Mandala as Container – Overall Theme


Star Shine © 2016 Bo Mackison

Last in the series of 5 mandalas I created after naming “creative path” as my intention. Each morning for five days I paired a mandala with a Desert Wisdom Card, and then reflected on a question. I followed this with a free write keeping the intention “creative path” in mind.





Explore and bring awareness to the energy of the night.

In the night, in the dark, the cosmos born, swirling energy, awakening.

Infinite possibility, infinite opportunity to create, this emerges from the dark times of the soul, from the energy of chaos.

Creation does not begin in light. Creation begins in the dark, emerges from darkness, from nothingness, from the void.

The grandest of transitions — from chaos, the cosmos is born. From darkness, comes energy.


This writing practice is a part of my #contemplativecreativesjourney.



Bookmaking in the Sonoran Desert – Featuring Journey and Discovery

Flying Across the Sky

Flying Across the Sky © 2014 Bo Mackison

“Real travel is not about the highlights with which you dazzle your friends once you’re home. It’s about the loneliness, the solitude, the evenings spent by yourself, pining to be somewhere else. Those are the moments of true value. You feel half proud of them and half ashamed and you hold them to your heart.” ~ Tahir Shah

There was an afternoon when the desert floor was still and heat rose like fire.

I packed a bag with supplies and traveled to Madera Canyon, found an isolated site high in the Santa Rita Mountains, with the summit of Mt Wrightson in view, and there I spread out paper and magazines, scissors and glue. And readied to create.

I typically work quickly, intuitively.

But on this April afternoon I had a dear companion with me, and she is more meticulous, more exact in her creative pursuits. And so I slowed my pace and we worked companionably together.

My tiny accordion book, set into a pair of four-inch square canvas boards, started out simple. As I worked the layers became more complicated. I hid parts I wanted to let disappear into the past, and added features I wanted to remember.

The little book eventually told a part of my story, my Arizona-Wisconsin dichotomy.

I explored my desire to be in two places at the same time – to remain in the desert where I feel a deep, soul connection,  yet also to be with my loved ones in Wisconsin.

Impossible in life, but not impossible in my art.

Book Making in the Sonoran Desert - Flying Across the Sky

Flying Across the Sky © 2014 Bo Mackison

“…flying is like throwing your soul into the heavens and racing to catch it as it falls.” ~ Linda Howard


Flying. I request a next-to-the-window seat. Always.
So I can stare into the sky, lose myself in thick cloud cover, or watch the country far below,
farmland platted in tiny squares, river snakes,
mountains rise from plains, sunlight slides across the face of the earth, then disappears.

I watch cities and towns morph into dots of lights.
Each time I board a plane, it’s as if I toss my soul towards the heavens,
then breathe with calm intention ’til I reconnect with land
and my soul again searches for desert red. And settles.

Book Making in the Sonoran Desert - Flying Across the Sky

Tree Cholla, Snowy Saguaro, Monument Valley © 2014 Bo Mackison

“Over the years, one comes to measure a place, too, not just for the beauty it may give, the balminess of its breezes, the insouciance and relaxation it encourages, the sublime pleasures it offers, but for what it teaches. The way in which it alters our perception of the human. It is not so much that you want to return to indifferent or difficult places, but that you want to not forget.” ~ Barry Lopez

There are no guarantees.
I’ll readily admit, I came to the desert Southwest for its healing sunshine,
sunlight that could flip a switch in my brain, drench it in
neurotransmitters to make smiling easier than weeping.

I continue to come for that boost, and yes, tree cholla with
golden auras gleaming in the waning sun are also beyond breathtaking.
Reflecting sunlight burrows deep into my being.

Saguaro with a freakish coat of snow are equally mystical.
Desert mountains – green with riparian water, yellow in a blaze of autumn sycamore leaves,
or black in the desert night – they are all magical.

Book Making in the Sonoran Desert - Flying Across the Sky

Calming, Influence, Aspen Smile © 2014 Bo Mackison

“To be at peace, does not mean that you are amiss of every storm, it only means that you can find a calm within the storm.”
~ Tania Elizabeth

I talk to trees. The connection is energy,
I rest my hands upon their bark, lay my cheek against their rough grain.

I have leaned the art of calming under the influence of this land –
sky islands stretch – from Lower Sonoran Desert habitat dotted with saguaros
to near alpine conditions, bald rock dotted with firs.
Akin to traveling from Northern Mexico to southern Canada.

But always. Always.
I yearn to return to the desert floor, to the spaciousness and solitude that warm my spirit.

Book Making in the Sonoran Desert - Flying Across the Sky

Map, Yellow Car, Arizona Plates © 2014 Bo Mackison

“A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected.” ~ Reif Larsen

Moments measure time; maps measure travel.
As desert spring blasts its way into desert summer,
my time to leave the desert approaches.
Each moment becomes more precious as I cross off the remaining days.

I spread maps upon my desk and ponder routes,
choose the blue roads, the dotted roads, roads that may or may not be passable.
I’ll take that risk. Travel the small towns and villages,
stay in court motels, feast at diners with the locals.

It is my way of easing into my return.

Book Making in the Sonoran Desert - Flying Across the Sky

Journey, the Journal © 2014 Bo Mackison

“…where paths that have an affinity for each other intersect, the whole world looks like home, for a time.” ~ Hermann Hesse

The journey, I anticipate it even as I mourn my leaving.
Anticipation and loss held simultaneously.
I’ll hold the days of travel in my memory, scribble in my journal as the miles accumulate.
Nearly illegible, though, since I keep my focus on the road as I scrawl my notes.

These are brief notes, triggers for later transcription –
a name of a town, the population, a hand painted sign that tells a story.

The washes and dry river beds I cross.
Dead Wash. Red Wash. Car Wash. Dirty Laundry River.
Humor abounds in geographical monikers.

Washes gradually turn into meandering creeks,
then into singing streams and raging rivers.

As I travel, mapping the earth,
it is joyful, yet bittersweet.
Palpable. My heart pounds with the unexpected sights.

I am exultant and saddened, hesitant and expectant.
I want to slow and speed time concurrently.
There is much to practice, this being in the moment of traveling.

That is my journey.

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?

Transition – A Desert Wisdom Card

Rolling Mountain Ranges

Twilight over the Mountains © 2013 Bo Mackison

Feel ecstatic that there is no end to life, that when you have reached one peak, suddenly another peak starts giving you challenges — a higher one, a more arduous climb, a more dangerous reach. And when you have reached the other peak, there will be another peak; peaks upon peaks. ~ Osho

Each evening the sun slides from our view, yet its brilliant light show lingers in deep hues of oranges and reds.

Gradually, so gradually, the darkness deepens until there is only dark sky. The day is over; night is upon us. From experience, we know that twilight passes into night, night lightens into dawn, and dawn brings forth a new day.

“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” ~Henri Berson

 Our life is filled with transitions also. Life is change, no part of life is constant.

We live, passing through transitions, firm in the knowledge that when shadows settle on us, and when night makes all dark, faith reminds us that the darkness will gradually lighten into a glorious dawn and then transition into the light of day in which we can clearly see.

Transitions are often difficult. It is easier, more comfortable, less anxiety-provoking to live in the false illusion of constancy, yet nothing in nature is constant, and we are a part of nature. Once we open our minds and hearts and souls to the acceptance of change as a constant, we are better able to transition, to ride the up and down roller-coaster of living a full, authentic life.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out…  ~ Maya Angelou

TRANSITION offers questions/reflections for journal writing, art, and a call for action:

  •  It is human to resist change, to fear transitions, but life’s forward movement is unstoppable. When facing a time of transition, know and accept that this time may be one of increased stress, anxiety, fear. When you know you are working through a transition, your first step is to plan extreme self-care. The basics: are you eating the right foods, getting enough sleep, moving your body, making time for quiet and solitude.  All are essential – when you are in a balanced space, you can more easily keep your footing through times of upheaval and change.
  • At a time in my life when I was developing the skills to successfully negotiate transitions, I created a mini blank book, about 3″ x 2″ in size. It had about 12 pages. I carried it in my pocket so I could easily refer to it. Each page was a visual reminder for a life-skill — methods for grounding, dealing with difficult or challenging times, for problem solving through transitions.
    • These books are super simple to create, with just a few pieces of folded paper.  I made the cover of my book from an old map — a symbol for having the directions to find your way. Each page had a skill – a simple line drawing, a few words. Make a book for yourself.
    • Among the skills I included in my book were visualizing a safe place and repeating a simple mantra for calming. Fill your mini-book with the techniques you find most beneficial when dealing with transitions. Use as needed!


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 a Sonoran Desert theme – its myths and stories, cultures and heritage, and the desert’s remarkable natural beauty and resources.


Last Minute Details

Capitol Building in Packer Green and Gold

Wisconsin’s Capitol in Packer Green and Gold © 2011 Bo Mackison

This date has been circled on my calendar for the last ten months.

Today is departure day–Madison to Tucson, a 30 hour drive. We should arrive sometime on Monday.

My last to-do list includes:

  • Say goodbye to my neurotic cat, and the house sitter who is doubling as the neurotic cat sitter.
  • Recheck (for the fifth time) the camera gear bag, the computer equipment, the two suitcases holding four seasons worth of clothes, and all the other things I’m certain I can’t live without for two months, including a plastic milk crate filled with books.
  • Recheck the bubble wrapped art, and the trailer that will carry that art half way across the country.

Google Map indicates it will take 5 hours and 9 minutes to reach our first destination in western Iowa, but it does not appear to factor in drifting snow or icy patches on the roads. If all goes according to schedule, we should be snug in our hotel room by 7:30 this evening, give or take an hour.

Well, not too snug. A belt in the washing machine snapped while I was doing a load of laundry during the blizzard. Since no repairman would venture to my house before tomorrow, I’m bringing along a plastic garbage bag full of still damp, still dirty clothes. I will get to practice my motel laundry skills, first night out.

In another life, the broken washing machine and the inability to pack clean, folded clothes into my suitcase would have upset me. But not in my going-to-Tucson life. Dirty laundry didn’t rank high enough to make the worry list. It did make the how-do-I-solve-this-with-the-least-amount-of-effort list. So far, so good.

Last night I took a final trip downtown to check out the State Capitol. The dome is specially illuminated this week in Packer green and gold in honor of the Green Bay Packers. They are playing in the Super Bowl this coming Sunday. It’s not an event that happens with much frequency, so I wanted to capture the Capitol in all its Packer glory before I left town.

Madison is a wonderful city. I’ll happily return when the tulips are in bloom.


Bo Mackison is the owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. She is living in Tucson for the next eight weeks, taking daily opportunities to visit deserts and desert gardens while practicing her photography, and blogging about learning to live on her own. Share Bo’s Excellent Adventure as she writes about living in Tucson. Her mantra is “Bo goes solo!”