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.


Attention – A Desert Wisdom Card

Palm Leaf

Guadalupe Palm Abstract  © 2013 Bo Mackison

The choice of where we put our attention is ultimately our most powerful freedom.
~ Jan Kata and Russell Taq in Toxic Success

As I sat on a bench at Tohono Chul Park in Tucson, overhead fans of palm leaves caught my attention.

I watched as clouds passed quickly in front of the sun and the intermittent sunlight danced amidst the palms. The interplay of light and shadow in the pleated fans created dozens of opportunities to create abstract photographs.

I created the ATTENTION card based on this play of light and shadow.

All palm trees are tropical plant, including the above Guadalupe Palm, and palms cannot tolerate freezing weather or dry soil. Since the palms found in the Sonoran Desert require moisture, they are found in desert oases (natural water supplies) or in wet canyons, typically in the southern or western reaches of the Sonoran Desert.

The existence of palms in the desert southwest is testimony to the desert’s ancient tropical connection, a concept that requires our  imagination. The more I closely examine the desert today, the more I can see traces where the ancient oceans once existed.

The leaves of the palm tree are often used to make thatched roofs of rainproof shelters that are incredibly sturdy and can last for years. The palm is a favorite habitat of small creatures as it has many layers of palm leaves perfect for hidden nesting and resting places.

For lack of attention a thousand forms of loveliness elude us every day.
— Evelyn Underhill

ATTENTION offers questions/reflections for journal or art prompts, even a few calls to action:

  • What lessons can be learned by adding the practice of attention to today? To each day?
  • What are some of the gifts one can receive by practicing attention?
  • Connect these seemingly disparate ideas: 1) the practice of attention and a desert oasis or 2) the practice of attention and creating a shelter. Journal, draw a mind map, or write a few lines of poetry about your discoveries.
  • When can the practice of attention be added to the day? In an early morning or late evening ritual? During meals? During routine chores such as dish washing, sweeping the floor, cleaning mirrors? During a walk around the block, a walk in the park, a hike in a natural setting?
  • Action: Focus on a single object. Observe a single blade of grass, a flower, a tree for a set period of time – perhaps ten minutes. Jot down a few notes, either  during the observation time or immediately afterwards. Include any of the sensory responses – what did you see, hear, smell, touch, taste? How did you feel or react?
  • Sometimes a prop is useful while intentionally practicing attention. Bringing a camera, sketchbook, or journal on a short walk often provides a visible reminder to slow down and look at the details.
  • Consider adding a “slow practice” to your day. It may be the ritual of preparing a cup of tea or a mid-morning snack. Watch the sunrise or sunset, paying attention to the light-show of changing colors. Set an intention to stop and pay attention.


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

Leap Days

Jumping Cholla

"Leaping" Cholla © 2009 Bo Mackison

This cholla is more commonly known as a jumping cholla, but I am taking liberties today since it is Leap Day, and conferring the title of “Leaping Cholla” on these attractive cacti. These cacti are known for attaching small sections of themselves to anything that brushes near them — hence the name jumping, or leaping, cholla. (It’s a great way for the plants to distribute their seeds.)

I decided to see how many Leap Days I could either remember or make a good attempt at a reconstruction of probable events. Leap Day really should be a more celebratory day — we are each given an extra 24 hours, in our Western way of thinking.  Are you doing something to mark the occasion of February 29th?

The run-down of Bo’s Leap Days, including her plans for celebrating Leap Day 2012 with a special “in the Southwest” dinner for one.


1956  Leap Day is on a Wednesday. U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower announces to the nation that he is running for a second term. It was my first Leap Day, but I have no recall of that year. Pre-memory, I think.

1960  Leap Day is the 60th day of the year in 1960. Of course, all Leap Days are the 60th day of the year.  Family Circus makes its debut. First grade. I had the BEST teacher, ever, so surely we did something exciting to celebrate Leap Day. Why isn’t Leap Day a holiday, anyway?

1964  Saturday. Fifth grade. Too young to babysit, so most likely I spent Leap Evening watching Lawrence Welk with my grandparents. A typical Saturday evening in fifth grade.

1968  Freshman year in high school. We had an “art”sale during the lunch periods  – profits going to our sister school in Nicaragua. We sold out of giant tissue paper flowers, posters decorated with “Little Prince” quotes, beaded necklaces, and ceramic pots.

1972  Freshman year in college. Led Zeppelin had a concert that evening in Brisbane Australia. Tickets cost $5.20. Sold out. I’m sure I would have loved to attend if given the opportunity!

1976  I was a few months into my first professional job after graduating from college. Leap Day was also minus 103 days until our wedding day. A significant year in my life, for sure.

1980  Sherpa and I had been in our first house — in Milwaukee Wisconsin — for two months on this Leap Day.

1984  No doubt a busy day. All days in 1984 were busy days. Probably busy chasing kiddies. Well, chasing an almost three-year old. Our second child was only two weeks old so he wasn’t too active — yet. We still were in our house in Milwaukee, but planning a move to New Berlin, Wisconsin.

1988  Another Leap Day preoccupied with children. Six year old, four-year old, and a baby soon to be born. This was our first Leap Day living in Madison.

1992  Our two older children (5th grade, 2nd grade) had a Leap Day School Fair to celebrate Leap Day. Parents were in attendance with pockets full of quarters. Three year old also knew how to ask for quarters. I think we won several gold-fish at the gold-fish pond.

1996  Perhaps I blanked out for a decade or so…

2000  Hmmm…. the millennium Leap Day?

2004  The days are getting clearer. Kissed by a prince, perhaps?

2008  By this Leap Day, I’d been taking photos with a digital camera for a few months. I was doing a 365 photo challenge. Here’s proof that I posted on my photo blog on Leap Day, 2008.

2012  I know one thing I won’t be doing today — I will not celebrate Leap Day leaping in the desert. Not going to trust those leaping cholla! Think I’ll celebrate with a Margarita and some spicy enchiladas? Yes!

How are you marking this once-every-four-year day?


Bo Mackison is a photographer and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. Bo is appreciating these extra minutes of this extra day as she celebrates Leap Day in Tucson.



Cactus Sprout

Cactus Sprout!

Cactus Sprout © 2012 Bo Mackison

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

It has been a quiet weekend. There was time for retreat and quiet and there were other times I spent in research, setting some short term goals and a few long term goals, gathering resources.

I wanted to share this lovely cactus, all rosy in its new growth. These cacti appear to be such simple plants  – a long column, lots of thorny spines and a few arms. But upon close examination, I find them to be exquisitely intricate in a quiet way. I enjoyed photographing this particular species, it was a good plant to work with this weekend.


Bo Mackison is a photographer and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. More slow photography on an intentionally slowed-down weekend. Activity will pick up as the week progresses.

C is for Cactus

C is for Cactus

C is for Cactus © 2011 Bo Mackison

“The spines have been used as phonograph needles, fishhooks, awls, needles, and for tattooing. The cactus was used as a cooking pot…cut off the top, scoop out the pulp, put hot stones and food in the cavity. The Cactus is precious and has difficulty surviving with humans.” ~ Pat Holtz

I love the desert. I love the living things I observe in the desert. I especially love the plants in the desert, including the many cactus species.

I was going to write a blog about photographing cacti and other plants in the desert, but after reading the above words ascribed to an artist and ethno-botanist, I no longer felt like writing about the desert today.

I only want to think and ponder that last line of the quote. “The cactus is precious and has difficulty surviving with humans.”



Bo Mackison is a photographer, owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. She misses the desert.