In the Desert – A Journal Writing Discovery

Florals and Cactus

Desert Marigold © 2011 Bo Mackison

The spring flowers are showing a few blossoms. It’s been a quiet season for spring flowers–first there wasn’t enough moisture last autumn and winter and then there was a hard freeze in late January. So these are the first of the flowers I’ve seen. I’ve tentatively identified them as Desert Marigolds. The background is a saguaro cactus.

Now that I’ve been in Arizona a month, I am slowing down my pace a bit. At first, everything I saw was new to me and I carried my camera everywhere. I took hundreds of photos a day. That’s not unusual for me to take that many photos on a shoot, but it’s hard to process that many shots when I’m doing it every day. Plus it makes life too hectic. Still,  I want to capture as much of this experience as I can.

I’ve discovered a solution. I add a half hour of quiet observation and nature writing to my day. Today after I took photographs near Saguaro National Park, I pulled into a picnic area that was quite deserted. The picnic sites were built by the CCC in the 1930s; the tables and benches were made of stone and concrete, probably the sturdiest picnic site I’ve ever seen.

I sat on one of the benches and just watched and listened. After awhile I wrote some notes in my journal.

Noon. 84˚F. Sus Picnic Area, Saguaro National Park, Tucson Mountain Unit west of the city.

Bright blue skies, no clouds, slight breeze. Hawks are circling the tops of the mountains, flying from peak to peak. They don’t appear to be hunting, even though they are on the look out for movement in the desert below them. Indeed, it looks like they are riding the wind currents, more like play than work. Dipping, soaring, then they flap their wings, strong strokes. Then they dip, soar, repeat.

I recognize none of the sounds I hear, except, of course, the wind whistling. There’s a persistent yip yip yipping. Occasionally a chee-chee-cheerup-ing. Birds are singing, but they hide in the underbrush. I don’t see any movement on the desert floor. Nothing. Quiet mid-day. The critters are resting, hidden from the heat and the strong sunlight.

More hawks. I recognize the red tailed hawk. Still soaring, except now they are dipping side to side. Several are soaring from the peak of the highest mountain. They dip to the left, glide, dip to the right. Swoosh, right. Swoosh, left. Are they playing? Practicing? Are they hunting and have yet to spy anything interesting?

Maybe they are taking Sunday afternoon off. Ha! It is a lovely Sunday afternoon to appreciate the quiet time.

I myself soar to different places in my mind.

It is a calming activity–this sitting quietly, observing, taking a few notes. I know I look at my surrounding more carefully when I have my camera in my hands, but the camera captures the scenes for me, wordlessly. It is an added plus to document a few words about the places I visit, too. It makes me think about what I am seeing in a new way, and adds another dimension to my discoveries.


Bo Mackison is a photographer and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. She is living in Tucson for two months, exhibiting her photography in art shows, taking photographs, and blogging about photography, art fairs, and living life “solo.”  Today she is grateful for all the gifts she has received this past month.

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. Congratulations on finding some flowers. Your other photos have been awesome, but the color of flowers is always a nice touch. I enjoyed your mini-journal also.

    • Bo Mackison says:

      I was happy to see these yellow flowers posed in front of a giant saguaro. Not too many flowers this year…but lots of other beauties.

  2. Beautiful description of the desert. Hawks do love those thermal currents, don’t they? Lovely thought that they are playing.

  3. The idea of taking a little time off to make notes is a good one. I shall have to discipline myself to do that on my hikes next summer.

  4. Joanne Keevers says:

    The image of you sitting quiety in an almost deserted picnic area, surveying the area, contemplating the day and writing your thoughts in your jounal is an amazing picture in my minds eye, Bo. You really are making the most of your time in Arizona and I must say, if I ever have the chance to visit the USA, I will want to visit some of the places you have been describing and photographing! It all sounds just wonderful! 🙂

  5. Oh..I’m loving following the changes..the opening..the sense of peaceful and quiet observation you’re finding in your time alone there. Such a wonderful and inspiring journey. Thank-you for sharing…

  6. Lovely quiet time…it is so important to notice the need to slow down and honor our inner-selves.


  7. There is a lovely balance between the seeing/observation with the camera lens and then with the written word, write what is noticed. I like that type of balance and wish to do more of this… the images and writings. Wonderful photo of the desert marigold, and reflective post, Bo.

    • Bo Mackison says:

      Balance is one of those characteristics I am working on while I am in the desert, Anna. Writing has proved to really help.

  8. I love journaling about my experiences in nature, and photography reminds me of the moment. Sometimes I even feel it again if I close my eyes and listen to my heart. This is just lovely, Bo.

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