Saying My Farewells to the Desert

Prickly Pear Bloom, Vintage Touch

Prickly Pear Bloom, Vintage Touch © 2012 Bo Mackison

I do not know how to distinguish between our waking life and a dream. Are we not always living the life that we imagine we are?  ~ Henry David Thoreau

I have lived on the fringe of the Sonoran Desert for nearly one hundred days.

A hundred days of chores and explores, of work and play, of exciting discoveries and routine administrative duties, of quiet and solitude, but also a longing for conversation and thankfulness when a visitor would come for a few days.

From my home in Arizona, I can leave civilization and be a wanderer in near-wilderness in less than twenty minutes. Twenty minutes from leaving my front door to walking amidst giant saguaros. (That is if I remember everything the first time around — sunscreen, hat, walking stick, water, snacks, map, compass.) The desert does command preparedness.

I go on an incredible sensory tour each time I walk the desert.

I follow ancient trails that pass blooming cactus – flowers that only bloom from one afternoon to the next – and petroglyphs carved in desert varnish on boulders that have remained visible for hundreds of years. I can focus on the beauty, and sometimes capture a part of it with my camera, while I am serenaded by the wind and dozens of birds calling out to each other, and perhaps to me. I can inhale the desert fragrance — a combination of dust and oldness, the faintest aroma of creosote.

I can touch the desert, but only with great care and only if I follow her rules.

I can gently explore the sharpness of the thorns strategically positioned at the end of a branch of the palo verde. Or I can place my hands on the bark of the ironwood or the mesquite. I carry a rock or two in my pocket for a half mile, fingering it, examining it, then returning it to the desert floor. I study a piece of a cactus skeleton, amazed at the structural intricacies that remain long after the cactus itself has toppled over and died.

I watch the lizards scuttle from rock to rock, the quails shuttle from one bush to another.

In these few months, combined with my visits over the past four years, I’ve come to consider the desert a place more to my liking than the Midwest where I was born, raised, and schooled; where I worked, married, had children and raised them until they were no longer children; where I was (and still am) a wife and a mother, and where I first took photographs and eventually claimed my creativity through photography.

When I return to Wisconsin in a few days, it will not take much time for the lush spring to entice me with its variety and colors and deep fragrances. With its green grasses, shrubs, trees. I will wander the prairies and woodlands there, and find familiarity and comfort there. I will be with my family and friends again, and for that I am grateful.

And when I recall the desert and her many gifts, I know that I will return to the Sonoran Desert.

When 2012 passes and 2013 arrives, I’ll begin again.


Bo Mackison is a photographer and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC, living and photographing in southern Arizona until April’s end. Then she will migrate to her home in the Midwest.

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. Joanna Paterson says:

    There is something so beautiful in this journeying – the flowers blooming in the desert, as the creativity blossoms in you.

    Thank you for taking us with you in your travels, it is one of the pleasures of the winter season for me.

  2. I love the photo. The softness of the images belies the sharpness of the thorns.

  3. I have always said “farewell” to the desert: never goodbye.

  4. Thank you so much for taking us along on your journeys to the desert. I hope spring is treating you well in Wisconsin. It’s been a little if-y this year, kind of like winter.

    I love the contrast in your image — the softness and the thorns.

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