Traveling to the Desert – Day Two


January 1, 2016.

400 miles done and 1400 miles to drive. Smack dab in the center of Missouri.

New Year’s Day. There’s a new year’s tradition — or is it superstition? — “what you do on New Year’s Day, you’ll do all year long.” Well, there you have it — a year filled with travel!

Crossing Missouri — began by driving across the Mississippi River and drove until we crossed the Missouri River in Kansas City.

I say “mi-zour-ee.” Do you say “mah-zour-ah?”

Small herds of cattle and farms in eastern Missouri; more horses and small ranches driving further west.

I saw an owl, a brown and white barred owl, standing on the side of the highway, as if he were studying the road that stretched in front of me. Ten in the morning. I can only think the owl was a good journey omen. This was not the only encounter on the drive to the desert I had with birds. They accompanied me west in the most extraordinary ways.


500 miles done and 1300 miles to go.

Stopped for barbecue southwest of Kansas City, Kansas.

Oh. Yum. Not in Wisconsin any longer, Dorothy.


600 miles done; 1200 more. A third of the way.

Eastern Kansas. Flint Hills.


700 miles done; still 1100 more. 7-11s. Lucky numbers. Just as the afternoon was getting long, just when I needed a sign… a  gift from the Universe.

A murmuration of starlings. A pulsating cloud of birds, dipping, dancing. The flock expanded, then contracted. Dipped towards the fields, then swooped high into the sky.

A most serendipitous sight.




900 miles done, 900 more to go.

Kansas on the diagonal. Northeast to southwest.

From Wichita to Liberal. The road is straight. The land is flat.

Every small town has a grain elevator. Grain elevators are the most interesting subject for photos in Kansas, at least I think so. especially when driving late afternoon into the night. The light catches the metal containers — some quite ordinary,  but many in unexpected, even spectacular ways.


1000 miles left behind in the rear view mirror. 800 miles still ahead.

Driving into the sunset.

Kansas flat. Horizon orange, deepening into red the color of blood and lingering deep into twilight. A thin red line in the black.


Since driving and arriving are the priority for this trip, all photos are drive by.

Using my iPhone and Hipstamatic filters set on random (though still available for some post processing when desired) add a sense of photo adventure with a modicum of control.


5th Annual Photo Alphabet – Part IV

N is for Nature and Non-attachment

Nature's Abstract

Nature’s Pattern © 2012 Bo Mackison

Even though I photograph almost any subject, I spend as much time as I can in the natural world and take a greater percentage of nature subjects than any other. I also like to play with nature photos, especially macro-photographs such as the above barrel cactus. I loved the symmetry emphasized with a black and white conversion.

Not only do I love to photograph desert plants, I love learning about them. I find their various ways of adapting to their environment fascinating. In order to survive, they have an extensive system of spiny protrusions and other such things to dissuade potential munchers.

I’ve been working on the idea of non-attachment – the idea that too much attachment for a specific outcome can cause difficulties. And I was thinking that the cactus is the perfect symbol for non-attachment. Oh, yeah!

O is for Observation and Opportunity.

Observation Deck above Buttermilk Falls

Observation Deck above Buttermilk Falls © 2010 Bo Mackison

These “O” words speak deeply to me about photography – my photography and photography in general.

Observation is so key to photography that it is almost too obvious to include in an alphabet like this. Observational skills are honed in the search for a photograph. That is not to say that a camera to required to polish observational skills, but a camera becomes a constant reminder to look around, to see beyond the initial glance. I consider my camera a great prop, an observation kick-starter.

Opportunity is another one of those obvious words that partner well with photography. Some people take photographs at special occasions (or opportunities) – a vacation, a holiday, an annual gathering, a perfect sunset. But opportunity is more about “being” there for the experience of the photograph rather than “finding” a photographic subject.

Any subject is a subject worthy of photographic exercise. I’ve photographed more walls than I would once have thought possible, or sane. Yes, walls. Wall with shadows, walls with texture, walls with vines, walls of adobe, brick, stone, historical walls in ruins. (Maybe I should copy and paste this under “W”!)

I’ve also taken thousands of photographs of trees. Recently I realized that there is some form of tree – perhaps a branch, a shadow, a leaf – in a large percentage of my photos. I didn’t start with the intent to photograph trees in such depth, but it seems the trees found me. Or perhaps I’ve never met a tree I didn’t like, one I didn’t think worthy of a tree portrait.

I’m not saying that I don’t take advantage of a photographic opportunity that comes my way. I carry a camera almost all the time – whether I’m going across country, across the city, or across the parking lot. You don’t have to wait for a special opportunity for a photograph; opportunity will find you if you’re paying attention.

P is for Perspective and Place.

The Long Road

Disappearing Road © 2012 Bo Mackison

And then there is the perspective of a lonely, open road at dusk. This is a photograph of a Texas panhandle highway. Telephone poles, grain elevators, semi-trucks, and a Texas Highway sign. It’s all about place. And perspective.

Q is for Questions and Quotations.

Badlands-There's a Trail up There!

Mountain Trail © 2011 Bo Mackison

I sometimes take photographs to find the answers to questions I am pondering. Sometimes I take photographs to put the questions I don’t know how to ask into a concrete form. And sometimes I take photographs because I have questions that don’t have answers.

When I begin to write a blog post, and I have a photograph I want to share, I sometimes don’t have the words to accompany the photo. There is a meaning in the photo, but it’s not easily seen. So I go searching through my many dozens of unorganized journals for a relevant quotation. It seldom takes me more than a few minutes to find a quote that says exactly what I was struggling to say.

Here is one such photograph, and the quote I found to pair it with:

There are hundreds of paths up the mountain,
all leading in the same direction,
so it doesn’t matter which path you take.
The only one wasting time is the one
who runs around and around the mountain,
telling everyone that his or her path is wrong.

~ Hindu teaching


Bo Mackison is a photographer and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. Part V of the Annual Photo Alphabet continues with  Rituals thru Universe.



5th Annual Photo Alphabet – Part III

I is for iPhonography and Imagination

All in Green

All in Green © 2012 Bo Mackison

In just a few short years, taking photographs with a cell phone has become its own niche. iPhonography with a multitude of apps for in camera processing and post processing, can do amazing things. Photographs I never dreamed of creating can be created in just seconds. My imagination goes a bit wild when I start playing with my iPhone’s capabilities. I am less hesitant to explore and more open to the weird and unusual.

For me personally, iPhones and other smart phone cameras do not take the place of my more traditional camera gear. But my cell phone camera sure has one advantage that most other cameras do not have. It is always with me.

And the best camera in the world is the one that is with you when you want to take a photograph.

J is for Joy and Journal Writing

Road Trip - Joy Kansas

Joy, Kansas © 2012 Bo Mackison

At first glance, you might wonder what this photograph of a grain elevator taken on the wide open plains of middle America has to do with Joy and Journal Writing. But it is a real life example of the Joy I find from my daily practice of photography and journal writing.

The photo is a snippet from my travel log I wrote as I traveled across the United States. This grain elevator is in the tiny town of Joy, Kansas.  That may be important or it may not be. But it is a part of my life, a part that I took time to document. I don’t write down everything nor do I take photos of most places. But I document enough about the daily bits of my day-to-day activities.

Here’s why this brings me such Joy. When I return to the notations in my journal, re-read a passage, look through the sketches I crudely drew in the margins, find a ticket stub or a pamphlet describing a sightseeing treat, I instantly re-create memories of that time in my life. They may seem trivial, but they are moments I have lived.

And I love being able to open a journal or a set of photographs and get transported back in time. So much is so easily forgotten. The things I often read about I would never remember without these memory jogs. They may be important only to me, but that is enough. More than enough.

K is for Knowledge and Keys.

Locked Gate

Gate without a Key © 2011 Bo Mackison

I once lived for a while in a place where there were locks, but no keys.

I spent many hours of ‘most every day holed up in a corner of a library, in a room of a thousands books, but it offered none of the knowledge I sought.

Then I went out into the world, far away from what was safe, comfortable, known.

And there I found myself – uncertain yet hopeful, silent yet filled with song. And the sun warmed me and I walked the earth and I gave thanks.

L is for Labyrinth.

Garden Maze

Garden Labyrinth © 2011 Bo Mackison

Have you ever walked a labyrinth? The kind where, once you begin, you follow along, around and back, and come to the center, where you can stand awhile or continue on and finally you come out at the end which is next to the beginning, and there is no way, when you follow the lines, that you can do it wrong or get lost or bump into some one else.

There is a pace and that pace has a peace. Not at all like real life, though to me it feels exactly like real life.

M is for Meditating, Mindfulness, and the Muse.


Meditating…© 2012 Bo Mackison

I love this photograph. I took it while I was walking along a park in New york City, a park resurrected from an abandoned railway corridor called the High Line. Usually the park is crowded with people – walking, enjoying the art installations or sampling the food from vendors. Maybe watching a dance troupe or dancing to a jazz trio. But early on this cool June morning, with threats of rain in the forecast, the park was nearly deserted.

It was the perfect place to sit for a while, absorb the beauty of the natural plants growing amidst the tracks and seating spaces. I wasn’t the only person in the park who was doing some slow work while the city bustled around us.

Meditation, even for twenty minutes or a half hour, has become a daily part of my morning. It sets my internal thermostat at an even temperature, and helps me prepare for the rest of the day. Doing meditation coupled with a mindfulness practice during the day not only slows me down so I can get my work done, it also makes room for my muse to visit with amazing frequency.

Less pressure, more ideas, more creative energy.


Bo Mackison is a photographer and the owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. Part IV of the 5th Annual Photo Alphabet continues with Nature thru Quest.

April’s Photo-Heart Connection Photo – An Unusual Choice

Burlington Northern Train Cars Dwarfed by Kansas Grain Elevators

Burlington Northern © 2012 Bo Mackison

This photograph is about as different from my usual photographs as it can be, but in going through my photo catalogs from April, this is the one I kept returning to. I found myself studying its lines, its color, the subject matter, perhaps a hidden meaning, trying to decipher why this particular photograph caught my attention, and my heart, and so qualified as April’s photo-heart connection selection.

(Kat Sloma from Kat Eye Studio encourages photographers to pick a photo once a month for sharing — a photo taken in the prior month that best makes a photo-heart connection.)

Now to work my way through the feelings/thoughts attached to this photo:

  • The subject matter is less typical for me than many other genres. I shoot macro-botanicals with passion and abandon; I am ever fond of architectural photos; I’ll drive miles to explore a landscape – particularly those in the wilderness, in National Parks, often with no sign of human activity; and yet here is a rural scene, a scene that is agricultural in theme.
  • I take 95% of my photographs with my Canon DSLR and then spend extra time in post-processing. I am a tinkerer of the post-processing process. I love to use software to create new ways of seeing a routine subject. I will consider many options regarding a small aspect of a photograph, and then go on to another small aspect, and another, and another. When I photograph with my DSLR, I love to take my time, study possibilities, set up my tripod and try lots of options before going on to the next subject. I shot this photo with my iPhone using a Hipstamatic app preset. Sherpa and I were on the long drive home, and we stopped briefly on a country road for a truck to make a left turn. I opened the car window, grabbed my phone, and took a single photo before the car began to move.
  • I like bright colors and focused, close-up details. And my love for the colors associated with the US Southwest has deepened since I began living in Arizona part of the year. I see more color in my photographs – the bright cerulean skies, the turquoise and orange buildings, colors that make a strong statement. But in this photo, the colors are muted. There are a few patches of a rusty color and the remainder is in soft greens, whites, browns.
  • I love the play of light and shadow in photographs, and this photograph hasn’t much light nor shadow. It was taken mid day under a cloudy sky, not typically a good time for photography.

So why this photograph?

  • Well, I am attracted to the composition. It feels satisfying to me, the blocks of different colors, three almost equal rectangular spaces, plus the darker colors as contrast. I do not often take symmetrical photographs, and honestly, I would probably not have composed this photograph as it is if I had been taking a more deliberate photo. But the symmetry provided by the grain elevators, and the strong horizontal and vertical lines seem to emphasize the subject of farm work and transportation in the country’s Midwest.
  • I like that the train car is marked with the logo of the Burlington Northern line. I grew up in the Midwest not far from Burlington, Iowa – the train company’s namesake. And several of my relatives – a grandfather and two uncles — worked for the Burlington Northern. I remember bits of their stories, I sometimes saw them return home from night shift duty with coal stained coveralls, and I associated the smell of their smoky clothes with a night of hard work.

So, an atypical photograph can be a favorite. A photograph with the vaguest memories of family can add a strong sense of human connection to a seemingly straightforward scene. And perhaps there is special thrill about a photograph taken on the run, the knowledge that taking a photograph isn’t only about f-stops and sharp focus and the rules.

Maybe it is also the appreciation of timing, good instincts, and a little luck!


Bo Mackison is a photographer and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. After three months in the Southwest, Bo is back home in the Midwest. And just in time — her first art show of the summer season is tomorrow — Madison’s Audubon Art Fair at Warner Park on Madison’s east side. Seeded Earth Studio’s booth will be inside in the glassed-in annex. Hours are 9:30 am to 4:30 pm.


Trail of Kansas Grain Elevators

Greensburg Kansas Grain Elevator

Greensburg Kansas Grain Elevator © 2011 Bo Mackison

In Kansas we dodged the interstate for a two lane road that cut 90 miles from our travels. Crossing Kansas on Highway 54 there are only small towns separated by a few miles. Usually the only structures of any height or size in these hamlets are the massive grain elevators. And since every gathering of houses had at least one, I decided to document my travels from Wichita to Liberal, Kansas with grain elevators.

Road Trip - Joy Kansas

Joy Kansas Grain Elevator © 2011 Bo Mackison

My camera did a better job of shooting distance vs. close up and straight out the window rather than at an angle. So there will be wonky roads, wonky silos, wonky signposts, and out of focus grasses in the foreground. Consider it part of the charm of a series of Kansas grain elevators taken with the iPhone and the Hipstamatic app.

Mullinville Kansas Grain Elevator

Mullinville Kansas Grain Elevator © 2011 Bo Mackison

I considered cropping this and straightening the verticals. Then decided against much post processing. Who has time to play with their photos on a computer when on a car trip? When we hit the motels at night we have tomorrow’s traveling on our minds. (Also who is the quickest to grab the best pillow.)

Bucklin Kansas Grain Elevator

Bucklin Kansas Grain Elevator © 2011 Bo Mackison

I’m not sure how I managed to photograph this grain elevator in Bucklin considering it was in the middle of the afternoon. Looks like an evening or night photo. But it’s got an interesting quality about it. Glad it’s not my job to climb those stairs circling the sides. Sherpa agrees.

Road Trip - Kansas Grain Elevators

Kingsdown Kansas Grain Elevators © 2011 Bo Mackison

As we headed further south, the grain elevators became larger and larger. Six stacks in Kingsdown. Kismet, Kansas also had a large elevator , but we fell into a fit of laughter as we drove through town and missed any photo of any part of Kismet. Next time…

Road Trip - Minneola Kansas

Minneola Kansas Grain Elevators © 2011 Bo Mackison

And at least ten cylinders in Minneola.

I am not an expert on grain elevators and my internet access is sketchy enough that I won’t be doing any research for a while. But there are a lot of harvested fields and a lot of filled grain silos.

Liberal Kansas

Liberal Kansas Grain Elevator © 2011 Bo Mackison

The last in a long line of grain elevators. Liberal was my favorite of the grain elevator towns, though it had nothing to do with the grain elevators.

Liberal’s main street is christened Pancake Blvd. How can you not love a town that forgoes Main Street for Pancake Blvd.

From Liberal, we zagged through the panhandle of Oklahoma and then the panhandle of Texas before driving fifty miles in New Mexico and settling in a cozy motel in Tucamacori.


Bo Mackison is a photographer, owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. She is on an extended explore with Sherpa and crossing New Mexico, soon to be in Arizona.