Saturday Morning Musings from My Desert Journal

King Canyon, Saguaro National Park

King Canyon © 2014 Bo Mackison

On the DESERT:

Though the word means abandoned – from Greek, eremos – I don’t feel abandoned when I am in the real desert, the desert I see and study and hike in. Ancient writers considered the desert as a threat to their existence – and it surely was a hardship.

My desert is tame by comparison, though once I leave my vehicle and hike 3 or 4 miles into the desert, the Sonoran Desert is wilderness. The desert I explore offers me an opportunity to unwind, to weed out unnecessary external interruptions, but I also slow down and focus on lessening the interruptions from the interior, too.

I find it even harder to quiet my interior cacophony than external distractions. It is when I quiet the many voices – chatter, excuse-creation, shame and blame – that the possibility of deep encounters in the desert environment become possible.


The desert, if nothing else, provides space. Low growing vegetation and tall yet skinny saguaro cacti do not impede vision. Mountains do, but there are always lesser mountains with moderately challenging paths that I ascend, and when I am at the high point of Brown Mountain, I feel as if I can see forever. On a clear day, it may be a hundred miles, but still…that feels like almost forever.


One of my goals, which I now understand  to be one of my constant life goals,  is a practice I work on every day. This goal, which may sound simple enough, I find to be of the wriggly sort. Sometimes I think I have it, only to discover the goal has slithered out of my hands, and out of reach. Again.

This goal is a longing of sorts, a longing to accept myself, to love myself, making it then possible for me to love and cherish others more deeply.

King Canyon, Saguaro National Park

Hiking in King Canyon © 2014 Bo Mackison


The desert is a grand place to cultivate the practice of patience. I seldom travel the desert alone – by that, I mean I usually carry a tall hiking stick, a small pack, small journal and pen and my camera. One of my favorite hiking trails parallels one of the deeper canyons of the desert. There are many rocky ledges and boulders, perfect for a temporary seat.

Before I  sit down, I pay attention to my place in the desert. I have a healthy respect for the desert. I am aware of the desert’s residents and consider their habits and territory. Once settled,  I pull out my water bottle and a snack, re-adjust my wide brimmed hat, re-apply sunscreen. All necessary, but these actions sometimes bring on an attitude.


Yes, attitude. Sometimes I am irritated at the care that is required in the desert  environment – safety precautions, paying attention. I want to hurry through the preparations and get on with my writing, my photography, my time to just sit and stare into the desert scape.

This is what I have learned — sometimes I am very good at turning routine into a ritual, the ritual of preparing my space, the ritual of slowing down and paying attention, not only to my surroundings but also to my feeling, emotions, my mood, my inside chatter. I practice gratitude. I feel at peace in the desert, I feel a part of the whole.

Other times, I just want to get on with it. I hurry through the preparations. I take those photographs. Click, click, click. Write a few words or sketch a flower.

Sometimes I do my preparatory ritual and practice patience. And sometimes I hurry through my routines so I can do what I want.

And though I remain inconsistent, I know that the more fulfilling experiences are the ones when I take my time, prepare, practice patience.  The lessons of practicing patience, cultivating awareness continue…as I continue to reap the gifts of the desert.


Reading for inspiration:  The Desert Mothers and Fathers, by Christine Painter Valtner; Evidence: Poems by Mary Oliver

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. Sounds like a delicious way to spend a day. How lovely. Preparation for such a day must require attention to details – hat, sunscreen, walking stick – which leaves the rest of your desert time for pondering and writing and sauntering. And capturing views of the desert for sharing. Lovely post, dearie.

Leave a Reply