My Desert Office


“When I look in the mirror, I see a woman with secrets. When we don’t listen to our intuition, we abandon our souls. And we abandon our souls because we are afraid if we don’t, others will abandon us.”  ~ Terry Tempest Williams

When I am in Arizona, I often go to the desert to work. I follow my intuition and my need to settle into a place of sunshine, heat and silence, spaciousness and solitude. It’s not the place most people would choose as prime office space, but it suits me fine.

When I connect with nature, I experience a boost in my mood. My imagination switches to on, and I find my work projects more inviting. Perhaps it is simply a change in scenery. Some women I know find a quiet niche in their local library, head to a busy coffee shop to write with companions, set up a sewing table in the midst of their garden, or paint in a park.

But me? I head to the desert. I bring my backpack filled with writing materials and my camera, and settle in one of the covered shelters scattered throughout Saguaro National Park. These stone and “cactus-wood” shelters were built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and still provide a shady place for me to set up my temporary desert-scape office.

If you are not finding the time for creativity, you are not finding the time for one of your main reasons on earth…to fully allow the creative force of your divinity to connect and move through you. ~ Jill Badonsky

The change of pace triggers the little child in me who says, “Yippee! I don’t have to work inside today!” Suddenly any resistance I may have brought along decreases and I’m more motivated to look at my scribbled to-do list–a very casual document–and choose an item that catches my attention.

I also give myself permission to begin by working in very small increments, especially if I’m considering a project I find overwhelming, technical or difficult.

“Just begin,” I remind myself. “Start working for just ten minutes.”

After ten minutes, I have already given myself permission to stop, although ninety percent of the time once I’ve gotten started I keep right on working productively. I have broken through the “get started” barrier, broken through the procrastination, the overwhelm – and I get my work done.

But if after ten minutes, I’m still looking at a blank piece of paper, or kicking my toe into the desert dust to watch it poof, or I’m distracted by the cactus wrens building a nest in the rafters, I change tactics.

Usually, when the distractions of daily life deplete our energy, the first thing we eliminate is the thing we need the most: quiet, reflective time. Time to dream, time to contemplate what’s working and what’s not, so that we can make changes for the better. ~ Sarah Ban Breathnach

I grab a tiny notebook and pencil and my camera, and I hike through the Sonoran Desert. I study the giant saguaro, I watch the tiny lizards scuttling from the shade of a boulder to the skirt of a low-growing acacia shrub, I stop and listen to the coyotes sing as they gather in the arroyo when the shadows lengthen.

If I need more time, more grounding, I’ll walk in the canyon deeper into the wilderness, and head away the few people who also walk the desert in the late afternoon. I might sit on a rock outcropping, and settle my feet upon the earth. If I’m taking photographs for a project, I take time to contemplate my surroundings.  Study the muted colors, the desert is awash in greens and yellows. The ocotillo’s bare branches swaying in a slight breeze, ten foot long sticks that will sprout green leaves after a rainfall. Birds chatter and swoop; ground squirrels chase each other.

The material of the artist lies not within himself nor in the fabrications of his imagination, but in the world around him . . . The artist’s world is limitless. It can be found anywhere, far from where he lives or a few feet away. It is always on his doorstep. ~ Paul Strand

As I pay attention to my desert surroundings, ideas pop into my head, often answers to confounding questions that I’ve puzzled over for hours. I pull out my paper and pencil to capture the thoughts immediately. Thoughts like these are as fleeting as the dream you remember upon awakening, but forget before your feet hit the floor.

I always write breakthrough ideas down, no matter how certain I am I will remember them.

Before I leave my desert office, I add a short note in my journal. This is my “ta-dah” list, a list that is the sequel to my “to-do” list. On this second list, I write down the highlights of my day.

Here is a rather typical ta-dah list from a desert office visit this past spring:

  • saw a bright red cardinal and it made my smile
  • wrote 200 words on the ‘courage’ essay
  • took some fun photos of three lizards in the shadow of a saguaro
  • walked the canyon trail and listened to the coyotes sing, wrote some poetry as I stood there listening
  • felt grounded and grateful
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. Reading this has made me more Aware. Thanks, Bo.

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