Searching for Clarity on the Tumbled Rock Trail

Trail ©2015 Bo Mackison

… that is what learning is.
You suddenly understand
something you’ve understood all your life,
but in a new way.  ~ Doris Lessing

Searching for Understanding

Tumbled Rocks Trail, a meandering mile long trail through a lower bluffs talus field of gray, purple and pale green quartz, offers niches for studying tiny grottoes of splendor and lake views to the consider the expansive glacial landscapes. The trail is only a few feet above lake level, perfect for an intimate shoreline experience, always a thin place where land meets water.

Step by step, I slowly wander the rocky path, then find a spot to sit in this jumble of quartzite boulders. The lake, a  spring fed lake created by the damming of the valley in the last Glacial period, turns cold in autumn. I set up my temporary work space amidst the ancient boulders – a place where I can write, photograph, sketch, day-dream.

As I do most days, I draw a card from my deck of Desert Wisdom Cards  which I created while living in southern Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. (Each of 52 cards offers a desert photograph and a single word for reflection.)

Today’s card is CLARITY.

Desert Wisdom Card - Clarity Notice how your clarity helps you see others more clearly. Notice how that clarity feels within you and how you respond (or don't). ©2014 Bo Mackison

Desert Wisdom Card – Clarity  ©2014 Bo Mackison

While sitting on glacial boulders in Wisconsin, I pull a card that depicts granite and sandstone boulders in the desert, a sacred place which holds ancient wisdom. Coincidence? Maybe not..

Contemplating Desert Wisdom

Deep in a desert canyon, the cliff walls and boulders are etched with petroglyphs — a wilderness gallery of primitive art. The symbols – pecked into the black varnish of many desert boulders and canyon cliffs? Perhaps they are astronomical markers. Tribal symbols of belonging. The art of a story-teller.

Wisdom in the constancy of the heavens,
wisdom in community,
wisdom in the telling of the story.

I scribble a few notes, then wander through the rocks, take photos, explore a crevice filled with mosses and lichens. Daydream, stand in awe of the beauty that surrounds me, reflect on “clarity” and settle in to write.

A timed, free write on clarity:

It is impossible to find clarity in what is to come. There is only clarity in the here and now. Working from shadows to light. Reflections in light. A primitive understanding. There is a slow loosening, I am becoming more understanding, more content to be who I am. As I feel stronger, I gain more clarity and I can see my wondrous life-path unfolding in deep and mysterious ways. Yes. There will be delicious discoveries, painful heartaches, unexpected change, the ups and downs of living a life, fully aware. Clarity.

Much writing, thinking, and art  — all as guides to find ways of re-seeing and redefining the terms of old beliefs. Messages of “it’s all your fault”, “not good enough” and “you’re so sensitive” have played on an unending loop for too long. How to deal with the anger that surfaces — knowing that feeling is necessary and healthy and messy and time-consuming. All a big messy soup of raw emotions, memories and thoughts. Straining through this soup will take time and it will also add much clarity.

A quote and questions…

Anger can bring clarity and strength. When we let ourselves feel the full force of our anger, the clarity we receive can be amazing. When we recognize, “this is what ticks me off, this is why, and this is how I need things to be different!” we can experience the relief that such clarity can bring. A good relationship with our angry feelings can give us the determination to forge ahead, the strength to “stand our own ground,” the energy and focus to let the world around us know what is and is not okay.

~ From Eating in the Light of the Moon, by Anita Johnston, Ph.D.

  • How does increased clarity about myself, my plans, my dreams, my relationships affect my day-to-day…?
  • What does clarity on an issue bring to my life, to my work, dreams, hopes, to my relationships with others?
  • How will I choose to respond to new awareness?

What messages and further reflections on clarity might I take from symbols in my daily life?

  • things are not always as they seem
  • in the mystery of the slowly unfolding question lies the unexpected, a course of action, perhaps even an answer
  • symbols? incorporate symbols and metaphors as meaning in my life, clarity appears in bursts of connections.

There are always more questions than answers. Always more to explore, consider, assimilate.


My mantra:  “I believe nature offers opportunities for connection, the arts offer opportunities for self-expression, and life offers continual opportunities for growth and self-discovery.”  ~ Bo Mackison


Saturday Morning Musings from My Desert Journal

King Canyon, Saguaro National Park

King Canyon © 2014 Bo Mackison

On the DESERT:

Though the word means abandoned – from Greek, eremos – I don’t feel abandoned when I am in the real desert, the desert I see and study and hike in. Ancient writers considered the desert as a threat to their existence – and it surely was a hardship.

My desert is tame by comparison, though once I leave my vehicle and hike 3 or 4 miles into the desert, the Sonoran Desert is wilderness. The desert I explore offers me an opportunity to unwind, to weed out unnecessary external interruptions, but I also slow down and focus on lessening the interruptions from the interior, too.

I find it even harder to quiet my interior cacophony than external distractions. It is when I quiet the many voices – chatter, excuse-creation, shame and blame – that the possibility of deep encounters in the desert environment become possible.


The desert, if nothing else, provides space. Low growing vegetation and tall yet skinny saguaro cacti do not impede vision. Mountains do, but there are always lesser mountains with moderately challenging paths that I ascend, and when I am at the high point of Brown Mountain, I feel as if I can see forever. On a clear day, it may be a hundred miles, but still…that feels like almost forever.


One of my goals, which I now understand  to be one of my constant life goals,  is a practice I work on every day. This goal, which may sound simple enough, I find to be of the wriggly sort. Sometimes I think I have it, only to discover the goal has slithered out of my hands, and out of reach. Again.

This goal is a longing of sorts, a longing to accept myself, to love myself, making it then possible for me to love and cherish others more deeply.

King Canyon, Saguaro National Park

Hiking in King Canyon © 2014 Bo Mackison


The desert is a grand place to cultivate the practice of patience. I seldom travel the desert alone – by that, I mean I usually carry a tall hiking stick, a small pack, small journal and pen and my camera. One of my favorite hiking trails parallels one of the deeper canyons of the desert. There are many rocky ledges and boulders, perfect for a temporary seat.

Before I  sit down, I pay attention to my place in the desert. I have a healthy respect for the desert. I am aware of the desert’s residents and consider their habits and territory. Once settled,  I pull out my water bottle and a snack, re-adjust my wide brimmed hat, re-apply sunscreen. All necessary, but these actions sometimes bring on an attitude.


Yes, attitude. Sometimes I am irritated at the care that is required in the desert  environment – safety precautions, paying attention. I want to hurry through the preparations and get on with my writing, my photography, my time to just sit and stare into the desert scape.

This is what I have learned — sometimes I am very good at turning routine into a ritual, the ritual of preparing my space, the ritual of slowing down and paying attention, not only to my surroundings but also to my feeling, emotions, my mood, my inside chatter. I practice gratitude. I feel at peace in the desert, I feel a part of the whole.

Other times, I just want to get on with it. I hurry through the preparations. I take those photographs. Click, click, click. Write a few words or sketch a flower.

Sometimes I do my preparatory ritual and practice patience. And sometimes I hurry through my routines so I can do what I want.

And though I remain inconsistent, I know that the more fulfilling experiences are the ones when I take my time, prepare, practice patience.  The lessons of practicing patience, cultivating awareness continue…as I continue to reap the gifts of the desert.


Reading for inspiration:  The Desert Mothers and Fathers, by Christine Painter Valtner; Evidence: Poems by Mary Oliver

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.

Journal Writing at Seth’s Cottage

Wright Inspired Accessories at Seth Peterson Cottage on Mirror Lake, Wisconsin

Writing by Lamp Light © 2011 Bo Mackison

I spent several hours writing by the light cast from this small lamp while I was staying at the Seth Peterson Cottage. Whenever I paused, I could look out the many windows and gaze at Mirror Lake, which wasn’t much of a “mirror” while I was there. It had a slate gray appearance that evening, no resemblance to a reflective mirror.

While I was there, I photographed some of the details of the interior. These particular photos do not show the rooms so much as the accessories in the rooms. (In the next and final post on Seth’s Cottage I’ll include photographs from the individual rooms.)

I also wrote and sketched in my journals while I was there. A few excerpts follow:

Flickering Fire, Fireplace designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Seth Peterson Cottage

Flickering Fire © 2011 Bo Mackison

A lesson learned from lighting the fire. When lighting a fire with a full box of matches at your disposal, one doesn’t pay much attention to the number of matches it takes. If the fire doesn’t start with the first two or three matches, just keep trying until the fire catches. But when there are only six matches in the only box of matches, one plans carefully for the lighting of the logs. The kindling is laid just so, I stuff a bit of paper between the twigs for a bit of insurance, choose the smaller logs from the woodpile outside. Lots of planning goes on before I strike the first match.

I think of an analogy, comparing the starting a fireplace fire to caring for the earth. While the natural resources of the earth seem inexhaustible, there seems little need to use the resources wisely–lots of matches in the box to start the warming fire. But when the resources become threatened, endangered, the prudent thing to do would be to use them wisely, carefully, with great planning–don’t want to run out of matches before the logs are burning.

Star Floor, Radiant Floor Heating System, Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Seth Peterson Cottage

Radiant Star Floor © 2011 Bo Mackison

I spent way too much time trying to find patterns and pictures in the random lines of the flagstone floor. Above is my interpretation of a “radiant” star — radiant because underneath these flagstone slabs are hot water pipes that provide floor heating. There were also pennies embedded in several cracks. I fully intended to get down on my hands and knees and check out the dates on the coins, but I never did find a flashlight and the areas were rather dimly lit.

From my journal:

I am quite loving this hard stone floor. Not because it is a comfy surface to stand upon in stocking feet, but because it is toasty warm. Even though it has dropped to the low 40s and will probably hit 35˚F by early morning, the warm floor is quite special in that it is so unexpected. There are no rugs, only this unending expanse of carefully matched stone slabs.

It is so quiet. Now, nearly six in the evening, and the skies are dark with heavy, threatening rain clouds. I expected to see and hear birds, but the birds are silent. There is no radio, no television, no neighbors, no motor boats on the “no motor” lake, no internet. It is quiet, except for the popping of the fire and the occasional  cloud burst.

One gets lulled by the quiet. I intend to write, but instead I find myself passing long periods of time watching the logs burn, watching the raindrops plop in the puddles on the back stone patio, listening for sounds that don’t exist. We have learned to live in a noisy world, and often pay little attention to the constant background noises that surround us. But when there are no sounds, only silence, then I notice the silence.

I hear the silence.


This is the second part of a three-part series written and photographed while I stayed at the Seth Peterson Cottage.

In the Desert – A Journal Writing Discovery

Florals and Cactus

Desert Marigold © 2011 Bo Mackison

The spring flowers are showing a few blossoms. It’s been a quiet season for spring flowers–first there wasn’t enough moisture last autumn and winter and then there was a hard freeze in late January. So these are the first of the flowers I’ve seen. I’ve tentatively identified them as Desert Marigolds. The background is a saguaro cactus.

Now that I’ve been in Arizona a month, I am slowing down my pace a bit. At first, everything I saw was new to me and I carried my camera everywhere. I took hundreds of photos a day. That’s not unusual for me to take that many photos on a shoot, but it’s hard to process that many shots when I’m doing it every day. Plus it makes life too hectic. Still,  I want to capture as much of this experience as I can.

I’ve discovered a solution. I add a half hour of quiet observation and nature writing to my day. Today after I took photographs near Saguaro National Park, I pulled into a picnic area that was quite deserted. The picnic sites were built by the CCC in the 1930s; the tables and benches were made of stone and concrete, probably the sturdiest picnic site I’ve ever seen.

I sat on one of the benches and just watched and listened. After awhile I wrote some notes in my journal.

Noon. 84˚F. Sus Picnic Area, Saguaro National Park, Tucson Mountain Unit west of the city.

Bright blue skies, no clouds, slight breeze. Hawks are circling the tops of the mountains, flying from peak to peak. They don’t appear to be hunting, even though they are on the look out for movement in the desert below them. Indeed, it looks like they are riding the wind currents, more like play than work. Dipping, soaring, then they flap their wings, strong strokes. Then they dip, soar, repeat.

I recognize none of the sounds I hear, except, of course, the wind whistling. There’s a persistent yip yip yipping. Occasionally a chee-chee-cheerup-ing. Birds are singing, but they hide in the underbrush. I don’t see any movement on the desert floor. Nothing. Quiet mid-day. The critters are resting, hidden from the heat and the strong sunlight.

More hawks. I recognize the red tailed hawk. Still soaring, except now they are dipping side to side. Several are soaring from the peak of the highest mountain. They dip to the left, glide, dip to the right. Swoosh, right. Swoosh, left. Are they playing? Practicing? Are they hunting and have yet to spy anything interesting?

Maybe they are taking Sunday afternoon off. Ha! It is a lovely Sunday afternoon to appreciate the quiet time.

I myself soar to different places in my mind.

It is a calming activity–this sitting quietly, observing, taking a few notes. I know I look at my surrounding more carefully when I have my camera in my hands, but the camera captures the scenes for me, wordlessly. It is an added plus to document a few words about the places I visit, too. It makes me think about what I am seeing in a new way, and adds another dimension to my discoveries.


Bo Mackison is a photographer and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. She is living in Tucson for two months, exhibiting her photography in art shows, taking photographs, and blogging about photography, art fairs, and living life “solo.”  Today she is grateful for all the gifts she has received this past month.