wisdom Cards, Series III — An Invitation!


Invitation – A Desert Wisdom Card

Step into my world, a world where the beauty and diversity of the desert is portrayed in photographs.

I invite you to look around. Be inspired.

Discover the desert and the incredible opportunities for sharing her wisdom.

I have selected a special set of eighteen photographs and coupled each photo with a single word for reflection, meditation, or as a journal prompt. I invite you to have a look at the Desert Wisdom Cards, Series III.

Desert Wisdom Cards Set III

Desert Wisdom Cards Set III © 2014 Bo Mackison

Announcing the Desert Wisdom Cards – Series III

After many more months of photographing the Sonoran Desert in the Southwest, choosing themes and cards that “spoke to me”, and then creating a new deck of cards and portfolio, the Desert Wisdom Cards – Series III are ready for you to enjoy.

These cards were not a part of my original creative plan, and yet, here they are.

As I wrote when I completed the second series, it was not my original plan to create a deck of only desert-focused cards. I’d planned a set of nature-based cards that included four themes – desert, shore, prairie, and mountain – plus a set of source cards the combined sets based on the template of a tarot deck.

I completed the first series of Desert Cards last October, and began to create the prairie cards. But the spark wasn’t there yet. I still have the photographs, I have the themes and concepts, but there was a strong need and desire to complete the desert set before considering a prairie set. And so I created the Desert Wisdom Cards – Second Series last March.

Still the desert called.

Today the third series of Desert Wisdom Cards is ready.  With this set, the series is complete.

Desert Wisdom Cards Set III

Desert Wisdom Cards Set III – Portfolio Shown with 4 of the 18 Cards © 2014 Bo Mackison

What are Desert Wisdom Cards?

The Desert Wisdom Cards – Series III are a set of 18 hand-made cards used for reflection and inspiration. Each card has a photograph of the awe-inspiring Sonoran Desert and a single word for contemplation, reflection, or as a prompt for journal writing.

The card set is now available in a hand crafted, limited edition of 26, numbered and signed.

How were the Desert Wisdom Cards first created?

I created all three sets of Desert Wisdom Cards for use during my morning routine, focusing on the photograph for inspiration and reflection. I also use the cards as prompts for journal writing and as a springboard for art and nature projects.

While working with my desert photographs, I discovered that the process allowed me to use my art for daily reflection,  problem solving and goal setting.

The cards became a framework to consider choices, make plans, and instigate changes in life — while providing structure for an in-depth creative practice.

Click here for more information on the Desert Wisdom Cards

Desert Wisdom Cards - Series II

Sampling of Covers of the Limited Edition Sets ©2014 Bo Mackison

How to use Desert Wisdom Cards:

They are perfect to use as a mini-set for meditation, inspiration and contemplation. A few useful suggestions include:

  • Choose a daily card as a focus card during meditation.
  • Choose a card as a journal or art prompt.
  • Enrich your spiritual practice through contemplation of the desert and nature.
  • Inspire and nurture your creative muse.
  • Use a three card spread, similar to a Tarot spread, and consider past, present, and future.
  • Other Tarot style spreads are easily used with the Desert Wisdom Cards.
  • Use a card for writing practice, considering symbols, metaphors and other elements found in the photo and inspired by the card’s single word.

Of course, these are only suggestions. As you work with the cards you will find your own unique ways to incorporate the cards into your practice, routine, or ritual.

Desert Wisdom Cards - Series II

Desert Wisdom Cards – Series III ©2014 Bo Mackison

Set Specifications:

The Desert Wisdom Card set includes 18 cards, storage portfolio, and four page user’s guide. The cards also fit in the four flap portfolio that comes with the original set.

A desert-hued portfolio complements the cards.

This set of cards comes in a hand decorated folded portfolio, similar to the portfolio for the Second Series. Each portfolio is hand decorated with ink, acrylics and metallic paint. Designed in the color palette of the desert, the folder is unique and a mini-work of art in itself.

A four page guide is also included in the set.

This guide offers suggestions for using the cards, including activities that focus on the body, mind and spirit. Also included in the booklet is information on the evolution of the cards and additional resources for nature and art related activities.

Special thanks to James Wells who graciously shared his method of delving deeply into tarot cards using multiple activities for body, mind and spirit. What a great resource this was, as I adapted many of his activities for the Desert Wisdom Card guide-book.

The cards are 7.5 inches by 4.5 inches. Each card features a color photograph of the Sonoran Desert and a single word for reflection.

Each card is printed on a cylinder letterpress, type set by hand, and printed using a vintage (1940s) Vandercook No.3 Letterpress.

The cards come in a hand crafted, folding portfolio. Each portfolio is embellished with ink, acrylics and metallic paint. Designed in the color palette of the desert, the folder is unique and a mini-work of art in itself.

Click here for more information on the Desert Wisdom Cards

Desert Wisdom Cards - Series II

Detail of Desert Wisdom Cards Portfolio ©2014 Bo Mackison

How to Purchase a Set of Desert Wisdom Cards?

The Desert Wisdom Cards – Set III are now available in my Etsy shop.

$55.00 for set of 18 cards, tie portfolio, and guide-book.

The Third Series completes a 56 card deck when combined with Series I and Series II.

Set I is still available, although only two of the 26 limited edition sets are available.

Set II is also available on Etsy.

And a thank you!

It is indeed a privilege to share my Wisdom Cards with you. Thank you.


Special Offers:

Special pricing is available when purchasing the entire card set (Series I, II, and III) with only one portfolio.

Note to current Desert Wisdom Card Set owners: If you own one or more sets of cards, and wish to add to or complete your set.

Please contact me at for these special offers.


Petroglyphs in a Desert Canyon – Interpreting Ancient Symbols for Personal Insights

Petroglyph Canyon Wall

Petroglyph Cliff in Sonoran Desert Canyon

“Men come and go, cities rise and fall, whole civilizations appear and disappear-the earth remains, slightly modified. The earth remains, and the heartbreaking beauty where there are no hearts to break….I sometimes choose to think, no doubt perversely, that man is a dream, thought an illusion, and only rock is real. Rock and sun.” ~ Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness

Deep in a canyon in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, the cliff walls transition from red and gray striated rock to a giant wall of petroglyphs, figures pecked and carved into an ancient layer of the black desert varnish which covers many of the rocky surfaces.

Scientists estimate that many of the petroglyphs were carved from about 300 A.D. until 1300 A.D..

The Hohokam may have pecked these petroglyphs while on hunting and gathering expeditions, or during religious or other ceremonies. Perhaps they are solstice markers, tribe symbols, decorative art, or even an ancient form of graffiti.

 Studying these mysterious symbols, I began to wonder at the message as it was intended, nearly a thousand years ago. A message whose meaning has disappeared just as the Ancient Ones disappeared from these lands almost overnight, back in the 1300s. Some of the markings do align with the solar calendar – one spiral in this canyon is precisely half-illuminated by a slit of light as it shines through a split rock, This happens only twice a year – at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes.

I viewed the spiral on the vernal equinox and watched as sunlight illuminated exactly half the spiral. On the March day when it is half light/half dark. Twelve hours of day and twelve hours of night. Halving the spiral into equal parts of light and dark.

Snake Petroglyph

Snake Petroglyph in Desert Canyon

Each thing in its way, when true to its own character, is equally beautiful.”  ~ Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

What messages might you take from symbols as they appear in your daily life?

After researching these petroglyphs, I realized:

  • things are not always as they seem
  • that sometime, in the mystery, lies the unexpected answer
  • that I see/study symbols and may incorporate meaning as I understand it into my life

For example, the snake petroglyph is geometric and prominent amidst the other carvings. There is no way to know what the snake symbol meant to the ancient Hohokam. Yet I can make my own interpretation of the snake and its message, as it pertains to my life, today.

Snakes become dormant in colder months, expending little energy. They are summoned by the lengthening days, by the sun’s longer appearance each day, and they move towards warmth and the life giving powers of the sun. Snakes move in rhythm with the natural cycle, the natural forces of nature. I, too, am drawn to the longer days and tend to slow down as the days shorten. Or I seek places of sunshine, places and spaces that provide warmth.

The snake is of the earth. It crawls upon the earth, burrows into the earth for shelter, warmth, protection. I feel grounded when I stand upon the earth, and focus my energy downward, anchoring deep within the earth.

Snake is ruled by instinct for survival. I, too, live by instincts – some of which I follow, often finding my way; some which I ignore, sometimes to my detriment.

Snake is powerful, often feared, and sometimes is killed or hurt unnecessarily by people who are frightened and do not understand the ways of the snake. How does this relate to me? When I follow my passions, and insticts, take risks, do the unexpected, how do others respond to me? How does this affect my forward movement?

What might snake’s message mean to you?