Frida Kahlo at the Tucson Botanical Gardens

Frida y Diego © 2017 Bo Mackison

The exhibit FRIDA KAHLO: Art, Garden, Life was created by the New York Botanical Gardens (NYBG) to highlight Frida Kahlo, renowned Mexican painter, and her deep connection and appreciation of the beauty of the natural world. The exhibit was designed by award-winning scenic designer Scott Pask and curated by Adriana Zavala, Associate Professor of modern and contemporary Latin America art history and Director of Latino Studies at Tufts University.

Tucson Botanical Gardens (the Gardens) was the only garden selected to receive this exhibit by NYBG. This setting showcased the exhibit in a landscape familiar to the original home and garden.

Window View from Casa Azul © 2017 Bo Mackison

The gardens are alive with the colors and textures representative of the original gardens in Casa Azul (Blue House). Archival photos from the 1940s show their garden as a showplace and gathering place.

Casa Azul’s Pyramid © 2017 Bo Mackison

In 1941, Frida Kahlo and her husband and noted muralist, Diego Riviera, designed and constructed a small pyramid in the garden of Casa Azul, their home in a suburb of Mexico City. They based their design on Mesoamerican models. Various native cacti are on display in Tucson; pre-Hispanic artifacts were displayed on the original.

Frida Kitchen II ©2017 Bo Mackison

Frida was an excellent cook and spent many hours each day shopping for fresh foods at the mercado, then preparing dishes for family and friends. A small replica of her kitchen is located in the children’s garden of TBG.

Frida’s Art Studio ©2017 Bo Mackison

A unique view of a replica of the studio environment of Frida Kahlo. Shelves are crammed with small sculptures and books on botany, poetry, pre-Hispanic cultures. Stoppered bottles of mineral colors are ready for use.

The Two Fridas © 2017 Bo Mackison

Contemporary artist Humberto Spindola, artist-in-residence at NYBG during the Frida exhibit, designed and created this sculpture made of paper dresses and bamboo-framed mannequins. The sculptures are made from tissue paper, a modern adaptation of the Aztec-inspired amate paper made from tree bark. The skeleton is molded bamboo fastened with hemp cord and wax.

His sculpture is an interpretation of Kahlo’s painting The Two Fridas, a painting where Kahlo illustrated her dual heritages. One Frida wears a white, European styled dress; the second Frida wears the dress of the traditional Zapotec women. Note the healthy and vibrant heart vs. the unhealthy, weakened heart. Kahlo did this painting in 1939, the year she divorced Diego.

The exhibit is at Tucson Botanical Gardens runs through May 31, 2017. It is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Check current information at

Desert Dreams – A Desert Song Poem


Saguaro © 2014 Bo Mackison

Wisdom begins with wonder. ~ Socrates

Desert dreams are not tidy,
though they are tidier than one might imagine.

The desert practices its tidy habits, no tropical jungle overgrown tangled,
creeping dripping with life-giving nutrients.

The desert is precious gift of space,
space enough to find one’s own place;
space enough for one to gather the desert rains.
It only asks for patience and perseverance.

It is enough.

The desert breeze blows strong, dust swirling.
The desert plays the bass line, like a bassoon and
bass clarinet intermingling, deep and sensuous.

Heat rises from the baked red earth, heat waves
pulsate desert breath. Steady rhythm.
I stand upon the land, alone, embraced by desert song
and supported by my ocotillo walking stick.

It is here I hold onto my world.

Conversation with a Saguaro


I will be waiting here
for your silence to break
for your soul to shake
for your love to wake.
~ Rumi

A Conversation with a Saguaro

Hello Bo, you’ve been talking to me now for several years.

Not sure how you chose me to be your confidante when you set up your make-shift office in the ramada near Brown Mountain, but I’ve watched you working in the shelter, taking breaks from writing or sketching. Wandering over to me, standing in my shadow now for — what? — maybe 4 years? Or 5? Doesn’t matter.

I am here for you. I welcome your visits, whether you come by for a daily chat or a weekly sermons or an annual sojourn for a long conversation. All are good, Bo.

We’ve had some heart to heart conversations, haven’t we?

You surely did not hear words echo from my spines, nor did my prickly arms sweep you from the gravelly ground and hold you in a compassionate embrace. But you may as well have heard such, felt such, for the same is true.

I do hear you and I do speak to you. I do hold you in a caring embrace. When you are happy, I celebrate your joys. When you are pensive, I listen to your thoughts. When you are sad, I offer you companionship.

I am a good companion, Bo. I will not be going anywhere soon, unless the fates intervene. Unlikely though. Saguaros in this part of the Sonoran Desert live a good 150-200 years. I’ve got years left to stand here on this blessed earth.


I see you, Bo. You are troubled. I see your tears. I watch as you stand in the desert valley, still and somber.  Go ahead, if you wish. Wail in your loneliness and fear and, yes, even in anger. Yes. You have permission. Cry out as loudly as you need to, as long as you desire.  Shout in frustration and anger.

I see you holding everything inside, bearing excruciating pain deep within, convincing yourself you are not too hurt nor too unhappy. I hear as you attempt to dismiss your feelings. No need, Bo. No need. You have permission to express your feelings. ALL of your feelings.

Stand in my shadow. Let the healing light of the desert sun stream all about you, warm you, but stand in my shadow. I will protect you from the harshest of glare.

I hear the conversation you speak within. You hold on to the deepest of disappointments, believing you have not carried your weight, you have not shown up fully in life. You have experienced vast betrayal, yet you inscribe your shortcomings deep within. You hold onto that litany of failures like a sacred mantle; you take on the burden of shame.

What if I tell you this? “You are not to blame, Bo. You are worthy of nurturing. You are worthy of love. You are worthy of kindness. You are worthy of respect. You are worthy, Bo. Period.”

I know of your concerns and worries, Bo. I feel your grief.

I, too, have felt grief, standing in this very spot for over a century. Let’s think about that, Bo.


I am a miracle, as are you.

Imagine a time so many years ago.

Not far from here, a tall saguaro blooms in the middle of a hot May. Pure white blossoms the size of saucers adorn her head. She is an elder saguaro and has been witness to much; her lower-half is pock-marked with holes and her lower flesh is wrinkled, worn, discolored from once desert green to a mottled brown-black.

And still, she blossoms on a hot night in late spring.

The white-winged dove, the Mexican long-nosed bat, and hundreds of species of bees and butterflies sip her nectar by the light of the full moon and pollinate her flowers. Each white blossom lasts only a day, then shrivels and falls to the desert earth. And in the flower’s place a large fruit grows, queenly and regal, bejeweled, the deepest of deep reds. The fruit is sweet and juice-filled, beloved, sustenance for coyote, javelina, the curve billed thrasher, cactus wren, birds of great variety.

Perhaps a bird sits on a branch of a potential nurse tree and drops a single seed into the receptive earth. The seed finds adequate protection and is blessed with enough rain to germinate and enough sun to help it grow and just enough luck to escape detection by birds and pack rats and desert mice who would gladly eat it for a tasty meal. A miracle indeed. I begin as a tiny seed and I grow into a cactus fifty feet tall.

I am a miracle, as are you.

A cactus produces 40 million seeds over a lifetime, and if lucky, one or two will germinate, grow, and survive long enough to become a saguaro capable of flowering and fruiting and continuing the legacy.

I am the one in 40 million, come alive from a single fallen seed from a long dead saguaro. As you, too, have been birthed from one in millions.

Blessed are we, yes? Truly. We are chosen.

Chosen. Blessed. Grateful.

And still, we both know sadness and longing and desire; we both know grief and fear and anger.


Let’s talk about grief.

We both know much of grief, yes?

I grieve when humans attack me and damage me for no reason other than a mark of their power and proof of their superior ability to destroy. I’ve been spray painted by gang members who chose to prove their blind ability to follow orders. I’ve had initials carved into my flesh by lovers who thought nothing of desecrating my flesh in order to misguidedly honor their love. I’ve had bullets shot through me and a more than a few bullets remain lodged in my flesh, bullets shot by humans who once again used violence and power to maim me as an odd proof of their bravery.

And still, I stand.

Regal. Beloved. Worthy. As are you.

No matter if others have scarred you for life, have left their marks in your flesh and trampled your spirit; have attempted repeatedly to destroy you, to mark you as less-than. No matter.

You, Bo, are still worthy of love. You deserve all manner of kindness and respect. You matter. You, Bo, are whole, are holy. Yes, Bo. You.

Come stand next to me and rest. Take respite from the sun’s strong midday heat. Come rest in my shadow. I will listen. I will embrace you in kindness and love.

I offer you myriad blessings of the desert.

All shall be well.

Still in Honolulu – Exploring the Banyan Tree


This towering banyan tree, complete with benches around its circumference, is located outside the Honolulu Zoo. I spent some quiet time bench sitting and people watching on a stroll from Waikiki to Diamond Head.

The banyan tree is a common botanical feature of Hawaii even though it is not native to the islands. Their canopies are vast, the larger ones spreading up to a hundred and fifty feet across.


Banyan trees are characterized by their prop roots that grow to support the expansive limbs. Trees spread laterally and can cover wide areas. I love the look of the roots as they drip towards the earth, seeking a firm footing.


The trees are native to the tropics and subtropics and were brought to the Hawaiian Islands in the late 1800s by missionaries from India.


Amazing roots. They can eventually become as large as the original trunk. And they make perfect roosts for the local birds and greats nooks for a game of hide and seek.



Searching for Clarity on the Tumbled Rock Trail

Trail ©2015 Bo Mackison

… that is what learning is.
You suddenly understand
something you’ve understood all your life,
but in a new way.  ~ Doris Lessing

Searching for Understanding

Tumbled Rocks Trail, a meandering mile long trail through a lower bluffs talus field of gray, purple and pale green quartz, offers niches for studying tiny grottoes of splendor and lake views to the consider the expansive glacial landscapes. The trail is only a few feet above lake level, perfect for an intimate shoreline experience, always a thin place where land meets water.

Step by step, I slowly wander the rocky path, then find a spot to sit in this jumble of quartzite boulders. The lake, a  spring fed lake created by the damming of the valley in the last Glacial period, turns cold in autumn. I set up my temporary work space amidst the ancient boulders – a place where I can write, photograph, sketch, day-dream.

As I do most days, I draw a card from my deck of Desert Wisdom Cards  which I created while living in southern Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. (Each of 52 cards offers a desert photograph and a single word for reflection.)

Today’s card is CLARITY.

Desert Wisdom Card - Clarity Notice how your clarity helps you see others more clearly. Notice how that clarity feels within you and how you respond (or don't). ©2014 Bo Mackison

Desert Wisdom Card – Clarity  ©2014 Bo Mackison

While sitting on glacial boulders in Wisconsin, I pull a card that depicts granite and sandstone boulders in the desert, a sacred place which holds ancient wisdom. Coincidence? Maybe not..

Contemplating Desert Wisdom

Deep in a desert canyon, the cliff walls and boulders are etched with petroglyphs — a wilderness gallery of primitive art. The symbols – pecked into the black varnish of many desert boulders and canyon cliffs? Perhaps they are astronomical markers. Tribal symbols of belonging. The art of a story-teller.

Wisdom in the constancy of the heavens,
wisdom in community,
wisdom in the telling of the story.

I scribble a few notes, then wander through the rocks, take photos, explore a crevice filled with mosses and lichens. Daydream, stand in awe of the beauty that surrounds me, reflect on “clarity” and settle in to write.

A timed, free write on clarity:

It is impossible to find clarity in what is to come. There is only clarity in the here and now. Working from shadows to light. Reflections in light. A primitive understanding. There is a slow loosening, I am becoming more understanding, more content to be who I am. As I feel stronger, I gain more clarity and I can see my wondrous life-path unfolding in deep and mysterious ways. Yes. There will be delicious discoveries, painful heartaches, unexpected change, the ups and downs of living a life, fully aware. Clarity.

Much writing, thinking, and art  — all as guides to find ways of re-seeing and redefining the terms of old beliefs. Messages of “it’s all your fault”, “not good enough” and “you’re so sensitive” have played on an unending loop for too long. How to deal with the anger that surfaces — knowing that feeling is necessary and healthy and messy and time-consuming. All a big messy soup of raw emotions, memories and thoughts. Straining through this soup will take time and it will also add much clarity.

A quote and questions…

Anger can bring clarity and strength. When we let ourselves feel the full force of our anger, the clarity we receive can be amazing. When we recognize, “this is what ticks me off, this is why, and this is how I need things to be different!” we can experience the relief that such clarity can bring. A good relationship with our angry feelings can give us the determination to forge ahead, the strength to “stand our own ground,” the energy and focus to let the world around us know what is and is not okay.

~ From Eating in the Light of the Moon, by Anita Johnston, Ph.D.

  • How does increased clarity about myself, my plans, my dreams, my relationships affect my day-to-day…?
  • What does clarity on an issue bring to my life, to my work, dreams, hopes, to my relationships with others?
  • How will I choose to respond to new awareness?

What messages and further reflections on clarity might I take from symbols in my daily life?

  • things are not always as they seem
  • in the mystery of the slowly unfolding question lies the unexpected, a course of action, perhaps even an answer
  • symbols? incorporate symbols and metaphors as meaning in my life, clarity appears in bursts of connections.

There are always more questions than answers. Always more to explore, consider, assimilate.


My mantra:  “I believe nature offers opportunities for connection, the arts offer opportunities for self-expression, and life offers continual opportunities for growth and self-discovery.”  ~ Bo Mackison