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


Bo Mackison is photographer, book-maker, collector of stories, naturalist, curator and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC.  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.

Finding Rituals in Memories

Bench with a View

Bench with a View © 2013 Bo Mackison

“Ritual practice is the activity of cultivating extraordinary ordinariness.” ~ Ronald L. Grimes

This is the bench where I sat while I contemplated the day, my life, the world, even the boundlessness of the universe. I was  restless. Untethered. I had just finished a project I’d been pouring my soul into for the past six months. It was time to send my work, my labor of love, out into the world. And though this was a time of fruition and celebration, it also was a time of saying goodbye, letting go, even a bit of grieving. I seemed to be going through a bit of postpartum blues after birthing my project and readying my official announcement to launch my Desert Wisdom Cards into the public realm.

Realizing this is a common reaction to the completion of a beloved project — joy coupled with letting go — I sat in solitude and let my mind wander. I decided to create a ritual to both celebrate and provide a sense of closure to this part of my creative life.

I took in my surroundings. The prairie grasses were yellowing, the summer flowers had set seed. The apple trees were over laden with ripened fruit, and some of the apples had dropped onto the earth. Cracked walnuts were along the paths. Yet there was evidence of bustling life all around me. Geese in flight, meadowlarks perching in the maple trees, the autumn flowers of the prairie — showy goldenrod, purple asters, daisy fleabane — in full bloom.

I considered what was happening under the surface. This summer has been one of multiple losses. I’d anticipated that the completion of my Desert Wisdom Cards would bring fulfillment and joy. They did, but they also touched  gently upon more feelings of grief. I understood that this feeling was temporary, there were other projects waiting for my attention, but I also wanted to honor this time of transition.

That All May Be One

That All May Be One ©2013 Bo Mackison

And so I searched for a meaningful ritual, one that might bring a feeling of comfort and acceptance, of saying goodbye while looking forward with anticipation.  So I asked a few questions…

What could I use as a guide?  What components might be in a transitioning ritual? What would a healing place hold?

  • the night sky, dark, abundant with stars
  • open spaces, open minds
  • spiritual spaces, resting spaces, thinking places
  • a container that contained my curiosities, my questions, my collections
  • quiet, slow, peaceful
  • folk art, expressive art, art that tells a story, art that has heart
  • kindnesses and little gifts (When traveling it is customary to bring tiny gifts in exchange for kindnesses received along the path and to those who share their stories.)
  • a place in nature, ecological, in balance
  • a place my great-grandmother would have loved

The last thought — a place my great-grandmother would have loved — was the trigger that helped me address my longings. I thought of the many things I’d learned from my great-grandmother when I was a child, of the many things she’d loved. I thought of the changing season, summer sliding into autumn, of the routines we had made extraordinary in their repetition as we did our late summer chores with love and respect and companionship.

We picked a late summer flower, a single blossom, from the garden every morning and placed it in a tiny vase on my great-grandmother’s dressing table. We gathered the remainder of the harvest from the vegetable garden before the first hard frost, cleaned and cut the vegetables, and made huge pots of vegetable soup with my grandfather’s supervision.


Pears, Ripe on the Branch © 2013 Bo Mackison

We cooked applesauce, apple butter, peach preserves. Then spent the last hot days of summer canning our bounty. We made dough, rolled it out, and cut the dough into long noodles. We dried herbs on racks in the pantry. We raked the garden and added to our compost pile. We pulled the quilts and blankets out of storage, and draped them over several back yard clothes lines to air in the breeze.

We adapted our evening rituals to the sun’s earlier schedule. Instead of sitting on the porch after supper, chatting with passing neighbors, we set up a table in the kitchen for puzzles and games. Once it started getting dark while we ate supper, we fell into a simple routine of cleaning the kitchen, then playing games of Parcheesi or Pokeno. We would take an evening walk around the outside of the house just before bedtime, making sure all was as it should be, admiring the starlit skies.

So much love and care and honor went into these simple actions. Home and hearth. Routines and rituals – all good for the soul.

Today I jotted down a few reminders – ways to prepare for the changing season, routines to ease the change from busy day to rejuvenating evening, rituals to remind me of the sacredness in the ordinary. Simple actions – gardening, cooking, preparation for autumn.

Do you long for a way to honor the changing seasons, for the ordinary turned extraordinary by the practice of ritual? What might you add (or subtract) from your days in honor of the ordinary, the sacred?


Bo Mackison is photographer, book-artist, collector of stories, naturalist, curator and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. Today I thought of my grandparents and great-grandmother and contemplated one of the gifts they gave me –the quest for routine and ritual.



The Wind, One Brilliant Day

Prairie Seeding, Late Summer

Late Summer © 2013 Bo Mackison

Seeker, there is no path. The path is made by walking.”
~ Antonio Machado

The Calling

The wind, one brilliant day, called.
The clouds, one brilliant day, glided.
The monastery bell, one brilliant day, echoed.
The crickets, one brilliant day, whistled.
The goldenrod, one brilliant day, waved.
The honey bee, one brilliant day, danced.
The seed heads, one brilliant day, shimmered.
The meadowlark, one brilliant day, chanted.
The tall grasses, one brilliant day, beckoned.

My body, one brilliant day, paused.
My mind, one brilliant day, listened.
My heart, one brilliant day, opened.
My soul, one brilliant day, leapt.
My spirit, one brilliant day, accepted.


Today I brought my day pack — journal and pen, book, camera, lunch — and walked the prairie trail at Holy Wisdom Monastery near Madison. Afterwards, I sat on a bench overlooking the late summer prairie, Lake Mendota glittering in the distance, and read from The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau.

My imagination was triggered by a line in the book, a few words from Spanish poet Antonio Machado — “the wind, one brilliant day, called…” And so I give credit to Machado for the first line of the above poem.


Bo Mackison is photographer, book-maker, collector of stories, naturalist, curator and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC.  Today I walked the prairie and considered the universe.

A Walk through a Japanese Garden


Pine Point in the Japanese Garden at Chicago Botanic Gardens

Pine Point in the Japanese Garden at Chicago Botanic Gardens ©2013 Bo Mackison

“The many great gardens of the world, of literature and poetry, of painting and music, of religion and architecture, all make the point as clear as possible: The soul cannot thrive in the absence of a garden.” ~ Thomas Moore

Crossing the Arched Bridge

Crossing the Arched Bridge to the Japanese Garden ©2013 Bo Mackison

“Japanese gardens ask that you go beyond the garden spiritually, that you look at the garden not merely as an object but also as a path into the realms of spirit.”
— Makoto Ooka in The Temple in the House

Tree Roots

Tree Roots © 2013 Bo Mackison

“The garden reconciles human art and wild nature, hard work and deep pleasure, spiritual practice and the material world. It is a magical place because it is not divided.”
— Thomas Moore

Zigzag Bridge

Zigzag Bridge © 2013 Bo Mackison

“If you want to reach the infinite, then explore every aspect of the finite.”
–  Goethe 

Garden Path

Garden Path © 2013 Bo Mackison

“When a garden is used as a place to pause for thought, that is when a Zen garden comes to life. When you contemplate a garden like this it will form as lasting impression on your heart.”
— Muso Soseki in The Temple in the House


Bo Mackison is photographer, book-maker, collector of stories, naturalist, curator and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. Strolling in a garden – a perfect way to spend an afternoon. Photographs from Japanese Garden, Chicago Botanic Gardens.

Wonder – A Prairie Wisdom Card

Sunflower in Detail

Sunflower © 2103 Bo Mackison

“Could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy; and you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.”
~ Kahlil Gibran

If you ever have a chance to see a giant sunflower, up close and personal, you will notice that the sunflower seeds always form in a spiral pattern. Each successive seed placement approximated the golden angle, (137.5˚) and so fully covers the space.

What a wonder-evoking sight. We know nature is filled with patterns and sequences, but often they remain hidden from our unseeing eyes. The sunflower, another natural things like pine cones, the leaves on a stem or the branching of a tree, the fronds on a fern, even the tippets covering a pineapple, follow this mathematical formula.

The beauty of the pattern, in part, is a result of the precise play of the positioning of each concentric layer, and the creation of an eye-pleasing spiral. Gifts of wonderment!

“This very moment of your life, if you experience it fully, will show you astonishing wonders and exquisite delights.” ~ Martha Beck

The WONDER card offers activities for contemplation, art, and writing and a call to action:

  • Journal prompt: Compile a list of things that are common to our culture – for example, a vending machine, a super-sized grocery store, the subway. Choose one thing and write about it, writing from the perspective of someone unfamiliar with such conveniences.
  • Art and contemplative activities: The circular mandala often is used as a symbol for the Universe, for the whole. Seeds are the tiny packages filled with potential.
    • Gather seeds of any kind — choose one kind of seed, or different colored and sized seeds. Begin with a seed for the center, then create a circle with seeds, much like the sunflower with its closely packed seeds in ever-expanding spirals.
    • You can create this in nature as a temporary art installation in miniature. Or you can glue the seeds to cardboard for a more permanent mandala.
    • As you create the mandala, consider the potential of each seed, and consider the potential that exists within you.
  • Call to action: Take a walk in nature and look for some of the countless patterns in nature. Express your wonder with each discovery: “What a wonder-filled world!”


Bo Mackison is a photographer and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC.  Bo is creating a set of Prairie Wisdom Cards, second in a series of cards based on natural habitats, and used for exploration and self-discovery.