Bookmaking in the Sonoran Desert – Featuring Journey and Discovery

Flying Across the Sky

Flying Across the Sky © 2014 Bo Mackison

“Real travel is not about the highlights with which you dazzle your friends once you’re home. It’s about the loneliness, the solitude, the evenings spent by yourself, pining to be somewhere else. Those are the moments of true value. You feel half proud of them and half ashamed and you hold them to your heart.” ~ Tahir Shah

There was an afternoon when the desert floor was still and heat rose like fire.

I packed a bag with supplies and traveled to Madera Canyon, found an isolated site high in the Santa Rita Mountains, with the summit of Mt Wrightson in view, and there I spread out paper and magazines, scissors and glue. And readied to create.

I typically work quickly, intuitively.

But on this April afternoon I had a dear companion with me, and she is more meticulous, more exact in her creative pursuits. And so I slowed my pace and we worked companionably together.

My tiny accordion book, set into a pair of four-inch square canvas boards, started out simple. As I worked the layers became more complicated. I hid parts I wanted to let disappear into the past, and added features I wanted to remember.

The little book eventually told a part of my story, my Arizona-Wisconsin dichotomy.

I explored my desire to be in two places at the same time – to remain in the desert where I feel a deep, soul connection,  yet also to be with my loved ones in Wisconsin.

Impossible in life, but not impossible in my art.

Book Making in the Sonoran Desert - Flying Across the Sky

Flying Across the Sky © 2014 Bo Mackison

“…flying is like throwing your soul into the heavens and racing to catch it as it falls.” ~ Linda Howard


Flying. I request a next-to-the-window seat. Always.
So I can stare into the sky, lose myself in thick cloud cover, or watch the country far below,
farmland platted in tiny squares, river snakes,
mountains rise from plains, sunlight slides across the face of the earth, then disappears.

I watch cities and towns morph into dots of lights.
Each time I board a plane, it’s as if I toss my soul towards the heavens,
then breathe with calm intention ’til I reconnect with land
and my soul again searches for desert red. And settles.

Book Making in the Sonoran Desert - Flying Across the Sky

Tree Cholla, Snowy Saguaro, Monument Valley © 2014 Bo Mackison

“Over the years, one comes to measure a place, too, not just for the beauty it may give, the balminess of its breezes, the insouciance and relaxation it encourages, the sublime pleasures it offers, but for what it teaches. The way in which it alters our perception of the human. It is not so much that you want to return to indifferent or difficult places, but that you want to not forget.” ~ Barry Lopez

There are no guarantees.
I’ll readily admit, I came to the desert Southwest for its healing sunshine,
sunlight that could flip a switch in my brain, drench it in
neurotransmitters to make smiling easier than weeping.

I continue to come for that boost, and yes, tree cholla with
golden auras gleaming in the waning sun are also beyond breathtaking.
Reflecting sunlight burrows deep into my being.

Saguaro with a freakish coat of snow are equally mystical.
Desert mountains – green with riparian water, yellow in a blaze of autumn sycamore leaves,
or black in the desert night – they are all magical.

Book Making in the Sonoran Desert - Flying Across the Sky

Calming, Influence, Aspen Smile © 2014 Bo Mackison

“To be at peace, does not mean that you are amiss of every storm, it only means that you can find a calm within the storm.”
~ Tania Elizabeth

I talk to trees. The connection is energy,
I rest my hands upon their bark, lay my cheek against their rough grain.

I have leaned the art of calming under the influence of this land –
sky islands stretch – from Lower Sonoran Desert habitat dotted with saguaros
to near alpine conditions, bald rock dotted with firs.
Akin to traveling from Northern Mexico to southern Canada.

But always. Always.
I yearn to return to the desert floor, to the spaciousness and solitude that warm my spirit.

Book Making in the Sonoran Desert - Flying Across the Sky

Map, Yellow Car, Arizona Plates © 2014 Bo Mackison

“A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected.” ~ Reif Larsen

Moments measure time; maps measure travel.
As desert spring blasts its way into desert summer,
my time to leave the desert approaches.
Each moment becomes more precious as I cross off the remaining days.

I spread maps upon my desk and ponder routes,
choose the blue roads, the dotted roads, roads that may or may not be passable.
I’ll take that risk. Travel the small towns and villages,
stay in court motels, feast at diners with the locals.

It is my way of easing into my return.

Book Making in the Sonoran Desert - Flying Across the Sky

Journey, the Journal © 2014 Bo Mackison

“…where paths that have an affinity for each other intersect, the whole world looks like home, for a time.” ~ Hermann Hesse

The journey, I anticipate it even as I mourn my leaving.
Anticipation and loss held simultaneously.
I’ll hold the days of travel in my memory, scribble in my journal as the miles accumulate.
Nearly illegible, though, since I keep my focus on the road as I scrawl my notes.

These are brief notes, triggers for later transcription –
a name of a town, the population, a hand painted sign that tells a story.

The washes and dry river beds I cross.
Dead Wash. Red Wash. Car Wash. Dirty Laundry River.
Humor abounds in geographical monikers.

Washes gradually turn into meandering creeks,
then into singing streams and raging rivers.

As I travel, mapping the earth,
it is joyful, yet bittersweet.
Palpable. My heart pounds with the unexpected sights.

I am exultant and saddened, hesitant and expectant.
I want to slow and speed time concurrently.
There is much to practice, this being in the moment of traveling.

That is my journey.

Bookmaking in the Sonoran Desert – Featuring the Roadrunner

Roadrunner Book

Roadrunner Book © 2014 Bo Mackison

I’ll be doing a bookmaking project in 2014, featuring a different aspect of the Sonoran Desert each week.

My first subject ran through the back arroyo as I was enjoying my sunrise coffee. A roadrunner would make a great feature for the first book, I thought, as I watched him ducking in and out of the brush. Then I decided, instead of traveling to the wide open spaces of the desert, I’d choose a subject from my backyard, the back arroyo.

Not only would it make the study of a particular animal, plant or mineral convenient – my subject would always be available – but it would also encourage me to learn more about my backyard habitat. Perfect.

No Wonder, This Bird is a Cuckoo

No Wonder The Bird is a Cuckoo © 2014 Bo Mackison

When the roadrunner visited, I took a couple of photographs, but mostly I just observed his behavior. I was amused at his rather peculiar antics — the bobbing of his crested head and the high jump he executed in the air, even the flip-flip of his tail as if he was telling me what he thought of my coffee drinking in his neighborhood!

I did some research on the roadrunner and made a simple accordion book. Then I added content. Even though I am not an illustrator, I plan to do simple drawings for these books. I’m not going to stress about this, figuring that as I practice it will get easier.

The writing was fun, especially since I uncovered so many interesting, and humorous, facts about the roadrunner’s habits. The first page of the book is an introduction and the sketch was on the next pages.

Most Famous of Sonoran Desert Birds

He skitters across the arroyo, shaking his shaggy crest,
Gives me a flip of his tail, no wonder. The bird is a cuckoo.

Two Poems in One

Two Poems in One © 2014 Bo Mackison

I wrote words and then added type cut from magazines to make two poems in one.

I decided to incorporate a second poem into the first by highlighting specific words. The first poem reads normally; in the second poem the read only the cut out words. This poem-inside-a-poem reads a little rough, since I didn’t think to add the second poem until  the words were already written in the book. I’m looking forward to planning a bit more in the next book.

Here is the first poem, read normally.

He has the habits of a slap stick comedian, a relative of acclaimed characters in Western tall tales & Saturday morning cartoons.
I’ve seen him do a helicopter dance, land with a bird in his beak. He’ll do combat with a rattler…and win.
And yet, Mr Cavalier, when courting, he presents his intended with a twig or blade of grass,
then the chase is on — ’til she decides yea or nay.
On cool desert mornings he spreads his tail feathers, exposes dark flesh,
& warms himself with the heat of the sun. An energy conservationist.

And here is the mini poem, composed in cut out words:

Sonoran Desert. No Wonder.
Come To the West & Dance…
and With A Yea!
Desert Warms the Sun.

Bookmaking - Accordion Book featuring Greater Roadrunner

Accordion Book Featuring Greater Roadrunner © 2014 Bo Mackison

See the agave plants in the corners and the sun symbols on the end covers?

One of my favorite parts was cutting out parts of the agave plant and adding them to the corners of the front and back inside covers. The endpapers remind me of a multitude of suns, appropriate for a book about the desert.

Now it’s time to go for an evening walk in the arroyo, and see if I can spot my next subject!