Traveling with Tree Walkers – Through a Photograph, Into a Poem

Reflection in Sugar River

Tree Walkers © 2010 Bo Mackison

There is a photograph tacked upon my wall.
A photograph of the Sugar River.

If, by magical means, you could reach your hands through the print,
you could dip your hands in cool, running river-water, cold from autumn’s breath.

Then you’d pull your hands from the river through the frame, and be back in my room,
shaking droplets from your fingers, wiping dampness on your jeans.

I look at the photograph through creator’s eyes.
The reflection of two trees in the foreground, their trunks slender, their upside down branches split,
and I name them Tree Walkers.

Slipping through the photo paper, I stride along the river’s circuitous route
Tree Walkers at my side, my companions.

All is never what it seems and
what I need shows up in odd, inexplicable ways.

Today I have no need of clean hands, but I do need to travel with Tree Walkers.

Even a Pretty Fence is Still a Fence

Grill Work

A Pretty Fence is Still a Fence © 2012 Bo Mackison

Fear is the highest fence. ~ Dudley Nichols

There was a time I thought that fences kept people safe.

Fences also kept gardens safe from critters and animals safe from speeding cars traveling too fast on highways.

Then I listened to a woman who had moved from New York to a rural area in southeast Arizona. She was lamenting the cussedness of birds determined to feed from her green garden. That, despite the wire fences she had installed around the garden perimeter and the netting she had arched from the top of the fence – a roof of sorts – over her tempting vegetables.

I turned away to study the art in the gallery. I couldn’t help but smile as she told of the thieving Gambel’s Quails’ and Roadrunners’ antics as they dined four times a day, courtesy of her bountiful garden.

I imagined the birds’ antics as she described them in detail. “The quails fly straight up like a helicopter, then they squeeze between the wire fence and the netting, and land in the midst of the luscious greens.” She described how the roadrunners were the sneakiest trespassers of all, but their antics to get into this Fort Knox style vegetable garden surpassed my understanding.

However, the ex-Manhattan-stock-broker-turned-country-vegetable-gardener, apparently knew the secrets of those ransacking roadrunners who watched her from mid-garden as they nibbled their lunch, waiting until she was just close enough with a broom before disappearing.

Did the birds have no fear? Just instincts, determination, and a plan?

I wish I had been able to follow all the details, because I wanted to hear about the birds’ escapes. I’m not privy to how these intelligent birds had a their own passport to the private garden. But they apparently they had at least an equivalent.

There are few fences on the open range, even when roads pass through. There are cautionary signs — “Range Animals. Be Aware.” I seldom see an animal venture on the back roads I travel. They are in the thorn scrub and grasslands, eating whatever they can find. They don’t graze on dirt roads. I have seen cattle amble across a road, but never linger. Better to walk amidst the grasses and eat while roaming the scrub.

Perhaps I don’t need the fences I erect around myself to keep safe, either.

It feels better to have free range and not be cooped up in an imaginary safe place. After all, even surrounded by the best of fences, those that want to get in — quails and roadrunners, for example — have their ways.

And now back to the quote that started me thinking about fences on this clear morning in southern Arizona.

Fear is the highest fence. ~ Dudley Nichols

Abandoned Door – A Metaphor for Transition


Someone, and no matter who, inhabits my head like it’s an empty house, he enters, he leaves, he bangs each door behind him, powerless I put up with this ruckus.
Someone, and maybe it’s me, palms my most private thoughts, he crumples them, returns them to dust.
Someone, and it’s much later now, slowly walks across the room and, not seeing me, stops to contemplate the havoc.
Someone, and no matter where, collects the pieces of my shadow.
~ Claude Estaban, translated by Joanie Mackowski

Many photographers have an affinity and passion for capturing doors as a subject in their art.

Doors are a popular subject, their metaphorical power captures our imagination, wonder, and sense of questioning, too.

Locked? Unlocked? Barred? Ajar? Abandoned?

So many questions. Doors symbolize a transition, a passage, entering from light into dark, or the opposite, leaving by way of a door, and entering into light from a dark interior. The bride once was carried across the threshold of her new home by her new husband. There are doors guarded by fierce creatures – temples come to mind, but I have seen many a library graced with twin, growling lions, or even scarier creatures.

I photographed this door on an abandoned farmstead in eastern Pennsylvania a few years ago.

I cataloged and labeled it, but only recently pulled it out for a serious look. I fell in love with the greens and reds, with the combination of the parallel slats and the vertical panels on the door. And I liked the way nature was gradually taking over the man-made structure, adding to the abandoned feeling.

Do you photograph doors, or notice doors, or use doors in your art or writing?

Do you ever focus on other passages or transitions — gates, windows, tunnels, stairways?  Places that lead to other spaces?

A Matter of Perspective

Ocotillo Thorns

Ocotillo Spines @ 2011 Bo Mackison

This is an ocotillo, one of the most plentiful plants in the Sonoran desert. It offers a great lesson in perspective. When you look at the ocotillo, do you first see its long, sharp spines? And when you notice the spines, do you see them as a threat to you or do you see them as the protector of the plant?

The ocotillo, a major shrub in the Sonoran desert, acts more like a succulent than a woody plant. It can absorb sunlight for photosynthesis through its leafless stem during the dry seasons. And when there is a desert rain, it will produce full grown leaves within three days. This plant has both primary and secondary leaves. When the primary leaves fall off the shrub, the remaining woody stalk elongates and becomes a spine.

Ocotillo Blooming

Ocotillo Blooming © 2011 Bo Mackison

Perhaps your attention is first drawn to the bright cluster of flowers at the tips of the branches, to the beauty of the tightly clustered  red cylindrical blooms.

Ocotillos are a favorite of migrating hummingbirds. The ocotillo is often the only spring desert flower in abundant bloom, even in very dry spring seasons. Hummingbirds, which migrate  from Mexico to their breeding grounds as far north as Alaska, pass over the desert in huge numbers and get their nourishment, the nectar, from the bright red tubular flowers.

Ocotillo Star

Ocotillo Star © 2011 Bo Mackison

Or perhaps you see the ocotillo in a different way. Perhaps, when you look at the ocotillo from a unique angle, you can imagine a desert full of woody stars.

So many perspectives, all from the same plant. Just depends on what you focus on, what you notice, and how closely you look. What part of the ocotillo first attracts your attention?


Bo Mackison is a photographer and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. She is living in Tucson through the first week in April, exhibiting her photography in art fairs, taking photographs in deserts,  and blogging about “Bo goes solo”. She is learning much about life as she studies the plants in the desert.

Sticking Points – Facing Challenges in the Face of Fear

Sticking Points

Sticking Points © 2011 Bo Mackison

There are sticking points in life. Places where you can’t see the beauty of the cactus plant because you are focused on the thorny spines. Places where it becomes hard to focus on the whole because there is a part that is strange and unknown. I am at a sticking point.

I achieved a huge goal in my “art show plan” this past week. And, as is sometimes true in life, achieving a big goal added new challenges to my life. It also brought the gremlins out in full force. The gremlins are showing up as fear. FEAR — in giant, capital letters.

Last year–my first year doing an entire year of art fairs–I did smaller shows, regional shows. When it came time to send in the applications last autumn, I made the decision to apply to big shows, to the nationally ranked shows that drew artists from all over the country. Five months ago, it seemed like a great idea.

When the notifications began showing up in my email box, there were quite a few rejections. There were some wonderful acceptances, too, for really good shows in the Midwest. I was thrilled. There were also several shows where I was wait-listed – my art was good enough to meet the show’s requirements, but there was not space available. Yet.

Last week I got a phone call from the Tempe Festival of the Arts, one of my wait listed shows. There was a space available. Did I want it? Yes, of course I wanted it. I made some arrangements for an assistant, and I accepted the space at Tempe. And all was good for a few days. And then…the inner critic started blathering.

Yep. The inner critic focused on FEAR.

One of the biggest life challenges I am working to overcome is my fear of the unknown. It is one of the reasons I came to Tucson. I had visited Tucson several times and I was deeply attracted to the region, but I had no connections. When I made the choice to live in Tucson for a couple of months — alone — I knew I would be living in a place whose daily special was a serving of the unknown. I also knew that I would have to come up with the resources to deal with all the fears that ride piggy-back on those unknowns.

When I agreed to do the show in Tempe, I achieved one of my art goals – doing a nationally ranked show. Coupled with that acceptance was  taking on one of my huge fears — doing a show in a city that I had never visited before, and well outside my comfort zone. I also chose to  face my fears, meet them head on, continue to move forward.

Then suddenly, I saw only the thorns in the cactus, not the whole plant. I let fear speak. And I began to listen.

Global Pattern

Global Pattern © 2011 Bo Mackison

It took me a few days to realize that if I listened to my fears, it would interfere with a big life goal – showing up as the artist I want to be. I gradually realized that it was okay to have fears, but that I did not want to allow fear to govern my decisions and my life.

I really am pleased to be in the Tempe show, and I am stepping up to the challenge. I am choosing to be the artist I want to be.  I am choosing to be a person who does not let fear get in the way of her dreams.

Living in the desert offers many life lessons. I choose to see the cactus, aware of its thorns, but focused on the beauty of it as a whole. That cactus has a lot of similarities to living a full, meaningful life.


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”.  She will be exhibiting her photography at the Tempe Festival of the Arts in Tempe, Arizona, March 25-27, 2011.