Alphabet in the Desert

Alphabet of the Desert in the Month of April

Ants carrying loads
three times their size,
ambitious ants.


Just Born – Bighorn Mama and Baby © 2016 Bo Mackison

Birth of a bighorn sheep,
mother and baby boy.
Life abounds in the desert.

Coyote paces on the edge of the wash,
watching its kit sip
rainwater from a puddle.

Ribbon Sunrise

Ribbon Sunrise © 2016 Bo Mackison

Dawn breaks into pastel colors,
silhouetting the mountains.
Affirmation of a new day.

Evening primroses in bloom,
as I walk the edges in the evening,
so many edges.

Flocks of finches.
Feathers flutter.
Friendly and fine.

Gila monster sunning
on a slab of granite,
ancient sun worship.

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Broad-billed Hummingbird © 2016 Bo Mackison

Hummingbird hovers, a constant
in the desert, whirr of wings,
then fly away with a zing-zing.

Insects crawl and scoot, burrow and bore.
Desert is alive with insects
where ever one looks, if only one sees.

jack-rabbit jumping
through the back wash, zig zag.
You can’t catch me!


Ketzel Perched on Saguaro Buds © 2016 Bo Mackison

Kestrel chatters klee-klee-klee,
smallest falcon, mighty hunter. His sharp vision
tracks all movement on the desert ground below.

Lizards, hidden much of the winter,
now search for the warm earth, scuttling here and there as
lightning streaks through the stormy skies.


Full Moon over the Mountains © 2016 Bo Mackison

Moonlight, moonlight,
midnight moon.
Moon glow washes over the mountains.

Nectar draws the pollinators
to the cactus flowers –
prickly pears, cholla, saguaro all a bloom in April.

Owls hoo hoo
their night songs.
Night watch.

A Profusion of Palo Verde Yellow © 2016 Bo Mackison

A Profusion of Palo Verde Yellow © 2016 Bo Mackison

Palo verde trees
drop their yellow flowers.
Desert snow. Golden glow.

Quail are quiet: the mamas mind their nests,
each one filled with a dozen or more eggs.
Soon the babies will hatch.

Rattlesnake sheds its skin;
the snake-shed graces my desert altar.
Sacred ritual.

Saguaro in Bloom ©2016 Bo Mackison

Saguaro in Bloom ©2016 Bo Mackison

Saguaros in bloom, a blossom lasts a day.
White and heavy with fragrance, atop the tall column,
it beckons to pollinating bats and bees.

Thunderstorms come early this year.
Theatrical, with torrential downpours.
The desert smells like rain.


Uplift © 2016 Bo Mackison

Uplift. The mountains I see from my window.
Land uplifted. Spirits uplifted.

Varnish on the desert rocks, dark layers of minerals,
petroglyphs scratched into the surface by the ancients.
Vultures swoop above the rocks, on the lookout for their next meal.

Wind is the whisper of the desert,
sometimes the whisper turns into a howl
and the dust swirls.

Xeric. What the desert is.
A habitat containing little moisture;
landscape of yucca, cactus, palo verde.

Yucca in bloom © 2016 Bo Mackison

Yucca in bloom © 2016 Bo Mackison

Yucca in bloom,
a white flame above a candle,
illuminating the desertscape.

Zebra butterfly, black and white,
long-winged and graceful.
admired midst the desert flowers.


An alphabet poem – the desert in April – for April, National Poetry Month.

Flower Mandala — Symmetrical Cosmos

Cosmos © 2015 Bo Mackison

Cosmos © 2015 Bo Mackison

“The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together.”  ~ Carl Sagan

Flower Mandala – Queen Anne’s Lace

Queen Anne's Lace © 2015 Bo Mackison

Queen Anne’s Lace © 2015 Bo Mackison


A Ten-Foot Tall Giant in the Prairie – Pale Indian Plantain

Pale Indian Plantain - Tallgrass Prairie Flower

Pale Indian Plantain – Tallgrass Prairie ©2014 Bo Mackison

Pale Indian Plantain, these tallgrass
prairie flowers rival the prairie’s grasses.
Tall and thick, its stem the deepest red like rhubarb stalks.

Leaves large as a father’s weathered hand hang low on the stem,
rough and ragged. Midway, the leaves are mother-sized hands,
reaching towards the sky and the cluster of
child-sized leaves high on the stalk.
This family of leaves. Orderly.

I stand on the earth, side by side with the Pale Plantain.
It towers above me, statuesque,
hovering over the other prairie flowers,
with an occasional compass plant its only rival.

Its whorl of yellow-green florets gives way to shriveled fibers
signaling another turn of the seasonal cycle.
And late summer drifts towards autumn.

Visiting with Aldo Leopold

Through the Sand Barrens to the Wisconsin River

Through the Sand Barrens to the Wisconsin River © 2013 Bo Mackison

I visited with Aldo Leopold.

Well, I didn’t exactly see Aldo in person, but I walked the paths Aldo walked, gazed at the river scenes Aldo studied, photographed the prairie flowers Aldo sketched and wrote about, and clumped along in the sand where Aldo would have walked 70 years ago.

You may be wondering who is this Aldo Leopold. His name is not a household word unless you are into the study of ecology and environmental issues. Yet he was one of the first scientists to discuss the land ethic — taking care of our earth is a sustainable manner.

Curt Meine, a research associate of the International Crane Foundation, wrote:

“Aldo Leopold was a forester and wildlife ecologist who wrote A Sand County Almanac, a collection of essays about the natural world and conservation. The book was published posthumously in 1949. A Sand County Almanac went on to become one of the key texts of the environment movement. Leopold is closely identified with “The Land Ethic,” the final essay in the Almanac, in which he argued that people are part of the “land community,” and so bear moral responsibilities that extend beyond the realm of the human to include the non-human parts of that community.”

Path through Sand Barrens

Through the Sand Barrens © 2013 Bo Mackison

Sherpa and I walked from the quiet country road that meanders through wooded land, past Aldo Leopold’s Shack, and through the sand barrens to the shores of the Wisconsin River. The land is rather wild, even though it is a part of the Aldo Leopold Foundation and has a schedule of tours to walk some of the trails, visit the inside of the shack, and listen to the life story of Leopold. Most people don’t hike the extra mile to the river, and so we spectacular hiking and plenty of solitude.

Aldo Leopold's Shack, A National Landmark

Aldo Leopold’s Shack, A National Landmark © 2013 Bo Mackison

Leopold was a professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison in the 1940s. He purchased this simple shack during that time, and he and his family spent most weekends here. He was a keen observer of the natural world and its interconnectedness with man. He wrote detailed accounts of the world as he observed it — phenological records — including weather, plant cycles, animal activity. And man’s impact upon the natural world.

Prairie Rosinweed

Prairie Rosinweed © 2013 Bo Mackison

“Keeping records enhances the pleasure of the search and the chance of finding order and meaning in these events.” ~ Aldo Leopold

Canoing the Wisconsin River

Canoeing the Wisconsin River © 2013 Bo Mackison

“There are two things that interest me, the relationship of people to each other and the relationship of people to the land.”
~ Aldo Leopold

Prairie Meets River

Prairie Meets River © 2013 Bo Mackison

“Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching- even when doing the wrong thing is legal.”
~ Aldo Leopold

Aldo's Land

Hidden Land – Aldo’s Land © 2013 Bo Mackison

“We abuse land because we see it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” ~Aldo Leopold

Sand Barrens Sandscape

Sand Barrens Sandscape © 2013 Bo Mackison

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.” ~Aldo Leopold

Today I celebrate my 60th birthday. I had intended on taking a day trip to the Leopold land, but inclement weather thwarted my plans. So instead, I’m sharing photographs from a day I spent at Leopold’s Shack in August. I’m also sharing a few of my favorite quotes from Aldo Leopold.

It is, in part, from studying his writings that I have developed my own land ethic and sense of values.