Towards Nonexistence

Organ Pipe Cactus

A Tumble of Cactus © 2013 Bo Mackison

”Like homeopathic medicine, the essence of wabi-sabi is apportioned in small doses. As the dose decreases, the effect becomes more potent, more profound. The closer things get to nonexistence, the more exquisite and evocative they become. Consequently to experience wabi-sabi means you have to slow way down, be patient, and look very closely.”
~ Leonard Koren in Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers

I took dozens of photographs of organ pipe cacti last week. It was a major preoccupation while I was camping at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. I found a few specimens that were perfect to the discerning eye – not an easy feat when a cactus typically stands  8 to 10 feet high, the older ones reach heights twice that size. Each has eight to fifteen stems, though some of the ancient giants have twenty or more.

It was not the symmetrically formed, unscathed cacti that captured most of my attention. I loved the cacti that had character, the ones marked with scars and age . . . and great beauty. Desiccated arms tangled with vibrant greens and golden greens. New buds of growth twisted around aged skeletons.

Two Stems - Organ Pipe Cactus

Two Stems  ©2013 Bo Mackison

I loved the cactus that carried marks of its challenges with below freezing temperatures or prolonged cold spells. Indentations on the stems are the result of the freezing and death of vulnerable tissue on the stem ends.

When new growth appears, the plant is marked by circular strictures on the pipes. These cactus have gone through hardships, and survived, marked by the challenges of life in a harsh environment. The bumpier an organ pipe cactus, the more battles it has met with climate at the northern reaches of its habitat.

Stages of Life, Organ Pipe Cactus

Stages of Life © 2013 Bo Mackison

This photograph is a Southwest version of photo I took in Wisconsin exploring the same concept – the presence of both life and death in a plant.

A walk through this small part of the Sonoran Desert – mostly in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and its adjacent areas in south-central Arizona – offers the only opportunity to see these unique cactus giants in the United States. This small micro-habitat offers the only chance for survival of these warmth-loving plants. Many more grow in the warmer climes of Sonora Mexico.


Bo Mackison is a photographer and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. I continue my exploration of whole and fragments, of extra-ordinary and ordinary.

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. Interesting thoughts, and wonderful images. I find myself exploring the same sort of character when it comes to trees.

    • Bo Mackison says:

      Trees are a great subject, too. Maybe not so much for me, at least when I;m in Arizona, so I’ll keep visiting your blog to see your trees.

  2. Interesting observations

  3. I remember being captivated by the organ pipes too.

  4. Beautiful soft colors and strong textures.

    • Bo Mackison says:

      Before I moved to the Sonoran Desert, I imagined all cactus would be the same color of green. Not so at all. So much variety, character…

  5. I’m also drawn to the imperfections of nature, in particular those plants and trees that have survived multiple blows from nature. That’s what the giraffe head tree was (is?) all about – not just survival, but the deep beauty of the survivor, proudly displaying its warts exclaiming “Ha! I won!” Silly, I know, but it’s the spirit that attracts. And the warts.

    • Bo Mackison says:

      Ah, Debi! I too am deeply attracted to the imperfect, the deep beauty of survival, as you so aptly describe it. Yes!

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