Trees As Sanctuary – A Poem

Looking at the Past

Tree Sanctuary © 2014 Bo Mackison

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life. ~ Herman Hesse

Trees As Sanctuary

1806, The People Build the Church

They press brick, kiln lime, raise walls, lay roofing,
paint murals, sculpt sacred ornamentation, build niches for the statues of the Saints.
They clear land, build fences, plant corn and wheat,
and from the priests’ cache of pods and seeds, they plant and then they tend
fruit orchards, nut trees, olive groves.
They learn the missionaries’ way.
They marry, raise children, care for their sick, weep for their dying, bury their dead.

1827, Weary, Ill, and Wary of Raiding Enemies

Many of the People wrap statuary in leathery strips of yucca,
bundled saints now cradled like newborn babes
protected from summer’s heat, shifting winds, monsoon storms,
from damage to their wooden limbs or painted robes or eyes of porcelain marbles.
The People walk north, leave the Tumacácori Mountains,
settle in a valley to the North, build another mission, settle in.

1848, Tumacácori Mission, Deserted in the Desert

No missionary priest leads his people crucifix in hand,
his carved cross held high, his silhouette a contrast to this blue bowl of sky.
No one gives signal to the last few of the Desert People
who abandon their homes, possessions, crops;
abandon their church, its stacks of brick adobe
with the limestone wash, white like angels’ wings;
now the church is pale apparition towering midst desert grasses, agave, mesquite
standing in the foreground of the mountains.

2016, A View through the Window

Open to the cool desert nights,
no roof for protection, no doors.
Only ruins remain and ruins they shall remain.
Window remnants frame the cottonwoods, green and tall,
that line the Santa Cruz River.

Spellbound, I walk to the water,
leafy branches arch a roof above my head,
provide spongy leaf-carpet for my weary feet.
Wisps of white cotton fluff, seeds of the future drift on a southwest breeze.

Trees as sanctuary.


Posting a desert-related poem each day in April, National Poetry Month. Updated poems from my blog archives, new poems written as sacred practice, and selected, favorite poems from other poets.

Owl, Coyote, Desert



“hoot hoo hooo-ah” calls the spotted owl
haunting the cottonwoods that edge the Santa Cruz
holy crossroads through the desert

a shadow. prowls. leaps.
pins me to the dry earth strewn with needle thorns
coyote’s tongue slips in and out, in and out
like grandmother’s needle piercing rough cloth to mend
the thin places.

my breath mingles with his earthy breath
coyote uninhibited
unrestrained he carries no shame; so alive he is
in his shagginess
with no regard for pointed looks, creased brows,
sharp words.
without seeing he sees
the bruising, my spirit broken and trampled,
he sees the footprints of resentment, authority defied.

my heavy-hearted words are considered, a remedy is offered.
the flickering tongue again
laugh girl, laugh with me
the desert offers no judgement
split open wide
spill yourself upon the desert rock and you will see.

be wild, the desert offers wild sanctuary.

do what you must do
be not afraid
I keep watch over you, desert one
my eyes pierce darkness as I watch hidden deep in the cottonwood canopy
there exists no night so black it denies my vision. nor you.

walk away from the river. this river runs dry, layers of
dust settled like bone ash pulverized sand and broken shards

there is no drink for offer here; there is no room at this inn

walk away, the desert calls beyond this place
there is drink in sacred vessels carved in slickrock,
search deep within the canyon shadow
for a place to rest. seek solace there.

I see your restlessness. go.
no longer will your desires be denied
take that first step
your longing unbinds your feet.

what is it you seek?

do not say “yes” until you have considered no.

Watching Ink Dry

Drying Time on Drawers of Type Cabinets

Drying Time ©2013 Bo Mackison

“Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.”
~ John Quincy Adams

Another look at the letterpress room at Whispering Woodlands. Isn’t this an amazing sanctuary?

The cabinets, a half-dozen metal cabinets, aged, battered with hard use, and yet fully functional, even beautiful. Each cabinet holds dozens of trays of type — mostly lead type, but there is a bit of vintage wood type, too.  Type for 6 point to 60 point. Each tray in precise order, so the same motion that fetches a Capital T from one tray would find a Capital T of a different font in the same space in any other tray. It’s the tiny organizational things spread throughout the entire process that I find so appealing.

And yes, in a letterpress room filled with a cylinder press, and a wall full of cabinets and other necessities, the most convenient drying spaces for the just printed papers are on pulled out trays. The rubber based inks are slow drying, and dry by actual absorption into the paper instead of drying upon it. A full day process. They are lovely inks to work with – smooth, slightly opaque, and forgiving of a beginner’s practices.


Instructive Papers © 2013 Bo Mackison

“Finding a sanctuary, a place apart from time, is not so different from finding a faith.” ~ Pico Iyer

Truly, I do feel rather as if I am creating in a sanctuary – private, quiet. Just me and the letterpress, just the power from my arms and my body to turn the crank and “walk” the paper through the press. Then the process in reverse — walk back and crank in the opposite direction.

On this run, I did the words “SANCTUARY” and “LETTING GO” together, more because of the length of the words than the meanings. But I like the idea of working in my little printing room, repeating the same practice for each sheet of paper, while letting go of outside distractions, old conversations, difficult encounters, stinging words embedded in the subconsciousness. WOW! What a healing experience — running a letterpress.

Interesting that there is personal healing in the process, as I create this first edition of the Desert Wisdom Cards — cards which I hope will inspire self-discovery and inner healing in the people who work with them.


Bo Mackison is artist, photographer, book-maker, naturalist, poet, curator, and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. Bo is learning the wonders of the cylinder letterpress, and also experiencing personal healing in the process, as she prints the Desert Wisdom Cards.

Sanctuary – A Desert Wisdom Card


Garden Sanctuary ©2013 Bo Mackison

 Our spiritual energy needs to be renewed each day. Our soul needs to be uplifted, and our wounded or tired spirit needs periodic regeneration. Finding sanctuary in a lovely and peaceful garden setting – one that seems to enfold the soul in magic, celebration, art, curiosity, and contemplation – can do the job. ~ Christopher McDowell

A sanctuary is a sacred space.

The word sanctuary comes from the Latin word sanctum which means a place of sacrosanct privacy. When we create the space especially for our personal use, we give ourselves permission to take time from our hectic day and retreat into the quiet, to enter a place of slowing down, a rejuvenating space for body, mind, and soul.

A garden sanctuary can take many forms.

It can be a space with a strolling path, flowers, shade trees, a bench; a chair next to a tree or garden plot; a balcony with a flower box; even a potted plant near a window in your home. In the desert, a garden sanctuary can be as simple as a shaded space offering protection from the sun with a view of ground hugging succulents or the raw beauty of the desert colors.

My garden sanctuary is an arroyo, rocky and dry, with prickly pear cacti, chain fruit cholla, and palo verde trees.

At dawn and dusk the trees shimmer with birds – orioles, cactus wrens, hummingbirds, cardinals. Road runners and quail hurry along the edge of the arroyo a few paces from where I sit. There, I reclaim my spirit surrounded by the sacred.

Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.
~ Herman Hesse

SANCTUARY offers these suggestions for contemplation:

  • Combine a quiet space and nature and you create a sanctuary garden. A place where the busyness of the world can spin without you. A place for contemplation of the simple things, of the beauty of life. A place to renew your energy. A place to practice reverence and gratitude. Can a place be all those things? Make it your intention. Embrace the sacredness of you and your space, and your sanctuary will be the retreat you envision.
  • Thomas Moore writes in his book, The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life, “Entering a garden is like passing through a mystical gate. Things are not the same on the other side.” Visualize your passage through a garden gate, perhaps after a busy or stress-filled day. What do you see in your mind’s eye that is soothing, uplifting, rejuvenating, or inspirational?
  • Begin a sanctuary practice with a ritual to mark the transition from frenetic activity to reverential pause. The ritual can be simple – preparing and enjoying a cup of aromatic herbal tea, repeating a favorite mantra, holding a smooth stone. Choose something meaningful to you.
  • Create a simple book, a few pieces of paper folded together is sufficient, and make notations on your relationship with your sanctuary time weekly for several months. Limit yourself to one or two sentences. Notice how your story unfolds. Notice how your words reflect sanctuary. You are your garden’s story keeper, the container of your sanctuary.