Desert Dreams – A Desert Song Poem


Saguaro © 2014 Bo Mackison

Wisdom begins with wonder. ~ Socrates

Desert dreams are not tidy,
though they are tidier than one might imagine.

The desert practices its tidy habits, no tropical jungle overgrown tangled,
creeping dripping with life-giving nutrients.

The desert is precious gift of space,
space enough to find one’s own place;
space enough for one to gather the desert rains.
It only asks for patience and perseverance.

It is enough.

The desert breeze blows strong, dust swirling.
The desert plays the bass line, like a bassoon and
bass clarinet intermingling, deep and sensuous.

Heat rises from the baked red earth, heat waves
pulsate desert breath. Steady rhythm.
I stand upon the land, alone, embraced by desert song
and supported by my ocotillo walking stick.

It is here I hold onto my world.

Conversation with a Saguaro


I will be waiting here
for your silence to break
for your soul to shake
for your love to wake.
~ Rumi

A Conversation with a Saguaro

Hello Bo, you’ve been talking to me now for several years.

Not sure how you chose me to be your confidante when you set up your make-shift office in the ramada near Brown Mountain, but I’ve watched you working in the shelter, taking breaks from writing or sketching. Wandering over to me, standing in my shadow now for — what? — maybe 4 years? Or 5? Doesn’t matter.

I am here for you. I welcome your visits, whether you come by for a daily chat or a weekly sermons or an annual sojourn for a long conversation. All are good, Bo.

We’ve had some heart to heart conversations, haven’t we?

You surely did not hear words echo from my spines, nor did my prickly arms sweep you from the gravelly ground and hold you in a compassionate embrace. But you may as well have heard such, felt such, for the same is true.

I do hear you and I do speak to you. I do hold you in a caring embrace. When you are happy, I celebrate your joys. When you are pensive, I listen to your thoughts. When you are sad, I offer you companionship.

I am a good companion, Bo. I will not be going anywhere soon, unless the fates intervene. Unlikely though. Saguaros in this part of the Sonoran Desert live a good 150-200 years. I’ve got years left to stand here on this blessed earth.


I see you, Bo. You are troubled. I see your tears. I watch as you stand in the desert valley, still and somber.  Go ahead, if you wish. Wail in your loneliness and fear and, yes, even in anger. Yes. You have permission. Cry out as loudly as you need to, as long as you desire.  Shout in frustration and anger.

I see you holding everything inside, bearing excruciating pain deep within, convincing yourself you are not too hurt nor too unhappy. I hear as you attempt to dismiss your feelings. No need, Bo. No need. You have permission to express your feelings. ALL of your feelings.

Stand in my shadow. Let the healing light of the desert sun stream all about you, warm you, but stand in my shadow. I will protect you from the harshest of glare.

I hear the conversation you speak within. You hold on to the deepest of disappointments, believing you have not carried your weight, you have not shown up fully in life. You have experienced vast betrayal, yet you inscribe your shortcomings deep within. You hold onto that litany of failures like a sacred mantle; you take on the burden of shame.

What if I tell you this? “You are not to blame, Bo. You are worthy of nurturing. You are worthy of love. You are worthy of kindness. You are worthy of respect. You are worthy, Bo. Period.”

I know of your concerns and worries, Bo. I feel your grief.

I, too, have felt grief, standing in this very spot for over a century. Let’s think about that, Bo.


I am a miracle, as are you.

Imagine a time so many years ago.

Not far from here, a tall saguaro blooms in the middle of a hot May. Pure white blossoms the size of saucers adorn her head. She is an elder saguaro and has been witness to much; her lower-half is pock-marked with holes and her lower flesh is wrinkled, worn, discolored from once desert green to a mottled brown-black.

And still, she blossoms on a hot night in late spring.

The white-winged dove, the Mexican long-nosed bat, and hundreds of species of bees and butterflies sip her nectar by the light of the full moon and pollinate her flowers. Each white blossom lasts only a day, then shrivels and falls to the desert earth. And in the flower’s place a large fruit grows, queenly and regal, bejeweled, the deepest of deep reds. The fruit is sweet and juice-filled, beloved, sustenance for coyote, javelina, the curve billed thrasher, cactus wren, birds of great variety.

Perhaps a bird sits on a branch of a potential nurse tree and drops a single seed into the receptive earth. The seed finds adequate protection and is blessed with enough rain to germinate and enough sun to help it grow and just enough luck to escape detection by birds and pack rats and desert mice who would gladly eat it for a tasty meal. A miracle indeed. I begin as a tiny seed and I grow into a cactus fifty feet tall.

I am a miracle, as are you.

A cactus produces 40 million seeds over a lifetime, and if lucky, one or two will germinate, grow, and survive long enough to become a saguaro capable of flowering and fruiting and continuing the legacy.

I am the one in 40 million, come alive from a single fallen seed from a long dead saguaro. As you, too, have been birthed from one in millions.

Blessed are we, yes? Truly. We are chosen.

Chosen. Blessed. Grateful.

And still, we both know sadness and longing and desire; we both know grief and fear and anger.


Let’s talk about grief.

We both know much of grief, yes?

I grieve when humans attack me and damage me for no reason other than a mark of their power and proof of their superior ability to destroy. I’ve been spray painted by gang members who chose to prove their blind ability to follow orders. I’ve had initials carved into my flesh by lovers who thought nothing of desecrating my flesh in order to misguidedly honor their love. I’ve had bullets shot through me and a more than a few bullets remain lodged in my flesh, bullets shot by humans who once again used violence and power to maim me as an odd proof of their bravery.

And still, I stand.

Regal. Beloved. Worthy. As are you.

No matter if others have scarred you for life, have left their marks in your flesh and trampled your spirit; have attempted repeatedly to destroy you, to mark you as less-than. No matter.

You, Bo, are still worthy of love. You deserve all manner of kindness and respect. You matter. You, Bo, are whole, are holy. Yes, Bo. You.

Come stand next to me and rest. Take respite from the sun’s strong midday heat. Come rest in my shadow. I will listen. I will embrace you in kindness and love.

I offer you myriad blessings of the desert.

All shall be well.

Relationship – A Desert Wisdom Card

Relationship - A Desert Wisdom Card

Saguaro and Nurse Tree © 2013 Bo Mackison

All things carry the yin (femininity) while embrace the yang (masculinity).
Neutralising energy brings them into harmony.”  ~ Tao Te Ching

In the Sonoran Desert, the saguaro cactus sets seed and grows under the protection of another plant.

This larger plant is often a tree, and referred to as a nurse tree. As the saguaro slowly grows into maturity,  the tree withers and dies at its mature age. The relationship between the saguaro and the nurse tree supports continuation of life in the desert.

There are yin and yang relationships in nature, between people, and within each person. These relationships represent as paired opposites – masculinity and femininity, darkness and light, discipline and chaos. The relationships are not separate, but connected; the roots are intertwined. At times, one quality strengthens as the opposite quality wanes. A delicate balancing act, back and forth, keeps the relationship in equilibrium.

Everything is integral and interacts with everything else. This means that nothing is itself without everything else. There is a commonality, an integrity, an intimacy of the universe with itself.” ~ Thomas Berry

Life is not an absolute. Neither are characteristics of nature, relationships between people, or one’s own identity.

Situations are seldom purely black or white, good or bad. There is a seed of sadness in happiness, a seed of fear in a courageous act, a seed of opportunity in failure.

RELATIONSHIP offers questions/reflections for journal writing and art activities:

  • Do a ten minute free write on this statement. “Every person shares characteristics of both the feminine and the masculine.”
  • Create a picture using only black, white, and shades of gray.
    • Leaf through magazines or newspapers, and cut out small sections of papers that are white, black, or any shade of gray. Cut the papers into 1 inch by 1/2 inch strips.
    • Choose a simple object — a coffee cup or a chair. Using the strips, create a picture blending the blacks, whites and grays. It can be as realistic or as abstract as you like.
    • Note how the blacks, the whites and the grays interact as you create, and how the many grays contribute to the completed project.


Bo Mackison is a photographer and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC.  Bo is creating a deck  of Wisdom Cards. The first set, the Desert Wisdom Cards, feature a Sonoran Desert theme – its myths and stories, cultures and heritage, and the desert’s remarkable natural beauty and resources.



Saguaro in Bloom

Saguaro Cactus Blooms

Saguaro Cactus Blossoms © 2013 Bo Mackison

“The poetry of the earth is never dead….”  ~ John Keats

What a joyful experience to walk through the Sonoran Desert when the saguaro are in bloom! After craning my neck to see the very top of each saguaro, I felt as tipsy as the bees that were swarming the flowers  while doing the pollination dance.

I spent much of today packing, and tomorrow I begin my travels to the Midwest. I hear that spring is just about ready to burst in Wisconsin and I am ready to be home.

But still, I will miss my other home in the desert.


Bo Mackison is a photographer and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC.

Reverence – A Desert Wisdom Card

Saguaro Cactus - Saguaro National Park

Saguaro Cactus Crone © 2013 Bo Mackison

By having a reverence for life, we enter into a spiritual relation with the world. By practicing reverence for life, we become good, deep, and alive. ~ Albert Schweitzer

 What is reverence?

It is deep respect. It honors the presence of the sacred in everything – people, animals, plants. This includes respect for the land and for those sustained by the land.

When I look at this photograph of this aged saguaro, I see an ancient saguaro crone. There are small flower buds on the tips of her arms. She surveys the desert earth, thankful for the earth that sustains her, thankful for the flowers soon to bloom, for the bees and bats which will pollinate her flowers, for the fruit that will set, and for the birds and animals that will eat her fruits and spread the saguaro seeds, seeds of potential new life.

Reverence generates a simultaneous movement upward and downward within the interior of the subtle body, our deepest place of perception. The Upward movement brings recognition of a spiritual essence. The more mysterious Downward movement entails descent into the deep ground of Being. To inhabit both movements at once equates with reverence.
~ Karen Jaenke

The saguaro, one of the largest life forms in the desert, has wide roots in the desert earth.

Her arms stretch high into the sky; she connects the earth and the sky. We admire these plants, the connectors of earth and the heavens. Yet, we too stand rooted upon the earth. We raise our arms into the air, our fingertips touch the sky. There is no line of demarcation between the blue skies we gaze at with awe and the skies that swirl about our very beings. We, with reverence, connect earth and sky.

Always and in everything, let there be reverence. ~ Confucius

REVERENCE offers questions/reflections for journal writing, art prompts, and calls to action:

  • Imagine yourself in the pose of the ancient saguaro crone. What are you holding in reverence?
  • How can you show reverence for yourself, other people, and the plants, animals and things that are present in your ordinary life?
  • Barry Lopez, in his book, Journeys on the Threshold of Memory, writes about his history by documenting the things his hands have done in his life. How might you tell a part of your story using the same idea as a creative seed? What might you use to document the exquisite miracles that your hands have performed? Would you use written words, an oral history, still photographs, a short video, or other media?


Bo Mackison is a photographer and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC.  Bo is creating a deck of Desert Wisdom Cards for exploration and discovery, using photography and a Sonoran Desert theme – its myths and stories, cultures and heritage, and the desert’s remarkable natural beauty and resources.