“Being in nature is an opportunity to cultivate the child-eyes, the child-mind that neither knows nor presumes to know,” Kathleen Harris

The quote by Kathleen Harrison brings to mind something Picasso once said about the ideal state of an artist, which was returning to the vision of a child, a place of no right or wrong. A place of no judgment. A place where we can just be a pure vessel that can easily assimilate and ultimately reflect back (through art or literature) the wonder of our discoveries.

Like Wade Davis, a fixture at Mountainfilm in Telluride, Kathleen Harrison is an ethnobotanist with deep experience in getting up close and personal with Gaia (or whatever you call Mother Nature). And like Wade, Kathleen or “Kat,” as she is widely known, is no stranger to working with shaman and using psychedelics to deepen the connection to the natural world.

Below she describes one of her more profound experiences, many of which sound like an adult version of “Alice in Wonderland.”

“I took my first bite, staunched my reaction to the bitterness, and proceeded steadily through many bites to the end. By the time I had consumed almost the entire bundle, I was saturated with a taste that was sharp and fresh and ancient all at once. I had a momentary sense of how very long these people had been doing this ritual, the generations that had sought the wisdom of this plant spirit. Suddenly there was a shimmering, the curandero blew the candles out for total darkness, and within seconds I was completely in another realm, astonished. Some part of me ate the final bite and I relaxed into another place: I was in the presence of a great female being, a woman, twenty feet high and semitransparent.” (From a story, “The Leaves of the Shepherdess”)

Kat Harrison is one of the outstanding guest speakers at the upcoming Telluride Shroomfest 2012, Thursday, August 16 – Sunday, August 19. The singular event also features keynote speaker Gary Lincoff, Dr. Emanuel Salzman, Bill Adams, Linnea Gillman, Daniel Winkler, David Rose, John Winslow,  Amelia Free, Lindamarie Luna, Katrina Blair, Hiroki Ide, Miguel Logghe, Jo Norris, Naomi & Ahtem Salzman, Britt Bunyard, Rick Hollinbeck, Jaime Cobb, Sky & Mesa Hollinbeck, Larry Evans, Sarah Pletts, Ruby Siegel, Tradd Cotter, Kris Holstrom, head of Telluride’s EcoAction Partners, and others.

Kat is an ethnobotanist with over 30 years of field work in Latin American, where she has helped establish ethnobotanical teaching gardens in Peru, Costa Rica and Hawaii. For 15 years, she participated in an exchange of nature-based knowledge with indigenous people in the mountains of Mexico, the Mazatec people of Oaxaca, where she has worked with an old healer and his extended family.

“He, in particular, has taught me a great deal about how various species of mushrooms fit into the worldview and medicine of their culture. I’ve come back to the Telluride mushroom festival twice in the past decade, to talk about my work with the Mazatecs, their way of working with the mushrooms, and what I’ve learned about shamanism along the way.”

Kat’s passion is to explore the relationship between plants, mushrooms and human beings, particularly in the realms that are often hidden: cultural beliefs, personification of species, rituals of healing and initiation, vision-seeking modalities, and artistic creations that illustrate the plant-human relationship. She also studies and teaches –  in Hawaii, Northern California and the Peruvian Amazon –  the deep history of humans in nature, encompassing both before and since the advent of agriculture. She enjoys examining the way a people perceives and relates to nature, how they talk about that relationship, and the stories they tell each other. Kat feels this deep way of seeing is what we all need, in order to be in better relationship to the world around us, the elements, and to understand our roles as stewards

Kat founded her non-profit, Botanical Dimensions, in 1985, with her then-husband, the late Terence McKenna, who retired from the institution in 1992. Kat has been president and project director throughout BD’s history, and continues to actively manage both ongoing and new projects.

Kat is also a botanical illustrator who began drawing in 1975, the same time she began exploring the mind-expanding psilocybin species. She enjoys helping people to see nature and is currently writing a book about all that she has learned. Kat Harrison first visited Telluride in 1978, returning  to attend the Mushroom Festival in around 1989 when Terence McKenna was keynote speaker. At this year’s event, Kat Harrison is speaking as follows:

“Mushroom Personification in Art and Legend,” Friday, 1:30 – 2:45, Palm Theatre

“How Ceremonial Mushroom Healing Methods Meet Contemporary Psilocybin Research,” Saturday, 8:30 – 9:45 p.m., The Palm

“Psilocybe as Medicine,” Sunday, 9:30 – 10:45 a.m., The Palm

On Friday, Kat is also involved with a Telluride Fun-Gals benefit, 6 – 9 p.m.


For further information about this remarkable woman, click the “play” button and listen to my conversation with Kat Harrison.

One Response

  1. Thank you, Susan, for the nice write-up. I love being in the Telluride area again, and back at the wonderful mushroom festival — one of my very favorite events. (That photo of me was taken a long time ago! But I’m still me.)
    I’m happy to have just launched my non-profit’s new website: